Here's something I don't understand. Catholic teaching is that homosexuality is intrinsically wrong and objectively disordered. And now they're instituting a ban on gay clergy, even those who have vowed celibacy, which would seem to indicate a belief that homosexuality is a fixed condition. So some people are just born evil? Am I misunderstanding this, or is the Catholic church position really that God makes people gay and then condemns them for it?

Every time I read what some nut says about divine smiting, I remember what a modest mouse once said: God who'd wanna be such an asshole?

 

Yesterday I found myself drawn into a discussion I may have been wiser to avoid over on gapingvoid. I work as a web developer at an advertising agency, so I have a particular interest in how technology changes the advertising game, and until this discussion, I was watching what Hugh McLeod is doing from a distance and finding it interesting. But then he pointed to someone criticizing the whole thing, and the criticisms made some sense.

But I wouldn't likely have spent much time thinking about it if Hugh hadn't launched into the now cliché diatribe about how large organization X is just attacking the little guy because it knows technology is empowering the little guy and larger organization X is doomed. In this case, large organization X seemed obviously irrelevant to the conversation.

So I pointed this out, as did others, but Hugh didn't make any movement away from the ridiculousness, saying I'm being paid to piss Big Money off. I think this is just a few steps away from saying "if you don't like my business plan, the terrorists have already won." It's just dragging out a boogeyman to drum up support. So I lost some respect for Hugh there.

Tom Coates was involved in this conversation too, and writes:

I'm totally fed up of people standing up and waving a flag for the death of institutions based on sketchy information and a vague belief in the rightness of their cause - and I'm also slightly sick of more moderate voices being drowned out under the revolutionary fervour of people fresh with their first wave of excitement about user-generated content on the web.

Me too. But I'm not sure what to do about it, nor even how to avoid participating in the cycle myself. A few weeks ago I got involved in one of these discussions and found myself on both sides in different contexts. A friend of mine who is not particularly interested in technology started an email discussion about how she doesn't think new technology like Tivo is really improving anything. I don't use Tivo, but I pointed out how I think Tivo is part of a larger trend of empowering the audience to participate more and passively consume less, which I think leads to more niche marketing.

She was pointing out everything wrong with technology, so I started pointing out everything great about technology. The same day, Kathy Sierra wrote a post about how marketing is being improved by technology and I found myself taking the exact opposite position, pointing out that marketing remains a dangerous game even online. So in the same day I took opposing positions on the same issue, neither of which really represented my opinion.

If someone had asked me what I think about technology and marketing, I would have given an answer somewhere in between. I think technology is slightly altering the marketing game in ways which could be exploited to make large positive changes, but like any other tool, the responsibility lies with the users to make something positive happen.

But even something so neutral as this gets read as complete disagreement by both sides. Disagreement pushes opinions away from each other and we end up with extremes. I think I'm as tired as Tom of the drowning of moderate voices, but I don't see much floating in this sea of all-or-nothing discussions.

 

This morning I did a bit of rubbernecking at a disaster of a post on MetaFilter. The post, since deleted, managed to violate multiple style guidelines in addition to supporting a moral framework that makes me ashamed to be human. The argument goes something like this: 1) poor people are lazy and 2) lazy people deserve to die.

Amidst various suggestions that this may be the worst post to ever disgrace MetaFilter (not without much competition), there was an interesting comment by delmoi, who wrote Anyway, the problem with poor people is that they're not lazy enough. Seriously. They work long hours at shit jobs to provide food for their kids and they're too proud to take advantage of government programs because it's 'un-American'.

So I had laziness in mind as I rode my bike past a couple school kids. I started thinking about the future and how the kids were probably looking at me thinking how odd it is to ride a bike to work, yet I expect it will be much more common for their generation. And that's when I realized that I ride my bike to work because I'm lazy.

It's not the kind of laziness we commonly think of, sitting on the couch watching TV eating potato chips (though I do some of that too). It's a pre-emptive laziness, a programmer's laziness. And it's not just my bike riding that demonstrates this. Nearly everything I do is a hedge against the future.

