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May 30, 2003
Writing secrets revealed! Novelist Jo Walton observes the gradual wearing away of the letters on her computer keyboard:
I pretend to be puzzled by this, but secretly I love it. Keyboard letters contain vital nutrients for my metabolism. They are where I get my ideas from, they keep my creativity flowing. They go in and out through my fingers and leave the keyboard burnished and empty.

It’s clearly magic realism, because it ought to work like that. It’s not in the least remarkable. One would only need to remark on it if it didn’t happen.

[07:57 AM : 3 comments]

May 28, 2003
If you’ve ever considered using Speakeasy, or if you’re currently one of their customers, read this. Alternately, do so if you enjoy reading ticked-off rants.

Over three years ago, we signed up for home DSL via Speakeasy, a Seattle-based ISP that remarkets Covad DSL and adds its own ISP services to the package. Our signup agreement included a free Flowpoint router and a waiver of installation charges in exchange for agreeing to continue the service for at least a year. For this, we got 768/384 mbps DSL connectivity for a bit over $80 a month. Over time, the charges have crept up to over $90 a month. We’ve had a bearable number of service glitches and interruptions, all of which have been resolved fairly quickly; the worst lasted a day or two.

This past April 23rd, at around 11 PM, our Speakeasy DSL service stopped working. I phoned their customer service number. After some remote testing, and some more discussion the following morning, they told me they were sending a repairman from Covad to look at the physical line. The earliest they could schedule a visit for was the following Monday, April 28. We said fine.

The repairman arrived on time as promised, fussed about with the wires that lead into our house, tested various things, went back to his van a couple of times, and ultimately announced that he’d fixed the problem. “That old router was dead,” he said. “They do wear out. I’ve just swapped in a new one; you should be good to go.” “Great!” we said.

A month later, we took a long look at our various broadband options, and regretfully concluded that although Speakeasy offered some things we like, such as a fixed IP address, the lower cost of Time Warner cable-modem connectivity ($44.95 a month) and the higher speed (over 2000 mbps) was too good to pass up. So this past Saturday, May 24th, we called Speakeasy to cancel our DSL service. “You’re paid up until June 2,” said the Speakeasy rep. “So your service will continue until then, and there should be no further charges.”

Now, in this morning’s email, I have an invoice from Speakeasy for $428.24: $199 for “technician dispatch,” $199 for “equipment,” plus sales tax.

I’ve just been on the phone to Speakeasy’s customer service, where a fellow who identifies himself only as “Dave” (“We don’t give last names,” he said) has assured me that these charges are legitimate and I should read my service agreement and there’s certainly nothing he can do about it. Hello?

Attentive readers will immediately find themselves asking the obvious questions.

Did Speakeasy’s phone representative, after performing his various remote tests on the line, say “We can send out a Covad rep, but it will cost you almost $200?” Why, no. He did not. Did he say “We’re sending out a Covad rep?” Why, yes. That’s what he said.

Did Covad’s repair guy, after puttering about with cables and testers, say “It’s the router, and it’ll cost about $200 to replace?” He did not. Did he, indeed, even say “It’s the router; would you like it replaced?” He did not. Did he say “I’ve swapped out the router; you’re all fine now?” Why yes. That’s what he said.

(Remember, the router was provided by Speakeasy in the first place. It didn’t seem surprising that they should accomplish the repair by swapping out their own hardware.)

Naturally, I asked to speak to “Dave’s” supervisor, and was transferred to an answering machine, where I left a message saying that I have a billing dispute and would appreciate being called back.

We’ll see what they say. But I have no intention of paying this. Hitting customers with unannounced charges like this is poor practice at any time. Under the circumstances, it’s hard to escape the suspicion that Speakeasy means to stick it to me now that they no longer have any interest in keeping me a happy customer.

They can have their $200 router back. I’ll even put the stamps on the box. But I’m not paying for goods and services I didn’t agree to buy. And, to any of you who currently use Speakeasy or are considering their services: caveat emptor.

[11:13 AM : 31 comments]

Speaking of economical and devastating last lines. I just wanted to post a pointer. But the alternate title of this post could be “Why We Need Matthew Yglesias.”

