Obdormio.com Unwasted Hours

20 February, 2012

Serious Business: Richard Dawkins’s Family Tree

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Obdormio @ 00:00

Someone twittered an article from the Telegraph, regarding Richard Dawkins.

My knowledge of Richard Dawkins is perfunctory at best. I haven’t read his books, nor the books arguing against him; I haven’t seen him speak, nor read many interviews with him; and I don’t really know what it is he does with his days. I think I have caught the gist of his opinions, from general cultural osmosis, but I am by no means educated enough on them to say anything useful about them. Luckily, this particular post requires me only to know that he is a controversial man and that he makes some people very angry.

Which brings us to the Telegraph article, which reveals, with an almost palpable glee, that Richard Dawkins’s ancestors owned slaves.

So what?

Seriously, so what? I mean, slavery is obviously a terrible thing and not something to tolerate, but how on Earth can Richard Dawkins help the fact that his ancestors did bad things? What is accomplished by throwing it in his face? How is it different from blaming Benedict XVI for the actions of Lucuis III? (An example, I should hasten to add, I just made up, which has no relation to anything Dawkins has said, since I don’t really know what Dawkins has said. See the second paragraph.)

The excuse for the article seems to be that Dawkins’s family is still rich from that past exploitation, a claim Dawkins refutes in his response to the article. In lieu of actual numbers, my instinct is to take his word for it. So what’s the point of it all?

I suspect I disagree with many of Dr Dawkins’s views, and should I ever find the time to educate myself on the finer points of them, maybe I’ll even write about my disagreement, but there has to be better ways of expressing disagreement than this. Especially if you’re an actual, real press newspaper. It just seems so childish, it’s hard to understand how it got published at all. Even if it turns out Dawkins still owns a giant estate somewhere where slaves are literally buried in the foundations, the article is more interested in embarrassing him than in revealing any real issue.

I don’t know much about the Telegraph either, really, or the British newspaper scene in general. Just from the apparent vendetta against Dawkins, I deduce that they’re on the conservative side of things, but this sort of article surely cannot be the norm? Either way, what a terrible first impression.

16 February, 2012

Abject Terror

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

So, some times you get results you didn’t expect.

Sunday evening I sat there panicking about the impending public shame that would result from a Monday with no post, so I hit upon the idea of making a quick and dirty one, that would be fairly easy – essentially a small list. I knew there would be some duds when I started, right? So I pooped this post out in about forty minutes of not very focused work – which doesn’t mean I picked the links at random, though, they really are very, very good – and then scheduled it for publication. Sure, it wasn’t my best work, but I went on with my day secure in the knowledge that I don’t really have many readers yet.

And then this happened:A tweet by David Willis

 

And then this happened: Graph of site visitors

And then this happened: A drawing of me hiding under a table

Sure, two hundred people may not be very many in the grand scale of things, but for a fledgling blog that still numbered its posts in single digits and had its previous high point in visitors at 12, it was a bit of a jump. And on that post, too! The half-arsed, minimum-work hackery! It’s very possible this is the largest audience I’ve ever had, and that is what I showed them? And these aren’t people who’ll be coming back, either, I had one chance at an impression here!

It didn’t even look good! The subheadings weren’t very aesthetically pleasing. I thought about trying to make them look better as I wrote the post, maybe make some nice lines under each of them, but decided to not get bogged down in that sort of coding minutiae. That’s the sort of stuff I’d use to distract myself from writing anything at all. So up it went, in all its lack of glory.

Obviously I’m glad Willis liked it enough to comment, that was a nice thing to do of him. But man, it was not a post designed to impress writers I admire.

So, lessons learned? Fear the duds. Try not to be mediocre where large groups might see it. And when you link to someone awesome, someone awesome might also link back to you, so … try not to? That’s the lesson here? Hell if I know.

13 February, 2012

Five of a Thing: Comics

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

In its previous incarnation, this blog included a rather long list of links to various comics I read on the web. At the outset, the idea was to list all of them, but it quickly fell behind as I dropped some and added others to my daily trawl. It was too long to be in any way useful, something I tried to alleviate by dividing into sections based on the strength of my recommendation, but this too was something that quickly became outdated. By the end, I don’t think there was much overlap between the list on the blog and the actual list of comics I read in my bookmarks.

The rejuvenated blog you’re reading now doesn’t have many links – actually, it only has one, and that one more out of deeply ingrained habit than anything else. Hopefully, I’ll eventually find some more worthy websites to add a permanent link to, but I don’t plan to repeat previous follies by trying to squeeze in all the comics I read – certainly not into the present sidebar. In lieu of that, I’m going to share my love of various comics a different way: by listing a few highlights. I’m not going to call it a top five, simply because I don’t want to make that kind of ranking judgement. They are picked from the upper echelon of the about fifty or so currently running comics I follow. If you are not reading these, you are missing out.

The Adventures of Dr. McNinja

The absurd adventures of the ninja who is also a doctor. Who idolises Batman. And has a gorilla for a secretary, and a prepubescent side-kick who rides a dinosaur.

