6 Years

Today marks 6 years of blogging for me, and I can't remember why I do it. Jason Kottke said he does it because of 'intertia', but "because that's what we've always done" usually sounds like a bad reason to do something. Maybe I need a blogging strategy, but that looks like it's for people who want to get started, not for experienced bloggers who lost the thrill or forgot the raison d'être. If I knew for a second what change I wanted to effect, I might try to use my soapbox. That is, if I believed I felt like I was part of the conversation.

(Yes, I get inbound links and comments every now and then. But my participation never feels sustained.)

Todd's post from August 2005 keeps ringing in my ears. Except for hobbies, which I don't yet have to replace blogging in my life, his reasons for blogging lack of enthusiasm match mine. He wrote exactly a year later explaining that his site would be deprecated. It seems like the wrong thing to do for Just a Gwai Lo, since with it I have an identifiable 'personal brand'. A week ago I wondered if I should discontinue this site. I still can't decide. So inertia it is. Here's to another year.

Doesn’t Seem Like a Good Fit For a Rapper Trying to Make Himself Look Tough

Max O'Keefe: “My limited understanding of the rap game and all that it entails was surpassed when I turned on MTV and I saw a rapper wearing a Winnipeg Jets jersey. (Unfortunately, I cannot remember who it was). For all of you out there not familiar with the history of the NHL, the Winnipeg Jets were a professional hockey team that eventually got moved to Phoenix in 1996. Maybe it’s me, but a currently non-existent hockey team that was once based in Canada doesn’t seem like a good fit for a rapper trying to make himself look tough.”

The rap video that featured the Winnipeg Jets jersey was Da Youngsta's "Hip Hop Ride", and the team existed when the video came out in 1994.

So incongruous it seems to have black American rappers wear jerseys of a sport popularized by white Canadians that I decided to add a 'wiki' page of hockey jerseys appearances in rap music videos (I put 'wiki' in quotes because you can't edit it). So far I know of 4 videos with rappers in hockey jerseys (Smif-N-Wessun's "Let's Get It On", Black Moon's "I Got Cha Opin", Nas' "The World Is Yours", Da Youngsta's "Hip Hop Ride"), but if you know of more, send me the link to the video and I can add it to the list.

Setting Aside: Watching China

After upgrading it to the fancy new beta of Drupal 5, I've decided to give Watching China a rest. The front page is now the aggregator category of weblogs related to China (which has a firehose RSS feed, which I've unsubscribed from), but I've disabled comments, new user registrations, and posting on the site. For a while my bookmarks tagged with 'china' got syndicated over there too, but I pressed the pause button for that too.

Over the weekend, I'll go through my list of sites on that server, including this one, Just a Gwai Lo, and make a decision on whether to continue updating them or not.


Reading Doc and AKMA on an article in The New York Times on home schooling (called "unschooling" in the article, which sounds like people could think it means "uneducating", but is instead meant to distinguish from the the traditional or status quo, much like the word "unconference"), I find similarities with arguments like those of John Taylor Gatto. Gatto writes in his essay—not mentioned in the article, perhaps because it's outside even the home schooling mainstream?—that traditional schools only teach confusion, class position, indifference, emotional and intellectual dependency, conditional self-esteem, and surveillance—compelling, if checked by the fact that my sister, an elementary school teacher, loves her job and her students, and whom I believe is a good teacher loved by her students and their parents.

Both Doc (and Julie, whom I thought of immediately reading Doc's piece linked at the top) are familiar with Gatto, which would lead me to guess that Gatto's omission from the New York Times article, its embarrassing correction and all, is puzzling (because of his influence on homeschoolers) or explainable (ditto). My research on the subject consists only of stumbling on links, since I'm childless (my plans for the foreseeable future—May 2007, if you must know—assume that continues). Always in the back of my 28-year-old mind, however, is the question "how would I educate my child(ren)", and while I can't make a decision now, among the values and personality traits I'd like to instill, or would like their teachers and mentors to instill in them would include love, strength, playfulness, seriousness, intelligence, athleticism, grace, and above all, curiosity.

That, in the hope that they will learn from the mistakes of their father, a regular sleep schedule.

Northern Vox

Another year, another Canadian blogging conference. Northern Voice 2007 is open for registration, and until this Friday, open for speaker submissions. I went to the first two conferences and really liked them, with last year introducing Moose Camp, a more informal conference, to the mix. The organizers this year are holding the conference not downtown, but at UBC's main campus. This means a longer commute for us suburbanites, and those from out of town will want to book their hotel accordingly (or wake up earlier than last year) and take the bus or taxi.

