Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the category “blogs”

Inklings on the Internet

One of my interests is the English literary group of the 1920s to 1940s that called themselves “The Inklings”, and as a number of other people share this interest I’ve tried at various times to find ways of using the Internet to make and maintain contact with such people and share thoughts and opinions and so on.

One way of doing this is through blog posts, many bloggers announce new posts on Twitter. I also discovered a web site called paper.li that produced a digest of tweets on various topics. Some of them seem to be devoted to hash tags, and I succeeded in creating one for missiology (another interest of mine), There were several created by other people on various topics that interested me — on literature, genealogy, family history and more. There’s one for children’s literature, which some of the Inklings wrote,

But there was no such digest devoted to the #inklings hashtag.

So I thought that if I could create one for #missiology, I could create one for #inklings.

Too late. The people at paper.li had stopped doing that very useful thing. Whenever i tried to do it, they created something called “The Steve Hayes Daily”, and I already had one of those. But eventually they fiddled with it to turn it into The Inklings Daily.

The only trouble is that it doesn’t seem to work. Either people are not using the #inklings hashtag, or else when they do use it, The Inklings Daily simply isn’t picking it up. All I see on it most days is either a message that there is no content, or a couple of irrelevant photos. So as a way of following blog posts about the Inklings it has turned out to be pretty useless.

The last straw was when the owners of YahooGroups announced that they were closing that service, and there were a couple of Inklings forums there that would be affected by the closure, and so it was important to let people know, and I blogged about that. But in spite of using the #inklings #hashtag paper.li failed to pick it up in The Inklings Daily.

So I’ll give it a couple more weeks, and see if The Inklings Daily picks up this article, and any others on the Inklings, and if there’s no improvement, I’ll delete The Inklings Daily, as it will obviously be serving no purpose. I’ll rely on my blogroll for picking up who is blogging about the Inklings. And if you’d like to know more about the new Inklings forum, see Inklings Forum Revived, or go directly to Inklings on groups.io.

For what it’s worth, the main members of the Inklings were:

The Moaning Meme and the Freelance Cynic

About 12 years ago I posted about The moaning meme | Notes from underground:

The Freelance Cynic complains that most memes that circulate in the blogosphere are about things that people like — your favourite book, movie, or whatever. But if you overheard conversations on the bus or in public places, they are usually complaining — about the weather, politics, other people’s habits and so on. One of the major aids to social bonding is moaning, grumbling and so on.

Someone seems to have looked at it recently, so I went to have a look at what I had written, and in the original blog post there was a link to the Freelance Cynic’s blog at FreelanceCynic.com, but when I tried to go there the blog had gone, and I was informed that the domain was for sale at $695. I assume that is US dollars, and that is R9728.47 at the current rate of exchange.Now there’s something to moan about.

Did the FreelanceCynic die and bequeath their domain name to whoever is selling it now? Or did they simply abandon their blog and drop the domain name? How much of that $695 will the actual Freelance Cynic get?

Another thing to moan about, if you feel like moaning: Communications:

Meraki Research would like to find out more about the way you communicate in this digital age. The survey will take less than 8 minutes to complete and we have kept it interesting. All answers will be kept anonymous.

If you are in South Africa and see this in February/March 2019, please follow the link and fill in the survey. After that it probably won’t work. Basically what it is about is how you prefer your spam. If you are like me, you will answer “Never” to how you prefer your SMS spam, and so participating in the survey may help to get the message through to SMS spammers.

So here’s my moaning meme for this Week. I’m not tagging anybody in it, anyone can take part.

And, for what it’s worth, I find SMS (“Text”) spam the most annoying.

E-mail spam can usually be removed by filters, though that is becoming more difficult now as more and more people seem to be trying to make their legitimate mail look as much like spam as possible by using HTML and especially “lazy HTML” that tries to incorporate something from a remote site into the body of a message. My e-mail reader automatically tosses those into the “Junk or Suspicious Mail” queue, and is set not to display anything on remote sites.

