What You Look Like When You Argue Online

When was the last time you got into a vigorous nerdy argument in the comments somewhere? You know, about something that you know little about, but a bit more than someone else? Someone is wrong on the Internet! Someone needs to be taken down a notch. Your opponent slips and slides around some very important point that you’ve made, and you’ve noticed a sizable, but surely not fatal flaw in your arguments. You opponent is guilty of some logical fallacies that you know by name. So are you. Shockingly consensus is nowhere in sight. You know, that kind of an argument?

Well, I willingly walked into one very recently. In the field of (shame, shame) cosmology as it relates to creationism.  I was not debating a creationist either, far from it. It was a very intelligent, well-educated proponent of science. Except maybe one that watched a few episodes of those popular cosmological shows fewer than me.  I was making a rather obtuse point that cosmology is so confusing that a wooly creationist might actually be less wrong in a ridiculous sounding statement…. blah blah blah. Snooze.  My bad. Certainly not a good use of a good chunk of my weekend. But something good came off it. I finally had a small epiphany. These arguments that we weave in are exactly like a powerful trope that was used by late Donald Westlake in his Dortmunder series of books .

All the Dortmunder books have a scene set in O.J. Bar and Grill on Amsterdam Avenue. Besides master thief Dortmunder and his loyal and sometimes disloyal circle of  criminals associates we encounter a strange lifeform: some barflies known as “the regulars”. The regulars pass time by having inane arguments with each other.  They are extremely ignorant and clueless , but like a stopped clock, they are correct twice a day or so.  Not for long, though.

I’ve collected three classic excerpts featuring “the regulars” from my favorite Dortmunder books.  I’m pretty sure on some level every single argument that I’ve had on the web went exactly like that.

“What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

“Right,” Dortmunder said, and moved toward the bar, where the regulars were discussing those black lines that’s on everything you buy now that make the cash register go beep.

“It’s a code,” the first regular was saying. “It’s a code and only the cash registers can read it.”

“Why do it in code?” the second regular asked him. “The Code War’s over.”

A third regular now hove about and steamed into the conversation, saying, “What? The Code War? It’s not the Code War, where ya been? It’s the Cold War.”

The second regular was serene with certainty. “Code,” he said. “It was the Code War because they used all those codes to keep the secrets from each other.” With a little pitying chuckle, he said, “Cold War. Why would anybody call a war cold?”

The third regular, just as certain but less serene, said, “Anybody’s been awake the last hundred years knows, it was called the Cold War because it’s always winter in Russia.”

The second regular chuckled again, an irritating sound. “Then how come,” he said, “they eat salad?”

The third regular, derailed, frowned at the second regular and said, “Salad?”

“With Russian dressing.”

Dortmunder leaned on the bar, off to the right of the main conversation, and watched Rollo in the backbar mirror.

“Don’t Ask”

When Dortmunder walked into the OJ Bar & Grill on Amsterdam Avenue at ten that night, the regulars were discussing why the big annual automobile race called the Indy 500 was called the Indy 500. “It’s because,” one regular explained, “they run it on Independence Day.”

Rollo the bartender was nowhere to be seen.

“They do not,” a second regular responded. “Independence Day is the Fourth of July.”

Dortmunder walked over to the bar to see what was what with Rollo.

The first regular reared back and stared at the second regular in aggressive astonishment. ‘WVhat boat did you get off?. The Fourth of July is the fourth of July!”

The duckboards behind the bar were lifted and leaning against the backbar and the trapdoor was open. Dortmunder settled down to wait.

“And the Fourth of July is Independence Day,” the second regular said, with the calm confidence of the well-prepared scholar. “They run the Indy Five Hundred on Memorial Day, if you want to know.”

“They why don’t they call it the Memo Five Hundred?”

“The place where they run it–” started a third regular; but, no. Not a regular at all, or he would not have allowed himself to be interrupted.

Which he was, by the first regular, still as calmly confident as ever, explaining, “The reason they call the Indy the Indy is because they named it in honor of the guy in Ra/ders of the Lost Ark. On account of what a terrific driver he is. Indigo Jones, nickname Indy.”

