Other People Have Lives – I Have Domains

These are just some boring update notifications from the elkemental Webiverse.

The elkement blog has recently celebrated its fifth anniversary, and the punktwissen blog will turn five in December. Time to celebrate this – with new domain names that says exactly what these sites are – the ‘elkement.blog‘ and the ‘punktwissen.blog‘.

Actually, I wanted to get rid of the ads on both blogs, and with the upgrade came a free domain. WordPress has a detailed cookie policy – and I am showing it dutifully using the respective widget, but they have to defer to their partners when it comes to third-party cookies. I only want to worry about research cookies set by Twitter and Facebook, but not by ad providers, and I am also considering to remove social media sharing buttons and the embedded tweets. (Yes, I am thinking about this!)

On the websites under my control I went full dinosaur, and the server sends only non-interactive HTML pages sent to the client, not requiring any client-side activity. I now got rid of the last half-hearted usage of a session object and the respective cookie, and I have never used any social media buttons or other tracking.

So there are no login data or cookies to protect, but yet I finally migrated all sites to HTTPS.

It is a matter of principle: I of all website owners should use https. Since 15 years I have been planning and building Public Key Infrastructures and troubleshooting X.509 certificates.

But of course I fear Google’s verdict: They have announced long ago to HTTPS is considered a positive ranking by its search engine. Pages not using HTTPS will be tagged as insecure using more and more terrifying icons – e.g. http-only pages with login buttons already display a striked-through padlock in Firefox. In the past years I migrated a lot of PKIs from SHA1 to SHA256 to fight the first wave of Insecure icons.

Finally Let’s Encrypt has started a revolution: Free SSL certificates, based on domain validation only. My hosting provider uses a solution based on Let’s Encrypt – using a reverse proxy that does the actual HTTPS. I only had to re-target all my DNS records to the reverse proxy – it would have been very easy would it not have been for all my already existing URL rewriting and tweaking and redirecting. I also wanted to keep the option of still using HTTP in the future for tests and special scenario (like hosting a revocation list), so I decided on redirecting myself in the application(s) instead of using the offered automated redirect. But a code review and clean-up now and then can never hurt 🙂 For large complex sites the migration to HTTPS is anything but easy.

In case I ever forget which domains and host names I use, I just need to check out this list of Subject Alternative Names again:

(And I have another certificate for the ‘test’ host names that I need for testing the sites themselves and also for testing various redirects ;-))

WordPress.com also uses Let’s Encrypt (Automattic is a sponsor), and the SAN elkement.blog is lumped together with several other blog names, allegedly the ones which needed new certificates at about the same time.

It will be interesting what the consequences for phishing websites will be. Malicious websites will look trusted as being issued certificates automatically, but revoking a certificate might provide another method for invalidating a malicious website.

Anyway, special thanks to the WordPress.com Happiness Engineers and support staff at my hosting provider Puaschitz IT. Despite all the nerdiness displayed on this blog I prefer hosted / ‘shared’ solutions when it comes to my own websites because I totally like it when somebody else has to patch the server and deal with attacks. I am an annoying client – with all kinds of special needs and questions – thanks for the great support! 🙂

The Stages of Blogging – an Empirical Study

… with sample size 1.

Last year, at the 4-years anniversary, I presented a quantitative analysis – in line with the editorial policy I had silently established: My blogging had turned from quasi-philosophical ramblings on science, work, and life to no-nonsense number crunching.

But the comment threads on my recent posts exhibit my subconsciousness spilling over. So at this anniversary, I give myself permission to incoherent reminiscences. I have even amended the tagline with this blog’s historical title:

Theory and Practice of Trying to Combine Just Anything.

Anecdotal evidence shows that many people start a blog, or another blog, when they are in a personal or professional transition. I had been there before: My first outburst of online writing on my personal websites predated quitting my corporate job and starting our business. The creative well ran dry, after I had taken the decision and had taken action – in the aftermath of that legendary journey.

I resurrected the old websites and I started this blog when I was in a professional no-man’s-land: Having officially left IT security, still struggling with saying No to project requests, working on our pilot heat pump system in stealth mode, and having enrolled in another degree program in renewable energies.

The pseudonymous phase: Trying out the new platform, not yet adding much About Me information. Playing. In the old times, I had a separate domain with proper name for that (subversiv.at). This WordPress blog was again a new blank sheet of paper, and I took the other sites offline temporarily, to celebrate this moment.

The discovery of a new community: The WordPress community was distinct from all other professional communities and social circles I was part of. It seems that new bloggers always flock together in groups, perhaps WordPress’ algorithms facilitate that. I participated with glee in silly blogging award ceremonies. However, I missed my old communities, and I even joined Facebook to re-unite with some of them. Living in separate worlds, sometimes colliding in unexpected ways, was intriguing.

