Helping Out at Humorless Rants

Helping Out at Humorless Rants

A few months ago, I wrote an article announcing Elizabeth’s new podcast, Humorless Rants Podcast Does James Comey Firing. Well, they are gearing up to do their 17th episode and judging from the 16th, it’s really blossomed. Still, their website hasn’t gotten much love. So without really being asked, I have stepped up. (Stepped up, barged in, potato, potauto.)

Elizabeth does the podcast with two other people: Kara and Kevin. She alternates the two as co-hosts. So the last episode was Elizabeth and Kevin, and the next one will be Kara. That’s good; it spreads the work around and adds variety.

Let me make another recommendation to check out the Humorless Rants podcast. It was good at the very beginning. But it’s really blossomed in 16 episodes.

They are also getting good guests for the show. The last show was mostly about Nazis — interestingly recorded before the neo-Nazi rally in Charlotteville, VA. It featured Jesse Turner who has made a deep study of Nazis. The next episode will feature Neera Tanden. That’s a pretty good “get” for a fledgling podcast.

The Humorless Rants Website

Elizabeth asked if I could do something for the show’s blog. I can’t really remember what it was. But she made the mistake of giving me full access to it. That, combined with being something of a WordPress expert and having very little self-control led me to give the site an overhaul.

When I first saw it before, I was confused. It didn’t have any links. There was just a huge header and what looked like the first (default) post of a blog.

I had just written an introduction for the 16th episode, You Can’t Reason With Nazis. But after I published it, I couldn’t find it. It didn’t show up on the first page. This led to me poking around in the admin area of the site.

Behind the Scenes

At first, I was texting with Elizabeth. Since she didn’t seem to mind what I was doing, I just went with it.

I can’t say that it’s current state is great, but it’s usable now — with links to the about, contact, and blog pages. Given that the website is meant to support the podcast, it really ought to be set-up the way Frankly Curious is — with the blog roll on the front page.

The problem with this is that it would eliminate the use of the blog for anything other than posts about podcast episodes — and there is already one. What’s really needed is two blogs: one just for episode posts that would be displayed on the home page, and another with everything else.

This is easy to do if you are hosting your own WordPress install. But Humorless Rants uses WordPress.com. This is my first experience using it, and it does not have nearly as many options as a self-hosted install.

To the Future!

Eventually, I will probably push Elizabeth to change the site to be self-hosted. It all depends upon how involved I am in this. I wouldn’t mind managing the website and writing the episode introductions. It’s nice because there is no real pressure, given that the real product is the podcast.

But regardless, the Humorless Rants website is now in a state where anyone can add to it, and where visitors will be able to find the information they want.

Let me make another recommendation to check out the podcast. It was good at the very beginning. But it’s really blossomed in 16 episodes.

OCD Editor: Dealing With Weird Quotation Marks

OCD Editor: Dealing With Weird Quotation Marks

As an editor of online materials, I find myself with a curious problem: how to deal with single and double quotation marks. Because I suffer from a mild form of OCD, I like these always to be represented by the typewriter keys ' and ". Then I let WordPress, or whatever other content management system I’m using, convert these characters into the typographic symbols with left and right sides.

For example:

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

And:

‘The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.’

But as an editor, I get text in many forms. Rarely are single and double quotes delivered as ' and ". Instead, they are entered as ‘/’ and “/”, as well as ‘/’ and “/”.

If those last two sets are confusing you, they are just how HTML actual stores these right and left quotation marks. All you need to know is that writers actually do submit text with these symbols in the text and they are perfectly correct.

The problem is that I don’t like them. I like my text to be straight ASCII7, and so I like my straight ' and " keys. If I had to choose from the other sets, I would take ‘ over ‘.

The other day, I was talking to a fellow editor who was complaining about this. She didn’t mind ‘ so much, but ‘ drove her crazy. It’s understandable; they really do make the raw HTML harder to read.

Since I was no longer alone in my complaints, it occurred to me that I should write a program to fix this problem. At first, I thought I would write it in PHP, given that I really like its string (short for “text string” or more generally a collection of characters) library. But then I thought it would be downright trivial to do with JavaScript.

One great thing with JavaScript is that you don’t even need a server. You can just run the program locally on your machine. And a few minutes later, I had the following program:

Remove Annoying Quotation Marks

This program removes annoying special quotation marks and replaces them with normal ASCII7 characters. The characters are:

  • ”
  • “
  • ’
  • ‘

Text Box

Source Code

I often pine for the days when you had to really get inside a machine. But I have to admit that it’s pretty cool to be able to write a program that solves an annoying problem like this with almost no thought or time.

Here is the entire program. All you would have to do is put it in a file with an html extension and then run it in a browser on your computer.

