Showing posts with label internet. Show all posts
Showing posts with label internet. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Golden Age of the Internet Blogger

I was surprised to enjoy the book, "Martin Eden," by Jack London. After all, it wasn't an adventure about the sea, or about sled dogs and wolves in the Great White North. Rather, it is a semi-autobiographical (yuk!) story about a young man of working class origins who gets it into his head to become a writer. He goes from wild and romantic notions about Truth and Beauty to the sordid reality of being a professional writer.

The book can certainly make an amateur blogger of our times appreciate their chance to write publicly, without the miseries of Martin Eden.  As the old saying goes, 'if you want to take the fun out of anything, just try doing it for a living.' Before the internet era, keeping a diary was perhaps the only outlet for somebody who enjoys writing. And that wasn't public.

Amateur bloggers must usually content themselves with only a small bit of applause, if they write sincerely. The alternative is to write to please the marketplace. That means following a half-dozen formulas, disguised just well enough to convince the consumer that it is new!

I like to read, but it becomes stultifying after an hour. I feel more alive when I am thinking for myself, and writing is just a reflection of that.

This healthy outlet of amateur writing can not last much longer. Google must be under anti-trust pressure from the feds. In order to keep them off its back, it must be willing to adopt whatever measures the feds want. Soon there will be an end to anonymity or pseudonyms; writers will need credentials and a license; and then renew that license and pay a fee on an annual basis, after approval by a bureaucracy that scrutinizes the blog's opinions about the Children, the Environment, sacred Minorities, and of course, National Security. 

Or, if it is important to maintain the illusion of a free society, the government and Google could work out the software to bias search engine results. That would be invisible censorship, and is probably the most prudent approach for the government to succeed at what it really wants. The peasants won't know the difference, except for a few chronic malcontents, who will be dismissed as conspiracy theorists.

But let's not end on such a discouraging note. Think of the analogy to life itself: we know that we are mortal, but we don't let that ruin the life that we can enjoy.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Traveling Down the Path of Righteousness

As I approach my canonical 14 day limit at a location that has internet, a sense of setback is understandable. I had been on a roll of internet-free living, before I backslid into sin, here. Let's back up a step and look at the Big Picture.

This all starts from the premise that there are few better ways to spend the end of your life than in pursuing Moral Perfection, a la Ben Franklin. I'm afraid the results of this project have been disappointing, so far.

Rather than merely dwelling on "Thou shalt not...", the positive agenda is to be more light-hearted when reading real books off-line, and to break my concentration whenever possible. In doing so I can co-opt the cheap trick that the internet uses to sink its hooks into its victims.

Another positive approach is to dwell on the geographical freedom I gain when camping in places where the internet is not available. Tomorrow I have a chance to put this into practice. Ah dear me, let's hope this doesn't lapse into sterile rhetoric.
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The last 14 days of moral setback came with an upside gain: I attended the Band of Boondockers in Buena Vista, CO. RV camping desperately needs alternatives to the uninspiring stereotypes and limitations of the past.  It is worthwhile to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone attempting to improve a culture. I leave, feeling that a little progress has been made.

Metaphorically, this quest is in greater need of a "Brigham Young" than a "Joseph Smith." (Apply now!)  Culture, like politics, is the art of the possible.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Format (of the Medium) is the Message

After having two blockbuster successes with classic television, "The Rifleman" and the original "Star Trek", I was prepared to declare victory and move on. But then some clues on IMDB.com steered me in the direction of "The Virginian." How did I manage to miss this marvelous program when I was a kid? Actually it is probably because I was a kid. The Virginian had a 90 minute format -- too long for young kiddies.

Since I am watching the first two seasons, it was fun to see some of my favorite guest stars from "The Rifleman" reappear on "The Virginian." Similarly,  new guest stars on "The Virginian" reappeared 3-4 years later on "Star Trek."

The long format virtually makes the show a mini-movie. Superb guest stars, from the movies, would deign to appear on this television show: Betty Davis, George C. Scott, Robert Redford, Matthew Broderick, and even a young Ryan O'Neal, who looked about 17 years old.

In a longer show, the plot does not seem forced or contrived. There is time for false clues, so the ending is not completely predictable. The characters have room to travel a longer "arc." Aimed more at adults than kiddies, the characters show the incongruous collection of good and bad traits that makes human beings so interesting.

Better yet, the resolution of the story was not syrupy: it tended to offer the characters exoneration, a new but uncertain beginning in life, and partial redemption, rather than a perfect "buttoned up" happy ending.

The results of the longer format are so impressive that it makes one think about how the formats of other media genres affect their content and results. Take what you wish: 30 minute "Evening News", suburban sitcoms, office cubicle sitcoms, newspapers, blogs on the internet. With the latter, there are dire consequences to blogging too frequently, or reacting to the news of the moment. 

If the blog is just a thinly-disguised advertising platform, its integrity is compromised. It's not that people shouldn't try to monetize their blogs.  I want the internet to be part of the economy. But it leaves a bad taste in my mouth when I start to take a blogger seriously, and then catch myself with "Oh this is just the build-up to the next click-bait."

At any rate, thinking about the format of any medium is probably the first thing we should consider. The writers might be clever enough to put in some information of real value, despite the format, but the odds are not stacked in their favor.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Under the Sway of the Consummate Conversationalists

Very well then, I'll admit it: I am currently under the tutelage of Addison & Steele. It is a bit amusing to see the location of their writing given at the top of each 'post': "From my apartment," or "From X coffee shop," or "Y's Chocolate Shoppe." It is so similar to listing the name of the forest or town at the top of a travel blog post.