Echoes of the past: I write about Difficult Things That I Handled In the Past – despite or because I have resolved those issues long before. This makes all my Life / Work / Everything collections a bit negative and gloomy. I blogged about my leaving academia, and my mixed memories of being part of The Corporate World. It is especially the difficult topics that let me play with geeky humor and twisted sarcasm.

The self-referential aspect: Online writing has always been an interesting experiment: Writing about technology and life, but also using technology. As philosophers of the web have pointed out, the internet or the medium in general modifies the message. I play with websites’ structure and layout, and I watch how my online content is impacted by seemingly cosmetic details of presentation.

Series of posts – find our favorite topic: I’ve never participated in blogging challenges, like one article a day. But I can understand that such blogging goals help to keep going. I ran a series on quantum field theory, but of course my expertise was Weird Internet Poetry … yet another demonstration of self-referentiality.

The unexpected positive consequences of weird websites – perhaps called ‘authentic’ today. They are a first class filter. Only people who share your sense of humor with contact you – and sense of humor is the single best criterion to find out if you will work well with somebody.

Writing about other people’s Big Ideas versus your own quaint microcosmos. I have written book reviews, and featured my favorite thinkersideas. I focussed on those fields in physics that are most popular (in popular science). My blog’s views had their all-time-high. But there are thousands of people writing about those Big Things. Whatever you are going to write about, there is one writer who cannot only write better, but who is also more of a subject matter expert, like a scientist working also as a science writer. This is an aspect of my empirical rule about your life being cliché. The remaining uncharted territory was my own small corner of the world.

Skin in the Game versus fence-sitting. Lots of people have opinions on many things on the internet. The preferred publication is a link to an article plus a one-liner of an opinion. Some people might really know something about the things they have opinions on. A minority has Skin in the Game, that is: Will feel the consequences of being wrong, personally and financially. I decided to focus on blogging about topics that fulfill these criteria: I have 1) related education and theoretical knowledge, 2) practical hands-on experience, 3) Skin in the Game. Priorities in reverse order.

The revolutionary experiment: Blogging without the motivational trigger of upcoming change. Now I have lacked the primary blogging impulse for a while. I am contented and combine anything in practice since a while. But I don’t have to explain anything to anybody anymore – including myself. I resorted to playing with data – harping on engineering details. I turn technical questions I get into articles, and I spend a lot of time on ‘curating’: creating list of links and overview pages. I have developed the software for my personal websites from scratch, and turned from creating content to structure for a while.

Leaving your comfort zone: I do edit, re-write, and scrutinize blog postings here relentlessly. I delete more content again than I finally publish, and I – as a text-only Courier New person – spend considerable time on illustrations. This is as much as I want to leave my comfort zone, and it is another ongoing experiment – just as the original stream-of-consciousness writing was.

But perhaps I will write a post like this one now and then.

Pine trees in Tenerife.

Anniversary 4 (4 Me): “Life Ends Despite Increasing Energy”

I published my first post on this blog on March 24, 2012. Back then its title and tagline were:

Theory and Practice of Trying to Combine Just Anything
Physics versus engineering
off-the-wall geek humor versus existential questions
IT versus the real thing
corporate world’s strangeness versus small business entrepreneur’s microcosmos knowledge worker’s connectedness versus striving for independence

… which became

Theory and Practice of Trying to Combine Just Anything
I mean it

… which became

elkemental Force
Research Notes on Energy, Software, Life, the Universe, and Everything

last November. It seems I have run out of philosophical ideas and said anything I had to say about Life and Work and Culture. Now it’s not Big Ideas that make me publish a new post but my small Big Data. Recent posts on measurement data analysis or on the differential equation of heat transport  are typical for my new editorial policy.

Cartoonist Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) encourages to look for patterns in one’s life, rather than to interpret and theorize – and to be fooled by biases and fallacies. Following this advice and my new policy, I celebrate my 4th blogging anniversary by crunching this blog’s numbers.

No, this does not mean I will show off the humbling statistics of views provided by WordPress 🙂 I am rather interested in my own evolution as a blogger. Having raked my virtual Zen garden two years ago I have manually maintained lists of posts in each main category – these are my menu pages. Now I have processed each page’s HTML code automatically to count posts published per month, quarter, or year in each category. All figures in this post are based on all posts excluding reblogs and the current post.

Since I assigned two categories to some posts, I had to pick one primary category to make the height of one column reflect the total posts per month:Statistics on blog postings: Posts per month in each main category

It seems I had too much time in May 2013. Perhaps I needed creative compensation – indulging in Poetry and pop culture (Web), and – as back then I was writing a master thesis.

I had never missed a single month, but there were two summer breaks in 2012 and 2013 with only 1 post per month. It seems Life and Web gradually have been replaced by Energy, and there was a flash of IT in 2014 which I correlate with both nostalgia but also a professional flashback owing to lots of cryptography-induced deadlines.