<html>
  <head>
    <title>Remove Annoying Quotation Marks</title>
  <script>
function Clean() {
  var t1, t2;
  t1 = document.getElementById("text1").value;
  t2 = t1.replace(/”/g,"\"");
  t1 = t2.replace(/“/g,"\"");
  t2 = t1.replace(/“/g,"\"");
  t1 = t2.replace(/”/g,"\"");
  t2 = t1.replace(/‘/g,"'");
  t1 = t2.replace(/’/g,"'");
  t2 = t1.replace(/‘/g,"'");
  t1 = t2.replace(/’/g,"'");
  document.getElementById("text1").value = t1;
}
  </script>
  </head>
  <body>
    <h1>Remove Annoying Quotation Marks</h1>
    <p>This program removes annoying special quotation
    marks and replaces them with normal ASCII7 characters.
    The characters are:</p>
    <ul>
      <li>&rdquo;</li>
      <li>&ldquo;</li>
      <li>&rsquo;</li>
      <li>&lsquo;</li>
      <li>“</li>
      <li>”</li>
      <li>‘</li>
      <li>’</li>
    </ul>
    <h2>Text Box</h2>
    <div style="text-align: center;
    margin-left: auto;
    margin-right: auto;"><textarea rows="5"
    cols="50" id="text1"></textarea></div>
    <p style="text-align: center;"><input
    onClick="Clean();" type="button"
    value="Clean" /></p>
  </body>
</html>

You can download the program if you wish:

RmQuotes.html

Conclusion

I realize this is pretty arcane. It combines a number of things people don’t care about: computer programming, editing, and my neuroses. But I still think it’s interesting.

The Evolution of Comment Spam

Comment SpamI have a greater interest in comment spam than most people. Even among bloggers, comment spam is rarely seen as anything but an annoyance. For those who don’t know, comment spam is where someone comments on a blog post with only the intention of getting their link (or links — sometimes hundreds of them) put on your website.

The idea originally was that these comments would give the linked website a boost in Google’s ratings. But blogging software quickly learned this trick, and so pretty much all comment links are listed with the rel="nofollow" attribute, which means that Google doesn’t count the link in its rankings.

I guess spammers do it today just because some small percentage of people will click on them. That’s probably why I find comment spam so fascinating: it doesn’t make any sense. Sure: it’s cheap to post it, but I have a hard time believing that the spam pays for itself.

Email Spam May Be a Con

It’s very possible that it’s a con perpetrated against the websites that are being advertised. The spammers convince the website owners that they are boosting their sites’ traffic. And by the time the site owners figure out they’ve been scammed, the money is gone. It’s not like the spammers didn’t do what they said they would.

On most sites, spam doesn’t get through. For example, you never see it on Frankly Curious. But on Don’t Even Reply, there are thousands of spam comments on each post. The guy who runs the site just doesn’t care. Whatever. The spammers aren’t getting anything out of it.

Uninspired Spam

When you first start seeing comment spam, the thing you notice is how uninspired it is. It’s the same thing over and over. There are maybe a dozen small messages and you see them again and again.

One that I used to see all the time went something like this. “I really like your blog. But have you ever considered spicing it up a little with some images or maybe video.” I’ve seen this comment spam on a post by Andrea that was just a single image that she had created. So they aren’t even paying attention.

It’s not surprising. Why do they care? The comment spam is entered either by a computer or a person in a desperately poor place where they might get paid a fraction of a cent for each comment that gets published.

The Evolution of Comment Spam

But today I saw something new: evolution of comment spam. Remember the spam I mentioned before recommending that I add some images to my site. Well, I got what is clearly a rewrite of that. Here it goes:

I believe everything posted made a ton of sense. However, think on this, what if you were to create a killer headline? I ain’t suggesting your content isn’t good, however what if you added something that makes people want more? I mean [webpage name] — Improve [webpage content] is kinda plain. You should look at Yahoo’s front page and note how they create news titles to grab people to click. You might add a video or a related pic or two to grab people interested about everything’ve written. Just my opinion, it would make your posts a little bit more interesting.

Note that it’s about headlines. But the kernal of adding an image is there. And I’m sure that’s where they started.

A Better Con?

The big question is… why? This bit of comment spam is no more likely to make it through a filter than the original. But again, maybe it is the con I was talking about before. Maybe they could go to the website owner and say, “Hey, I’ve got a great piece of software that’s gonna go live five times as often!” I don’t know.

I do know this: every time there is an innovation with spam, it takes me that much longer to delete it. So even though they gain nothing spamming a site that I’m in charge of, it does cost time and money.

And that’s the terrible thing about comment spam. It costs people time and money, but it doesn’t even help the villain. It’s really quite remarkable.

I Could Be Wrong About Comment Spam

It could be that comment spam is much more effective than I think. You know the stories of the Nigerian Prince and his locked up millions that would be released if only you could pay a couple of thousands of dollars to pay a bank fee or whatever? That’s still a highly successful scam. So there’s no telling.

Humorless Rants Podcast Does James Comey Firing

Humorless Rants Podcast

Our very own Elizabeth Rogers has teamed up with Kara Calavera to do the Humorless Rants Podcast. Thus far there are three casts. The first one is with Elizabeth alone. It was good, but it’s very hard to make something like that dynamic with one person. That’s why almost any kind of show like this has two hosts. For example, WNYC’s On the Media has two hosts, even though the show is mostly just a set of stories.

The most recent episode is What the Hell Was That?! The title is in reference to the firing of James Comey. And it’s amazing how interesting it is to listen to two knowledgeable people talk about the events of the day.

The dynamism of the show doesn’t come from a lot of back and forth. Both of the hosts give each other a lot of latitude to speak at some length. That’s unusual. And helpful. It allows them dig down into the issues at hand and make comments that are more than just facile.

Campaign Spotlight

The Humorless Rants Podcast is lively and informative and well worth checking out.

After only three casts, Humorless Rants is still finding its own structure. With the third episode, they introduced Campaign Spotlight, where they talk about smaller races you aren’t likely to hear about. I suspect this will be a keeper, because Elizabeth has always been very keen on the topic.