Can any modern reader not feel some envy at Addison & Steele's success at having interesting conversations with interesting characters in the shoppes? If you put these authors into a time machine, and inserted them into the average Starbuck's outlet today, what would they think? Surely they would see 300 years of civilizational decline right in front of their faces.

In post after post these authors comment on what makes for pleasant conversation between good-natured people. And they describe the failures, too.

Should a blogger try to emulate their good-natured and polite conversations in those shoppes? Yes, when the blogger is face to face with a real person in a chair. But what about when the blogger is writing?

The 'medium is the message', after all. Writing is different than talking. Writing and reading is a conversation between two minds; the two individuals do not know each other, nor do they pretend to be each others buddies. 

In contrast, talking takes place between faces and personalities. It is great when two people, face to face, put each other at ease, and win each others goodwill, and then go on to share conviviality, rather like dogs disporting with each other at the dog park.

But if the written word did nothing more than imitate the spoken word, wouldn't it be missing a real opportunity to 'add value'? Wouldn't the written word simply devolve into an exchange of routine pleasantries and platitudes? Where is the challenge, the getting to the (sometimes grim) truth of the topic of conversation? Would anyone learn anything?

Still, there has to be an upper limit to the bluntness of a writer. The reader is still a human being. Perhaps, when I have finished Addison & Steele, I will have evolved to a kinder and gentler writer. Certainly long-suffering readers have complained that I was too frank and blunt, at times. Very well then, I confess my guilt.

But some of the discrepancy results from much of the internet readership confusing a blog with the personal trivia of Facebook or the low-key chit-chat of a television studio. They seek smooth, inoffensive distraction and escapism. But a writer is not supposed to have the amiable, cheery personality of a chubby TV weatherman. Blogs should emulate -- in an abbreviated form -- the best of what the world of books has to offer.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Reviving the Periodical Essay

Awhile back I asked for suggestions from readers in finding 'eclectic' blogs, and was pleased to receive some. With hindsight I should have asked for 'modern periodical essays'. Periodical essays were popular in the 1700's. (The link to Quotidiana in the right hand margin contains personal essays.) A couple of the best known series were those of Addison & Steele and those by Samuel Johnson, Diderot, etc. The modern internet blogosphere should be rife with periodical essays. It is an enormous opportunity that is being missed.

Let's characterize a periodical essay as the short work of an observer and thinker who is 'grazing on the open range' of personal experience and human history. Typically the periodical essay begins with an observation that seemed odd enough to stimulate curiosity. The train of thought then broadens to the general, with some historical perspective.

I am reading the first series by Addison & Steele, "The Tatler", written about 1710 AD. (And 'CE' be damned.) Although the English novel didn't quite exist then, newspapers did, and the "The Tatler" offered a popular alternative to newspapers.  A modern reader, reading Addison & Steele for the first time, will be surprised to find the prose style remarkably modern. In fact, they helped to create the modern prose style.  A generation later, Benjamin Franklin imitated the style of Addison & Steele in his program of self-education.

Why are these essays so appealing? Partially it is their brevity. It is so salubrious to read for a few minutes, as a break from more physical activity; and the shortness of the time in the chair prevents the reader from becoming sullen.

Secondly, starting the essay from personal experiences or observations keeps the essay's feet on the ground. It lends honesty and authenticity to the train of thought, rather than the author regurgitating something read in another book. It also avoids the endless circle of wordplay by philosophers or meta-physicians.

Let's look at an example from The Tatler, vol 3 (from Gutenberg). The essays frequently grew out of conversations  in coffee houses or chocolate shops. A rather argumentative fellow named 'Minucio' was carrying on once:
But Minucio replied with great vehemence, and seemed so much to have the better of the dispute, that this adversary quitted the field...

I sat till I saw the table almost all vanished, where, for want of discourse, Minucio asked me, how I did? To which I answered, "Very well." "That's very much," said he; "I assure you, you look paler than ordinary." "Nay," thought I, "if he won't allow me to know whether I am well or not, there is no staying for me neither." 

Upon which I took my leave, pondering as I went home at this strange poverty of imagination, which makes men run into the fault of giving contradiction. They want in their minds entertainment for themselves or their company, and therefore build all they speak upon what is started by others; and since they cannot improve that foundation, they strive to destroy it.
Sigh. If only an essayist have given me some advice, when I was young, about the vicious habit of contradiction. And if only I had taken it! The essays are full of sound advice about the conduct of life, but not the aphorisms or issues that you might pickup in the Bible or ancient philosophy. In theory, a novelist could do an even better job at treating the conduct of life because they might be more likely to persuade the reader, since the reader is emotionally involved with the characters of the novel. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

How Do You Find Eclectic Blogs?

Once again my internet browsing is wallowing in the gutter. Perhaps it would be better to say that I am bored to death. Blame laziness.

It seems like most blogs write about the same thing every day. Political blogs and travel blogs are the worst of the worst. Travel blogs could be replaced by a computer program. Indeed, maybe somebody should sell an "app" that automatically puts travel posts on "your" blog. How would anybody know? The result might be a blog with friends and followers in the thousands. 

Let's have some fun: what would today's blog title be if an app was writing it. "An Exclusive Paradise Adventure in the Grand Canyon, for Free, Topped Off with a Beautiful Sunset!" Nah, too long.

