I write and read blogs mostly in a professional capacity as a web developer. I find a lot of insight very easily through a few hundred RSS subscriptions and the occasional surfing. For the most part I'm pretty accepting of what people write, even if I disagree with the author, or they show some ignorance on certain points. Even though there's a stereotype that you have to be smart to be a programmer, I see it as more of a personality trait: attention to detail, desire to find order, tenacious problem-solving, etc. Unlike some programmers, I don't see other professions (eg. executives, marketing) as full of clueless idiots. I like to think I'm good at what I do, but not that what I do is somehow better than what others do.

When I blog, I try to stick to topics of immediate experience where I think I actually have something meaningful to contribute. For this reason, my blog is highly technical and doesn't usually attempt broad theses. As I get older I find myself able to distill out more general concepts, but I still try to keep it pretty focused. I would love to be a Paul Graham or Joel Spolsky (or even a Steve Yegge) where I could convincingly support a fairly subjective thesis. Maybe I'll get there some day...

So I plod along with my little blog. For years I've written this thing. I've received occasional praise, met some cool people. Yet I've never cracked 1000 subscribers. Which in a way is good because I don't think Internet fame would agree with me. Internet debates are a cesspool of moronic flamewars. We should thank them for making politics look rational and civilized. Complete and utter waste of time.

Oh yeah, and absolute crack.

I suppose that's why my desire to be reasonable and my troll-gullibility collide, spawning my greatest time-wasting pet peeve of all time:

The Grandiose Bullshitter

The grandiose bullshitter is a person regularly writes seemingly huge and life-changing theories, but consistently lacking either a credible argument or cohesive prose. Generally they are not trolling, and the thesis may even be sensible, but the writing tends towards a stream of consciousness style lacking in facts and evidence, and punctuated by unreasonable or irrelevant assumptions and examples. Occasionally you get the feeling that the author has absolutely no experience at all with the subject at hand, and is just elaborating on a passing thought they had while sitting on the toilet.

So why does it bug me so much?

For some reason this seems to be a perverse formula for success. I suppose because they tend to write about general topics that everyone has an opinion about, but then write so poorly that people feel the need to put in their two cents. Pretty soon the comments and trackbacks are flooding in, The Google juice surges, and adsense is netting hundreds of dollars a month.

The worst part is that it's like a train wreck I can't tear my eyes away from. The volume of comments increases to the point where one-off potshots drown out any rational discourse. The author comes back and responds to a few choice comments with further non-sequitors. "Missing the point" is a common argument, and valid since the writing lacks clarity to begin with. The fetid slop churns for a few days or weeks, perhaps further putrified by a Digg or Stumble.

And all I can do is wait for the next post to see just how wrong it is. God I need to pull the plug.

Wikitravel, and other websites,
on having a memorable vacation.


zanzibar is            
a safe country
and most locals but don't
are friendly flaunt your wealth

in the sudan,
there is currently a civil war
in the south of the country
and this, for obvious reasons,
has negatively impacted upon
as for afghanistan, the recent attempt to kickstart
the intrepid traveller touristic growth in the country.
should look elsewhere
for thrill-seeking kabul zoo. 6AM-6PM daily.
(at the moment) the zoo is very popular with Afghans,
and houses over 100 animals
in relatively poor condition.
china was once one of the
main animal donors, but has announced
no further donations until conditions improve,
after the death of a couple of the animals
to disease and malnutrition.
marjan the lion was blinded by a grenade and was
the main draw, but succumbed to old age recently
The week of May 12th was not what you'd call a quiet news week. There was the small business of an earthquake in China to report on. On that background, the Guardian's editorial decision to mark the 60th anniversary of the state of Israel with its A Week in Gaza series, already a little puzzling (I mean, would it be so controversial to mark the anniversary of something by reporting about that something?), became frankly obscene. Not that I lack sympathy for the plight of the Palestinian civilians virtually incarcerated in the Gaza strip; but surely their spot on the front page of a major national newspaper can at least occasionally be ceded to, oh I don't know, millions of displaced and missing Chinese?