You may also remember last year when she wrote a series of articles for Frankly Curious, Congressional Races Worth Watching in 2016. That reminds me that I was actually looking forward to 8 November. After 4 November 2014, I thought, “At least this will be a pleasant night!” Geez! I’m having the same feelings about 2018 — that it will be a good year for liberalism in the United States. But maybe not. Maybe this country is just hopeless.

Anyway, the Humorless Rants Podcast highlighted Bebs Chorak who is running in the South Carolina House District 48 special election. She won the Democratic primary on 2 May. She’s running against Republican Bruce Bryant in the general election on 20 June. This is the level of government where democracy is lost or saved, so it’s great to see Elizabeth and Kara highlight the race.

James Comey

Most of the third show involves the firing of James Comey. I’ve followed this relatively closely, but I was surprised how much I learned. Much of it was speculation, but still: things I hadn’t heard.

Also, they spent quite a lot of time deconstructing Donald Trump’s note to Comey, “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.” It’s worth listen to, and much more than, “Trump was just pushing his innocence again.”

Not Safe for Work

Listening to the Humorless Rants Podcast made me feel kind of old because it’s a bit coarse. I remember when I spoke in a much more coarse manner, so I’m not complaining. Go back and read the first couple of years of Frankly Curious. But you should know that this is “not safe for work.” Although I have always been a little unclear where people are allowed to play podcasts — especially political ones — loud enough so that others can hear them. I think the term is used to keep the speaker from sounding like an old fuddy-duddy like me.

Check Out the Humorless Rants Podcast

As time goes on, I’m sure that the Humorless Rants Podcast will get better. But it’s already very lively and informative. You should really check it out.

No, Zulu and Rocky Aren’t Racist; We Are

No, Zulu and Rocky Aren't Racist; We AreReddit has a series called “Today I Learned” (TIL). Frankly Curious articles have ended up in there before, but usually in a good way. Yesterday, someone posted, TIL Rocky and Zulu Are Racist Because the Villains Are Black. Oh, my! You can tell from the title that it’s pathetic. It is in reference to my article a week and a half ago, Zulu and the Racism We Bring to It.

Notice just how the two titles compare. On reddit, it is claimed that Zulu is racist because the villains are black. And on Frankly Curious I talk about the racism we bring to the film. I always wonder about these things. Are those who post such things just terrible readers? Or perhaps am I such a terrible writer, that they just can’t understand what I’m talking about? I tend to think neither. I think such people simply bring their pre-judgments to the article.

I’m a Fan of Zulu and Rocky

I was very clear that I like both movies very much. What’s more, I say that the movies are not racist. Rather, it is our racism that gets in the way of what is objectively on the screen. In fact, I said that as our society becomes less racist, the films will automatically be fixed, because it is not the fault of the film. The title of my article was very accurate: the racism we bring, not the racism in the films.

I can only stand to read so much of such comments, but I didn’t find any that defended me. It is mostly just the same thing over and over: how stupid I was. Of course, they just show themselves to be what they claim for me. For example, I wrote, “A South African filmmaker who wanted to do the same thing would doubtless tell the story of the Battle of Isandlwana (the one right before the events shown in the film).” One of the commenters responded, “Yeah, they did. It was called Zulu Dawn and was made as a prequel to Zulu.”

In this case, maybe it is just a question of read comprehension. I’m well aware of Zulu Dawn. There’s just one problem with it: it was not made by a South African filmmaker. It was based on Cy Endfield book. Endfield was the writer-director of Zulu. And Zulu Dawn was very much a British production. (It’s also not really a war film. There is almost none of the battle in the film.)

The Films Aren’t Racist

But it all goes to show that these people did not understand what I was getting at. I was talking about ethnocentrism and that it was natural for the British to make a movie about the battle that they won, not the battle that they lost. But let me quote the first sentence in that paragraph:

It is because of this that the film isn’t racist.

But the people reading it are so determined to find something to whine about. Oh, the poor white man! Here I am beating up on him — saying that Zulu is a racist film (even though I explicitly said the opposite) because the “bad guys” are black.

It’s About Perspective Not Villains

It’s also that I wasn’t making a case about villains at all. I was talking about whose perspective the films were told from. Stuff like this just makes me want to give up writing. There seems to be no point to it because people are so determined to hear what they want. And now I can be another example of the foolish liberal who wants to make everything about race and says that you can’t have a “bad guy” who’s black without a film being racist.

Of course, reddit it a thick forest of ignorance and stupidity.

Afterword

I run into this all the time in my life. People want to tell me about some outrage, “Can you believe that blah, blah, blah.” But in every case, I go and look into the matter and find that they have a very one-sided version of things. In fact, things are much more complicated. And when you know both sides of the story, the outrage factor tends to go away — except when it comes to the Republican Party doing what they’re always very clear about doing: taking from the poor and weak and giving it to the rich and powerful. But people don’t rush to me to tell me about Trumpcare the way they do things like Barbara Lee not voting for war with Afghanistan.

Sick and Tired and Over-Worked

Frank MoraesHave you missed me? I’m sick and tired and over-worked. Really. I have some awful kind of flu. I’m not sleeping well. And I have various obligations that are making attention to this blog very difficult. But I thought I could spend a few minutes ranting to you about stuff that’s on my mind. But note that throughout this week, I will post what I can, I’m just not sure what I’ll be able to post. (Maybe stuff like this.)

