Sponsored links are the new spam

educate Washington

Steven Frank drew the webcomic Spamusement from 2004 to 2007. The schtick was “Poorly-drawn cartoons inspired by actual spam subject lines!”

It was a genius idea. Frank encouraged other people to draw their own, based on spam they’d received. Back in the day, I drew about a dozen. Drawing them was a pleasant kind of mental palate cleanser, doodling that was tethered loosely to the verbal part of my brain.1

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Animals which are also transitive verbs

In a recent conversation with Cristyn, we somehow came to be talking about the sentence: Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo.

This sentence, sometimes with a couple of extra “Buffalo”, is often used as an example of a grammatical sentence which is hard to parse.1 In a less perplexing form, it says: Bison whom bison baffle— they themselves baffle bison.

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Quotidian superpowers

Today’s game: favorite practical superpower.

The rules: name a superpower that you would love to have and that make your life (or someone’s life) immensely easier, but which would be boring to read about or watch on TV.

This is a Facebook prompt from Carl Sachs.1 I gave several answers, most inspired by minor abilities of old GURPS characters.

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Release the doggerels

Over at Crooked Timber, Harry Brighouse exhorts readers to write philosophical clerihews.

I was unfamiliar with the form, but it’s not complicated. A clerihew is a four-line poem about some person or other with an AABB rhyming pattern. The sort of thing Ogden Nash would have written if he’d been less pithy.1

I contributed a couple, and I shamelessly cut and paste them here.

The Scotsman Thomas Reid
had a commonsensical creed,
a fondness for calico cats,
and questionable taste in hats.

The mustachioed John Dewey
might have gone all kablam and kablooey
if he had not understood inquiry
in a way that avoided such injury.

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Tweets point nowhere

Mark Simonson’s blog got me thinking about information technology and the original aspirations of hypertext. Simonson laments that current technology is too much driven by concepts taken from print media. Part of the problem is the lack of a clearly defined alternative. Ted Nelson, who coined the word “hypertext”, had a vision of multiple texts floating on-screen with lines connecting points in one to points in another. I don’t see how that wouldn’t end up like items on a cork board linked by lengths of yarn, the idiom for madness from A Beautiful Mind which has become Hollywood shorthand for crazy conspiracy theories.

Old school blogging actually seems like a pretty good realization of hypertext. Good blog post take a while to write because you’ve got to provide pointers so that someone who hasn’t got context or who is curious can follow up. Someone who wants even more can search on key terms.

All of this crystallized for me what I don’t like about Twitter. In order to cut a thought down to Tweet length, people leave out context. What are they enraged about? What’s the thrust that drew their clever riposte? I can’t always tell.

Sometimes thoughts that won’t fit into a single tweet are written as a stream, possibly with numbered entries 1/9, 2/9,… I see entry 4 of 9 because someone reweeted it, and it’s a serious investment of effort just to view the original series in order. Even then, I can’t always suss out the context.

Twitter, in short, is hypotext. It eschews the links of hypertext but also the context you’d expect from a letter or newspaper article.

Part of the shift is that many people go on-line primarily with phones or tablets, appliances that are great for scrolling and clicking but bad for following multiple threads. Twitter and Facebook turn our feeds into one-dimensional things. We can scroll through, liking and reposting as we go. But reposting just drops another log somewhere into the flume.

Reader query, re: anagrams

Based on your own sense of how words work, pick one of the following:

  • Every word is an anagram of itself.
  • Some but not all words are anagrams of themselves.
  • No word is an anagram of itself.

There’s a principled case to be made for every answer. Cristyn and I hashed it out over goat cheese last night, but I won’t tell you the considerations we mustered on various sides or what we concluded. I’m curious about what you think.

Paean for the open internet

Today is a day of action in which technology companies plump for net neutrality. Action seems to mean talking on the internet.

In filling out a petition-thing, I wrote this:

There’s a form letter I could have cut-and-pasted here, but this is important enough to write my own words. As a user of the internet, I want to be able to access the content which I decide matters. I want it to come at the same speed other content would come at, rather than having it be faster or slower based on whether someone who owns that content has decided to pay more for access to me. If they get control over accessability and relative speed, then I’m not a consumer anymore but instead I’m the product that the service provider sells to their customers. That’s why net neutrality matters.

It seemed worth posting here, too.

Hi-phi, podcasts, mash-ups, and covers

There is a short review of Hi-Phi Nation in today’s Guardian, topped by a nice picture of host Barry Lam.

Cristyn and I were in Poughkeepsie last week to talk with Lam about cover songs. He plans to do a show about musical covers. He called us because he had read the paper we wrote with Christy Mag Uidhir and we’re local.

Walkway over the Hudson
While there, we also took in the Walkway over the Hudson.

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