1029 Internet years ago, in 2003, I started something called the Hall of Technical Documentation Weirdness. It compiled “wacky, bizarre, surreal and otherwise strange examples of technical documentation”, collected from my own travels and through user submissions.
I think of the Hall as the first thing I ever created that the Internet liked. It was covered in Boing Boing, and images from the Hall appeared in the great British show, The IT Crowd.
As often happens with Web projects, I moved on to other distractions and a redesign of this site killed the wonky gallery software I was using to run the Hall. It’s been offline for three or four years now.
It occurred to me the other day that Pinterest would make a convenient and reliable new home for the hall. It seems like the natural environment for vaguely-amusing technical drawings and signs. And I found some free time to set up a board and start posting images.
In August, Hollis Thomases wrote some silly link-bait with the headline “11 Reasons a 23-Year-Old Shouldn’t Run Your Social Media“. Designed to rile up millennials, it got a lot of attention online. Its share numbers–how many people have shared it on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and so forth–exceed all of the current ‘Most Viewed’ stories on Inc.com. While the article is highly dubious, Ms. Thomases (I keep having to remind myself that she’s not actually three guys named Tom) and the Inc. editors are paid to generate page views. They were successful in doing so.
I emailed Derek DeCloet, Managing Editor, Report on Business Editor of the Business section at the Globe and Mail, and asked him if he was aware of the Inc. article when they assigned their story. He confirmed that they were, writing that “one of the editors saw the Inc.com article, liked it and decided we should do our own version.”
I also asked whether he felt that the Globe had any professional or ethical obligation to acknowledge the original story. He didn’t think so:
We don’t believe such an obligation exists. Nor do we believe that others are required to give us credit when they write original work that is inspired by something we have done. The free flow of ideas, in journalism and other realms, is constant – a given story may be inspired or influenced by any number of things that writers or editors have read or seen elsewhere. It is in no way unethical to write an article on a subject that someone else has previously written about.
Mr. DeCloet did acknowledge that the Globe’s headline was “too similar” to the Inc.com’s headline. “However, both headlines use a very common construction (Why X should/shouldn’t do Y) that you will find in many English-language publications. We’ve since changed our headline, thanks to your letter.”
The story is now entitled “Social media too important to be handled by an intern”. Which, in fairness, is almost certainly a less effective headline.
In our remix culture, I feelstrongly that we ought to, whenever possible, acknowledge our antecedents. It would have been easy for the Globe to recognize and link to Inc. in the text of the article (“In August, Inc. asked the question…”) or in a footer at the end of the article. I know this is antithetical to the newspaper-as-authority model of most journalism. But it’s 2012, and we shouldn’t feel obligated to pretend that we develop our ideas in a vacuum, or that we’re the only source of information on a given topic.
On a related note, I also think that the Globe should note that headline change in their article. For all online articles, whether on a newspaper’s site or one like this, post-publish edits should be transparent.
We sometimes buy the International Herald Tribune from the local tabac. Because it mostly combines its own original work with New York Times articles, it’s a pretty exceptional paper. It’s also quite light on the advertising, presumably because it makes more of its revenue through newsstand sales. We pay €3 for the paper, which seems pretty rich. But occasionally it’s nice to turn an actual newsprint page, instead of just swiping digital ones aside.
I consider myself a reasonably well-read person, but I was delighted to discover no less than seven terms in the article that I was unfamiliar with. Here they are, in order of appearance, with definitions drawn from Dictionary.com (with the exception of ‘Meisser’):
mien:noun air, bearing, or demeanor, as showing character, feeling,
neoteny:noun Also called pedogenesis. the production of offspring by an organism in its larval or juvenile form; the elimination of the adult phase of the life cycle.
bildungsroman noun A type of novel concerned with the education, development, and maturing of a young protagonist. Also known as a ‘coming of age’ story. Examples might include David Copperfield, The Catcher in the Rye and The Kite Runner.
éclatnoun Brilliance of success, reputation.
cavileverb To raise irritating and trivial objections; find fault with unnecessarily (rhymes with ‘gavel’).
I can’t really recommend the profile. As with nearly all celebrity profiles, it’s pretty banal. And, as somebody I know pointed out, it reads like Will Self drew the short straw at an editorial meeting.
That said, I am grateful for all the new vocabulary words.
Somebody pointed out recently that this blog is now more than ten years old. I totally missed my ten-year anniversary, which was officially on August 18. I have no excuse, except that I was flying to Munich that day to do some teaching at the university (and amusing myself with Germanbrandnames).
While updates have been slim around here, I have been doing some writing elsewhere. What’s a more appropriate for a tardy anniversary post than a self-promotional list of stuff I’ve been up to?
I get asked a lot about the origin of my name. Predictably, lots of people think that it’s First Nations in origin. It’s not. I’m pretty Caucasian, and my ancestors have only been in Canada for a couple hundred years.
I’ve always understood my name to be English in origin, and to predate the Battle of Hastings, but that’s about it.
For my birthday last month, some friends got me one of those ‘here’s where your name comes from certificates’. Here’s what it said:
This is an English name from the Olde English pre 7th century “baer”, bare or naked, and “fot”, foot and was used as a nickname for someone who habitually lived and worked without shoes on. It was used specifically of friars and pilgrims and those who went barefoot as a religious penance. There were similar examples in Medieval England for example “Barleg” and “Bareshanke”. The friar in Shakespears “Romeo and Juliet” is described as “a barefoote brother”. William King and Elizabeth Barfot were married in St. George’s Chapel, Mayfair, 1748. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Reginald Berfot. which was dated 1203, in the Pipe Rolls of Cumbria. during the reign of King John, known as “Lackland” 1199 – 1216.