Perhaps we are so trained as mass consumers that our information-grazing habits imitate our consumption. Thus we fall into blogs that offer tired formulas and repetition.

My excuse for being so lazy is that one only has so much time, there are too many haystacks to look through, and blogs make it difficult to size them up quickly. Imagine you have just run into a new list of blogs and the title of the post is "Another Tuesday." How does that help you decide if it is even worth five more seconds of your time? Why is it so difficult for the blockhead (bloghead?) to choose a title that accurately and truthfully describes the theme of the post?

I prefer blogs that start off with first hand experiences that are odd, or at least non-routine, because these tend to raise interesting questions. Trying to answer the questions causes the blogger to graze in a wider pasture. The blogger might have to borrow an idea from here or there, and borrow an experience from one part of their life or from somebody else's book. 

If it didn't progress beyond the level of the concrete and immediate, it would probably degenerate into one of those dreadful "here's what I did today" blogs. At the other extreme, if the blog started with abstractions and platitudes it would freeze into dogma, bumper sticker slogans, or aphorisms meant for pretty calendars or Hallmark cards.

I guess the right word is "eclectic." But that word gets abused, so I'm not sure that doing a search with that term will do me any good. Dare I hope?

Until then, here are some words of wisdom from a successful, early "blogger", Michel de Montaigne. (Complete Essays):
...and no matter if he forget where he had his learning, provided he know how to apply it to his own use.
Bees cull their several sweets from this flower and that blossom, here and there where they find them, but themselves afterwards make the honey, which is all and purely their own, and no more thyme and marjoram: so the several fragments he borrows from others, he will transform and shuffle together to compile a work that shall be absolutely his own; that is to say, his judgment: his instruction, labour and study, tend to nothing else but to form that.
 That is my project: looking for blogs who know how to 'make the honey.'

Friday, April 17, 2015

Composing Music at a Noisy Fast-Food Outlet

From time to time I fantasize dropping my over-priced wireless internet plan. It is the sort of fantasy that soon melts under the heat of rational scrutiny. Why, all one has to do is consider the cost-shifting from "expensive" internet in my trailer to more expensive driving-to and snacking-in the places that offer "free" wi-fi internet.

Here I am, in a fast food outlet, sucking down senior coffee and "free" wi-fi. I probably shouldn't complain: there is no raucous pop music blaring out of speakers over my head, nor is there the increasingly-common giant television playing some news channel.

But there is another source of noise pollution. There always is, in a city. A couple tables away, a man helps a woman fill out some routine application. He has been talking non-stop for a half hour now. How I am starting to hate the sound of his voice!

What is it about him that makes me want to go over there and strangle him? Besides being non-stop, his voice is effeminate, but there must be more to it than that. Maybe it is the self-importance he projects. He acts like sticking her birthday in this box, and her street address in that box, are great missions.

What do you think his official job title is? Something or other "manager"? Maybe it is "XYZ Account Executive". Did he actually go to college to qualify for this intelligent, Information Age, white-collar work?

There must be something deeper that I resent. He seems to positively glow in his petty task. Maybe I envy him, and that is the source of the anger that is welling up in me. Recall the old story from classical days: 'Is it better to be a discontented Socrates or a contented pig? The answer was, Socrates, because he understood both sides of the issue.'

Contrast this college-boy's job with that of a "mere" blue-collar mechanic that I have stumbled onto lately. The mechanic owns and runs the business with his wife. He is the only mechanic in town, but he charges less than other mechanics in the small city where I am right now. What skill and knowledge he must have to fix so many different cars  made over the last 30 years! And how crucial his work is -- most people's lives simply stop when their car does.

But back to the paper-pusher, who is still talking, by the way. Just before I ran out of the fast food outlet screaming, I popped on some noise-reducing headphones and played some music that I hadn't listened to for awhile. I had been worried that I was tiring of it. But not today.

What instant relief! I enjoyed the music like I was hearing it for the first time. And yet, the paper-pusher's voice did come through, despite the music. At first I was disappointed that my inexpensive noise-cancelling headphone had such mediocre performance on the human voice.

But in fact, it was an advantage. It was like his obnoxious voice had become a member in a small musical ensemble. The ugliness of his noise pollution made the solo piano "background" music seem as powerful as an aria sung by the dying soprano just before the curtain comes down on a Puccini opera. It probably helped that I typed away on a keyboard while all this was happening.

People without musical talent might sometimes fantasize coming back in their next life as a great pianist like George Winston, or as a composer of movie music, like Gabriel Yared or Jan Kaczmarek. If the fantasy stops there, it is sterile. 

But if we imagine that appreciating music is also a valuable talent, and that it is more than a passive act of reception and consumption, then we can choose to listen to the right music at the right time, after certain activities, and overlay it with acoustical competition -- even an ugly one. It becomes our unique "composition" and give us more pleasure than any of its component parts.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

What Are The Best Topics for a Blogger?

For some reason, I am thinking about the rules for "good blogging." Which topics are worth discussing in a public forum? Consider a single example of how important this can be: imagine how much improvement you could get in movies, plays, and novels if the writers would decide that adultery and love triangles are topics that have been beaten to death, and should be allowed to rest for a couple centuries.

As usual when embarking on any issue, progress is most rapid when we invoke Horace's "fleeing vice is the beginning of virtue." First, bloggers should abandon their mundane and picayune "practical" details.

