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January 08, 2005

MT 3.14 & Blacklist 2.04b

If everything went as it should, ai should now be running on MT 3.14, with the latest version of Blacklist. Please let me know if you encounter any unexpected problems. Thanks! UPDATE: I've also now installed MT-DSBL, which is supposed to work in conjunction with Blacklist to block comments from open proxies and IPs on the blacklist. Right now the plugin will force moderation of all comments it catches. If it seems to be working well, I'll change it to block those comments w/out any moderation hassles. If you have any experience with this plugin, it would be great to hear whether it has worked for you. Btw, the above changes were inspired by Six Apart's Guide to Combatting Comment Spam. If you run an MT installation, you might want to check it out.

Posted 08:46 PM | meta-blogging

Formatting Experiments

Are you tired of your ambivalent imbroglio? Is it wearing out, grating on your nerves, or making your eyes cry out with boredom or clutter? Is your imbroglio just too darned tired? Well never fear! Experiments are here! In the next few weeks I'm going to be hella busy, so there's no better time to embark on a redesign of ai. At least, there's no better time to plan for such a thing and talk about it and wish I could do it, even if I don't actually get around to it. First up, I'd like to change the posting pattern around here. For some time I've admired the rather unique way Dave Winer posts on Scripting News. The format seems to be that anything post that's more than a short paragraph gets its own title, while anything that's just an observation or pointer to somewhere else just gets a line or two. The key is that all of these posts—both the longer, titled ones, and the untitled snippets—get permalinks. The colored permalink symbols (#) at the end of the snippets mark the transition from one snippet to the other. The only slightly incongruous element of this method is that the titled posts get a permalink at the top (after the title) instead of at the end, like the snippets. Winer does not allow comments on any of his posts. Anyway, I've been thinking of a convenient way to do something similar to Scripting News here at ai, because it would allow me to eliminate the ambivalent bits sidebar and just incorporate those kinds of links into the main body of the blog each day. That would simplify the design of the page, and would also make archives more meaningful because everything posted on a given day would end up in the same place. Does anyone have any thoughts on how to accomplish this? One idea is simply to create one post per day. Within the post, each “item” would get an anchor on the end. Longer posts would also be components of the single daily post, but they'd have titles, and again, an anchor at the end. I can't decide whether to allow comments on everything, or just on the longer bits. What do you think? Or does it even matter? Perhaps I'll just try it and see. As food for thought, Andrew Raff (who was actually the original inspiration for ambits) has developed something like this on his blog. However, his short items don't have permalinks or comment/trackback links. The cool bit is that they are clearly distinct content because they appear w/a light grey background. Perhaps I'll try out something like this, as well. When any of this will happen, I can't say. For now, these are just ideas I hope to play with. The larger redesign will probably eliminate the ability to “transmogrify ai” (change color schemes), simply because I don't think that adds much value for anyone. I wanted to see if I could make it work, and now that I have, well, it's not as fun anymore. I'm also considering:
  • Upgrading to MT 3.14. This I will definitely do, possibly today. I'd really kind of like to move to an open source platform (i.e. WordPress), but that will require far more time than I have in the foreseeable future.
  • Adding a CAPTCHA comment requirement, although Preaching to the Perverted says his didn't work as well as hoped.
  • Creating a changeable photo-header, again, much like Scripting News (the Scripting News header photo changes at Winer's whim, usually every couple of months or so, I'd say).
  • Editing the blogroll to a more manageable number of links and putting the rest elsewhere. I've been playing with and it looks like it might make a great link manager. This looks like a fairly easy way to include your list of links on a page via the RSS feed, so maybe I'll play with that.
  • General simplification to make the page read more easily and load faster.
If you have suggestions, comments, or requests for an ai redesign, please let me know.

