Earlier today I heard about the controversy over six writers withdrawing from the PEN America event next month over the selection of Charlie Hebdo as the recipient of the Freedom of Expression Courage Award. Naturally, I was outraged, calling it “some big ol’ bullshit.”
Ban their books! Hell, burn their books! Right? RIGHT???
No. Not right. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was now part of the Internet Hate Machine, which I loathe. Are these writers – the most notable of whom is Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient – dead wrong? Yes. Do they deserve criticism? Yeah, I believe they do. Do they deserve to have shite hurled at them? No. After all, this debate is about freedom of speech.
The writers and artists at Charlie Hebdo can be assholes, frankly, and can stir up shit that they really don’t need to. That’s their right. Those same people were also told they would be killed if they didn’t stop. They didn’t, and many of them died. That took courage.
Salman Rushdie, who himself was targeted for death over The Satanic Verses, should get the last word: “What I would say to both Peter and Michael and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them.”
Don’t join Internet lynch mobs, folks. Or real ones, either.
The other day at work the server support team (of which I am a member) had a conference call with one of our vendors, a large computer manufacturer, to discuss how to get the best support for their products. After discussing who we should call first, how to escalate, etc., our Active Directory engineer brought up an issue we recently ran into on one of our most important servers.
The version of the network driver would occasionally cause a loss of connectivity when two or more adapters were joined in a team. Since this was not a new issue, but was first reported in 2004, we would not have received an email alert about it. So our engineer wanted to know the best way to locate this information.
“It’s on our website,” replied the manufacturer’s rep. “Are you familiar with the ‘site’ predicate on Google?”
There was a brief pause, then the engineer said, “Did you just ask me if I know how to use Google?”
This manufacturer is absolutely notorious for their crappy website. It is virtually impossible to find what you’re looking for, and totally impossible to find it quickly. One of our other server techs once opened a support ticket with the vendor because he couldn’t find a driver he needed. It took the vendor’s own technicians over two hours to find it.
And the worst thing is, it’s been like this for ten years! My boss took part in a survey a couple of years ago, where he was asked to find various information on the website while a couple of the vendor’s people watched. Instead of observing what my boss did and making note of how he expected the site to work, they offered instructions on what he should have done!
I’m really not surprised, though, because this vendor has always done things “better” than other companies. In many cases what they do is better, but it’s also wildly incompatible, meaning you tend to get locked in to their products. This was a good strategy – 20 years ago – but in today’s environment you just can’t afford to use incompatible business machines.
Now It Can Be Told! The Real True Story Of CrimeSpot.net
Now that CrimeSpot.net is up and running, I thought I’d give a little history of how it came about, for both of you who are interested in such things.
It all started back in late September. I was cruising the net, as usual, bouncing around from site to site. I checked Google News to see what was up, then surfed over to a blog I’d never heard of before. It turned out to be pretty cool, and I thought, “Too bad there’s no site that rounds up this stuff, so I wouldn’t have to find it on my own…”
That’s when a man came down from Heaven on a flaming pie and said, “YOU SHALL CREATE A SITE TO COLLECT CRIME FICTION BLOGS, AND IT SHALL BE CALLED CRIMESPOT.NET.”
See, most blogs create some sort of syndication file when they are updated, containing the titles, links, and brief summaries of the site. These files are invariably in XML, in one or another of the common formats. And I happened to have been working on an XML processing library for over 2 years.
The next decision: where to host. My code was all in VBScript, which normally runs only on Windows servers, but I really wanted to host on NearlyFreeSpeech.net, which is cheap and reliable but doesn’t support VBScript. So that man on the flaming pie made another visit and said, “GENERATE THE PAGES OFF-LINE THEN UPLOAD THEM VIA FTP.” Which really wasn’t a bad idea – I could create the pages on any old PC and send them up to the server whenever I wanted.
This also meant that these pages could be static, they wouldn’t have to be created on the fly, and that would help with the site’s performance.
So: the next thing to do was gather some examples and see what I would be dealing with. So I downloaded RSS or Atom files from sites like Ed Gorman’s, Jim Winters’, Dave White’s, etc. And I got a really big shock.
My code was originally intended to generate documents from Access databases, and I got to pick the format. Naturally I chose features that were straightforward to implement. Saving documents back to the database was a later add-on, and was only intended to handle files with the structure I expected. When I looked at the sample files I’d downloaded, I thought Holy crap!, because they contained all sorts of weirdness.
After dicking around for a while I finally decided not to try extending my code to handle them. Instead I used XSLT templates to transform them into a common format that I could handle easily. Each type of syndication file got its own template, more than one in cases where different providers had slightly different formats. This proved to be a very important choice down the road.
These templates allowed me to add features when I had to. When I found that standard Internet time formats could not be imported into Access, I used the templates to change them into something that could. When I needed to cut down the site summaries to 25 words (most sites use 40 or 70), I used a nice recursive template. When I needed to cut HTML tags out of the input – yeah, a template.
Once the data was in the database I could spit it back out in whatever form I chose, so the programming was done. It took almost as much time to come up with a layout for the site, but that was MUCH simpler, and only took so long because of my “mad” “HTML” “skillz”.
And now it’s up. Enjoy.