But I find it hard to see a trend, and I am not sure about the distortion I made by picking one category.

So I rather group by quarter:

Statistics on blog postings: Posts per quarter in each main category

… which shows that posts per quarter have reached a low right now in Q1 2016, even when I would add the current posting. Most posts now are based on original calculations or data analysis which take more time to create than search term poetry or my autobiographical vignettes. But maybe my anecdotes and opinionated posts had just been easy to write as I was drawing on ‘content’ I had in mind for years before 2012.

In order to spot my ‘paradigm shifts’ I include duplicates in the next diagram: Each post assigned to two categories is counted twice. Since then the total number does not make sense I just depict relative category counts per quarter:

Statistics on blog postings: Posts per quarter in each category, including the assignment of more than one category.

Ultimate wisdom: Life ends, although Energy is increasing. IT is increasing, too, and was just hidden in the other diagram: Recently it is  often the secondary category in posts about energy systems’ data logging. Physics follows an erratic pattern. Quantum Field Theory was accountable for the maximum at the end of 2013, but then replaced by thermodynamics.

Web is also somewhat constant, but the list of posts shows that the most recent Web posts are on average more technical and less about Web and Culture and Everything. There are exceptions.

Those trends are also visible in yearly overviews. The Decline Of Web seems to be more pronounced – so I tag this post with Web.

Statistics on blog postings: Posts per year in each main category

Statistics on blog postings: Posts per year in each category, including the assignment of more than one category.

But perhaps I was cheating. Each category was not as stable as the labels in the diagrams’ legends do imply.

Shortcut categories refer to
1) these category pages: EnergyITLifePhysicsPoetryWeb,
2) and these categories EnergyITLifePhysicsPoetryWeb, respectively, manually kept in sync.

So somehow…

public-key-infrastructure became control-and-it

and

on-writing-blogging-and-indulging-in-web-culture is now simply web

… and should maybe be called nerdy-web-stuff-and-software-development.

In summary, I like my statistics as it confirms my hunches but there is one exception: There was no Poetry in Q1 2016 and I have to do something about this!

________________________________

The Making Of

  • Copy the HTML content of each page with a list to a text editor (I use Notepad2).
  • Find double line breaks (\r\n\r\n) and replace them by a single one (\r\n).
  • Copy the lines to an application that lets you manipulate strings (I use Excel).
  • Tweak strings with formulas / command to cut out date, url, title and comment. Use the HTML tags as markers.
  • Batch-add the page’s category in a new column.
  • Indicate if this is the primary or secondary category in a new column (Find duplicates automatically before so 1 can be assigned automatically to most posts.).
  • Group the list by month, quarter, and year respectively and add the counts to new data tables that will be used for diagrams (e.g. Excel function COUNTIFs, using only the category or category name  + indicator for the primary category as criteria).

It could be automated even better – without having to maintain category pages by simply using the category feeds (like this: https://elkement.wordpress.com/category/physics/feed) or by filtering the full blog feed for categories. I have re-categorized all my posts so that categories matches menu page lists, but I chose to use my lists as

  1. I get not only date and headline, but also my own additional summary / comment that’s not part of the feed. For our German blog, I actually do this in reverse: I create the HTML code of a a sitemap-style overview page on wordpress.com from an Excel list of all posts plus custom comments and then copy the auto-generated code to the HTML view of the respective menu page on the blog.
  2. the feed provided by WordPress.com can have 150 items maximum no matter which higher number you try to configure. So you need to start analyzing before you have published 150 posts.
  3. I can never resist to create a tool that manipulates text files and automates something, however weird.

I Am Too Googleable!

What a letdown.

I wanted to report on near completion of The Website Resurrection Project – but I had a mind-altering experience.

On the upside, I am not afraid of identity theft or surveillance anymore.

My dentist had to cancel an appointment the day before. I showed up some minutes before the appointed time. The practice was empty and dark, except for the assistants who told me:

We have eagerly been waiting for you!! We did not know how to reach you as we didn’t have your phone number!

Have you tried to find my phone number on the web? It’s on my business website!

Yes, we searched the internet – but there were so many search results coming up!!!! And we did not know which is your business page!

(Probably it was more like:
One of *these* pages is for business?!?).

You could have sent me an e-mail – I am usually very responsive! My e-mail address is on all my websites.

There was no e-mail address!

Uhm… sorry… I am very active on the internet … it is maybe difficult to sort all that out …

So it was all in vain.

I have a business page, three personal websites, this blog, and a German blog, and some weird older web projects. Find the canonical overview here. My usual response to an enthusiastic

I have checked out your website ! 🙂 !!

is

Which one?

And each and every of those sites has this overly correct legal information notice our online media law demands of me.