Posted 08:05 PM | Comments (8) | meta-blogging

Tacky, Morally Superior, and Snide

It seems my admittedly flip rant about magnetic ribbons has boiled Anthony Rickey's blood. I mocked the ribbons as a superficial expression of an ambiguous message. My little critique was not very original—see the comments at second person singular, which sparked my post; AntiMagnet; and Ernie Pook's Comeek. Anthony responded with a touching story of a scene he witnessed in which the magnetic ribbons were useful in bringing together two people who have loved ones in Iraq, allowing them to share their experiences and express support for the hardships involved with being in that very difficult situation. All of that is very fine. I thank him for that story, because it shows the ribbons playing a useful role for their displayers and helps answer my original question, which was: What do the ribbon displayers think they are saying with these magnets? Some of them clearly are saying something to the effect of: “I have a loved one in Iraq and I hope he or she comes home safe and sound.” That's great. I, too, hope all the troops come home safe and sound. In fact, my support for the troops in Iraq has never wavered on that count. From the first suggestion that the U.S. was going to invade Iraq, I objected strenuously. I marched and wrote letters and participated in teach-ins and pickets, all so that no American soldiers would be sent to Iraq in the first place. Now that they're there, I certainly hope they all come home ASAP and safe and sound. I hope I've never suggested otherwise, and I apologize if anyone has interpreted anything I've said any other way. But Anthony's post points out the crucial difficulty faced by those who have always opposed this war and occupation. First, from day one, it has been nearly impossible to have any sort of rational exchange of opinions on the subject. The pacifist (or the person not wholly opposed to war, but just opposed to this war) said, “Iraq is not a threat to the U.S. or its allies, it had nothing to do with 9/11, and the inspections and sanctions are working to keep Saddam in line.” The pro-war person replied, “Oh, you went to college and think you know more than our president? Bush says Iraq's a threat. Do you want the proof to come in the form of a mushroom cloud!?” And so we went to war and American soldiers began dying and getting maimed and wounded. Today, I suggest that magnetic ribbons are not a very effective form of support for troops in Iraq, but rather than explain to me why he thinks I'm wrong, Anthony writes an anti-intellectual screed that suggests that a college education has made me snide, morally superior, and tacky. But more important, he suggests that by criticizing ribbons, I'm not only not supporting the troops, but I'm somehow hurting them or their loved ones. There's a leap there that's not helpful for the troops or anyone else. So long as Americans are unable to have thoughtful exchanges about the war without one side constantly trying to trump the other by baiting them with emotion or fear, American soldiers will probably continue to die in unjust and unnecessary military misadventures. As for the substance to Anthony's post, he makes an important connection between the domestic response to what's happening in Iraq today and that response to what happened in Vietnam more than three decades ago. How much have the damaged pride and unhealed wounds of that national humiliation fed support for the current conflict? I really don't know, but the 2004 election showed that the unresolved feelings, unhealed wounds, and unforeseen consequences of Vietnam continue to shape and influence Americans and American foreign policy today; Anthony's connection between that war and this one simply reiterates that fact. Unfortunately, the mistakes we've made and continue to make in Iraq are also likely to negatively influence Americans and American foreign policy in similar ways for generations to come. Anthony concludes that because some percentage of magnet-displayers feel their magnets express something genuine and meaningful, all criticism of the magnets is meaningless. I obviously disagree. Dangerous jingoism generally thrives upon a foundation of true and justified sentiment, but that doesn't make it any less dangerous. That said, I don't think the magnets are all that dangerous and their objectionable potential probably wasn't worth the time it took to write my original post about them. I do wish they were being made by an American manufacturer (so as not to add needlessly to our already gargantuan trade deficit) who was giving 50% or more of the proceeds to efforts to educate Americans about the dangers of unilateral military adventurism and the self-perpetuating follies of war generally. To me, that would be a great way to support American soldiers, both those serving today and those who will serve in future generations, because it would decrease the likelihood that U.S. citizens would allow their leaders to put our soldiers in mortal peril for anything but a genuine last resort. On a final and more personal note, I hope Anthony (and others who feel as he does) will take this post as it's intended—as a measured attempt to explain my opinion of the subjects it covers. I've already admitted that my first post on the ribbons was a snide rant, and that is obviously not a good way to open or contribute to discussion of a serious issue. One of the double-edged swords of blogs is that they often encourage sarcasm and flippancy. This can be a refreshing way to cut through the spin we often hear from politicians and others, but it can also be a poor way to discuss controversial issues with people who see things differently than you do.

Posted 11:40 AM | Comments (10) | general politics

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