Mar 072004

You don’t want to know. Or maybe you do. I’ve spent 14 to 16 hours a day programming — rearchitecting, in the argot, a project I’m working on. The application tracks resources, for construction companies, in real time, and there were quite a few things to fix. (Note to Cosh: this is what I do for a living.)

Don’t misunderstand: I’m as lazy as the next man, probably lazier. My exertions were mostly geared toward maximum future leisure. The application is in beta now, and very soon it will go into production. The beta users want new features, and the production users will want more new features. Your choice is, fix the server design now to make these features relatively easy to implement, or do ten times as much work down the road. As the FRAM oil filter guy used to say, you can pay me now, or pay me later.

I’m also one of those guys who will work forever if something interests him and idle for weeks otherwise, which makes me, as you might imagine, a less than satisfactory employee. In this case we decided on more or less the server design that I wanted in the first place, so I was forced to work around the clock to prove that I was right. Which I was. And isn’t that what life is really all about?

Microsoft, about which I rarely have a good word to say, certainly earned its keep this week. It turns out that C#, unlike Java, can transparently proxy objects over machine boundaries. This means you can create complex objects on the server with references to their subobjects, pass in a proxy that knows how to construct the subobjects, and then fetch the subobjects dynamically, without the callers having to know a thing about it. The nasty synchronization issues associated with client-side caching disappear, turning event-handling from a nightmare into a breeze. If you understood this, what a thrill, right? If you didn’t, I’ll write about poetry again soon.

I shall return later tonight with an explanation of why David Lee Roth is the world’s most eminent living sociologist. If by some chance I don’t, see above.

Jan 082004

It turns out that my laws of blog comments were incomplete. I forgot this:

7. Anyone who posts to a dead thread is insane.

To take a few recent instances:

Here, on a casual aside about Bill Buckley and joint sizes:

you are all stupied you have no clue about the weed world its alot more complaicated so shut the hell up [From “reefer king”.]

Here, on an article on the history of cryptography:

I have noticed any strengths and weakness.please commnt on this. [From “yathish”.]

Here, on a philosophical discussion of slippery slopes:

It is written in the big book, that,God said” The world is going to be rich and there will be plenty of everything. But there are people out there who are simply fell bad just becouse poor’s are not next to them.” In other word ‘s they don’t won’t to illiminate suffering.Let God bless wellestone for his “we can do it” kind of attitude.And his positivity for every race,including the poor immigerants.If you think all this terrorist and iraq game is about anything else ,you must be in slippery slope.I say it is about there is enough money in America today which can make every body rich .but if every good looking immegrants get rich out there,the ugly’s going to be exposed and they can’t compitate any more.”IT is ugly’s world baby” [From “Ambaye T kassay”.]

Sic, sic, sic.

Jan 032004

After sixteen months, and a few late fits and starts, Cinderella Bloggerfeller has finally decided to hang up his glass slipper. Don’t go over there and encourage him to come back. I used to do that when my favorite bloggers retired until I realized how tiresome it is. There are other joys in life, and if you’re sick of blogging, quit. Then, if you were any good, you get to read your own obituaries.

The worst name in blogging history was the least of Cinderella’s distinctions. He was among the wittiest of bloggers; sample his account of his birth, his New Apocalypse Review, his one-entry series of Inspired Misspellings of the Blogosphere, his brief and expanded eulogies for Edward Said, and his nifty lift from Swift.

I can count on the fingers of one hand the blogs that are irreplaceable: Cinderella’s was one. He specialized in translations from Polish, French, Spanish, and Italian. Some were literary, some philological, some political. Cinderella followed assiduously the nasty goings-on in Transcaucasia, of which most Westerners are at best dimly aware. (This entertaining Insider’s Guide to the Stans should get you started.) He consistently dug up useful articles and interviews that we monoglot Americans wouldn’t have found or been able to read if we had.

Glenn Reynolds does what he does supremely well, but if he were to disappear tomorrow, some pocket-Reynolds, like James Joyner, would spring up to take his place. There are no pocket-Cinderellas, and in his absence we shall simply have to do without.

Dec 082003

Terry Teachout writes of the perils of the goyim among the Jews, but what of the perils of the Jews among the goyim? One of the minor joys of Richard Rhodes’s book The Making of the Atomic Bomb is this stock answer of a Russian physicist when confronted, as he frequently was, with anti-Semitic remarks: “My ancestors were forging checks when yours were still living in trees.”

Not to be understated, either, are the perils of the Jews among the Jews. Harry Cohn, the legendary chairman of Columbia Pictures, was once solicited by a group of writers for a Jewish relief fund. “Relief for the Jews?” said Cohn. “How about relief from the Jews?”

(Update: Rick Coencas comments on the comments.)

Sep 192003

What goes around comes around. Carleton College, which tossed me unceremoniously twenty years ago, now wants to cash in on my international fame by interviewing me about blogging for their alumni magazine. Fine. I can afford to be magnanimous about these things. Here’s the Q&A.

