... just haven't been posting in the last few weeks. Blame, in approximate order of relevance: Kingdom of Loathing, politics, personal life, and planning for BaxWalk 2004 (attendees can expect an e-mail update shortly).
It's going to be a busy few days. Hoping to get some writing time this weekend.
"I've never read Wheel of Time ... I refuse to read any series of books that outweighs me and still isn't finished."
-- "Mr. Skullhead," in the Kingdom of Loathing forums
I've been getting a lot of e-mail lately breathlessly informing me that "Someone who knows you is trying to share experiences and opinions about you via our website." ("Our website" being ShareYourExperiences.com or one of its many alternate addresses for the same company, which I don't feel generous enough to link to.) The site pitch is that it promotes a truly anonymous exchange of information about others, since the real dirt is more likely to come out if the tattletale can avoid the negative repercussions of being fingered as a source.
That's the pitch. Is it legitimate? Well, let's see. The site lists no corporate contact information; has a vague and unhelpful FAQ except for the extremely large sections informing you why it's perfectly legal; informs you that a paid subscription is necessary to access most of the site but nowhere lists prices until after you've already secured a "free" membership; and urban-legend watchdog Snopes has warned against them. At this point one should, at best, ignore them; or, if inclined to act more responsibly, complain to their ISP.
Consider them debunked as a scam at this point. The rest of this post serves mostly as a guide to the attitude one should have, and the considerations one should keep in mind, when confronted with unfamiliar sales pitches of this nature.
"Alright," you might think, "so I'm seeing enough warning signs that I can conclude the company is owned by unethical people; they shouldn't get a dime of my money. But ... there are still people talking behind my back. I should do something about that, right?"
Well, no, because chances are good they're spurious "hits" to drive traffic to the site.
The two addresses of mine that SYE registered any interest in got nothing whatsoever until June 5. Then, suddenly, surprise! Over the course of a week a flurry of a dozen distinct users all at once registered a frenzy of activity (each new poster, of course, triggering an e-mail to me). Oddly, four of the 10 posters willing to divulge information about me claimed that their relationship to me was "professional" and either current or within the last year. And yet they chose to say they have information about me at two non-work addresses that aren't even listed anywhere on my current website! The efforts of these 10 mystery people are remarkably semi-coordinated, using exactly two dormant e-mail addresses out of the many alternates I've created (and placed somewhere on the Web) to filter my inbox, while avoiding my primary addresses, work address, and Livejournal alias.
Remarkable address coincidence aside, maybe 10 separate people really do have enough time on their hands and enough coordination to volunteer information about me that way? That theory gets shot down pretty quick, though.
About three in four of them were listed as paying members, and most of their membership numbers were in the range of 100,000 to 500,000 (my test account with a Hotmail return address was #600K-something). A site with hundreds of thousands of paying users should have a pretty useful knowledge base to build on, right? But nothing -- no confidants, not even any requests -- in the person database or e-mail database about such popular figures as Bill Gates or George Bush. Nothing in the business database about Amazon or Microsoft. (Nothing about the firm's head, either, more's the pity.) In fact, not a single search I tried yielded any results, except for the two e-mail addresses that the site helpfully told me were being prodded. With that sort of track record, the notion that a site that touts its "robust tools for research" on "experiences with other people and businesses" can draw 600,000 mostly paying users seems very silly indeed.
And the notion that someone wanting to dig up dirt on you can go to the site and successfully do so? Even sillier. How can a site that can't tell me jack about Microsoft be trusted to have information on Fred Smith of Pescataway, Wash.? And why would anyone seeking dirt on Mr. Smith pay $25 or more to solicit anonymous tips when searching for him runs into such enormous stonewalls?
Why would anyone wanting to spread dirt about Fred Smith use the site, when their own introduction to the site was almost certainly an e-mail telling them someone was interested in them? If you post a "I've got dirt" notice on Fred, the only person who is guaranteed to be notified is Fred himself! And due to the anonymous nature of the site's connections, anyone asking for your Fred gossip is more than likely to secretly be Fred!
One parting thought: Yes, sure, there's going to be someone on the Internet who doesn't like you, and they're going to try to spread dirt somewhere. It's unavoidable. But the way to think about sites like ShareYourExperiences, rather than unreasoning panic that SOMEONE'S TALKING ABOUT YOU SOMEWHERE, is to gloat.