(From downtown, there are lots of transit options, including a trolley or three that go there directly to taking two express buses, one from downtown to Broadway and Granville, and another from there directly to UBC.)

I have a hand in developing the conference's site, which ended up including updating documentation for the Drupal module that runs banner advertisements (in this case, Northern Voice uses it to display sponsors' logos on the sidebar). That said, I registered just like everybody else, paying full price for both the conference and the t-shirt. For two days worth of interesting conversations (based on last 2 years' experiences), in a most excellent looking venue, UBC's Educause Review Forest Sciences Centre, 70 bucks is a pretty great deal.

Vancouver will host 2 other technology conferences in February, and Web Directions North from Feb. 6-10th, and Vancouver PHP Conference from Feb 12-13th. So you might as well book a hotel for the whole month.

Morally Superior

Sarah: “as anyone else observed the phenomenon of non-TV watchers who will spend hours watching shows on DVD and think that it's somehow morally superior, since you avoid the commercials?”

Unless If You Generate News or Spend a Lot of Money Advertising

From Sacha Peter's response, itself worth reading in full, to my article on young school trustee campaigners (and young campaigners in general): “Young campaigners are worse off, but not for the reason specified. They are worse because they typically have less connections with the public and less name exposure. One major factor in the re-election of a lot of municipal governments is incumbency - when you look at a ballot of 27 nominees for council and 19 for school trustees, most people tend to pick off the names they know. These people are typically incumbents. Getting media exposure for a school trustee election is very difficult to do unless if you generate news or spend a lot of money advertising.”

Numbers on My Nokia N70 Stopped Working, But Now They Work Again

Yesterday evening, my Nokia N70 stopped working properly. That is, the numbers 1, 5, and 6 didn't respond. After a day of adding phone numbers to my Powerbook's address book and using iSync to add them to my contacts list, and trying straight rebooting the phone (turning it off then on again), and worrying that I would have to get another phone (which would have been my 4th this year, beginning with Siemens S55, then Nokia 7610, and then now with my N70, not including the Nokia N80 I had for a while), it works again. I couldn't hard reset the phone—7370# or, star seven three seven zero star number-sign—because I wasn't able to type in the code it asked for (12345) since, well, the 1 and 5 weren't working. What made it work again was the following: open the phone, take out the battery and SIM card, blow around a little bit, then replace the SIM card and battery and turn it on. Voodoo, I know, and probably not a permanent fix. But here's hoping it is, because I paid my right arm for it.

The Georgia Straight, Now Powered By Drupal

I knew it was happening, if not when, but Vancouver's alternative weekly's website, The Georgia Straight, is now powered by Drupal. Old URLs go to the same content, just at a new location (if you look at my short post about Vancouver Specials, the old URL linked there redirects nicely the new URL). Though I can guess by URL hacking, I'd love to see a page where the RSS feeds are for various sections, including the front page. I can guess at some of the modules they've used by looking at the raw code. They say the site is still under some development, so I'm looking forward to what they have in store. And by the way, this is not much of a scoop, since the newspaper announced their intention to move to Drupal back in April.

Watch This Whole Thing Pass

The water advisory here in Vancouver is making me feel like an idiot for not having 4 liters of fresh water. You know, the 4 liters you're supposed to have in case of an emergency like an earthquake (or whatever it is the experts are recommending these days). But I'm with the editor of about the people lining up to buy bottled water: “what you do is boil a pot of water for 1 MINUTE, then get on with your evening, and watch this whole thing pass by brunch o'clock on Saturday.”

Some other people on my radar commenting on the advisory: Jeffery Simpson and Darren Barefoot who links to three appropriate songs for the moment. Jen, who has 'water' in her domain, points to desperate times.

Setting Aside: The Wire

After searching through Jason Kottke's site for links about The Wire, and remembering his strong recommendation of season 3, it feels a little strange to say that after watching both the first and second seasons, it's time for a break. Season 4 is currently in progress, so I don't feel like there's too much left to get caught up, meaning I can wait until the holidays and use the hour or two gained from not watching Baltimore homicide and narcotics cops catch the bad guys to catch up on the first season of space pilots battling their robotic creations.

Thoughts so far on the first two seasons: lots of parallels between it and Homicide: Life on the Streets. Both are set in Baltimore, Maryland. Both have homicide detectives joining police raids while wearing bullet-proof vests. Both have black ink on the whiteboard for solved cases ("clearances" in The Wire, meaning they passed it on to the district attorneys), and red for unsolved cases, like the 14 Jane Does in Season 2. Both had the district attorney's office as a largely tangential player, but from what I remember, The Wire has more politics. (A running theme is that if you follow the drugs, all you find are drug users and drug dealers, but if you follow the money, you don't know what you'll find.) Homicide was a little edgier, especially with the editing, and dark, and maybe a little better. But then again, it didn't have Method Man acting as one of the gangsters.