Anyway, at the time I didn't really say anything about that, just got angry about it to myself - not just because of the biased focus on Israel (like it only exists to oppress Palestinians), but also because it makes me so mad to live in a society where information about the rest of the world is simultaneously tightly controlled and heavily distorted. But I get tired of hearing myself complain about this media bias in the UK, to the point where rational criticism begins to sound like shrill whining even to me. There's such a narrowing of discourse on this subject that there's simply no platform for critique, however well reasoned; any opinion that is not unequivocally anti-Israel stands out as partisan.

But I digress. This morning I was delighted to see the following headline on the front page of the online edition of the Grauniad: "Hizbullah hands over Israeli bodies". Yippee! Thought I. Those would be the bodies of 2 soldiers the morbid retention of which was cause for the 2006 Israel/Lebanon war; finally having them back will provide closure in Israel, and well done those thoroughly decent chaps at Hizbullah for handing them over just in time for helping out the nascent Syria negotiations.

Er, not quite. Actually the two caskets were handed over in return, among other things, for five live terrorist prisoners. It was, in fact, an exchange, not a gesture of goodwill on the part of Hizbullah. Some would say, not an especially equal exchange, either.

But then Israel is a democracy where public opinion holds sway; and public opinion is overwhelmingly in favour of the proper burial of the country's military dead, at whatever price. Hizbullah don't have to bother themselves with such petty consideration, or with pesky niggles about truth, or even common decency:

A sign next to a large photograph of an Israeli woman crying read "Israel is shedding tears of pain". Another nearby banner read "Lebanon is shedding tears of joy."

It does make one want to throw one's hands in the air and exclaim: "children! we are at war with teenagers!". But when the the Guardian decided to editorialise, the spin they put on the headline (I call it spin, in Israel it's probably being called an outright lie right now) was calculated to make Hizbullah look more attractive to a Western liberal mindset than they are, and Israel less.


Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

I'm back at square one, with nobody knowing what is wrong with me, and therefore unable to help. I've been put on amitriptyline to help me get some rest at night; unfortunately, it is making me groggy during the day as well. I'm being referred to an ENT specialist, a back specialist, and possibly another neurologist because the first one was - I don't even have words for what he was.

The possibility of my going back to work on modified hours is now looming over me, and I am actually happy about it for the most part. Mentally I need this. I need not only to have something new and outside of myself to focus on, but I need to feel useful. I need to contribute. I'm not the type that likes to sit at home and feel sorry for myself. I am frustrated, yes. I am exasperated, yes. I have been doing my utmost to refrain from complaints because, frankly, complaints aren't worth anybody's time. And they don't get you very far. There are people out there in much greater need of help than I am - I am not so self-centered as to believe the world must spin around me and my worries. Whether I am physically ready for this is another story altogether, but I am nothing if not tough.

In the meantime, the bellows of my lungs continue to pump air through my body, although sometimes they falter. The little muscles and valves in my heart click and pull and do the job they are meant to do, pumping life through me, again only pausing for a break now and again. I keep convincing myself that one day I will wake up, fully functioning, and looking at this as some horrific dream. And every morning, I trick myself into it, until little by little it all comes crashing down. All the king's horses...

This writeup concerns the incident that occured several days ago involving a member of E2 experiencing a medical emergency.  I am going to be extremely careful in what I say and how I say it here because I do not fully understand what went on in response to this emergency, or what is considered appropriate on E2 for discussing such things.

While, as far as I am aware, the involved noders quickly and inventively manged to alert the correct police force to the emergency and helped contain a potentially dangerous situation, it seems that it could have gone smoother and been accomplished more quickly.  (NOTE: This is not a snipe at those involved.  I think you all did a marvelous job, but there are ways it could have been improved.)  Since, apparently, similar situations occured previous to this incident, I think that we should not rule out the possibility that such incidents involving any E2 user might happen again.  I am therefore suggesting for your consideration the possibility of instituting some sort of standard procedure, which E2 as a community creates, for dealing with future emergency situations.

Despite my relative ignorance both with E2 and Internet technology, it seems to me that there were several key problems that involved noders ran into consistently:

1) Involved noders had different opinions on what was appropriate and what might be dangerous to say in the catbox.  This led to a lot of argument which both wasted time and cluttered the catbox, making it difficult for others to accomplish other important tasks.  We should collectively decide on what topics should be publicly discussed and what should be avoided during an emergency.  This prevents potentially damaging information from being revealed and allows everyone to focus on more important things.