Not the easiest thing to explain to people, really, but absolutely one of the funniest comics I know.

Dumbing of Age

On the subject of funny, this is basically a good sit-com in comic form. David Willis is no stranger to the college room-mates setting, and in this comic he perfects the form so well that the tired premise actually works. He’s basically taken all the best bits of his previous works and mixed them all together to create new greatness and hilarity.

Drive

The tagline for this one is that the story is serious and the characters hilarious. It’s hard to put it better than that, really. Interstellar war between the Galactic Spanish Empire and mysterious aliens, seen through the eyes of a variety of interesting personages, including centipedes who write poetry. Both good humour and a genuinely interesting sci-fi setting.

Bad Machinery

I don’t know how to explain Bad Machinery. It is sort of kid’s adventure novels taken to weird lengths and told with John Allison’s very peculiar humour. There aren’t many laugh out loud punchlines as such, but the whole thing is steeped in an ineffable hilarity. Yes, that sounds good, ineffable hilarity.

Gunnerkrigg Court

I said I wasn’t going to rank, but screw it. This is the gold medal. This wins. All the prizes. Intriguing mystery, fantastic humour and absolutely gorgeous art. I don’t think I’ve seen a comic deliver mood as well as this since Sandman. It is absolutely criminal that Tom Siddell can’t make his whole living off this, and you should help remedy that situation by starting to read it right away.

There, that’s much better. Five recommendations, none of this link page to maintain nonsense. Now go read.

9 February, 2012

I Am Not a Librarian: Damn It, Dewey!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

As you might have noticed, I am a big fan of books – both in the abstract and as the physical object. I am also a big fan of systems and organisation. This might not be readily apparent to anyone peeking at my floors, but in my bookshelves order reigns supreme. I am also an avid LibraryThing user, which lets me keep a catalogue of my books which approaches a library standard. This helps me organise them, and with tags I can have all subjects well described.

That’s an organisation of ideas, though. Tags can tell me what a book is about, in general, but they are not very well suited to shelving. For that bastion of order, I need to use something else. Currently, my shelves are separated into three sections – once by format, then by content. Comics are separated from the prose books, which are in turn divided into fiction and non-fiction. Actually, since Understanding Comics is in the non-fiction section, I suppose it is more accurate to say that my shelves are divided into fiction and non-fiction, and fiction further subdivided by format.

Fiction is easy; it’s shelved alphabetically by author. Non-fiction is where it gets complicated. Shelving by author doesn’t really satisfy me there – I want books grouped by general topic, in an orderly fashion, by a real system. Enter the Dewey Decimal Classification. No, Dewey is too copyrighted for thorough discussion, let’s talk about the Melvil Decimal System instead. They’re both based on the work of Melvil Dewey, who I imagine felt some of the same desires I do for orderly shelves. I’m sure you have at least passing familiarity with his concept.  I’m no librarian; I have no training in library science or in classification, which I imagine is a lot more work, requiring a lot more patience, than it would seem on the surface. LibraryThing draws data about my books from libraries, however, so most of them have already been placed neatly into order in the DDC – whose numbers translate easily into MDS – by qualified professionals.

The problem is that Dewey’s system sucks. It doesn’t make any sense. The logic behind it is obscure, and the attitudes it codifies are out-dated and extremely ethnocentric. Let’s just look at the 2-range: Religion. These are the divisions Melvil thought necessary for books concerning religion:

  • 20 – Religion
  • 21 – Natural Theology; Secularism
  • 22 – Bible
  • 23 – Doctrinal Theology
  • 24 – Devotional; Practical
  • 25 – Pastoral Theology
  • 26 –  Church; Institutions; Work
  • 27 –  Christian History
  • 28 –  Christian Churches and Sects
  • 29 –  Non-Christian Religions

That’s not Christianity, that’s Religion. A whole big lot about Christianity, and a single section set aside for the rest of the world’s religions. No good. I am also not wild about the way the Bible is classed alongside books about Christianity, while The Homeric Hymns end up in the Literature section rather than with the rest of Greek mythology. It makes little sense to me.

Another problem area is the 4-range, Language. There are a couple of sections set aside for general linguistics, and then English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Latin and Greek get their own sections, with the rest shoved into 49 – Other Languages. Norwegian is filed under German, while the equally Germanic English gets its own section. Latin has a section of its own, while three other Romance languages get one as well. It makes no sense, at least not today. Presumably, it made sense to Dewey.

I really want a more logical system I can use. I suppose it technically doesn’t even need to be robust enough for a public library. I have made some small attempts at making something logical, but it is no easy task – no wonder Librarians go to school for this kind of thing. I had some high hopes for the Open Shelves Classification, but that ended up not really going anywhere, so here I sit still.

It is a bit silly, I suppose. The MDS works, sort of, and the books are all in the shelf. I suppose I could just put them in willy nilly, based on what feels right at the time, but every fiber of me objects to such a chaotic approach. I’m sure there are smart people out there working on classification systems. The DDC is aggressively copyrighted, and its flaws well known, so alternatives are desired by people who are not me. Guess I’ll just have to wait, though I’m going to whine about it. I’m not a librarian, you see. I’m no good at being patient.

