Archive for the 'Meta' Category

Better yourself through some brief reading

Monday, July 7th, 2008

While I’m still decompressing (or is it recompressing?) from my July 4th weekend vacation at the beach, and figuring out what if anything to write about it on here, consider these two excellent links:

  • Kurt Vonnegut’s Advice to Writers is a must-read for any blogger or writer, would-be or otherwise. The most important advice to me? Write about subjects you care about and write about things that readers will find interesting. I’m proud to say I came up with those two independently, though I am guilty of frequently not following them.
  • Why Nerds Are Unpopular is a must-read for any nerd out there. The short version of it is that nerds are unpopular not because of any inherent unpopularity to being smart, but because being popular is an endeavor that requires devotion of significant amounts of time. Nerds simply value other things more than popularity. Read the essay for the complete take on it, which is a bit more complicated than my summary.

The comments section would be a perfect place to discuss anything you find interesting in either of these links.

July 4, woohoo

Friday, July 4th, 2008

It’s July 4, which means holiday! (Well, not in Britain; they’re still kind of resentful over the whole thing.) So I will be celebrating by going to the beach, where there will be no computers. See y’all again on Monday.

If you can’t think of anything to do over this holiday weekend, go to a local lake and just relax by its shore. You’ll enjoy it, and I guarantee it’s a good suggestion, because far too many people go to lakes far too rarely.

Syntax highlighting “Hello, world”

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

Don’t mind me; I’m just trying out the Syntax Highlighter WordPress Plugin. It’s pretty awesome, huh?

public void HelloWorld() {
	String txt = "Hello, World!";

Fixing an image upload bug in WordPress 2.5

Monday, May 26th, 2008

Ever since I upgraded to WordPress 2.5, I’ve been unable to successfully load images. The Upload Image page would come up just fine, I would select the image file, the progress bar would advance all the way to the finish, then I’d get kicked out to a WordPress login screen, with the image not having made it. I didn’t have the time to fix it for awhile, so I simply uploaded images to my webhost using SCP and linked to them manually, but that was a huge drain of time. So I finally sat down to fix it once and for all.

I tried all of the official WordPress fixes, to no avail. There’s something up with my shared hosting provider’s (HostMonster’s) configuration that doesn’t respond to any of the standard fixes. So I finally gave up and installed the No Flash Uploader plugin. It does exactly what it says: revert to the pre-Flash uploader days of WordPress 2.3. You may not get all of the “latest and greatest” features of the WordPress 2.5 uploader, but then again, I’d say an uploader that actually works is far superior than one that doesn’t.

So if you’re experiencing image uploading problems in WordPress 2.5, try out this plugin before you give up all hope. It’s just like uploading images in WordPress 2.3, which wasn’t bad at all. This whole Flash uploader mess — is Flash really even necessary, considering it’s not well supported on GNU/Linux? — along with the lack of password salting security hole pre-2.5 has really shaken my confidence in the WordPress developers. I’ll take basic functionality over flashy functionality any day of the week. And I wish they had followed this mantra a little more closely, as a simple Google search will reveal that I’m far from the only person having problems with WordPress 2.5.

Ending a blog is heart-wrenching

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

I’m just about ready to end my former blog, Supreme Commander Talk. It focused exclusively on the PC game Supreme Commander (don’t get bent out of shape if you have never heard of it; the game didn’t become nearly as popular as we had hoped it would). I stopped updating the blog about a year ago when I stopped playing the game. Since then, I managed to get a few other players in for short writing stints, but none of them stayed very long, and the blog has now lapsed after several months of inactivity. And given the game’s gradual loss of popularity since its release, even largely unstemmed by the release of its expansion pack, I think it’s about time to end the blog.

But ending a blog is hard. I, along with my friend Grokmoo, put a lot of effort into that blog. We were writing substantive entries in it every day. I would find myself playing multiplayer games just for the sake of having something to write about. I checked the forums and the other fansites constantly, so that even if I missed being the first to report to report on something, I would still be far from the last. It was damn fun, and it’s a real rush to grow a community around you. Oh yes, the relative “fame” was addictive. At its peak, SupComTalk was getting thrice as many daily visits as this blog currently gets. And on the aggregate, I’ve put a lot more time into this blog as well.

