Category Archives: Words

Paul Ford Builds It

And almost 2000 people show up immediately.

If you are respectful of others, you will be welcomed, and people will be excited to see your web pages and to meet you. This is not a special characteristic of; this is a basic characteristic of decent humans that somehow has become atypical on the Internet.

I got online in 1992, and this piece is making me so nostalgic, even though everything about what he made sounds distinctly nicer than most of what I encountered then. Wait, is that what nostalgia is? Being suffused with a sense of what the good old days could have been if they actually had been good?

Not Strict

“I’m a vegetarian. I’m not strict; I eat fish, and duck. Well, they’re nearly fish, aren’t they? They’re semi-submerged a lot of the time, they spend a lot of time in the water, they’re virtually fish, really. And pigs, cows, sheep, anything that lives near water, I’m not strict. I’m sort of like a post-modern vegetarian; I eat meat ironically.” —Bill Bailey, in Part Troll


I don’t have any spiritual beliefs, but when I’ve lost a pet, I always find myself hoping that kitty is in an eternal sunspot somewhere, having a nice nap. It’s just a nice wish for someone you want the best for.

I feel that way about Steve Jobs. Maybe not the sunspot part, but wouldn’t it be nice if he’s someplace warm, maybe looking at turtlenecks with Carl Sagan? (Surely that little legal dust-up is water under the bridge by now—and Steve wasn’t even there at the time, right?)

The Writing Life

Hilary Mantel remains my favourite literary stoic, however. Despite her producing A Place of Greater Safety and other magnificent novels, prize juries overlooked her. After she finally won the Booker in 2009, she had every right to be triumphalist. Instead, she wrote in the Economist of how ‘once, when I was trudging home from my second failure to win the £20,000 Sunday Express award, a small boy I knew bobbed out on to the balcony of his flat. “Did you win?” I shook my head. “Never mind,” he said, just like everyone else. And then, quite unlike everyone else: “If you like, you can come up and play with my guinea pig.”’ I suspect that Mantel knew for years that she was the real thing, and just needed to wait for the rest of us to catch up.

From July 9 Diary, by Nick Cohen, which is mainly about something else entirely.

Love Valve

Not exactly what the article is really about, but:

[E]very Sunday, we would drive over and I’d play around either at the farm proper or the home they had with a couple of acres. And they owned a Pomeranian dog.

First, this is a weird thing for a couple of farmers to own. I later learned that there is a link between old Eastern European folks and Pomeranians. They are very heavily owned by young Asian women and 70-year-old Eastern European dudes. I was in Ireland once and I was told a theory by a farmer there about farming with animals. If you have pigs or chickens or cows, you have to not get too attached to animals because they might get sick and you have to kill them, or if you’re raising a pig for slaughter, you have to kill it and feed it to people. So one of the things that farmers do is buy one spectacularly useless little dog. It’s like a Chomskyan release valve on a farm. That’s why these Irish farmers have little Jack Russell Terriers. They can pet them and love them and not have to worry about having to kill them. —Clive Thompson

The Whole Thing

The Slippery Slope of Silencings

Rebecca Solnit on mansplanation:

Every woman knows what I’m talking about. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world.

Men Explain Things to Me: Facts Didn’t Get in Their Way

Gawker Redesign

I don’t have much to say about the visual design of the Gawker sites. I am a regular visitor of only one of them, and I usually visit from a desktop computer. I don’t have any trouble getting around the new layout. But Gawker made one big error, and that’s in the functionality for directing visitors who link to specific articles on a mobile device (at least, on iPad and iPhone): visitors ends up at a listing of headlines, which may or may not contain the headline that interests them. If they even know what that headline is, since they may have arrived from a shortened link in a Twitter message, introducing the article with a cryptic remark.

It’s fine to say, “Keep your hair on. They’re working on a fix.” or even “Sounds like you follow faux-clever jerks on Twitter.” You’re entitled to that opinion. But a basic principle of sound Web design is to make sure the user always has a “scent of information” to follow. If users find themselves someplace unexpected, a good design will help them on their way. And that’s just for people navigating the site. If they’re following links to specific pages, getting them there should be a no-brainer.

If a person follows a link to a specific page in your site, it’s just silly to think it’s perfectly fine to send them anywhere else. If your developer knows enough about the device making the request to shunt it to a different layout of the site, the site should be capturing enough about the link the user selected to get all the way there. If it dumps the user on a TOC page, your developer simply didn’t complete the job. And if hash-bangs, or whatever the new hotness is, don’t work well enough or consistently enough with the major pathways into your site, then maybe you should resist the temptation. Who knows? If an iPhone can’t find your page with your newfangled whatsit, maybe Google can’t, either.

Those of us who have been using mobile for a long time are familiar with this half-assed approach. We’ve been seeing it on television and newspaper websites for years, going back long enough that some of us could kind of understand why a Web team’s use cases didn’t capture us. But that’s not the situation today, even for those legacy outlets. So why would a new-media darling, which surely has a massive base of users on the current It Device, whatever that may be, repeat such a classic old-media mistake? Engaged audiences already greet redesigns with suspicion—why not take the time to make sure the functionality is solid?

The Anchovies Are Restless

Margaret Atwood gave the keynote at O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing conference. The entire presentation (33 minutes) is available O’Reilly Radar.

Atwood illustrated much of her presentation with hand-drawn images, including the occasional bulleted list. Did you know she was a cartoonist in a previous life? Neither did I. “You’re supposed to do one thing,” she says. “If you do more than that, people get confused.” How true that is.

Anyway, Atwood addresses the many dimensions of technologies and the concern that a disorganized response to the massive changes in prospects for publishing could end up eliminating the author. As noted above, they are a crucial aspect of the publishing ecology, but while the death of one author can be nourishing (she does point out that authors don’t have to be dead), you don’t want them to go extinct.

By the way, she recommends authors supporting themselves by inheriting money, and notes that rock concerts and t-shirts are not an option. I’m not 100% sure about the latter part of that, but it’s true that the marketing and promotion end of that kind of self-management is difficult, and self-publishing is hard enough. Oh, just go watch it.