I Updated my Blog!

When I set my 2017 goal of “Learn Web Design,” I wanted to do something creative. Because I spend all day building websites designed by others, I could learn more about how those designs came together and explore my artistic side. Earlier this year, I already redesigned at Spawning Tool and foodmarks. My last design project of the year is my last major website: this blog. Continue reading “I Updated my Blog!”

Outrage and Strongly Worded Blog Posts

On my long drive back down the west coast this past holiday season, I listened about 20 hours of podcasts. Most of them were political and current events, including “Left, Right, and Center”, “The Bugle”, and my favorite, “Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” I also listened to several episodes of “Political Gabfest”, and one segment about outrage caught my attention since I had been thinking about similar issues in this blog post.

Roughly, the segment was a discussion about Slate’s feature piece, “The year of outrage 2014,” where they catalogued social media outrage from every day of 2014 and turned it into a nifty interactive. It turns out that there was a lot of outrage.

It’s ironic that Slate decided to appeal to a culture of outrage, in part derived from our preference for minimal context and easily digested information, is a massive infographic and 10 long essays. I almost didn’t read it myself despite citing it as the starting point for this article. Here’s the thesis:

…Over the past decade or so, outrage has become the default mode for politicians, pundits, critics and, with the rise of social media, the rest of us. When something outrageous happens—when a posh London block installs anti-homeless spikes, or when Khloé Kardashian wears a Native American headdress, or, for that matter, when we read the horrifying details in the Senate’s torture report—it’s easy to anticipate the cycle that follows: anger, sarcasm, recrimination, piling on; defenses and counterattacks; anger at the anger, disdain for the outraged; sometimes, an apology … and on to the next. Twitter and Facebook make it easier than ever to participate from home…

Not being a heavy Twitter or Facebook user, I miss out on a lot of the excitement. I do, however, use reddit quite a bit, and it’s fascinating to see outrage there. Although the 140 character limit is a factor, longer discourse doesn’t fix it. The reddit community tends to be contrarian and smug, which builds in the “second opinion bias” that also causes outrage. The Slate essays explain this much better than I can, but I would attribute a culture of outrage to 2 things. First, we have a lack of context and research that we would expect from journalists but can’t expect from social media and citizen journalists. Second, we have a natural bias towards evidence and opinions that confirm our worldview.

Who’s fault is it: the medium or us? The internet as a medium has no intention or agenda: it simply facilitates human thought and communication. Even so, the medium has constraints that play into outrage, and it’s tough to blame individuals when we are presented with information (such as in 140 character snippets)  that we intrinsically react rashly to. We have cognitive biases: we know them, and we have had them well before the internet, from sound bites on TV to parlor room arguments before that. An important difference is the exponential influence of the internet, which scales previously limited instances of outrage from the mind of one person into a viral phenomena across the world.

I would like to present a challenge to the platforms that exist out there. I think sites like Twitter, Facebook, and reddit publicly take a hands-off approach to these issues and push for democratized, unregulated platforms (short of illegal activity). With my limited knowledge of user experience, however, I find this position disingenuous: the interface and platform itself can bias our behavior tremendously. Sometimes it is implicit, like the positioning of buttons, or explicit, like Facebook filtering our newsfeed. I think these sites should accept both the role they play in facilitating discourse and what we know about human biases. We need platforms that encourage better discourse.

Of course, maybe they are looking into these things: smart people work at these companies, so I hope they’re doing their homework. I just write a blog.

Even so, I should also do my best to encourage discourse through my blog. Like the Slate writers, here’s my story. A few months back, I started writing less about personal events and more about issues and ideas in my blog. I don’t have any hard numbers, but I noticed an odd trend through various metrics. There was a negative correlation between audience engagement and the thought I had put into the post. In other words, my less thoughtful pieces tended to get more activity than my more thoughtful ones.

Here’s my theory. When I put more thought into a blog post, the result is usually messy, and my blog post ends without firm conclusions and having argued both sides. Less thoughtful pieces end up more polemical that leave reader with stronger feeling, either in agreement or disagreement. I think they’re less interesting, but they’re easier to get into and respond to.

I could also be totally self-centered in my analysis. Truth be told, I don’t really know what my audience likes to read about. I just write and hope others find topics as interesting as I do.

How I Blog

I really enjoy blogging. I also really enjoying talking about how much I enjoy blogging. Because of the few comments I get, I’m always surprised whenever my blog comes up in conversation, and I always take the opportunity to gush about it. The amount I have to say about it has indicated to me that I have now thought about blogging enough to blog about it. In fitting with the conversational setting by which this topic arose, I’m going to do a first and write this in a FAQ/interview style.