2) The catbox is insufficient for keeping all involved parties informed in an emergency.  Conversations overlap, information is missed, updates are lost in the crowd, and just-arriving noders interrupt important discussions to ask what is going on.  While a solution to this is far beyond my technical knowledge, the following may be workable: we keep an "emergency page" either supported by E2 or some other platform where people can post updates and explanations.  Late arrivals would be immediately directed to this page, where they could learn about the situation without disrupting important correspondence.  In addition, this prevents updates from getting lost amid the chatter.

3) If there was a single, coherent strategy, I couldn't follow it by looking at the catbox archives.  Many people were trying things at once, and it did work, but there was a significant amount of understandable confusion throughout.  This could possibly be prevented in the future by creating some sort of standard procedure for locating the person in question and notifying the relevant police forces.  By having one or more set strategies, I think we may be able to respond to future situations faster and more effectively than this time.

This writeup is meant to encourage discussion on what I think is an important topic that deserves our attention.  If it is for any reason inappropriate or unnecessary, message me and I'll remove it.

Once again, I am not trying to accuse anyone involved of doing anything wrong.  I think everyone did an excellent job, but if we decide to be the kind of community that's active in helping each other out of dangerous situations, then we better try to learn from what we did so we can provide faster, more effective help next time.

If you disagree, please message me or add your own writeup instead of just downvoting!  I'm trying to start a discussion, not get rep for myself.

I'd like to thank everyone for their input. It seems like my suggestion isn't practical; in any case, I'm glad people at least considered it and told me why it wouldn't work.

The notion of having an Emergency Protocol is the point at which you start becoming a recognizable organization with responsibilities and (more important) possible legal liability. The entire purpose of an Emergency Plan is to reassure folks that in the event of an Emergency, the organization executing it can handle it.

We can't.

Not because we're not willing. Not because we're incompetent. But because E2 is not designed for this, and (I argue) should not be designed for this.

Let's look at a couple of isolated facts.

In order to 'coordinate and handle' an emergency of that type, you realistically need the involved persons' personal identification. You need their 'real name.' You need their location. While it may be possible to get this information, I would argue that this is the sort of thing that we don't want to institutionalize or proceduralize. Why? Because many of us prefer to remain at least mildly anonymous on E2, and a 'ready to go' plan to ID and locate noders is...counterproductive. Welcome to the Age of Fear.

In the recent case, there were already existing noders who had that information and were acting in what they felt was the most responsible manner. That's understandable and fine. But again, given that the only reason they were able to do so was that several of them had information via offline connections, using E2 to 'coordinate' this seems counterproductive.

We already have the tools to do most of what is described above. The simple answer to the 'cluttered catbox' is...use Rooms, people. We have them. It would have been trivial for those involved, if they needed a noise-free channel, to simply run to a room.

The catbox is, indeed, insufficient to keep everyone informed. But again, that is not E2's job. It is not the purpose of this site, as far as I can tell, to maintain realtime notification of ongoing real-world crises involving its members. If those members choose to put up information about these events, that's their lookout.

I'll just close, again, that I don't ever want to see there be a 'standard strategy for locating noders' involving 'notifying police forces.' At first blush, it seems like a really easy way for someone to just kick off a (plausible) false alert. Given the kind of trolling we get around here normally, do you really want to make that a viable spoofing mechanism for those of ill intent? I sure don't.

The short and the sweet of this from as official a position as I can speak to it from:

Everything is a community and we hate to see members of that community hurt.


As soon as the administration of E2 starts talking about creating systems to deal with emergencies, the corollary becomes important: what happens if we have a system to deal with an emergency, and the system fails? E2 as an organization can end up liable for those decisions, which means a few three of us volunteers without any real protection from our higher-ups could end up in some very serious trouble.

I'm not a lawyer. E2 doesn't actually have a lawyer on-staff. We're all volunteers here, and as such it is not our responsibility in any official way to set up this kind of system. We just...can't.

Therefore: The official e2 emergency policy is: Take care of each other. Always.

...and that's it.

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