I even add the e-mail address though I might not need to.

As the Subversive Element I note on top of the legal information block:
Adding legal information to a site like this constitutes an act of subversion in its own right

Legal information needs to be accessible in a simple way, via a single click from any page. You then argue at court over the definition of simple and single click and if your visitors could or could not infer from a URL title such as contact that address information is to be found at this URL.

Most German wordpress.com bloggers have a legal info page longer than my most extensive posts. The About page of this blog is, at the time of writing, most likely illegal as the linked legal information is two clicks away from any post.

Tinkering with this was just a tiny part of The Website Resurrection Project – I have re-written loads of content, and didn’t leave any of the code or design untouched. All for the sake of clarity and serving the internet community well – and because I don’t have much other hobbies.

Using a browser I never use to logon to Google, a search for my name brings up a reasonable collection of results – my personal site being in the first place, legal info one click away.

Google has honored my efforts by recognizing my authorship for this website although I did not do take ownership in the Google-technical sense for any site – as my nerdy readers might have noticed on this blog. I wanted to save my pseudonym elkement and not trade it for the real name Google+ forces you to use.

I don’t think there should be any difficulty to spot my contact data. I am happy with the ranking – I am just worried about the subversive stuff is given less weight than the business-y. But that does not prevent clients who are my business social networking contacts from asking me for my contact data again – on Facebook!

So what’ the problem?

The IMP Log The Very First Message Sent on the Internet (6293913865)

How did we get there? How did it get started? This is the log of the first message sent on the internet in 1969 (Wikimedia)

_________________________________________

For German readers: Here is the law(s).

Kicking off the ILFB Award: Intelligent Life-Forms in the Blogosphere

As announced in one of my recent off-the-wall posts I have been pondering about founding an award of my own. I am on a mission this week – now I need to get it done!

My goals are as follows:

  • Create rules that are self-consistent, loophole-free, but nonetheless rather simple to describe and to follow.
  • Don’t try to control something that will get out of hand anyway, such as the mutation of blog award logos. Since I am not exactly a graphic designer or other visual arts genius I would be more than happy if the logo I have created would evolve into something better.
  • Don’t put unnecessary pressure on the nominees to come up with thousand facts about themselves and nominate hundreds of other blogs. This just decreases the quality of the replies and the nominations. Exponential inflation of nominations should be avoided.
  • We don’t want to end up with questions like “What is favorite color?” and facts about me such as “I like posting cute cat videos on #caturday”, don’t we?
  • We do not want thoughtful, serious bloggers to deny awards because these are silly chain letters and/or a waste of time

These is the award description and the rules. SHOULD, MAY and MUST are written in capital letters – this is not shouting, this is following conventions used with internet standards.

Actually, I wanted to call it the Unaward (as an allusion to Lewis Carroll’s celebration of the unbirthday), but you already find related awards on the net. Any allusion to 42 and the like has already been seized (or invalidated) by a blogger who called himself an ‘award grinch’ in the comments on my most recent blog nomination party.

——- [description start] ——-

This award is called

ILFB Award: Intelligent Life-Forms in the Blogosphere.

0. It rewards bloggers who are able to cover diverse subjects in a thoughtful and entertaining way. There are no other constraints such as a maximum number of followers.

Rules:

  1. You are bestowed upon this award no matter what you do. You MAY deny passing on the award, the award will die out – as many life-forms did. You SHOULD nominate at least one blogger, you MAY nominate two bloggers. There is no deadline – you MAY wait for years if you pass on the award, but you MUST NOT nominate somebody if you haven’t been nominated. The founder of the award is exempt from the latter.
  2. You MAY nominate the blogger who has nominated you – the award MAY bounce back and forth between two bloggers forever. However, you MUST change the reason for the nomination every time.
  3. You MUST explain in more than one full sentence why you have nominated the nominee. You SHOULD reward bloggers who are able to write about at least two seemingly diverse subjects.
  4. You SHOULD reblog or pingback one of the nominee’s posts that has been published within the past year. The linked post SHOULD reflect key characteristics of the nominated blog.
  5. You MUST display the award’s logo, and you MAY change the title of the award as well as the logo. They would mutate anyway.
  6. If you find any inconsistency or loophole you SHOULD amend these rules to fix them.
  7. If the award title results in copyright infringements or any violation of any rights you MAY modify it. You MUST NOT hold the award’s founder liable.
  8. You MAY modify and amend rules 1.-7. to your liking as long as the changes
    – reflect your being an intelligent life-form in the blogosphere
    – are in line with the Prime Directive of this award – item no.0.
  9. Include this set of rules 0.-9. in your nomination speech post.