There are a hundred free Web sites devoted solely to personal smears and drama of various natures -- and comments on all of those are public, immediate, and generally easily searchable. If your enemy runs to SYE, they will have spent a not insignificant amount of money to spread damaging information to one person at a time; only to those specifically looking for it; with no guarantee that anything they say will stay behind your back; and in a forum that defies any sort of user-friendliness. If any of those dozen hits on me weren't computer-generated, then those hypothetical detractors are doing me a favor by blowing lots of cash to be screwed over.
Don't make that mistake. Leave it to your detractors.
Someone died recently -- someone I didn't know personally -- who helped make the world a better place.
A person whose optimism was infectious -- who brought smiles to people's faces.
A person who, throughout their long career, was compassionate and worked to serve the least among us.
I think it's only appropriate that their legacy be honored. I urge you to go read their obituary and follow their parting wishes. I know I will:
In lieu of flowers or donations to charity, please give your next waitress/waiter a generous tip.
... Wait, you thought I was talking about Ronald Reagan? Who are you, and why are you reading my blog?
... things are working again.
(That's all. Just a one-line-and-one-parenthetical-aside post. And it's sort of weird how neat it is that I can make a one-line post without a guilt trip these days.)
It's a waste of pixels, but I approve
I just spent an hour playing the Bush Game, and find myself regarding it as something between a guilty pleasure and a frustrating, brilliant failure. [WARNING: Link is worksafe, but the game is not.]
A brilliant failure? Why? Because it was technically well-done, enjoyable, and informative -- and, at the same time, absolutely guaranteed to not only turn off but also alienate anyone who isn't already a fringe leftist.
I'm serious. Don't click on that link unless you're totally immune to crude humor and also predisposed to hate everything Bush stands for. (Mom, Dad, I know you're reading this too -- especially don't click on that link.) Let's just say that it contains a very explicit (if cartoony) depiction of the Statue of Liberty being raped halfway through the introduction, and while the tone of the game flip-flops back and forth between serious and satirical, it never loses that unrepentant and in-your-face shamelessness.
That's what makes it so frustrating. The game, a side-view adventure-style shooter, is seamless and fairly deeply constructed, with plenty of boss battles and pop-culture references. It ranges from Enron to Iraq and every level is something fresh and new. It's interspersed with several cut-scenes laying out a set of populist economic critiques that really got my blood boiling. But the shock value of the game's crude sexuality means those who need to hear the message most, the swing voters and wavering Republicans, are not only going to get horrified and surf away before reaching any of the actual message -- but are going to leave with a strengthened GOP-driven stereotype of liberals as completely immoral, Bush-hating filth peddlers.
What I want to see is a game like this but without any of the offensive stuff. Not because I personally was offended -- but because the people we need to reach with the political message will walk away scarred by the medium.
The elements designed to preach to the liberal choir were beautifully done, but why make a politically educational game if you're just going to preach to the choir? Outreach isn't supposed to go inward.
What I'd rather see is more people pushing charts that show how Bush's "economic recovery" is all going to profits instead of wage growth -- or making the point, as the game did, that the wage gap between workers and CEOs has grown from about 40x in the 1980s to 300x in 2003. Or perhaps some troubling statistics that show the U.S. really has some deep-rooted economic problems as well as strengths when compared to other first-world countries. Then blowing away the myth that Republicans are better at fiscal management with cold, hard historical facts comparing presidents' performance over the last century. I can go on guiltily enjoying my blasphemous, depraved little Flash games, and the rest of the country can get the reality check it needs about what the legacy is going to be of the latest conservative revolution.
(Okay, and perhaps the game's politics could be woven in with a little more subtlety rather than through lengthy game-stopping cutscenes. Besides the game's blindness to its intended audience, the pacing's my only annoyance.)
The joy of breaky
So this one time at band camp ... the counselors upgraded the server some. And at first it broke Movable Type, and we were all, "Yay! We get to skip Rafting!" but the head counselor came out with some duct tape and then we still had to go on Rafting after all but with leaky boats patched together with duct tape. And it kind of sucked because Movable Type was still broken even though the duct tape fixed it up enough that it looked like it was working, and how the heck do you paddle with only half of a Movable Type?
Then we went out paddling on the Lake Of Updating The Home Page By Hand, and that kind of sucked too because it meant the first time an update was posted, the hand-written post would disappear and our life rafts were still back in the cabin and the XML was still under the seats!
But we survived that. Kinda. Then the mosquitos came.