Newsgroup spamming can also be annoying, most of it these days seems to come via GoogleGroups, and no matter how much you report it to Google, they do little to stop it.

But SMS spam is the most annoying of the lot, because it is immediate. If you are travelling, and expecting an important message about an event you are going to, and you have to pull of the road to read it (like taking the next freeway exit), and then discover it is just some stupid ad, it really is annoying.

Web Trackers

There’s a lot of interesting and useful stuff on the web, but how do you keep track of it, and find it again when you need it?

There’s that article that someone linked to on Facebook. It looks interesting, but you don’t have time to read it all now, so you want to be able to find it later.

It was for precisely such things that the blog was invented. The word “blog” comes from “web log” — a log of web sites one has visited and wants to remember, and possibly share with others. And I have just such a blog: Simple Links. And now, after trying all sorts of other things to keep track of web sites, I’ve come back to the blog as the simplest and most reliable method.

There have been many fancy apps for keeping track of web articles, but they all eventually seem to lose functionality and die, or no longer work as they should.

One of these was the web bookmark. For a while I used one called Diigo, which was quite good, but then it got hidden behind a paywall, so was no longer an option for poor pensioners like me.

Then there was Tumblr, which seemed very versatile and easy to use. It could instantly record a web site, it could aggregate blogs, it could include notes about almost anything. But then it gradually lost functionality until there was nothing left. The only thing it can be used for now is for posts to say how useless it is. And it’s useless for logging web sites visited because the pop-up linker has a button that must be clicked to save the item, but the button is invisible, hidden below the bottom of the screen.

Then along came Evernote, It would allow you to save a complete copy of the article and find it again. It was like the OneNore program that came with Microsoft Office, but more versatile. I even managed to find and buy a manual for it. Evernote was the  best of all, because you could bookmark or blog an article from the web, and the web site would close and your link would not work any more. But Evernote saved a local copy of the article so you would still have it even if the original web site closed.  But Evernote too gradually began to lose functionality. It would work if you were very rich, and could afford to buy a new computer every couple of years. But if you couldn’t, it would just stop working. So now, while I can still save articles on my laptop computer, I can no longer call them up on my desktop computer, because it will no longer sync them. And no doubt the day will come when it will stop working on my laptop too.

So it’s back to Blogger, and my Simple Links blog.

I’ve had lots of complaints about Blogger. Reduced functionality has made it more difficult to use, especially for graphics (you now have to fiddle with the HTML code in order to place pictures on the page), and so I moved two of my blogs where I wanted to use graphics, including this one, to WordPress, which had a better editor for graphics. But for the original purpose of blogging, a simple text web log, Blogger is hard to beat.

So when I see a web article I don’t have time to read now, but want to read or refer to later, I don’t book mark it. I don’t (or can’t) save it in Evernote, I go back to basics and blog it with Blogger.

 

 

The importance of blog comments

Most bloggers really appreciate comments on their blog posts — provided that they are intelligent, on topic, and not spam.

Now one blogger has been investigating this, and asking bloggers to say what their favourite comments are, and why — Why Reader Comments Are The Cat’s Pajamas | Voxate Writing & Editing:

Although time is scarce and we’re often reading other blogs between other must-do’s on our daily schedule, making the time to comment is important – both for the link it may allow you to include to your own blog or site, and to the blogger.

Speaking for myself now, one of the reasons that I write blog posts is that I have some half-baked ideas floating around, and I’m hoping that others will read them and help me to bake them. So it’s pretty discouraging when there are no comments at all. So please read this article on blog comments, and resolve to write a comment on a blog today, or at least this week.

Abandoned Blogs and Internet vandalism

This morning I spent several hours going through the blogroll of my other blog, Khanya, removing dead and broken links. It was sad to see how many blogs had been abandoned or closed.