Compliance with the three MUST conditions as stated in 1., 2., and 5. will be checked by the founder of this award using his/her infamous googling skills at random. Any violation will be prosecuted and punished by a making the guilty party subject to a satirical blog post. Any blogger who had once been bestowed the award and who has proved to be compliant with the rules is entitled and encouraged to do the same (Google for non-compliant nominees and ridicule them)

——- [description end] ——-

Now I am nominating the first blog ever. Listen, life-forms in the blogosphere:

  1. The initial ILFB Award – Intelligent Life-Forms in the Blogosphere goes to Pairodox Farm. I swear that I did not cross-check / cross-google this award’s acronym before I made this decision. This blog award is not in any way related to or affiliated with the Illinois Farm Bureau – ILFB.org.
  2. Not relevant yet.
  3. Dave from Pairodox Farm is capable of combining the following in his posts:
    a) Artistic photography, and his photos are always linked to stories. Very often these stories are not what you would expect from looking at the photos.
    b) Interesting details on agriculture in general, rural living – sheep breeding and antique farming equipment in particular.
    c) Interdisciplinary posts on the intersection of various sciences – such as mathematics and biology.
    d) So in summary, this blog manages to be entertaining, visually appealing, interesting and geeky at the same time. In particular, it combines the sublime and intellectual with the hands-on and down-to-earth.
  4. My previous post was a reblog of a Pairodox post that showed off 3.a)-d) – especially 3.c) and 3.d)
  5. Here is is. Yes, I am not a designer, I warned you. The icon is from Microsoft Office 2010 cliparts, you I guess we won’t be sued unless you create a business from the award (maybe).

    ILFB-Award-Intelligent-Life-Forms-in-the Blogosphere

    This is the official logo for the ILFB award: Intelligent Life-Forms in the Blogosphere. The intelligent black life-form in his/her black ship is exploring a new blue world while the innocent, white blogosphere is rising in the background.

  6. Not relevant yet
  7. Not relevant yet / I didn’t care.
  8. Not relevant yet / I am not creating a multiverse yet to change my rules in the other instance of the universe.
  9. See above.

Now I would kindly ask for feedback from all those logicians, corporate policy enforcers, internet protocol geeks, chain-letter-award skeptics, and other allegedly intelligent life-forms out there. Is there any loophole left?

Liebster Blog Award: This Time I Try to Respond in a More Normal Way

It happened again – I have been bestowed a blog award despite the way I handled my last nomination.

This time I will respond in a different way. I – the Subversive El(k)ement – will adhere to the rules!

Geeks, please bear with me though! I will still cling to my pet theory on blog awards just being a means to the end of starting ridiculous chain letter Ponzi schemes. But I found a loophole in my own theory I am going to exploit.

I am using the standard template although I abhor templates in general (in particular faulty, nearly corrupt MS Winword templates migrated from platform to platform since MS Office 2.0. But I digress <– remember this hook line. You will see it again).

Information to my nominees: The template text is formatted as bold.

What is it?
The Liebster Award is designed to bring recognition to smaller blogs–that is, blogs with 200 or fewer followers.

And this is related to the attack vector as we hackers say, or the loophole: I have discovered many blogs, followed them enthusiastically, and lost them again. Not because I did not follow them any more (I am an ingenious web 2.0 multi-tasker), but because they ran dry and faded away. People simply stop blogging. We need more new blogs with few followers to compensate for that.

Thus the rough estimate on exponential growth, done by myself and by Search Term Haiku Zen Master Mark Sackler (his relevant post is linked in my older article, but I don’t pingpack that for the 100oth time now in fear of suspension of my WP account for pingback Denial-of-Service. I digress.) …

… the estimate on exponential growth incomplete it was. <– This is Yoda speak, I am trying to geek-up this post, compensating for following the rules so strictly.

The reason: We did not factor in a medium blog-die-out rate. We would need to run a numerical computer model to simulate the behavior of the blogosphere in order to analyze how many blogs to nominate for an aware in order to compensate for the self-inflicted termination of others. Ignorance is bliss – therefore I simply nominate as many as required by the rules!

.

The Rules
1. Thank the blogger who nominated you and link back to their blog

Thanks a lot Kristen for the nomination – I am really enjoying this! To my readers: Please go visit her blog 🙂 If my authoritative endorsement (remember, I reviewed the world’s first spam poetry book) does not convince you, this is how Kristen describes her blog in her acceptance speech:

“… often I feel my blog is sometimes a teenage-esque angsty diatribe bordering on diary that is only looked at by myself and other angsty people (statistics show that I’m on the first page of google results when you search ‘letter to an ex-boyfriend’) and people from all over the world who google search ’cool photoshopped pictures.’ That one’s fun because I’m apparently linked on some Russian Website for my edited picture of ‘Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima.’ Go figure.”

So Im honored that the author of these sentences picked my blog. And of course I quoted them because I hope for terrific Search Term Poetry.

.