Hi Kevin.

Hi there.

Now that we’re introduced, I would like to hear a bit more about how you got started blogging.

I started blogging probably about 6 or 7 years ago during high school. I caught the tail end of the Xanga fad and instead started posting on Blogger. I started out doing a mix of anecdotes from the day and some fiction, but fortunately, I’ve moved away from that.

How has your blog changed?

Dramatically. At some point, I moved into a longer form where I would focus more on a particular idea instead of just random events. I’ve gone through some ups and downs with my blogging, including a few quarters where I didn’t post much, or just posted stuff that I was writing for class, but I’ve never taken a long enough break to say that I ever stopped blogging. Along with that, I’ve also had some periods where I felt like my writing was really good, and others where I was pretty embarrassed about the stuff I was writing.

Why would you post something that you don’t think is good?

Because it’s a blog, not a book. What you see usually comes from me sitting down for a half hour and typing until I run out of more things to say. That means that it’s unedited, and the topic and material often drifts very far away from where I thought it was going. For example, I thought my last post was pretty bad for exactly that reason. In any case, if I’ve taken the time to write it, I’m going to post it.

So how does that evolution of the topic happen?

Sometimes good, sometimes bad. I’ve noticed a few things about my style of speaking that affect how I write. First, I often explain things by explaining other things. If you ever hear me start a sentence 3 or 4 times, that’s me adding a new level each time to explain the previous start I almost had. After I’m done with each, I’ll get back to the previous idea I had, kind of like a stack of topics. I think my writing has that quality too as my writing usually has a more circular instead of linear quality to it. I start somewhere, go deeper and deeper, then find my way back to where I started.

Second, I’m also really bad at explaining what I consider my more thoughtful ideas in the moment. I apologize if you’ve ever been in a discussion class with me, because I’ll have a spark that turns into the first sentence of my comment, then ramble and repeat myself for another 3 or 4 sentences. By that point, I’m lost, everyone else is lost, and my original point is lost. Sad times.

Given that, I think my writing style is overall very different from my speaking style.

So how do you come up with topics for your blog that go through this transformation in writing?

I usually have a few thoughts on my mind as I’m going about life. Truth be told, my life isn’t that exciting. In fact, most people’s lives are that exciting. There’s certainly a bias for writers to have amazing lives as the basis for stories, but that’s not me. Instead, I like to observe life as it is and think deeply on everyday things. If you take a moment to think about any of my posts after reading, you’ll probably find that you can summarize it in one sentence. The rest is just essay.

I’m really impressed. I don’t think I would be able to keep writing a blog for so long.

Okay, so first, that statement is confusing, because you, the interviewer, are me, who has managed to write a blog for exactly as long as I have.

Getting past that, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a reason that I personally have not gotten past in keeping a blog for so long. One reason I’ve heard is, “My life isn’t that interesting.” I think I covered that above: my life isn’t interesting, either, but that doesn’t stop me from expanding a detail into 1000 words.

Another is, “I don’t write very well.” I have 2 responses to that. First, writing gets better with practice. My blog was awful at the beginning, but over the years, I think it’s improved enough that I’m not actively embarrassed by it at all times. Second, I don’t think I write very well either. Were I to spend some time editing my work, I would feel better about it, but that’s not the style of it. I emailed back and forth with Grandpa Leslie Whipp (former English professor) for awhile, and we talked a bit about one point where I spent 3-4 days revising my blog. I mentioned that I was still dissatisfied with it, and his response was simply that it was only as good or bad as the context. A blog isn’t supposed to be amazing if it’s just a bunch of random posts, and the writing itself is a learning process regardless of editing. So you kind of get a pass based on the context.

I think those are the main 2 reasons I’ve heard. I’ve also had similar conversations about journals: a lot of people have had journals for maybe a few weeks, then failed to keep it up. I’ve kept a journal for a very long time, and I strongly believe that it’s been very important to my personal development. Some of the content is blogworthy (those are the few posts that receive any editing as I move words around while transcribing), but most of it is definitely not for wandering eyes. It’s healthy and is another good way to keep up with writing.

Aren’t you worried about posting so much about your personal life online?

Not really. In fact, I think my blog might be some of the least personal stuff that I have put on the internet. At least in its current form, my blog is observations about life around me without too many specifics. Compared to my facebook friends lists, resume, and various profiles, this is pretty risk-free.