“You know,” mused a third regular, “it’s only called the Indy Five Hundred this year.” Yes; this is the third regular. “Next year,” he informed the world at large, “it’ll be the Indy Five Hundred and One.”

Everybody paused to think about that.

“It’s called the Indy because—” said the nonregular.

“Are you telling me,” the first regular said to the third regular, “the Indy Five Hundred started in the sixteenth century? Are you sure they had cars then?”

“They used chariots the first few years,” the third regular explained. “That’s where the movie Ben-Hur came from. It’s like the Super Bowl, with the numbers, ex-ex this and ex-ex that. Only they use American numbers. Five hundred. Five hundred and one.” “Indianap–” said the nonregular.

“It isn’t Indigo,” said the second regular.

The first regular reared around to confront this new challenge to his scholarship: “Whatisn’t Indigo?”

‘I’he guy’s name,” said the second regular. “An indigo is a kind of fruit, like an orange or a quincy.”

‘I’hat’s right,” the third regular said. “My first wife made pies.”

The first regular did another half turn on his stool to lower an eyebrow at the third regular. “Indigo pies?”

“And quincy pies. And rubabayga.”


Drowned Hopes

When Andy Kelp walked into the OJ Bar & Grill on Amsterdam Avenue at six in the evening, the regulars were discussing the proposition that the new big buildings that had been stuck up over on Broadway, one block to the west, were actually spaceships designed and owned by aliens. “It’s for a zoo,” one regular was suggesting.

“No no no,” a second regular said, “that isn’t what I meant.” So he was apparently the one who’d raised the suggestion in the first place. “What I meant is for the aliens to come here.”

A third regular frowned at that. “Aliens come here? When?”

“Now,” the second regular told him. “They’re here already.”

The third regular looked around the joint and saw Kelp trying to attract the attention of Rollo the bartender, who was methodically rinsing seven hundred million glasses and was off in a world of his own. The regular frowned at Kelp, who frowned back. The regular returned to his friends. “I don’t see no aliens,” he said.

“Yuppies,” the second regular told him. “Where’d you think they came from? Earth?”

“Yuppies?” The third regular was a massive frowner. “How do you figure that?”

“I still say,” said the first regular, “it’s for a zoo.”

“You need a zoo,” the second regular told him. “Turn yourself in.” To the third regular he said, “It’s the yuppies, all right. Here they are all of a sudden all over the place, every one of them the same. Can actual adult human beings live indefinitely on ice cream and cookies? No. And did you ever see what they drink?”

“Foamy stuff,” the third regular said thoughtfully. “And green stuff. And green foamy stuff.”

“Exactly,” the second regular said. “And you notice their shoes?”

The first regular said, dangerously, “Whadaya mean, turn myself in?”

“Not in here,” Rollo said absently. He seemed to look at Kelp, who waved at him, but apparently Rollo’s eyes were not at the moment linked up with his brain; he went on with his glass-rinsing.

Meanwhile, the second regular had ignored the first regular’s interruption, and was saying, “All yuppies, male and female, they all wear those same weird shoes. You know why?”

“Fashion,” the third regular said.

“To a zoo, you mean?” demanded the first regular. “Turn myself in at a zoo? Is that what you mean?”

“Fashion?” echoed the second regular. “How can it be fashion to wear a suit and at the same time these big clunky weird canvas sneakers? How does it work out to be fashion for a woman to put on all kindsa makeup, and fix her hair, and put on a dress and earrings and stuff around her neck, and then put on those sneakers?”

“So what’s your reading on this?” the third regular asked, as the first regular, zoo partisan, stepped slowly and purposefully off his stool and removed his coat.

“Their feet are different,” the second regular explained. “On accounta they’re aliens. Human feet won’t fit into those shoes.”

The first regular took a nineteenth-century pugilistic stance and said, “Put up your dukes.”

“Not in here,” Rollo said calmly, still washing.

“Rollo?” Kelp said, wagging his fingers, but Rollo still wasn’t switched to ordinary reception.

Meantime, the other regulars were gazing upon the pugilist with surprised interest. “And what,” the second regular asked, “is this all about?”

“You say it isn’t a zoo,” the pugilist told him, “you got me to answer to. You make cracks about me and zoos, we’ll see what happens next.”

“Well, wait a minute,” the third regular said. “You got a zoo theory?”