Politics

I know most of the regulars around here come for the politics. To be honest, I don’t know why. None of you seem to agree with me. And more and more I’m seeing myself as an old fashioned socialist. You know: like George Bernard Shaw. But you know, without the brilliance. Anyway, I wanted to say something about politics — keep you all interested.

I hear that our man from whine country, Josh Barro, thinks that the Republicans won’t agree on cutting taxes. You know: because a lot of Republicans want tax reform and Trump simply wants to cut taxes. It always amazes me that a man with all Barro’s advantages can be so amazingly ignorant. Who thinks the Republicans aren’t going to come together to cut the taxes of the rich? That’s their raison d’etre. Give me a break!

Spider Baby

I might be doing great when you read this. Or terrible. But I’ll be busy. I hope by this weekend, I’ll be back writing the kind of considered nonfiction that you’ve come to expect of me.

In 1967, Jack Hill made a horror-comedy called Spider Baby. I’ve been obsessing about it. I can’t believe that I had never seen the film until about a week ago. It stars Lon Chaney as a very caring and sympathetic chauffeur and caretaker of three children who are, well, insane — if that’s the right word. It is laugh-out-loud funny and hide-your-eyes scary.

Not that I expect any of you to care. Oh, a few you will, I suppose. In fact, I can even imagine someone commenting that it’s their favorite film. Of course, no one commented on the quote I posted about Jill Banner, so maybe not. My taste in film has change, and as with most things in my life, it’s just pushed we further into isolation. But if you get a chance to see the film, give a view for me.

The Plays

You know, I’ve written a couple dozen plays, but none of them are “feature” length: one and a half to two hours. And so I’ve been working really hard to turn a 45 minute play into a full length one. And after much painful work, I’ve decided to screw it. I probably mentioned that I was working on a play where the cast and crew (the same thing in my plays) divide into two factions and go to war with each other.

I haven’t been able to make it work. But I know that I can — I just have to spend the time on it. But it occurred to me the other day that it made no sense to do that in that play. And that got me thinking that it’s madness to try to make any of my plays this long. They aren’t truly plays but theatrical essays. I get over a half an hour on a very wacky comedy about MP3 compression. That in itself is a herculean accomplishment.

Turn the Water Off

The whole thing reminded me that one of my favorite plays when I was a kid (and now too) is Robert Anderson’s 1967 smash Broadway play You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running. And what is that? It’s just 4 short plays put together. Now I’m no Anderson. But it did occur to me that I could make a play where the first act is two 30 minute plays and the second act is a 45 minute play.

And then I can take the play around to theater people and show it them. That will provide the high point of my life were the head of some theater company says, “Haven’t you ever seen a play?!” That would be delicious!

Because that’s all I’ve got: I’m weird. Yes, I’ve seen many plays. And I’ve read hundreds. And the things that I’ve taken from them are different than what most people have taken from then. I really do know what I’m doing. But I’m not Shaw. I’m not Anderson. That’s probably why Psychotronic Review is so important to me. You might hate my play “MP3” (I’m not that fond of it myself, although it has 10 minutes that are magic). But it would be different from what you expect. And you wouldn’t know how it was going to end.

(Am I alone in this? Does it bother any of you that you know how almost every play and film is going to end? There’s a reason for that: the play wouldn’t work otherwise. At least it wouldn’t in a traditional story. But good God: have we learned nothing since Homer?!)

So the idea of knowledgeable people hating my work is wonderful. I’ve always felt much better as an outsider. It’s easier to be hated than loved. (There is, of course, the small chance that there is an audience for my work — but that’s a chance I’m willing to take.)

That’s All Folks

I don’t know how much I’ll be able to write this week. But I’m not going anywhere. In fact, as I sit here, drinking my Theraflu, I’ve gotten kind of excited. I might be doing great when you read this. Or terrible. But I’ll be busy. I hope by this weekend, I’ll be back writing the kind of considered nonfiction that you’ve come to expect of me. (Note: “considered” was added to that sentence as a joke.) Although I really have about 3,000 pent up words on Spider Baby, and you know I’m not going to be publishing it here.

Marketing Gimmicks Often Destroy Websites

Marketing GimmicksWhen you clicked over to this page, were you unnerved by the lack of a popup advertisement that you had to hunt around to find where the × was hidden to close? Did it make you uncomfortable that the top thing on page is the site’s name and logo and not an ad? Are you terrified at the thought that if you move your mouse out of the window that you will not be offered the chance to sign up for our newsletter? If so, you are suffering from the “Marketing Gimmicks Fad” syndrome.

Don’t worry. It isn’t a disease that you have; it’s a disease that website owners have. The problem is that you and all the rest of us suffer from it. But it’s hard to blame website owners. The truth is that advertising rates on the internet have always been too low and they have only gotten worse. So people are trying to stay in business. I just think that the use of such marketing gimmicks isn’t an effective approach.

Most Marketing Gimmicks Are Fads

What’s more, these things go in waves. You’ll notice almost overnight, a large percentage of websites will start using a new technique. But eventually they go away. I suspect that all of these tricks work at first. But then people get used to them and just close them. They are just one of many of life’s annoyances like the guy next door who plays his television loud enough for people in the parking lot to hear. But I can’t help but think that they do damage to the website’s brand.

