December 19, 2004


Sexuality and weight

As a (largely) straight and (reasonably) thin person, I don't personally have a dog in this fight*, but Ampersand's discussion of the comparison between obesity and homosexuality (part 1, part 2) has been an interesting read. Both gays and the overweight are essentially sanctioned targets of discrimination in this society; both are most often attacked as (bad) choices and defended as genetics.

Strangely, despite their similar circumstances, there's a vast disconnect between the two -- it's not often someone's attitudes and comfort levels toward both homosexuality and obesity are the same. Overweight people can be vicious gay-baiters and gays can be among the cruelest of size elitists.

But are homosexuality and obesity choices? Yes? No? Both or neither? Ampersand's take on the subject is a thoughtful one, and some of his commenters hit it spot-on. It seems to me this comment to the first post was the money quote: "The ability to alter their sexuality or weight may vary based on how they arrived at that point to begin with."

I know people who couldn't be straight; I know people who couldn't stay thin on a starvation diet (which is a bad idea, anyway; see the discussion). I also know people who have chosen to be gay and who are naturally thin but have let their weight rise through poor diet or carelessness (oddly, people who want to be fat seem to be either invisible or nonexistent).

Neither case can be simplified down to "it's a choice" or "it's not a choice". The simplest model that fits actual, observable reality in both cases is "by genetics/by choice/not" -- or put more smartly, Brad Hicks' deviants/potential deviants/compliants.

The other interesting point about the gay/fat comparison is that it may point us to a future phenomenon. Gays, right now, are gaining cohesion and visibility -- fighting to marginalize gay-bashing and homophobes. But there's very little similar movement from the "overweight." And yet, with the parallels so strong ... if gays are successful in gaining more traction, is Size Pride going to become a force to be reckoned with within our lifetime?

* Of course, I do have a deep interest in it -- as many of the people who I respect are gay, overweight, or both, and as I think society would be better off if we could actually respect everyone instead of sanctioning people who it's OK to take cheap shots against.

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December 12, 2004



It's no fun to work with the news for a living sometimes. Seeing graphic photos of carnage on the wire, reading an entire nation's tragedies every day, gets you pretty jaded, but there are still stories that quietly haunt you.

This particular item wasn't a very big story in the grand scheme of things -- it only made the wire services as a footnote in the Southern California regional briefs. Regardless, it was one of those that twists the knife.

Charley Aurthur took his own life in November 1996 -- a troubled 23-year-old who had struggled with mental illness for half a decade. His father, Jonathan, fought to understand the whole time what was going on inside his child's mind. After Charley's death, the process resulted in a book -- which incidentally got published by the same people who did "Chicken Soup for the Soul" -- and a website. In both, Jonathan tried to lay out their experiences, in an earnest attempt to prevent another tragedy in families going through similar circumstances.

Then, late last month, Jonathan Aurthur killed himself.

This was a man who knew firsthand the pain of suicide. A man who spent six years trying to redeem his son's death by bringing their story to the world -- who even quit his job to write that book. It may have brought him the redemption he sought ... but it obviously didn't bring him the resolution he needed.

According to the obituary, he leaves behind a number of family members, an ex-wife, and a daughter Jenny. We can only hope that they find more peace in their lives than Jonathan did.

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December 04, 2004



Today's little etymology lesson:

The word blog -- now used to describe any continuously updated online writing project in which entries are separated timewise into "posts" -- started its life as a contraction of weblog. Time was, a weblog was a very different thing than a diary or a journal; "webloggers" were primarily content aggregators, who spent their time finding interesting links from around the Internet and condensing them down into a series of links, optionally with limited commentary. Much like Fark still is today.

Over time, the category spread to include people who would occasionally insert personal anecdotes or brief analyses/rants in between their links. (Or perhaps high-profile "webloggers" started feeling a little more free to share their life once their audience was established.) Gradually, distinctions such as that between "webloggers" and "E/N" sites ("entertainment/news", or "everything/nothing", depending on who you ask -- the term was coined to describe someone who used their webspace as a forum to rant and riff on all and sundry) were lost.

The "weblogs" also acquired the catchier nickname in use today, dropping the first two letters. I guess that's meant to be some sort of moral to the story. "Daddy, why won't you let me guest-post on your site?" "Because, son, there's no 'we' in 'blog.'"

Somewhere along that line, "blogger" entered the public lexicon, and soon afterward, every Guy With A Website became a "blogger." In a strange twist, the original meaning of "weblog" is becoming somewhat gauche among people who proudly and with no hint of irony call themselves "bloggers"; if you merely spew out links to stuff you like, adding no original content, your readers won't perceive you as making a significant contribution to whatever field you're blogging in.