Setting Aside: XBox

After a year or so of daily playing—with a few weeks here and there of not playing—I'm setting aside my XBox to focus on important things. But not without telling you about which games I'd been playing on it.

Other than Halo 2, which I gave up after being slaughtered during online play, I bought NHL 06 and won the Stanley Cup with the Vancouver Canucks. After that, I bought Burnout 3 on Adrian's recommendation. That game has time trials (fun enough), takeout mode (where you rack up the number of competing cars you make crash or spin out) and races (which combine takeouts with time trials). Though they seem necessary to advance in the world cup, there's a crash mode, where you hurl your car into traffic and score cash for the damage you create. Boring.

I ended up buying NHL 07, but it's just too much like NHL 06 for me to want to take the Canucks to their second straight NHL championship.

The latest game I bought was FIFA 07, partly because I like team sports games, partly because I had played it before and liked it, and partly from seeing my brother and my cousin play it in Iceland. I started with Manchester United, the team I always choose (people make fun of me for them being my favorite team, but I'm at peace with my decision) but subsequently got sacked for losing in my first cup game. The manager I created subsequently got hired by the New England Revolution, and lost in the semi-final of the cup. (I made the playoffs but I'm giving the game a rest for a bit.) Solely because of my success with the team in a virtual environment, and until next year when there's a team in the league based in Canada, the Revolution are my favourite team in Major League Soccer.

(There's something about the Ridiculous Hour that brings out the fluff posts. Not that National Blog Posting Month has been a resounding success in the quality department, at least not for this weblog.)

Young School Board Trustee Candidates

Since the election is almost over, it's probably too late to recommend him now, but today Torontonians vote for their council, mayor, and school trustees, and Matei Savulescu, a 20-something living in Ward 7 Parkdale-High Park, is running for school trustee. Sacha Peter ran last year for Richmond (B.C.) school board trustee as well, so it got me thinking about the strategies young candidates might pursue to get noticed in their campaigns, even elected. Are younger campaigners worse off, because they have to think about school and/or starting their careers? Or is it just that their time pressures are no less than older campaigners, but that the pressures are different?

Of course the offline campaign would involve most of the time spent, which would involve door-to-door visits (tough in high-rise neighbourhoods, I'm sure), all-candidate meetings, leafletting, media interviews, and so on. Online campaigns these days would include having a MySpace site, a weblog, a campaign photo gallery, and a little "search engine marketing". Matei's site does fairly well in different combinations of phrases like 'toronto school board trustee ward 7' (including variations like adding 'parkdale high park', removing the word 'board', and so on), coming in the top 10 for each.

In a private conversation, Matei reported to me that he had at least one person call him based on the pamphlets he handed out. Almost by definition youth means inexperience, but you don't get experience by not trying because you think you won't win. In other words, it sounds like something to build on for his next campaigns, whatever he sets his sights on.

Like Some Kind of Geographic Secret Handshake

Remember when I said I don't watch TV? Come on, you remember. Well, that's over now: BitTorrent and DVD rentals are my new TV. Here's what I'm watching (contains spoilers if you haven't yet seen them).

Prison Break: I initially downloaded episodes to catch up with the first season, but now I do it because they show it on Mondays at 8 o'clock, which is about the time my girlfriend and I are on the phone. (Aww.) The show is utterly preposterous: in one recent episode we see escaped convicts Michael Scofield and Fernando Sucré falling into a river only to see them in the next scene high and dry, the former wearing different clothes giving the latter a note from his pocket. That's on top of all everything else in the second season: now that they've escaped from prison, the FBI and "The Company" and the prisoners' former guards are on their tail, each prisoner with their own story line, involving revenge, marriage, clearing their name, and so on. At least they killed off the annoying characters (Veronica Donnavan, "Tweener") but shit's ridiculous. And yet I watch.

Battlestar Galactica: I finally watched the miniseries on DVD as well as a few episodes I had already seen and can see what people like about it. Almost everything about it—the story and the morals in the story, acting, soundtrack, the effects—are great. Almost? It tends to gloss over a few things, like how Boomer landed her ship after leaving Caprica. But something tells me they explain that later on.