I knew that some of them had not had new posts for a while, but had kept them in the hope that one day the owner might take up blogging again.

Vandalised library books

But saddest of all were the ones that had been deleted or made “private”.

The problem with that is that all sorts of people make links to blog posts they find interesting. Deleting the blog, or making it inaccessible, is a bit like going to a library and snipping out a whole lot of the footnotes and bibliographical references in a lot of books. It’s a kind of vandalism. It’s actually worse, because it in effect removes the footnote from every copy of that book in the whole world, and indeed from every other book in which that book has been cited.

So even if you abandon your blog, and no longer want to write any more, try not to delete it. Of course if it is a “hosted blog” (something self-styled blog fundis recommend, but is generally a bad idea) you might no longer want to go on paying for the hosting, or you may die and your heirs may not want to go on paying. And of course a free hosting site may go belly-up, like Yahoo abandoning Geocities. Fortunately some others came to the rescue for that, though of course lots of the original links were still broken.

One of the broken links I found offered me the domain name for $1575. Imagine paying that for a “premium” domain name like “orthodoxywithapurpose.com”! I wonder how much they paid for it originally before abandoning it?

But it’s all a form of Internet entropy, and makes me wonder what will happen when there are more broken links than working links on the Internet.

 

 

 

 

An Orthodox hipster?

A few weeks ago I came across a Facebook group called Ask an Orthodox Hipster.

I’ve always had a yen to be a hipster, but I don’t think I’ve ever made it. I suppose the closest I got was a wannabe.

What is a Hipster?

My Concise Oxford Dictionary c1964 doesn’t have it, though I’d been using the word for at least four years before I bought the thing.

But my Collins English Dictionary (Millennium Edition) has:

  • hipster n 1 slang, now rare 1a an enthusiast of modern jazz 1b an outmoded word for hippy
  • hippy or hippie n, pl -pies (esp. during the 1960s) a person whose behaviour, dress, use of drugs etc., implied a rejection of conventional values.

It also gives hippy as meaning having large hips, which is why I prefer the spelling hippie for the other meaning.

Nowadays, however, hipster seems to have come back into fashion and is no longer outmoded, but probably about ten times as common as hippie.

I suppose the term hipster was first popularised with that meaning by Allen Ginsberg in his poem Howl:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,

And after a few weeks as a member of the Ask an Orthodox Hipster group I can see that yes, it is a place for those burning for the ancient heavenly connection to ask questions.

Christian World Liberation Front, Berkeley, California, 1970

And even before the Internet took off, other Orthodox Christians have had a kind of hipster missionary outreach, or started a hipster ministry and then were drawn to Orthodoxy, such as Fr Jack Sparks of the Christian World Liberation Front.

From here on, this gets personal, so quit now if that’s not your thing.

I discovered that the Ask an Orthodox Hipster group differs from other Orthodox groups on Facebook, in that people do not seem to be angry, or attacking each other. If someone asks a question that people can’t answer, they don’t denounce the question as stupid and the questioner as stupid for asking it, they just pass on to the next thing.

I’ve also found that quite a lot of the questions are ones that I have already answered, at least to some extent, in blog posts I’ve written over the last 10-12 years, and if they aren’t, the question is also sometimes a good prompt for a new blog post.

And this perhaps can provide me with a useful occupation for retirement.

Before retiring one thinks of all the things one could do if one had the time, but one does not have time to do when one is working. Many of the things I hoped to do when I retired had to do with Orthodox mission and evangelism, and visiting Orthodox mission congregations and helping them along by teaching and training their leaders and so on. But they are fairly widely scattered, and visiting them costs money. And I think well, I can’t afford to get the car serviced this month, because I have to pay the doctor, or the dentist, so maybe next month. But next month the car not only needs a service, but also a new battery. And the month after that something else is broken, and the price of petrol keeps going up.