I expect gas to be prohibitively expensive, so I bought a bike to prepare myself. I don't expect the world can keep up current meat consumption, so I became vegetarian to prepare myself. I think we're moving towards an economy of ideas, and away from agriculture, manufacturing, and service. So I'm a programmer to prepare myself. I expect a future with less wealth for everyone, so I'm frugal to prepare myself. I'm basically living in the future I expect.

Which makes me wonder what good all this preparedness is doing me. I wonder if I wouldn't be better off spending more time thinking about the present and less thinking about the future.

 

Dare Obasanjo writes on screen scraping, It seems Richard Macmanus has missed the point. The issue isn't depending on a third party site for data. The problem is depending on screen scraping their HTML webpage. An API is a service contract which is unlikely to be broken without warning. A web page can change depending on the whims of the web master or graphic designer behind the site.

I completely agree that screen scraping is an undesirable practice, but I think it's actually Dare who is missing the point. No one scrapes a site with an API, so comparing the two doesn't make much sense. Of course the API is better, but what good does that do us when we want data in a certain format and there is no API? Answer: no good at all. Not only does scraping not at all compete with APIs, it actually encourages development of APIs by establishing an existing market for structured data and creating a competitor for customers until the API exists.

Case in point: I scrape MySpace and provide RSS feeds. I don't even use MySpace myself, but I want to read the weblogs of my friends who do via RSS, so I made this scraper. When I put it online, I discovered there are many other people who want to use MySpace RSS feeds. When these people do a Google search for "myspace rss," they currently find a full page of results, begining with my scraper. Myspace.com only shows up on the second page. This is bad business for MySpace. They've lost control of the experience of these potential customers. They need an API.

And they got one. I don't imagine my scraper had much to do with it in this case, but I have scraped smaller sites who didn't provide a feed until my scraper was being used by a significant portion of their readers. This puts such sites in a position where they need to provide the structured data their visitors clearly want or lose those visitors.

Screen scraping brings an increased risk of breakage, as I've experienced a few times already with the MySpace scraper. But without an alternative API, the structured data is worth that risk for many people. Dare writes Web 2.0 isn't about screenscraping. I say Web 1.9beta1 is about screen scraping.

 

I posted an ad for musicians on Craig's List this morning. So far I've had one response. I'll let you all know when the new band starts playing out.

 

I've updated the MySpace blog and comments RSS feed scripts. You can now enter pretty much any site that even references the MySpace account desired and the scripts will figure out where the appropriate blog or comments are.

I tested parsing on several different blogs, but of course, there may be others that I haven't tested and don't work. If you try something and it doesn't work, let me know what account it is so I can try to fix it.

 

Kathy Sierra wrote an interesting post entitled You can out-spend or out-teach, which I think does a nice job of capturing the current Cluetrain-inspired thinking on how Everything is Different Online#8482;. I'm skeptically optimistic about the changing marketplace of ideas. I think Kathy does a fine job of articulating my optimism, so I want to focus on my skepticism here.

The title is a good place to start. Kathy explains the virtues of teaching over spending, but I think anyone who has spent a day in a classroom will tell you that if it were possible to buy learning, they would. Teaching is hard. Spending is easy.

And selling is also easier than learning. Kathy likes to talk about helping your users kick ass, but most users don't want to kick ass. Most people, most of the time, want to know what they're doing — not learn how to do something new. That's why we spend so much time watching TV rather than reading books. We want something easy. Buy this pill and everything will be okay. If I believed it, I'd buy the pill. And the temptation allows a lot of people to convince themselves, to deceive themselves, that it's true.

It's easy to blame the advertising agencies (though maybe not so easy for me now that I work at one) for selling us crap. It's easy to blame the Walmarts for stocking crap. It's easy to blame the ACMEs for manufacturing crap. But what about the customers? We buy the crap. We know it's crap, but we buy it anyway because crap is cheap. How do you teach someone who doesn't want to learn?