Ending a blog is hard, but sometimes, necessary. I don’t want to leave those loose ends hanging around perpetually, and getting overrun with spam is always a problem on a comment-enabled site that is no longer actively moderated. Of course, I’m not simply going to take the blog offline; that would be a terrible fate for something we spent so much time on (and I do despise linkrot). The simplest amenable way to end it would be to turn off commenting across the whole site, effectively rendering it static. There must be a WordPress plugin out there somewhere to mothball a blog. I’ll have to put up one final, melancholic post, allow a few final days for comments on it, and then lock it all down permanently. “This is the blog that was.”

I will miss SupComTalk a lot; don’t think this will be easy for me. I really enjoyed the experience, and I would love to do it again with some other game. Writing that blog was the closest taste of Internet fame I’ve ever had (admittedly, just a taste; not even close to a mouthful). And there was a lesson there that I quickly learned, yet have still failed to follow: single-topic blogs that focus on specific subjects are, on the average, far more successful than personal blogs that focus on whatever smattering of topics the writer happens to be interested in. Some day yet I might finally apply that knowledge to this blog — or perhaps create a new one. I’m still thinking about it. But as I draw close to finally pulling the plug on SupComTalk, it weighs heavier and heavier still on my mind.

Site note: new anti-spam measures

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

As the more astute readers may have noticed, I’ve increasingly been having spam problems on this site. More and more garbage comments and pingbacks were getting through my spam filter, Spam Karma. Unfortunately, the sole developer of that WordPress plugin stopped working on it more than a year ago, while the spammers haven’t stopped improving their techniques. So I’m switching over to Akismet, WordPress’s own anti-spam plugin, which is still actively supported. I’ll report on how well it’s doing after I’ve seen it in use for a couple weeks, but after one day of usage, I can at least guarantee that it doesn’t totally suck, as it’s stopped dozens of spam comments without letting a single one through.

Those of you who aren’t bloggers, consider yourselves lucky that you don’t have to deal with the messy issue of blog spam. I’ve found it to be a lot worse than tackling email spam. For starters, I get a lot more of it, and I also have to deal with it, as any spam that gets through makes your site look really trashy and could potentially damage your search engine rankings (Google punishes sites that link to spammy havens of the Internet). When you get a spam email, you can just ignore it and nothing bad happens; when you get a spam comment on your blog, you have to delete it, and that’s a fair bit more effort.

In my time off from fighting against spam, I amuse myself by thinking of all sorts of creative punishments for blog spammers. For instance, I’m a fan of Medieval-style hanging, drawing, and quartering, but that doesn’t quite satisfy me. I’d prefer hanged, drawn, and fractally quartered. Cut into four pieces, then cut each remaining piece into four pieces, ad infinitum …

That’s an appropriate punishment for spammers, and it satisfies my fascination with mathematics to boot.

Whee, a bungled WordPress upgrade

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

So I bungled the WordPress upgrade to 2.5.1 badly (let’s just say it’s not good that WordPress names all of its downloads I’ve attempted to redo the WordPress 2.5.1 upgrade repeatedly, restoring from a site backup multiple times and even restoring from a database backup once (sorry if I lost any comments, though I don’t think I did), to no avail. So I’m temporarily giving up while the site still appears to be in working order.

If you notice anything wrong on the site, please tell me! My contact information is on the About page, or, assuming comments are still working (:-P), you can leave one below.

Heading out to Massachusetts

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

I’m traveling up to Massachusetts tomorrow for a week for my job. I don’t know the status of Internet access in the hotel I’ll be staying in. I suspect it might be costly, in which case I’ll just refuse to pay. So you probably won’t see me writing anything for this blog until Friday at the earliest.

But that’s okay. In anticipation of not having Internet access for the duration, I’ve written and queued up a few blog posts to appear while I’m away. Just don’t expect any coverage of breaking news or timely responses to your comments. If this starts becoming a regular occurrence it may get to be a bit tiresome, because writing lots of blog posts in one day is kind of exhausting.