“I have,” the pugilist told him while maintaining his fists-up, wrists-bent, elbows-cocked stance, one foot in front of the other.

“Well, let it fly,” the third regular invited him. “Everybody gets to say their theory.”

“Naturally,” the second regular said. He’d been gazing at those upraised fists with interest but no particular concern.

The pugilist lowered his fists minimally. “Naturally?”

“Rollo,” said Kelp.

“You got an idea that’s better than yuppies,” the second regular told the pugilist, “let’s have it.”

The ex-pugilist lowered his arms. “It is yuppies,” he said. “Only it’s different.”

The other regulars gave him all their attention.

“Okay,” the zoo man said, looking a little self-conscious at being given the respectful hearing he’d been demanding, “the thing is this: you’re right about those new buildings being spaceships.”

“Thank you,” the second regular said with dignity.

“But they’re like roach motels,” the ex-pugilist said. “They attract yuppies. Little tiny rooms, loft beds, no moldings; it’s what they like. See, the aliens, they got these zoos all over the universe, all kindsa creatures, but they never had human beings before, because there weren’t any human beings that could live under zoo conditions. But yuppies do it naturally!”

“Rollo!” insisted Kelp.

“So, what,” asked the third regular, “is your reading of the situation?”

“Once all the buildings are completely rented out,” the ex-pugilist told them, “they take off, like ant farms, they deliver yuppies all over the universe to all the different zoos.”

“I don’t buy it,” the second regular said. “I still buy mine. The yuppies are the aliens. You can tell by their feet.”

“You know, but wait a minute now,” the third regular said. “Botha these theories end at the same place. And I like the place. At the end, the new buildings and all the yuppies are both gone.”

With a surprised look, the second regular said, “That’s true, isn’t it?”

“Spaceship buildings,” agreed the ex-pugilist, “fulla yuppies, gone.”

This idea was so pleasing to everyone that conversation stopped briefly so they could all contemplate this future worldsoon, Lordwhen the yuppies and their warrens would all be away in some other corner of the universe.

Kelp took the opportunity of this silence to say, very loudly, “Well, Rollo, looka this! You got a customer here!”

Varnished WordPress

As this blog comes closer to the 10th year anniversary, my blogging software choices continue to change. So far the path has been: Livejournal -> Movable Type -> WordPress -> Drupal 5 -> Pressflow Drupal 6. Since I had some time on my hands lately, as an exercise, I decided to upgrade to Drupal 7, but after a few hours gave up in complete disgust. Drupal community is very proud for keeping its technical debt very low, but they rarely talk about who pays it.

It turned out to be quicker to export everything to the latest version of WordPress. I still like Drupal, but latest WordPress has some really nice features. I also took the time to install Varnish and trick out my sites with reasonably advanced caching via Memcached and APC. I also switched to Percona MySQL just for kicks.

Webmaster Tools Crawl stats

I’m still working on theming the blog, and tweaking, so things will break from time to time.


Deadprogrammer.com is going on hiatus. I want to concentrate on a couple of projects that I’m about to launch.

Amazon Ads in RSS Feeds

A while back I’ve added an advertising module to my site that allows me to inject amazon item ads both into the site content and into the rss feeds. I hand pick the items, which most of the time fall into one of the three categories: stuff that I would probably want myself, stuff that I already have, stuff that I mentioned in the post, and stuff that is just funny. Four categories.

This is not “punch the monkey”, not the same one ad that some bloggers stuff into their rss feeds and keep there forever until you are sick of it. From time to time the amazon items are really funny.

On the other hand, at my level of readers, the princely 6% commission that I get on Amazon purchases that come through the site, it’s not really a major financial incentive. The ads do cover my hosting expenses, but I do kinda feel guilty of thrusting the ads on my readers.

So, tell me, what do you think about the ads? Should I just junk them? I already replaced some of the ads on the site with links and ads for products that I simply like, without getting any payment, just as a way to say “thank you” to the people who make these products. I might do the same thing with the rest of the ads.