The Wire: Jason Kottke wouldn't shut up about it, so I watched the entire first season over a span of a couple weeks. Set in Baltimore, the first season takes us inside the low-rises of the projects, with the police trying to break down a drug operation. The second season takes us to the docks and inside the dock workers' union. (The title refers to wiretaps placed on pay-phones and pagers in the drug dealer network.) Unlike Prison Break, The Wire seems intent on killing off the most interesting characters, like Wallace in the first season (unfairly, he just wanted out of the game) and almost Kima, the black lesbian. In season two, they kill of D'Angelo and make it look like a suicide, also for wanting out of the game (but also because they were afraid he'd snitch or already had). The series introduces me to slang like "mope", "the bug", and "suction". Also interesting is how they namedrop neighbourhoods, like some kind of geographic secret handshake. (I wonder if that's how Vancouverites felt about Da Vinci's Inquest.) Other things I learned about Baltimorians: they swear every third word and are all alcoholics, especially Baltimore cops. Oh, and don't fuck with Omar.

What If You Created A Community Site and Nobody Came?

A few months ago, Jen announces she's one of the new writers at Metroblogging Vancouver, in addition to Jonathon Narvey. Making a note it of it at work, I said in our internal group chat something to the effect of "it's almost as if you have to make something appear like an exclusive club in order to get people to join." I was a little on the grumpy side when writing that, mostly because Urban Vancouver, which has free weblogs, forums and event listings for anybody who signs up, but I actually consider Metroblogging Vancouver to be a successful group weblog: the authors have different perspectives on the same thing, and frequently contribute interesting writing. Same goes for Beyond Robson, of whom I'm envious of their Vancouver's art and music scene coverage.

Among the reasons Urban Vancouver isn't a successful community site:

  • the design as seen in Internet Explorer is broken.

  • even with the redesign there's a lot going on on the site: lots of blocks with 'most recent x' and 'popular y' and navigation that can be confusing
  • I along with Ray are the only regular writers for the site, and I generally just cross-post Vancouver-related material (which I'd love if people like Darren Barefoot did with his great writing about Vancouver). Jonathon Narvey says he'll cross-post, and want to encourage people to do the same on Urban Vancouver.
  • you have to register to post comments. That a pretty big impediment to participation. It was my decision and I stand by it: spam overwhelmed the site. As soon as we upgrade the software that powers it, that should cease to be a problem and 'anonymous' people—who can leave their contact info, just like on any other weblog—will be able to respond.
  • the event listings sometimes show the correct time and sometimes don't. I'm hoping that's something related to the need to upgrade as well.
  • what do you think? What would make Urban Vancouver (or similar community site) more iviting?

(Among the reasons Urban Vancouver is successful:

  • fairly high traffic, and high ranking in search engines
  • almost 4500 contributions over 2 plus years
  • an understanding of how getting included in the aggregator, which I find useful in tracking what Vancouver bloggers talk about, benefits their weblogs even though it's technically republishing their writing. Note that inclusion is both opt-in and opt-out: you can ask to be included and to be removed as well.
  • an identifiable brand, which gets me and others into some events for free as 'media'.)

We managing editors have other ideas for the site, but it languishes a bit as we work on things that are a little more mission-critical. Something I've been struggling with is, working for a company that provides tools to build community sites, I haven't created a lot of them. Successful ones, that is. PDXphiles, improvident lackwit and even 43 Thongs are good candidates for opening up for user signups. (That last one is the least likely to open up: I meant it to poke a little fun at some guys who were creating services I actually use and like, so I don't ever want to feel like I'm competing with them using their sites' design.) Watching China and Translinked have open signups, but I don't give them enough attention or promotion for people to want to participate.

If you watch my reading about community, you'll see links to some great articles about the subject:

What if you created a community site and nobody came? That question rang in my head when reading the above articles and thinking about it consumes a sizable percentage of my day. I continually have to remind myself that using the technology is about 5% of the work you put into building a community site. Public and private promotion (online and offline), maintenance of the site, user and content moderation, facilitation, participant retention, and technical support, not to mention participating yourself by creating the initial writing, video, audio, what have you, and continuing to participate in the community after it takes off constitute 95% of the time you put in. Soft skills, but hard work.

Tranlinked may or may not succeed as a place where people can write about Vancouver transit issues, but maybe I have to think smaller. Starting in April of this year, I created a group for Vancouver transit on Flickr for the sole reason that it didn't exist yet. Watching the 'translink', 'seabus', 'skytrain' tags, I politely ask people if they want to post their photos there (trying not to tell them what to do; that's a personality thing, but personality has a huge impact on the success of a community). I have quietly—via private messages, which felt more personal than leaving a drive-by comment on their photo—been building a small but already-passionate community using someone else's service. By piggy-backing on a photo-sharing community site I could carve out a niche for myself and others who think public transportation is an interesting aspect of their city.

In other words, I don't really have to build a community site or even a community: communities are usually already there. They just need a place to hang out and feel like belong to a community.