But helping people with answers to questions asked on the Internet requires no physical travel, and can actually reach much further, all over the world, in fact. So I think this Orthodox hipster business could be quite fruitful.

We still continue to visit the mission congregations at Atteridgeville (35km west) and Mamelodi (18km East) on alternate Sundays, but travel farther afield will be much more rare physically, but not necessarily electronically.

 

 

Twitter vs Facebook and blog stats

This blog got the biggest number of hits over the last 30 days on 21 February, when I re-announced an old post on Home Schooling and Bigotry on both Facebook and Twitter.

I just checked the blog stats for that day, and the home schooling post was the most popular. It was interesting, though, that 45 visitors were referred from Facebook, and only 2 from Twitter.

I’m not a great one for stats, and don’t often look at them, though I have noticed that since I moved this blog from Blogger to WordPress the number of visitors dropped drastically and still hasn’t recovered. I moved it because the Blogger editor became more difficult to use.

But another blog I read, A Pilgrim in Narnia, had an article on blogging stats, and so I thought I’d take a closer look at them. And it seems that that blog, too, gets far more hits from Facebook than from Twitter.

Perhaps as a result of this, Twitter has started trying to imitate the Facebook way of doing things, and I suspect that that will cause them to lose a lot more ground a lot more quickly. Instead of doing what Twitter did well, the people at Twitter are trying to do what Facebook does, and doing it badly.

To start with, Twitter was a quick and concise way of sharing information, if necessary with links to where one could get more detail (so great for announcing blog posts). The 140 character limit ensured that. But then they added pictures, which made nonsense of the 140-character limit. Now, like Facebook, they are deciding what to show people, which means that big organisations get more exposure than individuals, and eventually the individuals will leave Twitter to the big organisations to tweet to each other.

There were other tools that enabled one to fine related material on blogs, but they’ve all killed themselves off, perhaps by trying, like Twitter, to emulate the Facebook model instead of doing something useful and unique. There were Technorati and BlogCatalog, which killed themselves off in that way.

So statistically, at any rate, Facebook seems to be one of the best ways of announcing blog posts at the moment

 

 

Social networking and social media

Over the last 30 years or so we’ve seen a tremendous increase in electronic communication by computer networking. Thirty years ago I mainly communicated with distant friends and family by snail mail. Now I mainly use email, if I have their email address. And there are social networking web sites like Facebook and Twitter where you can find friends and family even if you’ve lost touch with them.

But though the internet in general, and social networking sites in particular, make communication easier, the owners of the sites seem to go to great lengths to place obstacles in the way, so that the potential of the internet for communication is never fully realised. One of the most notorious examples was when Facebook, without telling its users, changed every user’s email address in its directory to a Facebook address, and hid mail sent to that address in a place where no one could find it.

I’d like to make some suggestions for improving the utility of social networking to the users. They probably won’t be tried, because there is a huge clash of interests, so Facebook is perpetually fighting its users in order to manipulate them and sell them, offering them the minimum of what they want in order to keep stringing them along.

Other social networking sites have been less successful at this. They start offering something that people find useful, and gain a lot of users. They then sell the site to a big company that announces that they are going to improve the site, and remove the very thing that attracted users in the first place. Yahoo! was notorious for buying up such sites and killing them — for example Geocities, BlogLog and WebRing.

When BlogLog went, there was another similar site called BlogCatalog, but they tried making “improvements” that crippled the main thing that attracted users.

Yet another was Technorati, which was a very useful tool for finding blog posts on similar subjects by means of tags. It also showed a list of trending topics in blog posts, some of which I did not understand at all, but curiosity made me investigate some of them, and so I leant something about popular culture, and the meaning of words like Beyonce, Pokemon and Paris Hilton (no, not the hotel, the daughter of its owner). And one of the things that trended was Twitter. I didn’t see much point in Twitter at first, but when Technorati abandoned its main function, Twitter became a less satisfactory substitute.

friendsWhenever I link to a new blog from one of my WordPress blogs, there is a kind of social networking questionnaire. It’s an idea that’s been around for a long time, and I’ve filled in the information in the hope that someone will find a use for it one day. It’s called XFN, or the XHTML friends network, and you can read more about it here.