Yes I know, there are readers who think that practical minutiae does them more good than arguments and opinions. But what if we are careful about the method of opining? Rather than shoving pre-packaged opinions down the readers' eyeballs, what if we invite the reader along as we develop an opinion, all beginning with concrete observations?

Let's start by modestly asking how many of "our" opinions are just hand-me-down prejudices and hearsay about abstractions and slogans? These are things that the opinion-monger has no concrete experience with.

I am suggesting a method of developing opinions that lends itself to an allegory. Perhaps it was on the jacket of a book long ago that I saw a drawing of a sculpture that affected me deeply. A marble column came out of the ground, looking more like a geological outcropping than a sculpture. As the eye moves upwards, it starts to see artificial cracks and flutes. Obviously it is taking "form", but you are not exactly sure of what. Then it starts to look like two blocky human legs. Upward your eyes go, to musculature and clothing. And then to the face and eyes, with all their nuances of expression. How perfectly this upward evolution of the sculpture describes the development of a blog post!


This subject is similar to one discussed in a classic essay by Montaigne, "On Experience." 
Men do not know the natural disease of the mind; it does nothing but ferret and inquire , and is eternally wheeling, juggling, and perplexing itself like silkworms, and then suffocates itself in its work...

It thinks it discovers at a great distance, I know not what glimpses of light and imaginary truth: but whilst running to it, so many difficulties, hindrances, and new inquisitions cross it, that it loses its way, and is made drunk with the motion...

...the frequent amorous glances they cast upon their [own] work witness that their hearts pant with self-love, and that even the disdainful severity wherewith they scourge them are but the dandlings and caressings of maternal love;
for as much as, in my opinion, of the most ordinary, common, and known things, could we but find out their light, the greatest miracles of nature might be formed, and the most wonderful examples, especially upon the subject of human actions.
Let us walk about as the ancient philosophical school of the Peripatetics did, and stumble upon provocative observations, while keeping our feet on the ground as we try to explain them. But our thinking should proceed as the sculpture proceeds upward. We come to see our observation as an individual member of a category. Then we see the observation as the expression of an Idea and the embodiment of a Principle.

It would be good to stop at the head of the sculpture. Let's not go spiriting off into the fluffy stuff of metaphysical clouds. We have probably already made enough mistakes in one essay, and more thinking won't correct those mistakes. Let it rest. Go out into the desert again tomorrow and look for another oddity to explain.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Good News About Wireless Signals in Rural Areas

According to a recent article on Seeking Alpha, by Thurman Dunn, there is some reason for expecting better wireless data and voice in rural areas far from interstates. There is going to be another auction soon of low frequency/long wavelength electromagnetic spectrum:
But things are going to change in 2016. The FCC is gathering up as much of the 600 MHz spectrum as it can get from TV owners (who largely no longer need it). This 600 MHz spectrum is shaping up to be the biggest thing in a long time, as far as cellular service providers go. It has the potential to completely rearrange the playing field in the telecommunications industry.
Recall that frequency (MHz) times wavelength equals a constant, the speed of light. So low frequency means long wavelengths. These long wavelengths are not absorbed as easily as the short wavelengths. Visualize rocks, trees, walls (etc.) absorbing 50% of the signal strength per wavelength. So an obstacle would have to be twice as thick to absorb 50% when the wavelength is twice as long.
AT&T and Verizon dominated the 700 MHz allocation during the last major bid in 2008 (for spectrum below 1GHz),

This could change in 2016. The 600 MHz auction will be, in the FCC's own words, the last major spectrum auction for quite some time.
In contrast, urban hellhole customers need the high frequency/short wavelength spectrum because it can carry more data. Think of it as an interstate highway with six lanes in each direction. These can carry more traffic. 

But out in the sticks there aren't so many customers sucking on the same electromagnetic straw, all at the same time. So we care about 600 MHz, good-penetrating signals. I look forward to the improvement.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"Almost" Dropping Out of the Internet

Last month I went through my 5 Gigabyte allowance with Verizon for the first time. In fairness to the great oligopolist of the aether, they did notify me at the 5 GB limit, three days before the monthly clock was to be reset.

This motivated me to go on a complete fast. The month ended with a usage of 5.010 Gigabytes, or something ridiculously close to 5.000. Would the jerks charge me $10 for going over the limit? I assumed that they would, despite the fact that I go under the limit by 1.3 Gigabytes on most months. (And because this is conventional, nobody gets angry about it.)

The three day internet fast felt so morally redeeming! (It's not for nothing that fasting has been a big part of the religious tradition for millennia.) It fired up my ambition to "cut the (ethereal) cord," and save $53 per month. But this is probably just an empty bluff. 

But what if they really did charge extra for the microscopic bit of overage? Wouldn't anger make me carry through with terminating the service? Anger is a "negative" emotion according to Valium Capsule Nation [*]. They fancy themselves positive thinkers, but they are unwilling to see a positive value in anger: it can be a tool that helps you take on something really difficult.

But they didn't bill me for the microscopic overage! Ah well, maybe decisions based on anger are not good, in general. But this one would have been.