My best example of this is Washington Monthly that I slowly stopped reading because there were so many ads that the pages took forever to load. It’s a great compliment to the site that I stayed with it so long. But there’s something more that should terrify website owners. Since that time, the site has been totally redesigned. I wouldn’t exactly call it a fast site, but it’s reasonable: in the middle of the pack. It has been for a while. I know this. Yet I almost never visit the site.

It’s Hard to Regain a Reader

Once you lose a reader, it’s hard to win them back. The truth is that there are damned few websites that are so great that you will go no matter what. I read Greg Sargent’s The Plum Line every day. It’s mostly because I have a vague fondness for him. And it’s good to get a rundown of the news from a liberal perspective. But it isn’t that great. I could certainly find the same thing elsewhere.

What every website owner wants is to have a site that is so good that people will put up with anything just to get its amazing content. But we all need to understand that we are unlikely to attain that. (We should all strive, though.) And so we should do our best to not annoy our readers. If they are in the habit of visiting, let them keep up the habit. A short-term boost in profit is not worth a long-term loss of traffic.

Two Kinds of Websites

Of course, I’m writing from the Frankly Curious perspective. For websites that depend upon ad revenue, regular readers aren’t that great. They are actually less likely to click on the Google ads that litter the page, because they are focused on the content. It’s the people who just showed up via Google who are more likely to click on a shiny advertisement. And annoying them is not such a big deal. If your regulars (who aren’t making you any money) disappear, so what? Well, for a blog like this, so a lot.

I’ve begun to see the internet as being divided in two: the commercial and the non-commercial sides. And even though Frankly Curious is certainly not the Electronic Frontier Foundation, it falls much closer to the non-commercial side of the internet. I think website owners should decide on this when they start a site. Because I see a lot of sites that clearly aren’t meant to make (much) money that follow along with annoying trends.

Marketing Gimmicks Won’t Make You Rich

But if I’m so smart, why aren’t I rich? Part of it is my overall negativity. But I think there is much too much talk of making money on the internet anyway. A much smarter approach is to use the internet to leverage something else that you can make money off of. But I know that many of these marketing gimmicks are a bad idea because they come and go. If people are serious about making money from their websites, there are tried and true things that can be done. The smartest website owners work on them and don’t worry about these marketing gimmicks.

It’s of note, however, that it is often well established websites that use such marketing gimmicks. And that may be because they are being conned by consultants. That’s a topic for another day. But my advice to website owners is to focus your front-end on being user friendly. And grow your site by getting more people to visit by using the standard techniques of creating good content and developing backlinks. Or you can be like Neil Patel and help make the internet a progressively less useful place.

So Many Changes on Psychotronic Review

Psychotronic Review - Running Multiple WebsitesJust yesterday, I wrote A Much Darker Take on Barton Fink. Now that was an article that I really could have put on Psychotronic Review. But it seemed like it went more here because it is more of an art film than a psychotronic film. Just the same, it would have worked — especially when you consider just how wide-open the definition of of the term is. And who knows: I may end up transferring it over there at some point. As it is, the new website is not going without love. Let me tell you what I did just over the weekend.

Omega Doom

The main thing is that I created a page for the film Omega Doom and wrote an article for it, The Post-Apocalyptic Yojimbo. Omega Doom is quite an interesting film starring Rutger Hauer.

I’m almost to the point of saying that anything that Hauer stars in must be psychotronic. He has had an uncanny tendency to pick odd films. He really has the stature to have starred in more traditional films, but instead, he’s spent most of his career starring in what most people would call trash. It’s probably a matter more than he’d rather star in second tier films than to have a second tier role in a first tier film. But it’s nice to think that he’s just really into unusual material.

Omega Doom is hardly a great film, but I think you’ll be interested in checking it out after reading my article. There is much to like about it. And if you know Yojimbo, well… There’s been a cowboy version and a gangster version. So why not a robot version?

Other Changes to Psychotronic Review

As a result of this, I moved a couple of articles from Frankly Curious to Psychotronic Review. Whenever I do this, I end up making some changes. In many cases, I make really big changes. One where I didn’t make much of a change was in my new page on Turbo Kid. It is based on an article I wrote pretty recently, Gory Post-Apocalyptic Nostalgia.

The main thing I did in adding the film to the site was putting together the credits for the film. I’m sure I knew this before, but it’s still remarkable: Turbo Kid was written and directed by three guys. I wonder how that was all done. The truth is that the film is fairly standard. You wouldn’t get the idea that it was such a group effort. It makes me want to get the DVD just to see if there’s any information about how they worked together. I suspect there wasn’t much to it: just three friends who decided to make a film.

How I Rate a Film

I also managed to publish my third blog post for Psychotronic Review: How I Rate a Film: Yojimbo Edition. Now that’s an old article — one I wrote almost exactly five years ago. But it’s also one that I changed a lot. It’s interesting, however, to see that my thinking on film rating hasn’t changed that much. But the article did end up about twice as long as it was.

More to Do

There’s still lots more to do. The problem is that nothing is easy. It isn’t just a matter of moving material over. I always do at least some rewriting. And then links and images have to be dealt with. And then there is the whole issue of making sure that the articles here (and for the older articles, the ones still on the Nucleus site) get redirected correctly to Psychotronic Review. Also involved in this is getting rid of them on Frankly Curious.