Such are the ways in which language evolves, I suppose.

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June 30, 2004


Still alive

... 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.

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June 13, 2004


Spam warning

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 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.

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June 11, 2004



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?

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May 26, 2004


Just because I'm going to BayCon in two days

... doesn't mean that I can't be dragged into distractions by co-workers with big artistic ambitions. And I do mean big:


(Original picture by Orion, here. Converted into vector graphics by James Todd to facilitate the life-size printout.)

In other news, I would just like to officially announce that CSS is utterly appalling. Or, more specifically, its consistency of implementation is. That is all.

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May 15, 2004


O fickle Mood! O frustrated Muse!

One thing that I've learned about myself in my quarter-century here is that I have a very distinct productivity cycle.

I swing slowly, over the span of several weeks, back and forth between raring to go on new projects and wanting desperately nothing more than to play video games and kill time surfing the Web. It doesn't hit hard enough to cause me trouble meeting obligations, and it has nebulous effects on my desire to socialize (enjoy getting distracted more, but don't want to engage myself in relating to others, except in short, erratic bursts). But one thing which is significantly affected is my creativity -- and, equally, my openness.

Journal-writing is caught at that unfortunate intersection of both -- as well as technology; the translation from thoughts to website takes several intermediate steps that combine to create just enough of a barrier to entry to scare me off when my mood is in a down cycle. (One of the incentives for the journal switchover to Movable Type was to reduce these barriers. It's helping somewhat, because the MT system is a lot simpler and more user-friendly -- although as I type this I'm well aware of a list of style changes and code tinkering that I really need to get around to, so in the short term that cancels out. MT's ability to save unpublished posts as drafts is also helping -- I'm halfway through an introductory post I got stalled on; with my old system I'd have had to keep track of it and "interrupt" it to write up something else in the meantime, but here, I can just save my changes and come back to it with a mouse click.)

My mood cycles have been on my mind a great deal lately, because I was just settling into an up-cycle when I sat down to install Movable Type. (If I'm doing Ambitious Things to Tlands, you can bet that I'm up-cycling.) I anticipated that I'd use the momentum from that burst of activity and the instantaneous feedback of "It's really working!" to shake out all the little stylistic bugs, get the journal seeded with some fresh posts, set up the Livejournal feed tlands_dot_org for you LJ readers ... and then, within the span of perhaps 24 hours, I stalled. I shut down completely. The down cycle whacked me upside the head and I stumbled, sprawling onto the floor, suddenly scrambling to just catch my breath and stagger forward a step at a time.

I'm used to the down cycles by now, but I'm definitely not used to them coming on that quickly.

At least not without reason. More typical is a slow drift into apathy, an incremental ratcheting back of the pace. Sometimes, of course, if I get sufficiently traumatized, it can bring things to a screeching halt -- longtime readers may recall Glineth and Cobalt's deaths, which are still weighing on my desire to write as the one-year mark creeps up (and it's really getting old, believe me). But two weeks ago? Added deadline urgency at the office was dragging me down some, sure, but that's about the only thing that was going on in my life at the time -- and by itself shouldn't have been enough to send me tumbling so far.

Since then, it's become clear that, yes, this is definitely an early down cycle rather than some sort of fluke. Work pressure has been unrelenting (especially with one of our editors taking off to get married and the rest of us picking up the burden), leaving me little chance to recenter on that front. I had a wonderful hike last weekend, as well as a pleasant date-thing with Rene, but neither really carried over to my mood cycle (especially given the editor's continued absence and the continued stomping at work starting the very next night).

Things may be looking up again. I hope. There's some drama going on in the background, but the stormy part of it is over, and now I just need to see how things settle. Hopefully well, although I have little control at this point. (I've got a reasonable drama tolerance, but being mired in interpersonal issues does tend to have a magnified drag on my mood.) For the moment, I'm stuck in something of a holding pattern.

Truth be told, with some exceptions the theme of my entire life lately has been "holding pattern." It's not a place I'm comfortable being. I have long-term goals I want to pursue, though I'll leave it to a later post to enumerate them.

What keeps me persevering is the fact that in this holding pattern, I'm building up financial resources which will make it significantly more pleasant when I do start sprinting forward again. (I came down here from Seattle five digits in debt. I'm not leaving the Sierra without ensuring that won't happen again if I take some time off from work.) But the sprinting is still some time off ... and I just wish I could do more jogging -- or even walking -- in the meantime.

Right now I feel like I'm hobbling along at an erratic limp toward those distant goals, going through long periods of not moving at all. That stasis is scary. It's just too easy a pattern to fall into ... and it's not something I want.

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