Thus I continue to live in sin. No matter how techno-narcissistic our culture becomes, how many gadget ads you see, how many more Gigabytes move around at how many more Gigahertz, there is still no better assessment of the Information Age than that made by Henry David Thoreau, in "Walden":
"...so with a hundred "modern improvements"; there is an illusion about them; there is not always a positive advance...
Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; as railroads lead to Boston or New York. We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate."
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[*] My term for that motley collection of nambie-pambies, nervous nellies and worry-worts, effeminate New Agers, pop psychology magazine readers, brainwashees of motivational gurus, and people dependent on any kind of religious crutch.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

In the World, but Not Of It

In contrast to the solitary traveling and mountain biking that I do the rest of the year, midwinter is the season for non-traveling and sociable road cycling with an excellent club in Yuma. I love having a library card and the public library to use it at. But there is an even more radical lifestyle-adjustment: I bought a television antenna so I can watch football. They actually have broadcast stations here.

In watching television, and especially the commercials, I get the profound satisfaction of feeling that "I am in this country and culture, but am not of it." That is an old saying in various religions [*]. I suppose it is usually a mere platitude for them, but no doubt some religious people really mean it. In any case I would like to apply this platitude to the internet, as well. 

Yes, I use the phrase 'profound satisfaction' too often. But it really is true that, at times, you need to slow down and let the sweetness and significance soak in.

The internet is not the moral and intellectual garbage dump that television is. So I don't really hate the internet. But the repetition that I encounter daily is really starting to bore me. Could I do something better than waste $53 per month on a wireless data plan of 5 GigaBytes? Perhaps the pre-pay plan of Walmart would discipline an internet junkie. There are enough free WiFi hotspots, such as the library, that would still keep me from being totally shut off. I wonder if I am just bluffing?

Afraid that Yuma doesn't look like this. But road cyclists don't look at the scenery anyway.

[*] It is not straining an analogy to bring up the history of Christianity before the Roman establishment co-opted it.  Christians were not persecuted for what they believed in, but for what they didn't believe in or pay lip service to. They were considered dangerous atheists because they wouldn't worship Caesar and the traditional gods; doing so was virtually a loyalty oath to the Roman "system."

Our culture's polytheism worships such gods as the Media, Debt, Consumerism, the democratic "General Will," the President and his Legions spread over the empire, etc. These are what an early retiree will not worship. It is our particular form of radical atheism.

Monday, November 24, 2014

What Keeps Bloggers Tied Down?

Surely most internet readers have learned from experience to temper their expectations about websites that are new to them. How many times have you gotten excited about a newly-found website, only to learn that your first half-dozen visits have shown everything that you are ever going to see there? Then, when the sting of disappointment sets in, you just want to grab the blogger by the throat and scream, "Come on! You can do it. Take a step upward." But they seldom do. [*]

What is stopping them? Are they just dummies? Or completely static? Maybe they are afraid of something.

Lately I have been fixating on a simile from Arnold Toynbee's abridged "A Study of History," Vol 1, Chapter IV. Maybe it will mean something to readers:
Primitive societies...may be likened to people lying torpid upon a ledge on a mountain-side, with a precipice below and a precipice above; civilizations may be likened to companions of these sleepers who have just risen to their feet and have started to climb up the face of the cliff above...

...and since the next ledge is out of sight, we do not know how high or how arduous the next pitch may be. We only know that it is impossible to halt and rest before next ledge, wherever that may lie, is reached. Thus, even if we could estimate each present climber's strength and skill and nerve, we could not judge whether any of them have any prospect of gaining the ledge above, which is the goal of their present endeavours. We can, however, be sure that some of them will never attain it. And we can observe that, for every single one now strenuously climbing, twice that number have fallen back on the ledge, defeated.

The problem with most websites is not that they are 'falling back on the ledge.' It is that they aren't climbing the cliff at all.

This non-growth is probably easy to explain for blogs that work for eyeball-income: they think they have already found their maximum audience and income, so why take chances? Any genuine opinion on any non-trivial subject is bound to offend somebody, so the blogger keeps everything light, sugary, and non-controversial. And in return, the readers give the blogger credit for being a "positive" person. (Mindlessness, triviality, and arrested growth are positive traits, apparently.)

Thus commercial bloggers are really no different than a television sitcom or soap opera trying to gain audience market share. What more is there to say about them?

Let's look at the second category, where a bit of hope is reasonable. Consider non-commercial, amateur bloggers. Why should it matter to them if some reader stops reading their blog because a new topic was tried or an opinion was offered that offended the reader? The blogger is not being paid. He can say what he wishes, and if the readers don't like it, well, then don't let the door knob...

More times than not, the blogger succumbs to the trap of measuring success and boosting his self-esteem by having lots of "readers." (And yes, even I am susceptible to this disease.) The blogger might actually think he is climbing Toynbee's ledge, in the simile above. But for him, 'climbing' means winning a few more votes from the demos, the rabble. The blogger might as well be back in 8th grade, trying to be popular with all the little blockheads in his class, so he can get elected class president. The blogger tries to ignore the unpleasant truth that most of his mighty readers are just moochers looking for a little free entertainment.

King Numbers. Quantity rather than Quality. It's an old problem that goes back to the beginning of democracy. Nobody has ever found a solution to it yet.

What a difference there is between an abstract shibboleth such as "Democracy" and the effects it has on some concrete part of life, not just blogs, but also food, movies, music, sports, or just about anything. The general democratic mindset of pleasing as many blockheads as possible is anti-growth, anti-quality, and anti-life. It is the democratic mindset that will keep the internet in the gutter.