The reason for this last part is that this is a blog. So even though an article might get redirected, it will still show up in the blog roll. And in searches. For example, if I hadn’t removed the article on Turbo Kid and you searched for “turbo kid,” it would have displayed here. Now that’s not a problem for you, the reader. But Google would see that as duplicate content and penalize me. I’m not exactly sure how that works, but it does mean that people would be less likely to find my Turbo Kid page through Google.

I’ve Made Website Management Harder

It’s amazing. There’s so much to do running a website. It’s no wonder that so many blogs are done so poorly. Of course, some of this is my own damned fault. It would have been smart to just start my blogging career using by far the most popular blogging software — or even something close. Instead, I started with something almost no one used that was literally discontinued. (Some users of it started their own replacement project, but who knows how long that will continue on.)

Also, I could have started a more focused blog. Frankly Curious has almost 500 articles on film. That works out to somewhat more than one film article per week for seven and a half years. That alone represents a fairly successful personal blog. But I’m too interested in too many things. So I get myself into this trouble. That’s part of what Psychotronic Review is all about: me trying to do something structured. And really, at this point, it would be so much easier to spend all my free time working on that.

I Just Need Four Websites!

But I know I would come back here. Because I’m not a single-issue person. But I do think that film and politics is it. Oh, and grammar/writing. Maybe I will do that. I’ve got my film writing on Psychotronic Review. And I’m thinking of moving my political writing to Frankly Furious. I could put all my grammar writing on Frankly Curious Media. (Something needs to be done about it. It’s been in maintenance mode for over a year.) And then my random thoughts would go here.

And with the remaining hour per day, I could sleep!

A Website Versus a Blog: Psychotronic Review Edition

Psychotronic Review - Do You Have a VCR?! Of Course I Do!I just wrote the second blog post over at Psychotronic Review, Do You Have a VCR?! Of Course I Do! But this article isn’t about that. You should go over there and read the article, though. It’s weird to be creating a website from scratch, knowing that the content is really good, yet getting next to no traffic. But I know that will eventually change. The people who visit this site are mostly interested in politics.

But the whole thing has been interesting to me because Pyschotronic Review is a website and not a blog. Of course, it has a blog. But the vast majority of the content is outside of the blog. And that’s why, despite lots of work done on the site, this is just the second blog post. It’s fascinating because the management of Frankly Curious and Psychotronic Review are really quite different.

Frankly Curious is used exactly the way that WordPress was designed to be used. It has a handful of pages for things like the About Us page. And then it has thousands of blog posts. And as a result, when you come to the site, you come to the blog. The first thing you see is the most recent thing that I’ve published (even if it is written by someone else).

Psychotronic Review is a good example of why WordPress is so popular: you can do anything with it. It’s my hope to one day have enough people visiting the site that I can add a forum for it. Here’s an article that’s written by a writer who I work with a lot, 13 Ways to Add a Forum to WordPress With Minimal Fuss. Basically, it’s like everything else on WordPress: there’s a plugin for that.

But Psychotronic Review isn’t that exotic (yet). Still, it’s kind of the opposite of Frankly Curious. While it has only 2 posts, it has 18 pages. And it only has that few because I haven’t given it the love that it deserves. Since there are a couple of hundred blog posts here that I want to turn into pages there, I could probably get the page total up to 100 if I worked at it this weekend.

Of course, given that posts here can become pages there, you may wonder what the difference is. Basically, I’m creating a kind of encyclopedia of film at Psychotronic Review. The idea is that one day, it will be the go-to place for odd films. Kind of like Wikipedia and IMDb, but for and by people who love these films. Also: reasonably well written. I love both IMDb and Wikipedia, but both are deadly dull to read.

Currently, we have only 12 film pages. But one of those page, The Roger Corman Poe Cycle, features eight films. And another, Night Gallery, features two, or five, depending on how you count.

In addition to the film section, there’s a section on heroes of psychotronic film — or more simply: people. That means the blog is left just with articles that don’t deal with the films or the people and companies who make them. Thus far, that’s left me with a discussion of Mystery Science Theater 3000′s mixed legacy in the history of psychotronic film. And this newest article, which is about how important it is to own a VCR. It’s sad that one needs one, but that’s life.

I’ve been thinking of moving all of my political writing to Frankly Furious. I bought the domain name a few weeks ago with the idea of doing that. Now that would be something of a technical nightmare. Not only would I have to transfer over 3,400 articles to the new site, I’d have to create 301 redirects for all of them on the WordPress site, and almost as many 301 redirects from the old Nucleus site. Yikes!

There’s a reason people pay me to do this kind of stuff for sites that actually make money.

CGI: an Interface Not a Programming Language

CGI - Black BoxCGI is not a computer language, and you can date me by the fact that I’m going to rant about it for a few hundred words. That’s because I set up my first web server in 1993. It was on an IBM RS/6000 named Eeyore which sat right on the internet. It was a time when the internet was basically Usenet (eg, rec.arts.startrek) and annonymous FTP for people who knew anything and AOL for their parents. The funny thing is, for most people not much has changed. Then the internet was AOL and now the internet is Facebook. At least it is for most people.

In 1993, there wasn’t much you could do with web pages. It was cool. You could put pictures on pages. You could have section headers and paragraphs. Text could be bold and italics. And there were lists and forms. But there was no interactive content — except with CGI. CGI stands for Common Gateway Interface. And it was a way to run programs remotely through your web browser. In theory, you could create a content management system using CGI.