2. Post 11 facts about yourself, answer the 11 questions asked of you, and create 11 new questions for the bloggers you nominate.

I add both my responses as well as the new questions for my nominees below, after the section 5.

.

3. Nominate 11 blogs you think deserve to be noticed, and leave comments for them letting them know they’ve been chosen.

I have picked 11 blogs that I have followed for a while and that have less than 200 followers (as this blog. More precisely, you had less than 200 when I started compiling the list a few days ago. If your number of followers has inflated since then I expect you to repent in public and return the award).

These are my nominees, in no particular order. Blogs marked with (*) had already been featured on my recent Bloggiversary. Just in case I ran out of original comments and superlatives – check out the previous laudations.

postmoderndonkey – The carnival of instability in language, thought and audience. (*)
Poetry, stories, and other postmodern stuff entangled with a down-to-earth Zenvironmental journey.

From the Broom Closet – Broom closet: a narrow space to store lengthy items. I’ll try and keep my posts to a reasonable size though.
The broom closed is stuffed to the ceiling with sophisticated philosophy and honest, opinionated posts.

Duck? Starfish? but…23 – one rock at a time (*)
The authoritative blog on distant learning before MOOCs have become a hype – and the most beautiful images of Newfoundland.

nebusresearch – Joseph Nebus’s work in progress.
Fine mathematics and history of science. Checkout out Joseph’s Humor blog, too.

carnotcycle – the classical blog on thermodynamics (*)
Original historical papers on thermodynamics expounded in a comprehensible and entertaining way.

I really Just Pretend to Know Stuff – I digress
As weird as it sounds. I am considering to write a Weird Manifesto on Why the World Should Worship Wonderfully Weird Writing – this is my showcase!

Play – Stories and Photos from the Southern Saskachewan Prairie (*)
and basically: The Life, the Universe and Everything, analyzed from 1000 angles: Geeky, literary, philosophical.

weeklybraindump – A quasi-weekly braindump with no particular thematic unity
Education, philosophy, ethics, and again Life, the Universe and Everything. And another denier of chain-letter style blog award propagation 🙂

Many Worlds Theory  – In one universe, this blog is about quantum mechanics. In another universe, it is not. (*)
In the universe the wave function is collapsing onto right now this is a first-class blog on physics. And Matt Damon. Sometimes.
(I plagiarized myself here, sorry.)

The Unemployed Philosopher’s Blog – Just because you’re unemployed, it doesn’t mean that you’re out of work (*)
The geekiest blog on philosophy. Both very entertaining and useful for graduates in the humanities.
(Is this tag-backing? Dan has once nominated me for the Reader Appreciation Award. Is is tagging others bloggers “back in the award chain that bind these bloggers to your blog”?)

Science Mentor – Step-by-step Guide to “Self-Mentoring” for the Science Professional
I wish a blog like this would have been available when I graduated. You should follow her on Twitter as well!

.

4. Display the Liebster Award logo.

OK – here you go! I am linking to Kristen’s image in order to avoid mutation. It looks a bit washed out already, doesn’t it?

An image search for Liebster Award brings up a lot of images that do not really resemble this one.

Liebster Award

The linguistically inclined among you might be interested in the fact that liebster in German means dearest. Or was this the whole point of the name and you all knew this, and I am looking like a fool now? Googling for “liebster dearest award” seems to corroborate that hypothesis. Did it spread from Germany to the whole world?

Or was Ms. Liebster a Victorian poet perhaps and the award started out by circulating steampunk-style silver-and-brass-plates?

5. No tag-backs.

Looking even more like a fool –  I was not able to find out exactly what tag-backs are. No, really!!

2.a 11 Things About Me

1. I don’t know what tag-backs are.

2. Nevertheless, I pretend to be geeky.

3. I have an old-school BlackBerry-style (even worse: Windows Mobile BlackBerry style smartphone) as I don’t like touch screens.

4. Still I pretend to be geeky. (I said that already, right? Is this cheating? So I better add:) I like to make and bend the rules as a go – whatever rules are concerned.

5. I am probably applying or using tag-backs without being aware of it.

6. I don’t kill or repel rodents (on purpose). This was my utmost trauma.

7. So I plugged off the microwave for some days after that has happened. After several days I did not care any more about rodents.

8. I am not mowing the lawn. I am scything it. And it is not a lawn.

9. I have written a single serious poem in my life. In German. It is published on one of my weird websites. I don’t add a link – my attempts to bait followers should not be that obvious.

10. Thinking once more, I’d like to state: I have published a single so-called serious poem to one of my German websites, but it might actually just be one of my geeky self-ironic attempts to imitate so-called poetry.

11.When asked to provide some facts about myself I do this in a very special way.