It does motivate me to attempt reading Plato's "Republic" again. I've had trouble with it before. Maybe it was the translator.
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[*] Recently I saw a blog take a step upward. My jaw was actually dropping as I read along.  The change wasn't announced with a new format or layout. There was not any statement by the blogger that it was even happening. But it thrilled me to see it happening. I was proud of myself for identifying it. Maybe that is what caused me to wonder why more bloggers don't "step up." The blog was Mish Shedlock's "Global Economic Analysis."

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Blogs Can Be Improved by Blending with Books

The history of the English language is a subject that has interested me from time to time. It is rare for an Indo-European language to lack most inflections (endings on verbs and nouns), to make modular use of helper or auxiliary verbs ('If she had gone to town yesterday...'), and to lack gender.  With its history of borrowing from other languages and innovating itself -- without some centralized bureaucracy full of language police as in the French model -- it should be capable of much more.

For instance, when is somebody going to invent, and the rest of society cleave unto, a phrase or word that adequately describes 'drowning in trivia.' Trifles, distraction, minutiae, soul-sucking drivel, and other words are pretty good. But we need something better to express the debasement of human dignity and the utter destruction of the human soul that the internet now offers.

Why do smartphones and drivel-blogs take up so much of our time compared to reading classic books? I was just sitting here reading a classic novel, Dickens's "Tale of Two Cities." I am moderately interested in the book. Why then do I feel this magnetic attraction to switch over to the Trivia online? What is the nature of this addiction? Is it just that the internet demands only a short attention span from its readers? It won't be long before the readers can stop reading entirely by nervously flitting from 2-minute-long video snippet to snippet.

In the past I have tried to explain the weaknesses of books:
  • They are non-interactive. Information flows in only one direction.
  • Books are too thick. Reading them is slow and tedious. 
  • Books suffer from the Uninterrupted Prose Syndrome. Is it really too expensive or disreputable to include some illustrations?
If I remember correctly, commenters were not overly thrilled with any of this. Very well then, if I can't explain what's wrong with reading books, let me try to explain the addictiveness of the internet. Even before the internet, 
  • The boob toob viewer had been long-accustomed to feeling a constant state of anxiety and boredom, an endless itch that must be scratched by clicking the channel button.
  • People who are young enough to have grown up addicted to video games, lived in constant "twitch mode", requiring diddling the joystick and hitting some button or key to blast some opponent.
  • Today people must click boxes on their smartphone screen every few seconds, to refresh the screen with the next ad or piece of trivial information. Otherwise they agonize in a state of nervousness and angst.

What I feel is a mild example of the above. What if the reader of a classic book picked off insightful points that the author glided over too quickly, and then illustrated the point with some experience in his life or some person he once knew?

Typing is a nice outlet for nervous fingers. The reader could type out his little vignette -- maybe just a paragraph or two. Anyone could do that, and it would be constructive. Anything is better than small talk about the weather, Facebook photos of somebody's cat, or postcards.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Just Discovered a New Blog about Consumer Culture

We all get into ruts on the internet, reading blogs that talk about the same thing every time, or are thinly disguised infomercials, or are mere boob-toob level entertainment.  I just found a great blog on consumer culture, money, and financial independence called Living Stingy. It is intelligent, acerbic, and full of common sense. Why did it take so long to find this blog?

The title of the blog is unfortunate. The writer really doesn't allow comments, which I think is a mistake. Well too bad, it is fun to read and written with mordant wit.

Admittedly I am a bit prejudiced when it comes to style. I like to see a writer observe concrete things that seem bizarre to him. Then he must try to explain those things, and in the process of doing that, the blog post moves towards more general and universal principles.

At any rate, give this blog a try and tell me what you think of it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Update: Tow Vehicle Shopping the Old-fashioned Way

There must be people out there who are ten times better than me at internet searching. I don't even like buying things on the internet, other than music. 

Today I dropped in on the local car dealer in Gunnison CO just to kick some tires. I was suspicious that my internet searches were at a dead end. As luck would have it, this dealer had recent models of all the categories I polemicized about, last post. It was uncanny.

What an amazing difference there is between seeing something real and merely reading about it. Just think how good those reviewers made the Dodge Durango and Chevy Traverse sound. One glance at them and I chopped them off the list. They had those annoyingly-low, plastic, front-bumper skirts (air dams) that hang down to about 4 inches from the ground. Ridiculous! You couldn't even get close to a concrete curbstone with one of those suburban mommie-mobiles.

The Subaru Outback had a high and clean undercarriage, but it didn't look like a real hitch could be attached anywhere. The Toyota 4Runner and Nissan Xterra impressed me the most.

Perhaps I should start using Ask.com to do searches, and actually ask questions in the search. But does this search engine actually look at the logical thought-content of your question, or does it just pick off keywords? If the latter, the question-like approach is a gimmick to differentiate it in the marketplace.

Today was a powerful example of the internet's limitations. It is fully justified to roll your eyes or sigh in resignation when you ask a human being just about any question these days, and their pat answer is, 'Oh just google it. It's on the internet somewhere.'

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A good primer on four-wheeling at jalopnik.

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A good article on why Ford hasn't gone the Direct Injection route, as GM has. 

Another skeptical article about Direct Injection. 
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One of the commenters suggested that getting bicycles in and out of the back of an SUV would get old, fast. Today I went back to the dealer and got permission to slide my mountain bike into the back of a Toyota 4Runner, and then stand it upright, inside.  It wasn't even close to succeeding, except by lowering the saddle. The 4Runner was long enough for the mountain bike. (Obviously the front wheel was removed.) 

