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The other night my wife and I watched the last episode of Glee (great fun. I highly recommend the show). The program takes place in a high school and, as such, much of the storyline revolves around the social aspects of that purgatory of the teen years. Halfway through the program, I realized something about my own high school experience:
I have no idea who the popular kids were. Additionally, I have no idea who the unpopular kids were. In a nutshell, I have no recollection of the social life in my high school of any kind.
I have my closest friends to thank for this. We all met while attending (or rather, while we were supposed to be attending) high school, and one of the things that first brought us all together was a shared disdain for pretty much anything society had to offer. Even at 16 years of age, we had realized that the status quo was not ‘quo’ (as Dr. Horrible so succinctly put it) and our collective response to it was to pretty much opt out. I really miss my teenage omniscience.
I bring all this up because my lack of experience with the high school social scene has left me ill-equipped to deal with vast portions of the internet. In case you haven’t noticed , much of the so-called ‘Social Web’ is simply a substitute for the popularity contest that was high school. With one important difference: The popular kids on the internet are usually the ones who were unpopular in high school. And they’re generally pretty angry about it.
Sometimes the popularity contest simply manifests itself as comparing numbers of ‘friends’ (a quaint euphemism for people you’ve never met). This is the kind of score-keeping you see at Facebook and Twitter. For the most part, it’s pretty harmless (especially at Twitter, where no one ever seems to care how many ‘friends’ you have. One of the reasons Twitter is the only corner of the ‘Social Web’ I regularly visit), pretty much just amounting to a method of keeping score.
Other times, though, the popularity contest results in gang-like behavior. This usually manifests in the comment sections of popular web sites, particularly those that are self-moderating. While crowd-sourcing can be a very good thing (see OpenStreetMap and/or Wikipedia), any time you put power into the hands of the mob, you run the risk that it will behave like – well – a mob (see Lord of the Flies). There is a very popular tech website that is a perfect example of this. I will refrain from mentioning it by name (suffice to say it can be referred to using only punctuation). This site used to be the source for most kinds of technical information, so when I was writing a post about Google Wave I paid the site a visit to see what the geeks were saying about it.
I was greatly disappointed to discover that the site has been largely taken over by juvenile idiots. Sadly, I left having learned nothing of value about Wave. (I have since learned that disagreeing with the ‘wisdom’ of the mob at this site gets you quickly relegated to the status of ‘Troll’. I proudly admit that I am currently considered a ‘Troll’, and I stop by every now and again to disagree with someone, thereby maintaining my ‘Trolldom’. I know – my own little bit of juvenile behavior.)
Some sites avoid this. One such is Lifehacker, a site I’ve been visiting for years. I’ve found it to be a good source of ideas and advice (you know – life ‘hacks’), but they also regularly point their readers to good sources of (usually free or cheap) software.
Which is what all this has been leading up to. The other day Lifehacker had a post about Windows Live Writer, which is part of the whole Windows Live suite. Based on that post, I decided to download Live Writer and give it a whirl, which I am doing at this very moment. And I have to say I’m quite pleased. I’ve always been a fan of WYSIWYG editors, and Live Writer really delivers on that score. It feels very much like writing directly to my blog. I could get used to this. Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with WordPress’s built-in editor. Live Writer has a better interface, though, and just plain looks better.
And I was very pleased to see the fashion in which Live Writer was packaged. The installer offers a suite of applications, most of which Windows users will be familiar with. Apps like Messenger and Mail (neither of which I use, both of which I was happy to see as no longer being included in a standard Windows install). I was especially happy to see Windows Movie Maker, the unsung hero of Microsoft products. While it doesn’t pack a whole lot of punch (as video editing software goes), its lack of cost and ease of use make it one of the home movie enthusiast’s best friends.
I have to admit, though, that I would be using Live Writer even if it didn’t have a pleasing interface and was difficult to use. Why? Because it lets me easily do this:
Makes me a happy Map Dork indeed.
Update: Looks like I can do this with Google Maps, too:
Unfortunately, though, not with OpenStreetMap.
Came across a WordPress plugin called GeoPress today. With it, I could attach cool little maps to my posts. You know – kind of put the Where in Wherewithal (all appropriate puns intended).
Looking around, it appears that WordPress.com doesn’t offer any upgrades that would allow me to pack in non-WP-approved plugins (they do, however, give user a place to suggest plugins they’d like to see made available – I’m on my way as soon as I finish this post). This would include Roy Tanck’s WP-Cumulus mentioned previously. So it looks like my only option here would be to pay for hosting elsewhere.
First thing on my list of crap I want to be able to do here – edit CSS. I know I can do it (for cheap) already, but I think I need to keep a running list so I can add it all up in the final analysis. It’s also not because I’m the kind of guy who chews code for breakfast. It’s just that I’m not happy with the default width of this theme (it doesn’t even fill the width of the laptop, which is enslaved to 1024 x 768).
Why yes – now that you mention it, I could just change the theme. And you’re right – I could. But that’s beside the point. I like this theme (far better than any of the others I’ve seen) except for a couple of minor tweaks I’d like to make. I mean, really – changing the code just to increase the width of the document body is a ridiculously minor tweak. I don’t think it’s too much to ask.
Now, the other reason I want access to the guts of this thing is because I’d really like to add Roy Tanck’s WP-Cumulus – easily the coolest tag cloud I’ve seen.
So this makes the tally so far: $15/year (I’m pretty sure everything in this category will be a yearly cost).
This is one-half of my latest Grand Experiment. I’ve decided to check out this WordPress thing and, as usual, I’m going a little overboard with it. As I said – this is only one-half of it. The other half is a virtually identical blog, using the full WordPress engine (available here), on my home server.
Of course, my ‘home server’ was only marginally so up ’til now. Before this experiment, it was just an old computer, connected to our network and with the printers and scanner plugged into it. Now, though, it’s a real server, complete with the full Apache, MySQL and PHP package. I’m already leaning toward this latter setup, as the power and flexibility of it far outshine this one (I’m already loving the additional HTML and CSS capabilities, and I’m looking forward to packing my own personal Wiki into the deal). However, the low overhead of this space is hard to argue with. Especially since this place offers much of what I like about my other installation, at very reasonable prices.
So we’ll just kick back and see where this goes. Along the way, I’ll try to find the time for posts about the technical aspects of my home installation. So far, it’s been just plain fun.