2.b My responses to Kristen’s Questions for the Nominees:

1. Why did you start blogging?
In order to answer question 2.b.1.

2. What’s something you could write about, in your opinion, better than many other people?
Spam Poetry and Search Term Poetry of course. Being a poet and a historian / philosopher of SaST poetry I need to bow to my masters in both disciplines – the Search Term Zen Master quoted above and Monty Python of Spam Poetry. I better write *about* SaST poetry. (SAST is South African Standand Time – a nice coincidence.)

3. What’s been your hardest challenge thus far?
Reducing my consumption in coffee. Now it’s my turn to repent as I announced it publicly. But I need to write a master thesis and I have to blog a lot. Simply not possible without psychotropic drugs.

4. What is your dream job?
Scientific consultant for Hollywood science fiction movies. But I learned from Sean Carroll’s book The Particle at the End of the Universe that he did exactly that – so I am most likely not qualified.

5. What was a big decision you had to make, and would you choose something else knowing what you know now?
Succumbing to the dark side of the force. No, I would not change a thing – the dark force rules!

6. Who is your greatest inspiration?
Douglas Adams. Seriously – I mean it.

7. Who is your favorite writer or artist?
Douglas Adams. Seriously – I mean it.

8. What is your favorite song (or favorite song lyrics)?
It’s Slinky, It’s Slinky! For fun it’s the best of the toys

9. If you could intern anywhere or with anyone in the world, who would it be with?
The NSA.

10. What’s one of your favorite memories?
It’s in the – very near – future (Time travel is OK, isn’t it?): Tomorrow, Labour Day, 08:00 AM when I will be waked up by the local brass music band.

11. If there was one thing about politics you wish everyone would agree upon, what would it be and why?
Don’t panic.” Applies in particular to financial crises, bank runs – and the like. Issues that would not happen if nobody panicked.

2.c My Questions to the My Nominees:

Please correct my typos and other grammars without making me aware of them. If possible, hack my WP blog and correct them here as well.

1. (How) would you try to circumvent the rules set forth by the unknown founder of a blog award with an awkward pseudo-German name?

2. If you could re-design the rules for this award, what would you do?

3. What were the criteria for your choice of your WordPress blogging theme?

4. What is your favorite quote about science? (You can interpret science in a broad sense.)

5. If you need to compile lists of funny questions and answers, and you run out of quirky ideas – what would you do?

6. What is your favorite movie or story on time-travelling?

7. Have you ever been called a nerd or geek or have you called others nerds or geeks? Do you believe ‘nerd’ or ‘geek’ is a compliment or rather the opposite?

8. Have you ever written a book or do you plan to write one? If yes, what would it be about? In case, this is too personal: What would your book NOT be about?

9. Do you know what a tag-back is (without asking anybody and without using that advanced type of googling Elkement incapable of).

10. Did you really read this post word by word down to this line? (You may lie.)

11. A very personal question you do not need to answer: How much coffee / tea do you drink per day and does blogging or other writing has any impact on it?

Chinese Wall

This was The Great Wall of Text, wasn’t it? (Chinese Wall, Wikimedia)

On Writing or: What Do I Need to Smoke to Understand Your Websites?

This is a verbatim quote.
(“This” refers to the second part of the title. The first one is a lame reference to Stephen King, of course).

It is a question asked by a former colleague some years ago who had been exposed to my proto-blog websites for the first time. These websites are subject to my ongoing Website Resurrection Project.

I had planned to give you a dull, corporate-status-report-style update on the project, but there is nothing more to say but: To my utmost surprise I am really maintaining these websites still, in addition to this blog, in addition to our so-called company blog and websites (hardly discernible as such) … and in addition to excessive usage of social media since last year.

The more interesting question is: Why?

Why am I writing (pseudo-)blogs and why am I engaged in so many different conversations?

This post has also been inspired by Michelle Hatzel’s post on Virtual Dwellings.

I confess, my very first website was a business website (even discernible as such) – this was in 1997, the golden age of IT, before the dotcom crash – and me an aspiring freelance IT consultant. The Y2K version of this (German) site is still available, tagged as archived.

Thus I am not a serial website creator and deleter – I migrated the old stuff over and over to several new platforms and my rule is not to delete anything and cross-link all my profiles and websites. I am fascinated by the intricacies of Digital Legacy, by the way.

The only exception to this way taking large parts of the website offline and gradually ‘resurrecting’ them now. I dare say one of the reasons I am writing online is my desire to confront myself with my dated writing and thinking.

I am intrigued by ambiguity and by attempts to bridge chasms, most notably the ones running through my own (online?) persona. This was what made me craft the lengthy site title of this blog and this made me create three different sites back then – different in layout, style and content. In this blog I am aiming at exactly the opposite by combining everything.

Often I felt compelled to or obliged to write an ‘expert blog’, e.g. on cryptography and digital certificates. Theoretically this is the way to build an online community and reputation as the social media experts tell us, and it is a matter of fairness to add to the free repository of knowledge that had been invaluable to me as a professional.