Lowering the saddle each time the bike goes into the vehicle, eh? Not sure I could get used to that.  Presumably the same thing happens with pickup trucks, unless the cap flares upward towards the stern.

I was no fool to have bought a cargo van as my first tow vehicle!

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It is unusual for me to flail away so ineffectively over practical details. Shame on me. When I started RVing, I had the satisfaction of buying an extremely useful tow vehicle at a good price. It enabled me to live a more interesting life, and to live like I wanted to live. I felt like I was beating the system.

(If the cargo van was such a brilliant idea, why doesn't everyone get one? You know why: the Little Woman won't stand for it.)

Naturally  I would like to pull off a stunt like that again. But it just seems like there aren't as many options as there used to be. Every vehicle is loaded with crap. They are too expensive and complicated. Ultimately it is the debt culture that allows this to get worse every year. And every year government regulations force the auto industry down a narrower and narrower path.

How do you "win" when your options wither away every year?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Eavesdropping on a Silent Conversation

It seems like many of the experiences, that I want to post about, occur during the food-stop in the middle of a bicycle ride. Why is that? Is it the mood that cycling puts me in? It certainly seems to be true that one's appreciation of a Thing depends more on the Context of the thing, than on the thing itself.

At any rate, it happened again today. A couple of deaf people were having an animated conversation at a table in front of the window of a food stop. I could pretend to watch my unlocked bicycle just outside that window, without it being obvious that I was "eavesdropping" on their conversation in sign language. (I do not "sign.") Through my sunglasses I could watch them out of the corner of my eye.

They had each other's undivided attention. No distractions. Compare the quality of the conversation of these two "handicapped" people to the usual 'barely listening' conversation of non-handicapped people! We struggle with the crappy background music, if nothing else.

How strange that this has never happened before in my fairly long life. It surprised me that they put so much facial and upper body emphasis to their conversation. It seemed more "analog", and less "digital", than I expected.

How many "bytes" of information flowed between them, compared to a regular conversation between "hearing" people? Surely they transmit less in the same time. But I'm really not so sure.

What was the basic quantum of their language: a letter, syllable, word, or metaphor?

After awhile it dawned on me that the special emphasis I imagined to be there might be due to them being a possible couple -- and that they were flirting with each other. Normally a person is sensitive to the slightest clue of that; but it might not apply here because I didn't understand the first thing about their language. But it certainly was a possible substratum in their language. (I hope it was.)

Linguistics has interested me since I went to Mexico a couple times in my RV.  Imagine explaining the different meanings of 'OK', depending on the intonations, to somebody who is learning English.

So off I went, to Wikipedia to learn about sign language. How disappointing the article was! It probably wasn't the author's fault. But when your curiosity is really hot on some topic, it takes the form of questions. Then we read an article about the topic; but the information isn't organized as an Answer to that Question. Perhaps it can't be.

But if it could be, then even a retro-grouch must admit this to be genuine, qualitative progress brought on by the internet, instead of the usual quantitative expansion of garbage-information. If somebody could find a way to write in terms of answering questions of the reader, it would be the greatest conversation of all.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Do New Year's Resolutions Make Sense for Geezers?

Because of the holidays and being between semesters, I haven't been assigning homework on a regular basis. I'm sure the reader will be relieved to get back in the swim of things. Very well then, today's assignment is the chapter on "Moral Perfection" in Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography.
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Should we make more, or less, effort at New Year's Resolutions as we get older? A cynic might say that an oldster should have outgrown such nonsense by now. A wit might say that if such resolutions did any good, the oldster would have reached moral perfection long ago, and thus the question doesn't even come up.

I hope you were lucky enough to have known a grandfather that you looked up to as a wise old man. Mine once told me that a young man never thinks about the consequences of his actions. That's not such a brilliant or original thought, but I 'remember it as if it were yesterday,' as old men are prone to saying.

He was right: we really do get better at anticipating consequences of our actions as we get more experience in life, probably because we have had to suffer more of those consequences. It is both satisfying and pleasing to see yourself getting better at something -- something difficult -- over time. If nothing else, it is a great consolation prize that offsets the shock of looking in a mirror.

In addition to better recognition of dire consequences, your self-control is actually improving. Long overdue! You are not going to run the 100-yard-dash faster this year than five years ago, nor are you going to turn heads while strolling down the beach in a bikini, so why not put childish nonsense behind you and concentrate on what you are getting better at? 

For instance, I have always been dissatisfied whenever my blog degenerated into a travel blog. Perhaps you like travel blogs -- well, be patient, you will outgrow them. There are too many of them, they all follow two or three formulas, and they offer almost nothing of intellectual and cultural value.

But if you start off in travel-blog-mode, and plan to change the focus as your writing and thinking improve, it is still easy to backslide when most of comments and readership seem to follow travel issues.

And there are better ways to build a readership -- such as assigning homework, and meting out punishment to readers caught cheating. (yea, sure.)

That is the value of New Year's Resolutions to me. It is a specific time to grit my teeth about escaping this intellectual ghetto, once and for all.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Barbarism at Starbucks, part I

Perhaps the reader is relieved that there aren't Google ads in this blog. Actually, as a reader, I really don't mind stationary ads in parallel with the reading material. But product-placement ads infuriate me. So this blog doesn't offer those, either. Perhaps the reader thought that this was too good to be true.

