My grandfather used to complain that technology was always at a point some way in front of him, and moving away at an ever increasing rate. In the eighties he complained that having four television channels was wasteful, as it meant that it was only possible to consume a quarter of broadcasts at one time. In the nineties he refused to tune the television to receive the new fifth channel on account of the fact that there were already plenty of broadcasts he wasn’t watching and didn’t feel the need to let any more go to waste. Now that he has passed on, I pray that his afterlife is a plane of gentle, asynchronous consistency.
“What?!” people would cry, almost physically recoiling with shock, “you’re still using dial-up?!”. The thing was, I liked my deliberately crippled little internet. I liked the fact that the web didn’t play music at me or coax me into filling hard-drive after hard-drive with media files. I liked the fact that only the good things worked: the fast, efficient, lean and mean things flew in while the bloated crap stayed away. But most of all, I liked the fact that the internet was something that went on somewhere else: I wasn’t surfing so much as spectating, and I could pull the plug as I wished.
I think the real problem was that I liked the thinternet too much, and I spent more and more time using it. But, with the passing of time, it “improved” (as in: got more and more bloated until became unusable). So, I wasn’t simply spending time doing more things, I was spending more time doing things. I can’t remember exactly what it was that provoked it but, one morning in late spring, I snapped. I needed bandwidth, and fast.
The headmaster of the secondary school I attended is a man by the name of Tony Hill, and there he is grinning down from the header of their site (one of the best-known designers’ techniques for getting the client to like the work you produce is to get a nice big photo of them and stick it everywhere—whether that’s what happened here I couldn’t possibly say). He used to use expressions like “Tremendous!” and “Jolly well done!” and “Over a hundred pupils!”, and probably still does. He’s the kind of guy that likes people to get involved, and this is probably why he makes a good secondary comprehensive headmaster.
For me, both as a pupil and now, the most interesting thing about Tony Hill is how similar he is to Tony Blair. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly it is they have in common, other than the fact that one always reminds me of the other. In fact, I once had a dream that I met Tony Blair, in which he shook my hand and grinned “Tremendous!”. I laughed so hard I woke myself up.
Over the course of my life, I’ve managed to beat several addictions. From the trivial (such as managing to stop biting my nails last year) to the very serious (the likes of which I won’t go into now), there’s a great sense of pride and achievement to be derived from managing to give up doing something bad.
The observant amongst you may have noticed that I’ve been away recently: in glorious Pembrokeshire for a few days and then on England’s south coast over the weekend. Almost accidentally, these breaks from the routine became the perfect opportunity to tackle my last significant addiction.
Since its return, I’ve come to notice that this site (or rather, the selection of posts I’ve made of late) has been described in more than one place as “intelligent”. I find this quite interesting. I think what is actually meant is something more like “considered”, but even so it has got me thinking about intelligence and what it means.
Conventional wisdom on writing for the web tells us to use simple language, short straight-forward sentence structures and brief paragraphs. This is because we are fundamentally lazy readers, particularly when staring at a screen. The same wisdom also instructs us to place black text on white pages, for the same reason. I used to subscribe to these points of view, but as time has worn on I’ve drifted away from them.
I’ve been thinking a lot about ways to organise weblog posts, and I think I may have something.
In the search for workable ways to organise chunks of content on a weblog, I looked at how I organise things in the real world, to see if there was any existing system that could be adapted. I turned to my CD collection, which sits in racks that cover one wall of our flat. The CDs are organised alphabetically by artist, starting at the top of the far left column. There are several things that can be observed about the system I employ: firstly that the alphabetical sorting is quite informal—artists are grouped by the first letter of their name, but I’m casual about exact alphabetic sorting. I don’t worry about Radiohead coming before REM or Kraftwerk before Lenny Kravitz. Relatively simple name-grouping is sufficient for me to find what I’m looking for, without increasing the overhead of returning the CDs to the wall or adding new purchases. Secondly, there are spaces in the racks between each alphabetic group, again to allow me to add new CDs without having to reorganise the entire collection. Thirdly, I notice that, within the alphabetic groups, I tend to place albums by the same artist together and, in some cases, organise these albums in order of release.
Google’s ability to define words is slightly more useful than at first it seems. This is an ideal thing for Google to be able to do. It’s a long way from being a new trick—if you’re familiar enough with the web to use the Google syntax, you’re familiar enough to search for the meaning of words, even if you have to use Google to do it—but even so it’s useful to bring such tools as close to the user as possible.
The most comprehensive of Google’s sources, it seems, is WordNet, and I’ve been trying to find things it doesn’t know. I thought that principally British expressions may not feature—indeed, at time of writing, a search for what it means to carry coals to Newcastle returns nothing—but a search for the definition of Newcastle comes up trumps.