I hope this is changing. I hope people are gradually taking a more active role in their own lives, and shifting towards decisions and products that help them kick ass. But I don't see it changing fast enough to warrant calls for everyone to shift from out-spending to out-teaching. There's not a big enough market of students to handle all the would-be teachers.

Hugh McLeod was in traditional advertising and decided to try something new by doing word-of-mouth advertising through blogs, "blogvertising," he calls it. And it appears to be working for him. But he's selling fine wine and business suits. This is a very small niche market. Kathy is selling technology books. Another small niche market. I hope some day the world will be full of niche markets as we all explore the full diversity of the human experience. But Hugh is proclaiming (traditional) advertising is dead today. It's not. Traditional buy this because it's/I'm pretty advertising will not die until we all become more mindful shoppers.

So how do we get from now to then? I have no idea, but I strongly suspect we do so much more slowly than I see Hugh or Kathy suggesting. I see them both teaching the teachers of this new education-based economy, but who is teaching the students? That's the harder part because students are good at distracting. Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter, they say. Before you know it, you've condensed your out-teaching plan down to a pill form, available at their local Walmart in a variety of shiny colors.

But really, I'm optimistic.

 

It appears the citing of a real live reporter I mentioned earlier is not an isolated incident. Salon has a video capturing several citings of actual reporters. It almost makes me want to watch the news again. But I'm not holding my breath on this lasting long. Too soon, I expect, these reporters will return to their desks where they can comfortably forget about actual issues and get back to worrying about ratings and revenue.

 

I just read an email that says: I'm looking for a CMS system for work.

CMS, as you may or may not know, is an acronym for Content Management System. Presumably the person who wrote this email was not actually looking for a system of Content Management Systems (what a frightening concept), but rather just a CMS. I started to write a reply, but then I wondered if it wasn't already too late. I decided to investigate if CMS has already succumbed to RAS syndrome, which claimed such friendly acronyms as PIN number and ATM machine. It turns out RAS syndrome has even claimed JEB (John Ellis Bush) Bush! This may even call for an FBI investigation, but I'll do what I can as an average citizens concerned about RAS Syndrome.

The following is a comparison of Google results for acronyms in their redundant form, standard form, and the percent of redundancy:

PIN number2,540,000 PIN78,100,000 3.54% redundant
CMS system2,540,000 CMS78,300,000 3.24% redundant
ATM machine751,000 ATM35,700,000 2.10% redundant
HIV virus1,260,000 HIV119,000,000 1.06% redundant
RSS syndication2,370,000 RSS877,000,000 0.27% redundant
CSS style sheet179,000 CSS216,000,000 0.08% redundant
VIP person8,890 VIP32,200,000 0.03% redundant

Alas, it appears CMS system is too far along to save. It would be interesting to see a graph of these numbers as they change over time, and an acronym fades into redundancy. But probably only interesting to me.

 

I think it was just last week that I subscribed to Dave Roger's blog after he said some seemingly intelligent things over on Shelley Power's blog. Two days ago I saw that he had a new post and I went to read it, but after reading a few paragraphs, I saw that it was quite long and put it away. My mistake. Lucky for me, Shelley read the whole thing and wrote that It is by far the best work he has ever done, and one of the best writings I’ve read this year. So I went back and read the whole thing tonight, and I can now confirm that it is indeed well worth the read. Maybe it's just because it's so timely, but right now it seems not just one of, but the best writing I've read this year. It's called Change. Go read it. If you find your attention start to waver at the beginning as mine did, skip straight to When I was executive officer of USS JOHN HANCOCK (DD-981), I had to perform my first burial at sea.

 

As Brendan kindly pointed out in comments, MySpace has (finally) added RSS feeds for blogs, so there's no longer any need to use my MySpace feed scraping tool. Hopefully a Google search for myspace RSS will soon start returning MySpace as the top result (or at least on the first page!) rather than me. I'll try to get around to editing the tool soon so it redirects to MySpace's version of the feed, which seems to be pretty much identical.