But I already felt bored before I even got started. Though I do write about science and IT I cannot disentangle from personal stories and weird associations.

I called my personal website e-stangl.at my personal console – replying to my individual WHOAMI – and that’s exactly what it was. I started experimenting with the interaction between language, content, layout and the technical underpinnings of websites. I have spent hours in moving something one pixel to the left or to the right and musing about which colors to pick in order to perfectly represent the spirit of a website.

Adding a disclaimer I need to state my web tech knowledge is dated now and I don’t say that my sites are particularly beautiful or well done. But my own web design and web writing is one of the few things I ever tried my hands on that are devoid of my – otherwise all-encompassing and irritating – perfectionism.

My ancient websites are based on a homegrown ‘content management system’ that antedated some of typical blogging softwares’ features, but it lacked the options of adding categories and tags in a flexible way. This is due to my former belief in being able to really categorize in advance what you are going to write about. But I am an avid re-tagger and re-categorizer, and re-arranging my web content is really raking my personal Zen Garden.

Harima-ankokuji-sekitei01

Yes, there is nearly only navel-gazing at these websites, and – in a sense – this is an upside of making a website your fortress on the web, your personal dwelling. Though I had received unsolicited feedback via e-mail now and then, I know I am writing only for myself. Since these are technically not blogs and not hosted on a well-indexed platform they are basically not found. The whole point is writing with an imaginary public audience in mind that theoretically could read it, but not in your wildest dreams expecting any feedback ever.

I started this blog with the same ‘intentions’, but suddenly the fortress with its well-defined boundaries turned into a conversation. Years before I had loathed the concept of my comments published at other websites and other bloggers’ comments published to mine – blurring the boundaries between ‘mine’ and ‘your’ virtual territory. I imagined all kinds of stalkers and fringe scientists invading my websites. Unfortunately that did not happen.

Now I consider myself part of that large network and I don’t care about the boundaries. It is the process, the endless stream of different conversations that meet in a place that I might call my online dwelling. It is like a roundabout or crossroads, not like a building.

This is most likely the reason I plunged in to Facebook, Twitter and Google+ gleefully – as a rather late adopter. Again I finally ‘got’ the idea of resharing and retweeting existing content which seemed absurd and useless to me before: It is about being a thought leader DJ. I accepted that all human utterance is entirely plagiarism (Mark Twain) and came to terms with all of writing (any myself) being cliché. No, this time I won’t pingback to my article featuring Sandra Bullock as the nerdess. quoting my article about cliché has become cliché it its own right.

The greatest mystery to myself was probably why I am blogging in English. About 10 years ago I had suddenly decided I needed to have an English version of subversiv.at and e-stangl.at. I planned for a 1:1 correspondence of English and German pages and I failed epically on that: I dreaded keeping them in sync. The English version just never wanted to be a translation of the German one or vice versa. It was more like: Here is a keyword – now write down your free associations in German and English.

I am not sure if this explains anything but my English reading at that time comprised the following books that I still consider most influential.

The following website – my first English-only website has materialized itself out of the blue in 2005 after having devoured such books in parallel to your daily dose of ‘corporate communications’. It was about a ‘group project’ whose activities I had the honor to chronicle.

EPSI

EPSI is a prestigious middle European Think Thank dedicated to: Elementary research, painting blogs, collecting space and doing something. (This was our logo).

For better or for worse: My brain switches to English when pondering on smart aliens who plan to subvert the corporate world, for example. I had written extremely weird stuff in German also – that triggered the quote used as header, but German and English weirdness cannot be translated into each other. As an important initiative in The Website Resurrection Project – I started commenting on my former, weird German ‘Subversive Newsletters’ in English, and I started adding ironic and sarcastic comments on my former Pivotal Articles in German such as my graduation speech.

This post has reflected an important characteristic of all my online writing: It is a about trains of random thoughts, loosely connected, and not all planned strategically. It is finally about a global conversation, not so much about exposing my monolithic work of art to the public.

If you do not know how to close a random post – add a quote:

We long for more connection between what we do for a living and what we genuinely care about, for work that’s more than clock-watching drudgery. We long for release from anonymity, to be seen as who we feel ourselves to be rather than as the sum of abstract metrics and parameters. We long to be part of a world that makes sense rather than accept the accidental alienation imposed by market forces too large to grasp, to even contemplate.

And this longing is not mere wistful nostalgia, not just some unreconstructed adolescent dream. It is living evidence of heart, of what makes us most human.

— Christopher Locke in Internet Apocalypso, Chapter 1 of The Cluetrain Manifesto

Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the corporate web site.
Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view.

— Thesis Nr. 22 of 95 of The Cluetrain Manifesto