1. I notice that your archives go back to June 2002. When did you begin reading blogs? Whom do you read? When did it occur to you to start your own? Did you model yourself on anyone in particular?

I began reading blogs three or four months before I started mine. It occurred to me immediately that I might be able to do that too; the lag was sheer sloth. At the time I was also making a scant living designing websites, and I thought setting up my own web server would be a useful exercise. I still run the whole enterprise, if that is the word, from a Linux server in my living room.

The people I read are the ones on my blogroll, which is more a convenience than an honor roll. Some are famous bloggers, some not. Bloggers who deserve a wider readership include Evan Kirchhoff of 101-280, Tom of Agenda Bender, JW of Forager23, and Eddie Thomas of One Good Turn. Like all bloggers, I have a particular weakness for people who read me.

2. Has anything about blogging surprised you? For instance, were there certain assumptions you made before you started—about audience, say, or time commitment—that turned out not to be true?

I was pleasantly surprised, and still am, by the number of highly intelligent and knowledgeable people in the world I’d never heard of. Many of the best bloggers are well-known in their fields — Eugene Volokh in law, Chris Bertram in philosophy, Dan Drezner and Jacob Levy in political science — but who, before blogs, knew of Steven Den Beste, Megan McArdle, or Colby Cosh? Of course most of blogging, like most of anything, is white noise. There are several million blogs in the world, of which maybe a couple thousand are worth reading. That’s still about eighteen hundred more than I’m ever likely to get to.

I’ve also been impressed by how far out of their way even famous bloggers go to make themselves accessible. I can personally testify that Eugene Volokh and Andrew Sullivan answer their email, pretty promptly. I wrote a piece recently taking Terry Teachout, a deservedly famous critic, to task, not very politely either, and he replied, in detail, on his blog. Before blogs talking to Teachout in this unmediated way was basically impossible. I’d have had to write a letter to the editor at Commentary or The New Criterion or wherever and hope for the best. If you write something worth reading, it will be read, and by the people you want to read it. That just amazes me.

3. On average, how much time do you devote to blogging? Do you find it rewarding?

I am embarrassed to admit the amount of time I devote to blogging, considering my paltry output. I find writing absurdly difficult.

I probably spend ten or fifteen hours a week actually sitting at the computer and writing, but at least twice that to thinking about what I’m going to say. Once you catch the bug everything becomes grist for the blogmill. At dinner I will often orate about something or other, and my girlfriend will listen for a while and say, “I think I just heard tomorrow’s post.” And so she has. This habit makes me unacceptable in polite company. Fortunately all my friends are impolite.

4. Do you have any thoughts on how blogging, as a form, might come to influence the outside world (i.e. the non-online world)? For instance, some bloggers have given themselves credit for bringing down a) Trent Lott, b) Howell Raines, c) various flawed academics. Jeff Jarvis is busy encouraging the rise of blogs in Iran. Some Congressman once read James Lileks on the House floor to underscore a point he was making. My editors are particularly interested in how the rise of blogs might influence established a) media, b) politics, c) academia, d) digital culture—and so on. What do you hear from others and what are your own opinions?

Whither blogs? I have no idea. What Mickey Kaus calls blogger triumphalism, the orgy of self-congratulation that ensued at the fall of Trent Lott and Howell Raines, sets off my bullshit detector. I know from reefer logs that by far the most loyal audience for blogs is bloggers. Still, other influential people read them too, and Michael Bellisiles, to take a famous example, would have gotten away with very sloppy work if bloggers hadn’t caught him out. In fact he did get away with it, for years. Mainstream journalists are lazy enough to piggyback happily on research that a blogger does for free. They often don’t credit that research, but that’s another story.

Blogs are a sort of Zeitgeist-accelerator. You find out what everyone is thinking, and thinking about, except right now instead of next week or next month. They also radicalize the discourse, partly because having comparatively radical opinions is what inspires many people to blog in the first place, and partly because there’s a lot you can say on a blog that you can’t say on The New York Times op-ed page.

All of this pertains strictly to the polibloggers. Belletristic bloggers like me have no hope of influencing the world. We don’t try, really.

I wish Jeff Jarvis all the luck in the world in his quest to free Iran through blogging, but I suspect the rise of blogging in Iran stems from the mullahs beginning to lose control of the country, not the converse. The Congressional speech that quoted James Lileks had, I am sure, as profound an effect on policy as any other Congressional speech.

More important, some genius will eventually figure out how to make money from blogs. If you happen to run into him, please give him my phone number.

5. Tell me about your life outside of blogging. You live in New York, I see. What do you do for work? For fun? When did you graduate from Carleton, and do you ever correspond with other Carls online?

I was thrown out of Carleton in 1982, my junior year. This was due entirely to my inadequacies as a student and is no reflection on the school, which is perfectly fine as liberal arts colleges go, although so left-wing that it made my teeth hurt. Or maybe that was the weather. Memory blurs.

I maintain no connections from school, virtually or otherwise, because I find the term “Carl” indescribably embarrassing. The last time I spoke to a Carleton alumnus, so far as I know, was about five years ago, when I had dinner with a friend of mine from school. He had become a partner at McKinsey, the management consultants, and grown rich, sleek, and dull.