Well, it was. Today marks the beginning of a new policy on this blog. Not ads. But there will be homework assigned. Mandatory reading. I expect to double my hit-count because of this new policy. The only thing still to be decided is how to quiz the readers at the end of the post so I can see if they've been cheating.

Very well then, today's assignment is a short essay by Jonathan Swift on conversation.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Off-line Victory over Waste on the Hard Drive

Very well then, we are all agreed that in pursuing a winter lifestyle that enlarges our overall lifestyle we must move towards complementarities rather than outright reversals. For instance, the internet is a pretty big part of most people's lifestyle these days. But surely most people suspect that much of their online time is wasted on predictable repetition of absolute trivia. It's tempting to fantasize smashing the computer with a hammer and chucking the whole thing into a dumpster, and then dropping the expensive monthly charge of the cellphone carrier.

But wait. Where is the perpendicular move? It must make a youngster's eyes roll when an old timer tells them that that they used computers for several decades without being online. (Although they were hooked to a mainframe computer, usually.) In fact it even makes me wonder sometimes what I ever found to do with an offline computer at home.

But remember my sighs over the great charnel houses in the cloud, or for that matter, on our own hard drives? I mean the photographs and music that moulder in a heap that is so astronomically big, in part because the heap is so big, and because the "online" mindset habituates us into ignoring anything that isn't "breaking news" or "trending" on the stupid internet.

Lately I've taken to going through my own photographs and music on the hard drive. It has been enjoyable. If nothing else it is a great thing to do the last hour of the day, when the eyes are too tired to read, and when you need something else to do as you valiantly fight the Early Bedtime Syndrome. There is a sweet nostalgia when remembering where and when you took that photo. With the music, you can't help but appreciate how much wealth you have learned to overlook.

Of course reading a book (rather than some silly and predictable website) is another "offline" activity that we should probably emphasize more in winter. Last episode I mentioned Patrick O' Brian's "Master and Commander" novels. I had to grin at the incessant reminders of how concerned the sailors were, with wind and tide; they are even more so than roadies, aka, road bicyclists.



But think of this as a new pleasure that comes from seeing a commonality in two activities that seemed to have no connection: reading and bicycling.


In disinterring the photographs on the hard drive, there are many such opportunities; it's just that I was being too much of a blockhead to notice them. Photographs taken in different places and different years can appear like two manifestations of a general principle.



Maybe finding these commonalities is the point, and the pleasure, of photography, rather than just how purdy (or Dairy Queenish) the stupid thing is. And if we took photographs with relationships in mind, we could build entire webs out of the connections. So too could we build our music collections into better and better playlists.
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As another example of perpendicular addition to your winter lifestyle, consider today's post by Charles Hugh Smith on buying non-mainstream books.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Are Blogs Part of the Solution or the Problem?

Call it a blessing or a curse as you wish, but it is certainly true that pontificating on the internet (even anonymously!) makes you feel obligated to practice what you preach. (How grim!)

For instance, I was extolling the general value of the Rockhound Principle recently. The perfect place to apply this principle is in the reading of books. Where else can you benefit more from infinite patience with "detritus?"  Instead of feeling disgusted, you can channel this into delight when you finally do find something precious. You can also work to ensure that the precious nuggets you find stay found, by actively assimilating them into your life.

Recall that I was reading "The Name of the Rose," by Umberto Eco. All in all, I don't recommend it. Still, there were a few precious nuggets on the way through the book. The leading character was a monk trying to solve some murders in a monastery in the early 1300s. One body was found in a vat filled with the blood of recently slaughtered pigs. When his sidekick concluded that the dead monk had drowned in the vat, the main character said, 'But have you ever seen the face of a drowned man. This isn't it.'

Perhaps the visual image of that made an impression on me -- an impression that stuck. It was a happy coincidence that I walked into a coffee shop in the Zion area, just after reading this. Reading, by itself, can be so tedious and dry. But if it is combined with something in the arena of active experience, the two become dance partners. 

National parks tend to attract a certain cultural stereotype, and there were plenty of them in the coffee shop. Most people were from the Big City. They imagined themselves to be hip, cool, and sophisticated. They were lost in their own little gadget worlds in the coffee shop. They seemed so engrossed in what they were looking at. Like it was so important!

In fact it was probably routine weather reports, emails, and cute photos of somebody's cat. Surely this amazing look of concentration and self-importance was the 'face of a drowning man' -- drowning in absolute trivia.

I don't mean to beat up on gadgets as the culprits in a busy lifestyle of drowning in trivia: television perfected this 50 years ago. (Watch the movie, "Network", if you haven't.) Going further back than that, writers in the 1800s ridiculed the daily habit of newspaper reading.

By another piece of fortuitous rockhounding I stumbled across a quote [*] from Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher/theologian of the first half of the 1800s:
On the whole the evil in the daily press consists in its being calculated to make, if possible, the passing moment a thousand or ten thousand times more inflated and important than it really is. But all moral elevation consists first and foremost in being weaned from the momentary.
That is a thought that a fellow can take off to the mountains and contemplate for awhile.

Gnarly details in the foreground of daily life can sometimes lead to the nebular development of more general thoughts.

And where does that leave us, sinful bloggers that we are? Do we really take advantage of the fresh perspectives that travel can sometimes foster, or do we settle for conventionality, mere description, and phony pragmatism?  We need to see concrete experiences and visual stimulation as a first step, and then move on to "What does it mean?"  Timeless meaning.
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[*] from Malcolm Muggeridge, "Third Testament."