Update: it turns out my aggregator was still showing me the previous content and MySpace's RSS feeds are a bit more limited than what I've been offering, so I might keep the tool running until they improve their own feeds.

 

Dave Rogers has spotted a creature rarely seen in America: a real reporter (video). Real reporters can be distinguished from the more common species of imitation reporters by their ability to hold government accountable.

 

You may notice I updated the weblog a bit. The URLs are now more readable, hierarchical, guessable, and generally more useful. You can go to a year, month, day, or title. Right now the year will auto-redirect to the first month of that year. I may later figure out something useful to show for a whole year's worth of posts. The month will show a calendar, and the day will show the day's posts if there are more than one, or redirect to the post if there is only one.

On the back end, everything is object oriented, and commenting all goes through a single commment page, both of which will make future changes easier. I removed trackbacks, as I don't see them ever becoming popular outside of geek circles. I hope to eventually allow links in comments to make up for the lack of trackback, but I'll need to implement some sort of moderation system before I do that. Right now, I get zero comment spam here because I've never allowed links in comments, so I don't show up on comment spammers' radars. But my experience with other weblogs suggests the annoyance of moderating comment spam is worth it for the increased connections of links to other sites.

Speaking of, I also added links for similar posts on the weblog as well as similar sites elsewhere, both based on tags. I added tags to the weblog posts a while back, though I haven't been tagging enough posts. I've also been importing my del.icio.us bookmarks pretty much since I started using del.icio.us. I'll have to go through and tag more of the old posts, as well as improve the tag search so it's based on relevance rather than date.

Let me know if you see anything broken or if you have any ideas about further improvements.

 

Today I listened to some radio shows I had recorded last weekend from the local NPR station. The shows are interspersed with short news updates from last week on topics such as problems with the new Iraq constitution, conflict between anti-war and pro-war protesters near Bush's vacation in Texas, threats of violence between Israel and Palestine, and of course the then-impending hurricane. I found myself feeling nostalgic for last week, when the most immediate problems were the thousands needlessly dying on the other side of the world. I look forward to next week when, I hope, the accountability will begin. It has to begin at some point, right?

...right?

 

If you've been having problems with the music server, it's fixed now. The problem only effected larger files (i.e. long songs) due to the way I was loading the entire file before sending it on. Now I'm sending every bit of the requested file as it is read. In addition to actually working for larger files, this will allow you to start listening to songs as they are downloaded, which is good for people on slower connections. If you have any future problems with the music server, please notify me.

 

Last night I learned how to play Say Hello, Wave Goodbye, a song I've only heard by David Gray, but which was apparently written by Marc Almond of Soft Cell. After that, I noticed a Bob Dylan song by a similar name that I'm not sure I've ever heard. So I played along with the chords doing my best Dylan imitation. Then I started writing a new song. Last night it seemed very Dylan-esque, and I was quite pleased with myself. I seem to have lost a bit of the Dylan this morning, but I think it's still a pretty good song.

This time I managed to play along at a steady tempo for a scratch track, so I recorded it in three separate tracks. I think the timing of the three may be slightly off due to a software buffer in my recording setup, and I think there are a few hiccups as I had other software running at the same time. But I think it's pretty good nonetheless. I even figured out how to make my guitar sound like both a banjo and a bass, so I can now imitate a three piece bluegrass band.

I'm sure I could spend all day improving it, but I say it's good enough for now. The song is called Melted All Away (MP3, lyrics), and I think it's sort of written from the perspective of one of the main characters in Dharma Bums, whose philosophical perspectives act as a convenient buffer against reality.