But what was really cool about CGI was that it was, as its name indicates, an interface. I wrote a bunch of CGI programs. Some of them were compiled C programs, other were shell scripts, and still others were Perl scripts. It didn’t matter. As long as the web server could run the programs, and the programs were written to receive and transmit data correctly, you were golden.

CGI: Time Waster

Now you might wonder why I was writing these things. There’s a simple answer: I was a graduate student. And unless you are less than six months from defending your dissertation, finding ways to not do your work is critically important. I did many other things along these lines: I wrote a graphic program for X-Windows, I wrote an editor in 8086 assembly language, and I did a lot of really destructive things what I will say with complete humility was due to my genius for digital electronics.

I didn’t know anyone who was running a web server for a few months. So messing around with CGI was just play for me. Truthfully, at the time, GNU/Linux seemed like a much more serious thing. And by the time Netscape came around and made the web a much more serious thing, I was finishing my dissertation and then teaching pre-meds physics. (That was a scarring experience because I now know that doctors are (1) mentally insignificant; and (2) soulless.)

People Don’t Know Anything

The world can be forgiven for thinking that CGI is a programming language. Because what we used to do with CGI we now do with programming languages like PHP. But it still annoys me. Most things about computers annoy me. What cars were to my father’s generation, computers are for mine. As simple tools, they’re fine. It doesn’t matter. I remember one time I was an undergraduate doing some work for a research faculty member. I couldn’t leave a note because I didn’t have a word processor, so I wrote a really rudimentary one that allowed me to output to the printer. It’s better to just have a word processor.

Just the same, if you’re into computers on a deeper level, it seems to me that you ought to know how a CPU works. You should know what the difference is between a heap and a stack. You should know what a line of Pascal code would look like in assembly language. But I know that’s asking too much. Almost no one knows why the moon has phases. We’ve all become so specialized that should there ever be even the smallest tremor in our social networks, we’d be doomed.

Meaning Requires Knowledge

It’s no wonder people struggle to find meaning in their lives. Every thing in their lives is a black box.

But I’m grumpy enough. Don’t tell me CGI is a programming language.

No One Even Notices Your Clever Facebook Nickname

What's Your Facebook Nickname?One of the best things about Facebook is that it allows you to enter a nickname for yourself. So if your real name is “Lil,” but everyone knows you as “Nancy,” you could add “Nancy” as a nickname.

I don’t use the function that way, of course. Facebook allows you to have many nicknames, and it lists your top nickname right under your real name on your header. So I can’t resist adding nicknames of obscure people just to jazz things up. I use it as a kind of barometer of how I feel. But I figured it would work as a kind of conversation starter. But it’s Facebook, so of course no one cares.

Just the same, since I took the time to create them, I thought I would go through them here and explain them. I really should add a category on Frankly Curious called, “Since You’ll Never Ask…”

The Dixie Flatline

Science fiction fans should know this. In the novel Neuromancer, The Dixie Flatline is the moniker of McCoy Pauly. Pauly was a legendary “console cowboy” (hacker). Doing so could kill you, if you, for example, interacted with the wrong kind of encryption. Pauly had died a number of times as a result of this — mostly to be revived.

What’s interesting about him is that he is dead when Neuromancer takes place. But his consciousness was saved on disk. So Molly and Case steal the construct to help them as a hacker in the job that they are doing. Pauly is not happy to learn that he isn’t alive and asks Case to see that he is deleted once the job is over.

I’ve always found that to be really interesting. Why would you mind being a computer program? Well, in Pauly’s case, it’s a problem in that he is a ROM. That is to say that he can’t change — grow and evolve. And if you can’t do that, there really is no point to “life” — regardless of how “real” it might seem.

I generally use “The Dixie Flatline” as my nickname when I’m feeling particularly existential.

Red Grin Grumble

I’m not even sure if it’s spelled correctly. It comes from the first episode of the second season of Rick and Morty. In it, Rick tells Morty and Summer that their father is the “Red Grin Grumble of pretending he knows what’s going on.” Both Morty and Summer laugh, and Rick slams them because he just made up the word — indicating that the two kids were pretending they knew what’s going on. He says, “Think for yourself!”

It’s mostly on my list because it’s an obscure reference to a television show that is attractive to the sort of people who would love obscure references. I put it up when I hate humanity more than usual. You’d think it would be up all the time, but my misanthropy is pretty constant, so I don’t get the option to use it all that much.

Not Terry Pratchett

This is simply a statement of fact. And although I’ve never really wanted to be Terry Pratchett, I use it to express my general feelings of failure as an artist. It might also be something of a comment about my fear of Alzheimer’s disease and mental decline in general. If we don’t know who we are, who are we?

Nick Danger

Nick Danger comes from “The Further Adventures of Nick Danger Third Eye” from The Firesign Theatre album, How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere at All. The skit is a parody of old radio dramas. I think I put it up just as an act of advocacy. Everyone should listen to it.

Johann Gambolputty

This is an annoying one. It’s from a Monty Python skit where the filmmakers are trying to figure out why a great Baroque composer is not better known. It might have something to do with the composer’s full name, “Johann Gambolputty-de-von-Ausfern-schplenden-schlitter-crass-cren-bon-fried-digger-dangle-dungle-burstein-von-knacker-thrasher-apple-banger-horowitz-ticolensic-grander-knotty-spelltinkle-grandlich-grumblemeyer-spelter-wasser-kurstlich-himble-eisen-bahnwagen-guten-abend-bitte-ein-nürnburger-bratwürstel-gespurten-mitz-weimache-luber-hundsfut-gumberaber-schönendanker-kalbsfleisch-mittleraucher-von-Hautkopft of Ulm.” Unfortunately, Facebook has a very short maximum on the number of characters in a nickname. Apparently, 420 is too many.