The rationale behind XFN’s categories of relationship is given here. While I don’t agree with all their decisions and categories, I think that it is a pretty good starting point, and that social networking sites like Facebook would be immensely improved if they instituted something like that.

In terms of XFN categories, all these are obviously "met". But otherwise, from left to right -- (1) friend kin colleague; (2) kin, friend; (3) me; (4) acquaintance (5) friend, colleague.

In terms of XFN categories, all these are obviously “met”. But otherwise, from left to right — (1) friend kin colleague; (2) kin, friend; (3) me; (4) acquaintance (5) friend, colleague.

The only thing I would add for a site like Facebook would be the time dimension — the “met” category can mean last week or 40 years ago. I find Facebook most useful for contacting old friends and far-away friends.

But the use of categories like the XFN ones could enable Facebook to improve their algorithms of what they show to users. At the moment Facebook shows me lots of stuff from some people in the “contact” category, people I have never met.

Allowing users to categorise posts would also help. Some categories might be family news, general news, professional news, humour, trivia, etc. And possibly an importance rating — I don’t want to learn of a death in the family after the funeral has taken place (as happened in a couple of cases recently), while a new bird seen in the garden might be of less importance.

Does anyone else think any of this would be useful if implemented by Facebook or some other social networking sites?

What has happened to paper.li?

For some time now I’ve been using the paper.li web site to make sense of Twitter.

One can get overwhelmed by so many tweets on different topics, and now that Twitter has added pictures, it’s become a bit of a bandwidth hog too, producing nearly as many “a script is not responding” messages as Facebook.

Paper.li produces a digest of articles with links on Twitter, suitably formatted and headlined. My personal one is The Steve Hayes Daily, which it makes from my Twitter feed.

But what I found even more useful was the ones based on Twitter hashtags, which enabled one to follow topics of interest. So I regularly look at The #Theology Daily and The #orthodox Daily.

There wasn’t one for my own field of Missiology, but paper.li let me create one, with the URL http://paper.li/tag/missiology. And you can see it as The #missiology Daily. So if anyone posts a link on Twitter to a missiological article, and includes the hashtag #missiology in the tweet, all those links will be conveniently collected in one place.

The problem is that paper.li no longer appears to allow this. The existing papers based on hashtags continue, but it seems that it is not possible to create new ones.

Inklings

Inklings

I am interested in the group of authors known as the Inklings (who include, among others, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, J.R.R. Tolkien and Owen Barfield). There quite a number of bloggers who blog about these authors, and there are other interesting articles on their works that people tweet about, and I thought it would be nice to see tweets about them in one place, so I looked for an #Inklings paper on paper.li, which would have the URL http://paper.li/tag/inklings.

But there wasn’t one.

But paper.li invited me to create one.

I tried to do so, but the URL wasn’t based on the tag, it was based on my name, and the content was a mishmash of stuff, none of which seemed to relate to the #inklings hashtag. I deleted it and tried again, but it still didn’t work. So it seems that the people at paper.li have removed the functionality of creating a paper based on a hashtag.

Boo hiss!

Actually the people who run web sites seem to do this quite often. They come up with something that people find useful, and attract them to start using the site, and then they remove the very thing that attracted them. They seem incapable of learning the lesson that “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

10th Anniversary of Notes from Underground blog

It’s ten years since I started this blog, which I’ve kept going more or less continuously since then.

It was the day that we got an ADSL broadband connection to the Internet, instead of dial-up, with a whole 2 Gigabytes monthly allowance, so for the first time I browsed the Web instead of just going to a specific site, looking at what I needed to look at, and logging off. And in doing that I encountered the Blogger site, and so started this blog on a whim, because Blogger looked easy to use.