 

The 2004 election left me with an impression that Iowa was a focal point for American politics. Everyone knew who the Republican candidate was to be, and few cared about the other candidates, so all the action was in the Democratic primary, and the starting gate was Iowa. As Des Moines is the center of Iowa politics, I expected to see some serious political action when I moved here. But early signs are not looking good. Seems there is a lack of candidates for the Des Moines City Council. This is standard for cities across the country, but what surprised me is that the local daily paper sees the lack of candidates as a good thing because it will save Des Moines taxpayers $80,000.

Let's ignore for a moment the potential that an unchallenged city council will waste well over $80k with no worries about future elections. Seems to me $80k is a very small price to pay for a healthy democracy. Have we all just given up on this whole democracy thing with its inconveniently expensive and time-consuming elections and all those competing ideas that require citizens to think?

Thankfully not everyone has. Jon Gaskell wrote an article for the local weekly newspaper, the City View. I'd link to the article, but it will be moved next week. So instead I'll just quote so much of it that you have little reason to visit the City View website. (See how unstable URLs are bad business?) Jon writes:

Nevermind that approximately 65 percent of your property taxes go toward your local schools, the school board is inept, officials lied about how much would be raised by a local-option sales tax (and have the gumption to want to extend it after it failed to rebuild all of our schools as promised), our kids are fat and stupid, our teachers make no money and schools are closing right and left. The only way to ensure that people start giving a damn about who's running the Des Moines Public School System is to make sure someone on the ballot is gay.

But 10 years ago, when Jonathan Wilson put his name on the ballot as an incumbent for Des Moines School Board, you couldn't keep the people away, as nearly 30,000 voters showed up at the polls. Were the schools in trouble? Was the system corrupt? Were our kids' test scores dropping to record lows? Were property taxes going through the roof and beyond? Who cares? Wilson was one of those scary homosexual types, and high taxes and dumb kids or not, we needed to make sure a monster like that wasn't going to hold sway over our solid educational system. Disregard that Wilson's lifestyle had absolutely nothing to do with him being the last board member to actually have a grasp on how to run our school system, the haters wanted to make sure some fag wasn't chiming in. So they turned out the vote like only the haters can. And they haven't been back since.

Sigh. It's popular to blame politicians for our country's problems, and they certainly deserve much of the blame. But the voters have earned a fair share of the blame as well. Citizenship comes with responsibilities as well as rights. When we ignore the former, we lose the latter.

 

When you're in a car and you see you're about to hit something, it's important not to overcompensate and swerve too far in the other direction, else you might run into something else. It's hard to think about this rationally, though, when overcome by the fear of an impending car accident. Fear is a useful motivator in emergency situations, but the rest of the time it tends to cause problems. We can see recent evidence of this in Iraq and America. When we spend so much energy worrying about what might happen, we can easily lose sight of what is happening.

 

I just posted another song to the music server, Twenty Cents (MP3, lyrics). If I'm not careful, this could become a habit. This is another rough track done in one take. I don't think the vocals and guitar balanced quite as well as they did on the last one, and you can hear a police siren in the background on the second verse. But that just gives it an "authentic" sound, right? I spent a while trying to make a real scratch track by keeping a consistant tempo with a click track. But then I gave up and just recorded it, which took about half as long as fiddling with the tempo. And it was more fun. I have five or six more songs that I've never recorded before I have nothing better to do but improve the recording quality. Or write more songs.

 

I just posted Not Gonna Rain (MP3 , lyrics), a song I started singing in the car last week on my way to work after reading something about weather on Shelley's weblog and thinking about how complaining about rain is cliche, but complaining about dryness isn't. Of course, since then, it has rained a plenty. As Shelley said in her most recent weather post, weather is so wonderfully ironic.

I think this is slightly better recording quality than much of my recordings on the music server currently, but it's just a rough cut, done all in one take. It's the kind of thing I'd like to make the time to use as a scratch track to listen to while recording each instrument separately and then mixing them, raising the vocals a bit here and the guitar a bit there. Maybe adding some percussion and a soft accordion in the background. But for now, this is the recording I've done. I'm going to call this a release early, release often model for music, and hope that means I'll eventually get back to a better version of this and other songs.