Jude Fawley

You know I’m not feeling too good if I’m using this nickname Jude Fawley. That is the name of the title character in Jude the Obscure. To me, Jude is a modern hero. But being “modern,” he is destroyed by the system itself. As we all are. I feel it every day — more on days I use this nickname.

Giuseppe Bottazzi

Giuseppe Bottazzi — also known as Peppone — is the communist mayor in the Don Camillo films. They are a series of Italian comedic films starting in 1952 (based on novels) about a catholic priest in a small Italian town after Word War II. His conflict with Bottzaai is not political, but theological: communists are, by definition, atheists. At the same time, the two are a lot alike and kind of friends.

I don’t know why he’s on the list. I do like the films. But it is probably more about it being a very obscure reference. Like Don Camillo wouldn’t be obscure enough. (But seriously, if I saw “Don Camillo” on someone else’s list, I would think it kind of obvious. I spend a lot of time playing to an audience of me.)

Sancho Panza

Well, this one isn’t a surprise. Sancho is the most important character in Don Quixote. The title character himself isn’t that interesting. But it isn’t surprising I think that. I do have certain uncomfortably shared characteristics with the great knight. If I have Sancho up as my nickname, it means I’m feeling pretty good.

Professor and Mary Ann

The two undervalued members of the Gilligan’s Island, they were just “and the rest” in the original theme song. In my family, they used to all call me “Gilligan,” because they thought I looked like him. That was before I put on all this weight. I thought I should have something for the prols.

Queequeg

Just as Don Quixote had to show up on the list, so too did Mobby Dick. Queequeg is probably the most interesting character in the novel. And I’ve long found it a major problem that he disappears for so much of the novel.

I use Queequeg to indicate that I’m feeling like an outsider. But the truth is that Queequeg is so self-assured that he never feels like an outsider. Good for him! It’s one of the things that makes him such a great character. It’s not something I really understand.

My Nickname, My Mood

It’s fun to use nicknames in this way. But no one notices. Probably the reason for this is because people just look at their feeds, not other people’s accounts. But since when has screaming into a vacuum been a problem for me?

Ideas Versus Products

Frank MoraesA guy I work with a lot wrote an article years ago with a title something like, “Nobody Cares About Your Great Website Idea.” I remember liking it, but I can’t find it now. It doesn’t matter. It just occurred to me because I was thinking of the difference between having an idea and producing a product. In my case, a blog post.

Every profession has its little annoyances. In writing, it is having to listen to people tell you their idea for a novel or a screenplay. It doesn’t even matter if you are a writer. You might just want to be a writer and people will offer you ideas. It’s annoying for a couple of reasons.

Why Ideas Don’t Matter

First, there’s kind of an implied insult that you need ideas. I’ve never known a writer to not have vastly more ideas than time. I remember reading an interview with Charles Schulz where he said, if you couldn’t just sit down at your desk and think of something funny to draw, you weren’t a cartoonist. I think he overstated, but there is much to that.

The second problem with being offered ideas is related to the first. People think they are giving you something valuable, but they aren’t. If you took their idea, they would be giving you (almost certainly unpaid) work. Because it is taking an idea and turning it into a story or whatever that matters, not the idea itself. Usually, the final product has little relationship to the starting idea.

Think of the great film Chinatown. What scene does everyone remember? “She’s my sister and my daughter!” But Robert Towne’s original idea was to write about water rights in southern California. Now, that is ultimately what the story is about. But it’s not what people take away from the film.

Blog Post Ideas

Anyway, this is all about fiction. Blog posts are rather a different thing. And I do remember when I was writing a lot more, it could be difficult to come up with stuff to write about — at least when I had other writing work. Now I have the opposite problem.

Recently, I’ve had all these ideas for articles that I find hard to get entered into the computer. It’s mostly other work that is getting in the way — but not as you might think. I’ve been so stressed out that the idea of sitting down to write for pleasure has been impossible.

That’s true of the work here and Psychotronic Review, as well as my plays. In fact, I think I have had a breakthrough with my folklore play. But I don’t know if its going to work. Most ideas turn to ashes when presented with the stark sunlight of implementation.

(For the record, the new idea is to have two choruses who gradually disagree on how the play should be performed dividing the cast and crew into full-scale war. I know I can use that somewhere, but not necessarily in this play. Note that I don’t care that someone is going to steal this idea. Anyone good enough will have their own ideas on how to rip off Luigi Pirandello.)

But right now, I’m keen to sit in front of the screen and write for fun. So I hope that continues and I can maintain my minimal output on the consistent schedule I used to have. That is: the new consistent schedule, not the old one. I don’t have anything close to the amount of time to do six posts per day!

Afterword

I would like to say in my defense that for a personal blog, this one still grinds out an enormous amount of content. What I’m more bothered by is not being very active with the comments. I’ll work on that too. But now I’m going to write an article for tomorrow that I’ve been meaning to write for at least a week. It should be fun: I get to go after libertarians again. That’s what passes for fun around here. That and the serial comma.