I already had three online journals, so I thought starting a new one was an extravagance, but Blogger looked easier to use than the others — you could just start typing stuff. The others had a much clunkier user interface. The LiveJournal one is still there, though I don’t use it much any more.  I was introduced to that by Bishop Seraphim Sigrist, who still blogs there, and what he writes is always worth reading. One of the nice things about LiveJournal is that you can have “friends”, whose journals can be presented to you in a continuous feed, so you can see what they have written. You can see my LiveJournal friends feed here. The other online journals were on Yahoo 360 (long since killed by Yahoo), and something called MyDiary, which had the clunkiest user interface of all.

But Blogger had a streamlined user interface that made it easy to just write thoughts down — ideas that you wanted to share and discuss with people, half-baked ideas that you wanted other people to help you bake by commenting on them, adding to them, or even shooting them down.

When I started this blog on Blogger I didn’t even know what to say, but a blog is supposed to be, first of all, a web log, a log of web sites visited, so I wrote about a site for finding old friends, and you can see the first post here Notes from underground: Seek and ye shall find, And yes, the “Reverse People Finder” I wrote about is still there, and you can still use it.

You may have noticed that this post is not on the original site. blogspot.com, and that is because quite soon after I started blogging there, Google, who had taken over Blogger, began messing with the blog editor, and it suddenly became a lot more difficult to use, and lots of things didn’t work any more. In 2006 there was a mass migration of bloggers from Blogger to the WordPress platform, and I started a blog on WordPress, called Khanya, just to be on the safe side. At first it was there as a kind of emergency fallback, in case Blogger became completely unusable, but then I began using it for different things, so the two blogs continued side by side. Eventually the Blogger editor stabilised, and I continued to use it for quick ‘n dirty posts. One major difference was that WordPress allowed you to use captions on pictures, but Blogger made it easier to add pictures without captions.

So it continued until Google began messing with the Blogger editor again, which you can read about here Notes from underground: Blogger’s new user-hostile interface and other atrocities. So I moved the whole blog over to WordPress, and all was well until WordPress began messing with their editor and introduced the new Beep Beep Boop one, which I found completely unusable, and at one point, when they hid the old editor so I could not find it, I began using the old site again. Bad as the new Blogger editor was, it was still better than the new WordPress one. Eventually I found where WordPress had hidden the old editor, and though it is a schlep to find, at least it is still there.

Unless your a dedicated blogger, you probably haven’t got this far, because of all that boring stuff about blog writing software. One result of the deterioration of blogging software is that people have been abandoning blogs and prefer to use sites like Facebook. It’s a pity, because there are many things for which blogs are a much better medium than sites like Facebook. For one thing you can easily find stuff again, even years later, whereas on Facebook you can spend half an hour looking for something that was posted five minutes before, and anything more than 3 days old is gone forever.

There was something else to record on this day 10 years ago. We were visited by an old friend, Trevor Stone. I didn’t blog about that at the time, so I’ll add it here. I knew Trevor from Namibia in the early 1970s. He had come from the UK as a volunteer to work at the Anglican mission at Odibo in Ovamboland as a mechanic maintaining the church  vehicles.

Monday 28 November 2005

Trevor Stone, Pretoria, 28 Nov 2005

Trevor Stone, Pretoria, 28 Nov 2005

Trevor Stone came to see us. He brought news of people from Namibia that I had not heard, and has remained active in support of the work of the Anglican Church there. I learned that Nestor Kakonda, who in the early 1970s had been secretary of St Mary’s Mission, had been killed in a South African raid on Cassinga in Angola, during the wars there. Trevor collected books about Namibian history, and collected information especially about the Kwanyama people and their history. He was arranging for collections of Kwanyama artifacts in Britain to be photographed, so that they could be sent to the University of Namibia and schools there, to be available to students so they could know their own history.

 

 

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