State of the blog 2008

A while ago Merlin Mann gave a pretty neat definition of what makes blogs good:

” 1. Good blogs have a voice.
2. Good blogs reflect focused obsessions.
3. Good blogs are the product of “Attention times Interest”
4. Good blog posts are made of paragraphs.
5. Good “non-post” blogs have style and curation.
6. Good blogs are weird.
7. Good blogs make you want to start your own blog.
8. Good blogs try.
9. Good blogs know when to break their own rules. ”

My list would have been very similar, and I am pretty sure deadprogrammer.com is a good blog. God knows I try :)

On the other hand, I seem to have about the same thousand readers I had 4 years ago. I was kind of hoping that my writing and photography would work on their own, bringing me a steady stream of new readers. It does not seem to be working. Every time I try to put some extra effort into a post, my hopes of somebody linking to it, digging it, twittering about it, or even just leaving me a thoughtful comment are dashed. After a few years of this, it gets harder and harder for me to write. My posting frequency is not what it used to be.

Several hundred readers still subscribe to my blog from Livejournal. The majority of the rest resulted from a single Boing Boing post. I don’t really think it’s the most interesting post I ever wrote, but to this day it brings in about 25% of my search engine traffic, and the majority of outside links.

Back then I actively tried submitting my posts to Boing Boing. Boing Boing submission form can rival magazine publisher’s black hole. I finally practically begged Cory Doctorow in a personal email to take a look at at the Starbucks post (which the submission form vaporized previously), and I did get that link.

I tried to get Jason Kottke interested in my blog, especially since it seems to me that a lot of the stuff that I write about is very much up his alley, but after a chat or two I got tired of pitching. It just does not fell right for me to buttonhole busy A-list bloggers – hey, look, I wrote this, you might like it.

Anyhoo, what’s the point of all this? Apparently I suck at PR and self-promotion, and I would really like some help here from the audience. Do you know somebody who’d enjoy reading Deadprogramemer.com? Please, tell them, especially if it’s an A, B, C, D or E list blogger. Please?

My Return to Blogging

I am finally free of lousy Dreamhost. I also switched from WordPress to Drupal. There probably will be some glitches and missing urls, and the design will stay in the current stock “Garland” theme, but I am back.

I also apologize in advance for rss feed glitches that might happen – I am still tweaking the site.

Oy, Again With The Moving…

Using Dreamhost is quickly turning into nightmare. It’s a cheap, full featured and generous web host, except only good for websites that do not matter (and I think that mine do). There is no upgrade path to a virtual private server (which is one step below a dedicated machine both in price and performance), their overall uptime is not something I’d trust, and their blog is just driving me nuts. At the suggestion of a friend I’m moving over to Webintellects.

As a web developer I specialize in content management systems. I have wasted many years of my career on Microsoft technologies, although my personal website was always built using open source tools. In recent years, when faced with the twin horrors of Sharepoint and MS CMS, I just could not go on any more. I just can’t imagine an entrepreneur who would willingly use this stuff to build a business. I quit my job of almost 6 years, took some time off and went on to a job that allows me to use open source tools. We’ve had quite a bit of success with Drupal, a leading open source CMS.

WordPress is a great tool for blogs, but it makes good sense for me to start using Drupal for my own sites, as well as at work. Drupal grows at an astronomical rate, improving in leaps and bounds. I have a couple of modules almost ready for contribution (once I make them a little neater and better documented). Drupal is very scalable, very well designed and has a huge following. I could not be happier with it as a developer.

In the five years that my website existed in blog format I moved 3 times. Livejournal -> Movable Type -> WordPress. Now it’s Drupal‘s turn.

I apologize in advance for any annoying symptoms of the move, like refreshing of the RSS feed where already read articles might show up as new, etc. Please bear with me.

Silence is Golden

Somehow, the less I write, the more readers I get. Or seem to get. At least, according to Feedburner.

To be honest with you, I lost some blogging motivation when I could not break the 800 reader barrier for such a long time. Also, not one reader left me a comment after my customary self-made New Year’s card. The one lonely comment is from someone to whom I bitterly complained about this terrible injustice and thus does not count.

Just in case you cared, the seeds that I harvested from the pine cone given to me by a kind Rockefeller Center security guard, spent some time in a fridge and were planted. Well, in fact, I misplaced the packet with most of them somewhere on my desk, but the few that were planted resulted in one baby Rockefeller Center tree.