6 February, 2012

Moving House

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

In December, my flat-mates and I received the unwelcome message that we’d lose our apartment at the end of the year. Faced with the hassle of moving right before Christmas, we managed to haggle down the eviction date and were able to remain through January. Having just completed the move, I am damn glad we did it that way; it was hassle enough without the holiday.

When pouring your life from one container into another, it takes a while for that gelly blob to settle into its new shape. Box by box, I carted my possessions, all the bits of detritus that make up ‘my stuff’, to the new location. I was able to find a new place very close to the old, and although it is a temporary stopgap, it will tide me well over until the housing market opens up a bit more nearer the summer. The new room is a little bit smaller than my old – and a bit more expensive – but I have managed to fit all the stuff in. It is a bit astonishing how much stuff there is, really. It’s a cliché, but a true one – you do find out what it is you own when you move it.

Breaking with my magpie nature, I managed to throw out a bunch of old papers and things that really serve no function but to consume space, but I was still left with several boxes of what I, in my mania, consider indispensable. They’re stuffed under the bed. The books, which I have previously mentioned carrying up and down stairs, are all in place, and the shelves, the desk, the dresser and all the clothes and blankets and sheets I apparently own are stuffed into the new room, and gradually seeping towards the edges as the blob finds its shape.

I have bought a lamp, my first proper lamp lamp. Oh, I’ve had little night lights and desk lamps, but this is a lamp for the room – a room lamp. This room inexplicably lacked any lighting – the ceiling lamp had been removed leaving only the screw holes – and so I have gotten my first proper lamp! I feel all grown up.

The room also comes with a skylight – insufficient a light source in a Norwegian winter – which is situated directly above the bed. With no curtains. I’ve gone out and gotten a curtain, in the same IKEA trip that got me the lamp, but I need some screws to put it up properly, so for now, I sleep in full view of the spy satellites and get the annoying half-light in at all hours. Not satisfactory yet. The blob is still settling.

Changing apartments doesn’t exactly rank high on the list of life changes, certainly not when it’s within the same neighbourhood, but it turns out to be quite a bit of work even so. Especially the thorough cleaning of the old place, but let’s not dwell on that little tragedy. I’m not properly at home yet; I am shaped for my old place, not the new. Literally so in some cases, this place has lower ceilings. Going to take a few days, I suppose, although I think there’s a chance that the temporary nature of this particular situation will make me keep it at a distance, subconsciously.

Ah, well, never mind. The point of it is: I moved this weekend. It was a lot of hassle. Now it’s done. And I’m waiting for my blob to settle.

2 February, 2012

I Am Not a Computer Guy: Technicalities

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

So far, the image of me presented here has been one of a hopeless Luddite, and I feel I should try to shake that off ever so slightly. I am actually kind of a fan of technology. I think gadgets are cool, like bow ties. Liking technology isn’t the same as knowing technology, a distinction I think I ought to make right away; I am only computer savvy when compared to my parents. On the Izzard technology spectrum, I am much closer to joy than to fear, though I do occasionally consult manuals. Sure, my desktop computer is currently not actually working, but I’m sure that wasn’t really my fault!

As a kid, I experimented a bit, learning very basic html, which I suppose has stayed with me. I’ve kept that up, and learned equally basic css, but never enough to be really good at it. I’m the kind of guy who knows just enough to be dangerous – I know how to go in and change things until it’s all messed up.

I’ve gotten better at balancing on that edge, though. With sufficient instructions, I’ve managed to make this blog look more or less how I want it, even though it required some messing about in code to do it. I managed to get the blockquote, seen in use in the previous post, to look good, at any rate. For the most part, though, I was happy to let the theme and WordPress do most of the work for me.

WordPress has changed a bit since the last time I tried blogging, gotten quite a bit more advanced. There’s all sorts of nifty new features I want to play with – like the whole widget set-up. So much simpler than fiddling about in codes. The standard set is fairly simple, but I think there are plenty of plugins providing extra functionality, and I am greatly looking forwards to experimenting with them and I have just become the Luddite lurching parodically into the present again, haven’t I?

Well, never mind. I still find the whole thing cool. I bet there are loads of interesting features I haven’t even found yet, and good uses for the ones I have found which I haven’t figured out yet. Even if I do share Patrick Rothfuss’s vague disappointment in the Omega button.

Beyond the world of websites, I am, as I said, fond of gadgets. My enthusiasm for my new phone a few posts back should prove that. I don’t have an iPad or some other kind of tablet, but it is mainly because I cannot justify the expense compared to the need. I already have a phone and a laptop, and unless they both break at the same time, I doubt I’ll get a tablet. Unless I win one. But give me a gadget, and I will find it cool.

So there, I am not opposed to technology. Not all of it anyway. I have techno joy. Now, if I could just find a twitter widget that filtered out replies, I would be all set.

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