Blog Commenting is Weak

Am I missing something, or is blog commenting still immature? I read about 80 blogs currently, and do it mostly through an RSS reader (Thunderbird), as it’s the only way to keep up with that volume. It’s straightforward to keep up with the posts themselves - they appear in a separate list for each blog, typically sorted by time posted (at least that’s the way Thunderbird presents them).

Commenting, on the other hand, is a different matter. On my own blog it’s not too bad: if someone posts a comment about one of my posts, or in reply to comments I’ve made, I get notified by email, because I’m the owner of the blog, and Wordpress (which seems pretty close to the state-of-the-art in blogging software) sends an email to tell me that’s happened. Even on my own blog, though, there is no notion of hierarchy to comments: they just appear in a stream (in other words, there is no notion of ‘replying’ stored with a comment). This can make pulling out longer threads of conversation tricky.

If I make a comment on someone else’s blog, though, I get no notification at all. Many blogs provide no way of keeping up with the comments: I have to go and check all the posts I’ve been interested in, on the web, to check whether anyone has added anything to them. Even when the blogging software provides an RSS feed for comments, like Wordpress does, the comments for all the posts are lumped together - there is no separation by the post they apply to - primarily, I think, because neither RSS nor Atom provide the notion of hierarchies in the entries syndicated. This also means I have to subscribe to two RSS feeds for blogs where I’m interested in both the posts and the comments.

Currently, these things aren’t a major issue for me, more an annoyance, as I tend to only comment on (and be interested in the comments on) a few blogs, but if I spent more of my time reading blogs, this would really begin to get on my nerves. I also avoid commenting sometimes because I think I’ll forget to check the reply. This is what makes me wonder whether I’ve missed something: how do other people cope with this? Maybe I’m expecting too much: I have an mental model whereby I want the RSS reader to act in a similar manner as a newsgroup reader by notifying me of the new comments, attached to the post or comment that they apply to. Maybe that’s more than the designers of RSS had in mind.

Perversion for Profit

Perversion for Profit is a 1965 anti-porn documentary film. Very little footage is shown apart from the presenter in the studio: George Putnam. His didactic pronouncements, tone of voice, and Brylcreemed presentation would seem hilarious to many today, and this manner is constantly (and justifiably) parodied on TV - The Simpsons perhaps being a good example. Most of the facts Putnam presents are statements of opinion - connected without demonstrating correlation, much less causation. He doesn’t discuss the morality of censorship at all. It’s well worth seeing, though, as an example of propaganda - although less subtle than, say, Triumph of the Will, it’s still crisp, clean filmmaking.

You can download the film for free here (part 1) and here (part 2). There’s also an impressive re-edit here that totally reverses the message.

Some choice quotes from the film beyond the split.

_‘The preoccupation with the female breast…which has become a fetish’ _(duh)

‘Very few blind people join nudist colonies’

‘They tell youngsters that… it’s thrilling, it provides kicks to be a homosexual… and every other kind of deviant’

_‘This same type of rot caused 16 of the 19 major civilisations to vanish from the earth’ _

Tesco Show What Innovation Is

Tesco FruitsA small example of innovation in the supermarket industry. I know that I should eat a variety of nutrients from fruit and veg, but it’s hard to find the time to study foodstuffs in detail. Tesco provide a rough-and-ready guideline on the shelf - at little expense to them, and some benefit to me. I hadn’t come across this before. It sounds like a generalisation that’ll have plenty of exceptions, but is still accurate enough to be useful.

Yet another reason why I’ll be avoiding Sainsbury’s in Winchester in preference to Tesco in the future.

Powaqqatsi

Powaqqatsi: Life in Transformation is the sequel to the film Koyaansiqatsi: Life out of balance. Both films share a common style: most shots are of slow-motion or time-lapse (speeded up) photography. Although both are technically documentaries, the only narrator is a Philip Glass soundtrack. In both cases, this means the message is up for debate. The primary difference between the two is the setting: whereas Koyaansiqatsi is set primarily in the developed world, Powaqqatsi takes its themes mostly from developing countries.

Powaqqatsi is the kind of film that would quickly get repetitive in editing. The long slow-motion scenes are as viscous as the mud portrayed in the very first scene of the film. I’m sure it wouldn’t be boring though; each scene is visually stunning - the camerawork is first class, and each shot is perfectly in focus and perfectly framed. Despite the mostly slow scenes, the action seems to jump from continent to continent by the minute; nothing is identified, and you’re never quite sure where you are. A classic and iconic shot of an abandoned car in a highway median at one point is the best example of this.

Halfway through the film seems to develop a message - brought on by a montage of TV scenes from around the world. Themes of modern communication, war, finance, and so on contrast with the rural subsistence existence so far seen. It isn’t clear, though, exactly what this message is. Is modern existence dangerous? Is it just different? Does it clash - or can it be in harmony? I’ve got my own opinions on this, as most people probably do, but the filmmakers don’t seem to. It’s a disappointment that the film doesn’t commit itself more clearly. On a lighter note, it’s also a shame that they cut off my favourite scene - of a speeding train descending a steep hillside - far too quickly.

Otherwise, though, Powaqqatsi is film-making at its most professional. Whether you prefer this or Koyaansiqatsi will probably simply come down to which theme you find more interesting - for myself, it’s definitely Koyaansiqatsi, with its focus on technology. Both are a worthy watch.

(Note: There is also a third film in the trilogy, Naqoyqatsi: Life as war)

Happy Birthday PC - But What About Network Computing?

It’s the 25th birthday of the PC (Personal Computer) today. It was announced on the 12th August 1981 (when I was one), and its impact since is well-understood (Wikipedia has more detail on its history). As a recent Economist article makes clear, it was an unusual product for IBM, and defined part of the company’s image for a long time (the PC business is now owned by Lenovo).

The death of the PC, often seen as the thickest of thick clients, has been predicted before on several occasions. One of the more prominent was by Sun and others in the late 80s and early 90s, when they claimed that Networking computing (based on thin clients and powerful servers) was going to make the PC redundant. They were perhaps ahead of their time, probably because the network just wasn’t up to the job yet, but there’s a possibility that they may yet be right.

It looks like Web 2.0 might have a lot to do with this. Google and others are making it feasible to do ‘office work’ (as in the type of work one might do with Microsoft Office) online. Web-based email has been widely available for some time, and lots of people use it. Blogs such as this are created online. A decreasing amount of computing work is done offline.

Another related trend is the use of other bits of hardware apart from the PC on one’s desk to access ‘the network’. Mobile phones are possibly the most obvious, but what are also significant are the number of PC terminals in hotels, internet cafes, etc. used by people away from home (or, in poorer areas of the world, who don’t own a PC at all). What this implies is that the software on the PC, apart from the web browser, is becoming less significant, and the content on the network is what’s important.

More compact and streamlined PCs such as the Apple iMac are gaining prevalence as well, meaning that even the PCs themselves aren’t as huge, power-hungry, and ugly as they once were.

How quickly this change will continue remains to be seen. Maybe we will end up in a world where we don’t care which network-connected device we use, any more than we care which power socket we use. I suspect things won’t go quite this far. But it will be interesting to see what other useful tools are developed as more data and applications are network-driven, rather than PC-driven.

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