So what do people usually have to say about your blog?

As I stated in the intro, it doesn’t come up much, but when it does, usually it’s been someone who’s been excited to have been mentioned in my blog. That’s about it. And just to keep the game afoot, let’s throw out a mention for RJ since he’s the next friend I’m going to see (as of when I’m writing, not posting, this post)

How are you so sexy?

I get this a lot, especially from random people in the grocery store and crashing their cars as they turn their heads distractedly when they see me on the sidewalk. I’m not really sure. I guess a childhood of computer games and math competitions just builds a physique like this.

Do you have a favorite blog?

I think the Dilbert Blog by Scott Adams is pretty good as he takes crazy and extreme positions on random issues and ideas, just to make us think. Gigi, a blogging colleague from TUSB, has a personal blog that I happen to like a lot as she find a really amusing way to reflect on daily life that I wish I had. There are a slew of other blogs that I really like, but in the interests of staying close to the call for a single favorite, I’ll finish it at that. If you’re sad that I didn’t just blogroll you, remember: you can’t be my favorite if you don’t write regularly for me to enjoy regularly.

Any last thoughts, since you’re prone to rambling?

Blogging in general has been a really great thing for me as it’s spared me my pride in my ability to compose English sentences. After a few years of writing essays for high school and college courses, I was very close to “giving up” writing as much as possible having been thoroughly thrashed for the quality of my writing in multiple classes. Despite that, I’m still blogging and am very proud of the fact that even if it doesn’t really stand up to critical analysis, I am capable of sitting down, starting with nothing, and writing 1000+ words on a topic in a pretty short time. In-class essays and papers started the night before never got me to that point, so I guess this is how I got the education I really wanted.

And finally, blog! And by that, I mean “blog” as an imperative, not an exclamation. I enjoy reading almost as much as I enjoy writing, and the utility per hour is definitely way higher, so take a stab at it.

Thanks for you time, Kevin!

No, thank you. Or me. I’m kind of confused.

Me, too. In fact, I think this artificial interview was a bad structure for this post.

Really? Since when did the interviewer become the critical blogger?

Well, I blame it all on you, because I as the interviewer exist only as a construction for this post. But I’m also you. Is it possible to talk imaginary people to death via paradox, like Kirk did to supercomputers in the original “Star Trek”?

This interview is over.

Fresh Server Install

Due to some very poor decisions earlier, I managed to completely screw up the OS on this server, resulting in some downtime. Since then, I have decided to use a clean install, especially since my server was horribly configured anyways and probably needed a clean slate.

I tried hard to get everything put back together, but I probably missed something. Email/contact me if you notice any strangeness or problems with services from this server, and I’ll try to address them as soon as possible.

Don’t rsync /var with –delete

About 10 minutes ago, I learned an important lesson: make sure you fully qualify the folder you want to sync. And don’t use the delete option if you’re not entirely sure how to use it. The bad news is that I accidentally deleted this website and panicked for a second.

But I like to look at it on the bright side. For about 10 minutes of downtime, the good news is:

  • There’s a reason why people don’t just use root all the time. I need to be better about this, because it paid off majorly this time to not have permissions
  • my laziness in working on my website template means that I didn’t accidentally erase a bunch of work
  • I now know how rsync works a bit better
  • It caused me to backup my blog database so that the next time there’s a disaster, I’ll only be partially screwed
  • I didn’t need to upgrade wordpress because a fresh install does that, too

Wow. That could’ve been a lot worse.

Alibi

I came by my blog again, thinking I needed to give an excuse for why I haven’t written in awhile. It’s actually been only a week, but I’ll jump on it to point your attention towards some of what else has been distracting me.

One, a magic class. I can’t recall if I have mentioned it earlier, but my future roommate Tom and I applied to teach a student-initiated course on the card game, Magic: The Gathering. I remembered that for a past computer science class, the class page was basically just a blog with links on the side for handouts. I figure that the topic of our class is sufficiently interesting by itself, with various curriculum choices and interesting research/sources, so there will be some posts there about how that goes. And it should eventually evolve into the class page for the class in the fall.

Two, cooking. Last summer, George and I blogged about the meals we cooked over the summer. This summer, Leland is my new partner, but we’re still cooking, so we’ll keep blogging. It mostly ends up being a reflection on a series of missteps and failures in making something tasty, but perhaps you’ll avoid screwing something up by reading. Or you can just laugh at us.