By trade I write computer software. For fun I play games. It used to be pool — the one activity in which I distinguished myself at Carleton, where I was the straight pool champion two years running — now it is bridge. Recently I captained a team that defeated a world championship team from Poland in an online match, which was a pretty big thrill. That should give you some idea of what a thrilling life I lead. I live in Chelsea with my long-time girlfriend and an old, surly cat with a pronounced overbite.

(Update: Agenda Bender comments.)

Sep 192003

Will the Google madness never stop? I can only hope so; in the meantime, welcome, visitors from the exotic lands of

depression quitting pot
Tom Petty neither here nor there
critical tits 2003
I believe Michael Kelly
Ann Coulter mental illness
wheelchair bondage
pitchers of god
how do you kill the undead

and, finally,

libertarian wallpaper

I believe I could die happy if I were #1 on Google for “libertarian wallpaper.”

Sep 062003

I have at long last become a blogparent, courtesy of Forager23, a promising youth who is already listed in the blogroll. Congratulations are also in order for my co-parents The Blowhards, giving Forager, technically, three mommies. They are incidentally chock-full of excellent reading as usual, especially Michael’s two-part interview with intrepid sonneteer Mike Snider and Friedrich’s ruminations about IQ.

Forager’s proprietor, the mysterious JW, writes from Burlington, Vermont, literately and prolifically, on art high and low, with an emphasis on comic books and a sideline in NASCAR, of all things. His greatest hits include:

  • Letter from a Townie. Mind the fence.
  • Comics and opera, which have more in common than you might imagine. I can’t be the only person in the world who was introduced to Rossini by “Rabbit of Seville.”
  • The Couch Rule, and its political implications.
  • A running series on his 25 favorite comic strips. He’s only done four, which obliges him, I hope, to stick around for a while. Dick Tracy is my favorite of his favorites so far.
Sep 022003

A few readers have complained that my site is difficult to access. Specifically, that it loads the header and then the page hangs. If anyone has experienced this please leave a note in the comments; it will help me fix it.

Aug 162003

Well. If you’ve tried to reach the site lately you’ve probably surmised why you couldn’t. I run my own web server, and living in Chelsea, I was the one of the last to get my power back, at 8:00 PM last night, 28 hours after it went down. This was accurately predicted by a Con Ed functionary I spoke to 20 minutes after the lights went out. “24 hours at least,” he said. Remarkably, he seemed to be far better informed than Mayor Bloomberg, who told the city at 5 PM Thursday night that the power would return in a couple hours, at 6 that it would return by nightfall, at nightfall that it would return by tomorrow morning, and at 11 that it would return Real Soon Now. Bloomberg, Plato’s mayor, apparently considers it his duty to tell New Yorkers what he thinks they ought to do but what he thinks they ought to hear as well.

Previous mayors would have handled things differently. Giuliani would have donned a Con Edison cap and told the truth, more or less. Koch would have waxed Jewish-mother-philosophical and bragged about how big New York’s backup generators were. Dinkins would have been out of town on a tennis holiday and unavailable for comment.

My favorite bit from the blackout was its attribution, by Bloomberg and several other city officials, to a “natural occurrence.” Yes, Mother Nature’s Power Grid went on the blink again. Private corporations screw up and out come the torches and pitchforks. Public utilities cause billions in damage, and it’s an act of God.

Jul 202003

I finally tired of my blogroll and thrashed it, with the results you see on your left. The “Now” category consists of people I check every day — which doesn’t necessarily mean they write every day, although it helps — while everybody in “And Then” I check at least once a week. I will say in defense of this scheme only that it’s an improvement.

To the nice questions of blogroll politics I have no satisfactory answers. If someone links to you, should you link back? It seems only fair that you should, somehow, and I’ve created a Hall of Reciprocity for this purpose. This will not quite do; it’s like inviting someone to the wedding ceremony but not the reception. But I can think of nothing better.

My blogroll exists for my convenience and your curiosity. The oft-seen enormous blogroll defeats both purposes. No one this side of Instantman reads 200 blogs regularly. Yet I understand how it happens. A link, once established, tends to linger like a British houseguest.

When it comes to cleaning house, big bloggers are no problem. I grew bored with Andrew Sullivan and Mickey Kaus, where it’s all Times all the time, but they will not notice, let alone mourn, their sudden absence. Smaller bloggers are a different matter, and only a few, most of whom have posted so irregularly of late that their blogs are effectively moribund, have been demoted. I have also, at long last, buried the dead.

What to do, finally, about the blogs of your real-life friends? The usual solution, a “friends” category, smacks of favoritism. You may as well call it “Dude, your blog sucks, but you did bail me out of jail that one time, so here’s a link for you. Remember it the next time I call you at 3 AM,” except that’s a bit too long to fit nicely in the sidebar. Well, from now on my friends get the same treatment here as everybody else, and I’ll just have to raise my own bail money.