Passionate writing is excellent writing

Monday, April 14th, 2008

One thing I’ve come to learn over the years that I’ve been writing is that the more passionate you are about a subject, the easier it is to write about it. Ditto for being more knowledgeable about a subject (but that is perhaps trivial). My favorite posts are those about the subjects I am most passionate about. And not only is the resultant work better, but it takes less time to write as well. I’ve spent hours laboring over works that didn’t turn out very satisfyingly, whereas for other works I sat down, wrote at a break-neck speed, and within ten minutes had something I was really proud of.

For instance, look at the post I wrote the recent death of my great-aunt Muriel. It was an obituary of sorts, covering salient points of her life, explaining why the unknowledgeable reader should care that she died. It also expressed my innermost feelings on expected deaths. I think it came out really well, and I can tell it resonated with others by the comments that were left. Yet it was incredibly easy to write, probably taking a total of less than half an hour (and it was written within a few hours of hearing of her death). I didn’t even have the time to go research how old she was, leaving a perhaps too gruff proclamation to set the tone at the beginning of the post, but I shan’t go back and edit it. That post is from-the-heart, brutally honest, and essentially unedited, yet since it was something I felt passionate about, it just flowed from my mind, through my fingers and the keyboard, and onto the screen. I swear the number of typos I was making was lower than average, even though the typing speed was higher.

My first column for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback was on a topic I am very passionate about, evolution. I’m very happy with the way that one turned out. It did take awhile to write, but only because I was completely unfamiliar with writing for the newspaper business. My later columns on similar subject matters were dashed off very quickly, yet with good results, because I am passionate about and intimately familiar with the material.

Now compare that to my column on bike theft on campus, which, frankly, was a waste of newspaper space. Being a columnist for the Diamondback was kind of limiting. We had to write about topics relevant to students and the school, and even though my column was only published twice a month, I couldn’t always find anything interesting to me to write about. Hence the column about bike theft. I’ll be honest: I don’t give a damn about bike theft. I don’t own a bike, it’s a boring topic, and nobody really cares. Yet it took me longer to write that column (over three hours, I think) than any other one I ever wrote. Why? Because I was reaching so hard just to find something to say about it. The thrust of the column boils down to one sentence: “Bike theft is bad and security measures on campus should be better,” gaining nothing in the expansion to a whopping full page of newspaper column. Yet I couldn’t come close to distilling my blog post about my great-aunt down into a smaller number of words without vastly affecting its quality.

Read the rest of this entry »

Footnotes the solution to my problems?

Saturday, April 12th, 2008

One of the problems I frequently have when writing (for this blog or otherwise) is my wish to convey perhaps too much information. Sometimes interesting tidbits don’t really fit in with the flow of my writing, so I add them as parenthetical asides (like this right here). In many circumstances, I guess it’s just me being lazy and avoiding somewhat extensive rewriting to get everything to fit together just so. Other times, there really is no other way to do it. Or is there?

Are footnotes the correct way to do it? Justine Larbalestier seems to think so. Just look at her recent blog post on her travels in Italy. She’s using footnotes for all of the asides that I would be using parenthetical phrases for. Does it work?

I’m not sure it does (and here’s where I contradict the title of my blog post). Writing is very much a linear medium. I don’t like jumping around to and fro between the main body of a work and appendices. I just want to go from start to finish and be done with it. So I don’t click on footnotes because they interrupt the flow of my reading, whereas I do read all parenthetical asides because they are embedded in the text. Sometimes I try reading all the footnotes after finishing up the main text, but then they often don’t make much sense out of context, and I’m too lazy to go back up and figure out what they refer to. Long story short, I don’t bother reading footnotes anymore.

Just as an aside (the non-parenthetical variety, thankfully), is there anyone out there who actually skips parenthetical asides? I know parentheses theoretically mean “optional”, but all they really mean to me is “this content could be excised without affecting the flow of the rest of the sentence, but you know you’re going to read it anyway”. Literature would be so much duller without all of those intriguing tidbits enclosed between those lovely curvy punctuation marks; how could anyone possibly skip them? (Or is there anyone who only reads the parenthetical asides and nothing else? Try it!)