I suppose, then, that my ancestors had to put up with bad jokes about “no shoes”, too.
A couple of weeks ago, Julie and I hopped on a train for the 45 minute ride to Montpellier. While we planned to stay over night and explore the charming old town, our main purpose was to visit L’Office Francais de l’Immigration et de L’Integration (OFII). A successful visit would mean that we were officially legal in the eyes of the French government, and were permitted to spend the year here.
The OFII represented the final step in a process that began in the fall of 2011, when we began assembling documents to apply for a long-term stay visa. As you’d expect, the application requirements were vigorous. We easily each had a stack of documents an inch high–everything from our verified banking records to proof of medical insurance. If you’d murdered us on the way to the French consulate in Vancouver and hidden our bodies, you could have assumed our identities with ease.
A multicultural clump of humanity was ushered into the OFII office the following afternoon. What followed was–and I write this without sarcasm–French bureaucratic efficiency at its finest. In the space of an hour and 45 minutes, we each had four appointments. We met with:
A nurse who weighed and measured us, and completed a short interview regarding our medical history.
A nurse who x-rayed our chest cavity.
A doctor who reviewed the x-ray (pronouncing my chest “claire et normale”), took our blood pressure and listened to our breathing.
A functionary who completed the paperwork and attached the precious ‘vignette’–an official sticker–in our passport.
Just like that, we were official. We celebrated with Thai food, an ethnic food beyond the prowess of our village’s restaurants.
On a related topic, I was very impressed with Montpellier. It has a gorgeous, mostly-pedestrian centre that’s lively and full of bars and restaurants. The city’s spirit is no doubt buoyed by a reported student population of 60,000. And, though it was early in the season, there was a minimum of tourist tatt and related nonsense. I wonder if nearby Carcasonne draws most of the visitors, and so permits Montpellier to just go about its business?
I try not to write these inward-looking, inside-baseball posts anymore, but I’ve been wondering about this one for a while. I know few people want to read blog posts about blogging, but throw me a bone.
Michael asks a question that I’ve been wondering about for a while: “should you close comments on older blog posts?”. This September, this blog will be ten years old (the site itself is a couple of years older). I’ve published roughly 5600 posts over that period. A handful of them remain–relative to the others–quite popular.
Why are they popular? Because they accidentally appear high in the results for related searches. For example, last year nearly 25,000 people searched for some variation of “worst baby name ever” and found this paltry post from 2005. It has 910 comments on it.
Any site publisher or blogger has pages like this, where a long tail of visitors carries on and on and on. A page on Michael’s site, for example, has become host to a discussion of tax software. My favourite is probably this one where 101 commenters have shared their weird, creepy tales of sleep paralysis.
There’s over 40,000 comments in all. I wonder who has written more words on this site: me or all the commenters put together?
The deal I made with the Internet
When I started writing this site, what deal did I make with the Internet? When I say ‘the Internet’, I mean all the people who, in the ensuing decade, would visit and possibly comment on this site.
Did I, for example, guarantee that the information I published would remain timely and accurate? I hope not, because much of it is out of date and, in many cases, totally wrong. And some of the sites I linked to are gone. For very boring reasons, I’ve been revisiting some of the very oldest posts on this site. As part of that work, I’ve been sampling the links I’d published in 2002 and 2003. As of now, 48 of 74 old links are still live. Am I going to try to fix those other 26 links? Nope.
And what about the ad hoc communities that form around these unexpectedly evergreen blog posts? Advice is shared and debates rage without any input from me. Why wouldn’t I leave comments open?
The only reason might be comment spam. While Akismet does a fantastic job of killing 99% of spammy comments to this site. 99.93%, to be exact, which means that it’s handled about 2.2 million spammy comments since I installed it in 2006. That 0.07% still represents 10 or 15 spam comments that I have to manually remove every day. It’s less than five minutes of work, and not a burden at the moment.
Occasionally, a commenter thinks better of what they’ve written on this site, and emails and asks me to remove their messages. I’m usually happy to do this.
So, until I get busier or lazier, comments will remain open on all the blog posts on this site. Those ongoing discussions don’t particularly interest me, but nor do they feel like a burden.
Six years ago, I wrote a short blog post about something I called “the restricted cat”. Since then, more than 2000 people have found my site with searches like (in declining order of popularity): “restricted panther”, “restricted cat”, “restricted cougar”, “restricted movie logo” and so forth.
Coincidentally, we’re working with Consumer Protection BC at the moment on a campaign to relaunch the restricted cougar videos. Part of their work is to classify–that is, assign a rating like ‘General’ or ‘Mature’–all the films shown in BC (and Saskatchewan, as it happens).
To accompany the videos, we helped them make this little timeline in Prezi, a cool presentation tool I use occasionally. The timeline has a ‘path’ to it, so it’s best explored by clicking the arrows in the lower-right corner, or using the arrow keys on your keyboard.
The timeline shows a recent history of movies classified as restricted in BC. I didn’t know this, but in 1997, classification categories were revised and the “18A” rating replaced “Restricted”. So, the R rating now only applies to a rare class of ‘adult’ motion pictures with “artistic, educational, scientific, historic or political merit”. Examples you might know include Requiem for a Dream and Shortbus.