[12:10 AM : 1 comments]

May 27, 2003
Bad drugs: Chris Bertram of Junius returns to an old favorite question of Electrolite’s:
I should make clear that I’m actually in favour of non-discrimination, extensive social rights, protection for trade unions and so on (in case anyone out there was wondering). But I don’t think that judicial activism and constitutional “interpretation” is a good way to go about securing those goods. I don’t have an a priori answer to the question of how much judicial activism is a good or bad thing, but I am worried about using it to substitute for political argument, democratic decision-making and the hard slog of building a consensus around a policy. Surely some of what’s happened in the US over the last few decades is a result of the left trying to pursue its agenda through the courts. Doing this can foster alienation towards the political process, encourages irresponsible grandstanding in politicians who can posture in the knowledge that the judges will clean up afterwards, and is ultimately counterproductive. Counterproductive because it shifts the terrain of political struggle to the issue of who chooses the judges, and the right can pursue its agenda via judicial selection even more effectively than the left can over the long term. In Europe the problem of alienation will be compounded: not only is the EU an unpromising space for democratic life anyway, but the citizens of European nations will come to resent decisions that are fateful for them being taken by unelected foreign judges.
It can’t be noted often enough, of course, that American liberalism, specifically the civil rights movement, ultimatly resorted to “judicial activism” because after eighty years of post-Civil War “political argument, democratic decision-making and the hard slog of building a consensus around a policy,” large numbers of white Americans were still merrily treating black people like animals, with the full support of local, state, and national governments. This is a deep problem in the American body politic, evidence that we may actually be, at root, nasty and sadistic sons of bitches, rather than the freedom-loving good guys of our dreams. Nonetheless, Bertram’s point is fundamentally correct. Judicial fiat is a bad drug; like all bad drugs, it convinces us of things which are not true. We don’t have to argue with our annoying neighbors. At the end of Act Three, the god in the machine will come down and fix everything. History is a morality play in which good always prevails. As the man said: Maybe Not.

[11:51 PM : 6 comments]

Face forward, pilgrim! Republican strategist Grover Norquist is candid:
“We are trying to change the tones in the state capitals—and turn them toward bitter nastiness and partisanship,” said Grover Norquist, a leading Republican strategist, who heads a group called Americans for Tax Reform.

“Bipartisanship is another name for date rape,” Norquist, a onetime adviser to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, said, citing an axiom of House conservatives.

Asks Kathryn Cramer: “Why do Republican strategists talk like comic-book villains?”

[10:59 PM : 13 comments]

May 26, 2003
Memorial Day:

“If we are to honor our fallen heroes, we are bound by duty to work every day toward strengthening our democracy and our United States, so that as Lincoln implored, a government of the people, by the people, for the people does not perish from the earth.”Howard Dean

[12:02 AM : 0 comments]

May 25, 2003
I was going to post more to Electrolite tonight, but I got distracted by commenting on two interesting posts elsewhere in the blogosphere: this cri de coeur from Kevin “Calpundit” Drum, and this response from Matthew Yglesias. Check ‘em both out, including the comments.

[10:17 PM : 10 comments]

Family brag: This afternoon, at the 56th Cannes Film Festival, the Palm D’Or was won by Elephant, directed by Gus Van Sant. Van Sant also won the Best Direction award.

A movie about high school violence, cast with real high school kids, this indie feature hasn’t actually been released yet, but I’ve been hearing bits and pieces about it because (ahem) my brother, Benjamin Hayden, was the movie’s art director. Needless to say, he and the rest of the small cast and crew are currently over the moon.

USA Today reports van Sant’s acceptance remarks:

“Thank you very much, from the bottom of my heart,” he said, looking somewhat stunned after winning the festival’s top prize. “For years, I tried to bring one of my films to the Cannes festival and this time, it’s invigorating to receive such a prize. Vive la France!”
Vive la, indeed. And serious congratulations to Benjamin. Oh yeah, to that van Sant guy too.

UPDATE: IMDB link under Benjamin’s name courtesy of stfnal prodigy Greg van Eekhout, in my comment section.

[05:29 PM : 11 comments]

May 23, 2003
Avedon Carol has some eye-opening observations about the differences between civil-liberties organizations in America and in the UK.

[09:40 PM : 0 comments]

May 22, 2003
Why we need Atrios. The economical and devastating last line of this is why. Long may he wave.

[11:28 PM : 3 comments]

More on RSS syndication. If this is all getting too technical, go read Making Light or Calpundit or Thomas Babington Macaulay for a bit; we’ll be back to normal momentarily.

Tipped off by Jim Sfekas in comments to the post below, I checked out Blogmatrix. As it turns out, while Ted Barlow, Jeanne D’Arc, Fred Clark, Digby, Charles Dodgson, Warren Ellis, Mark A. R. Kleiman, Bruce Rolston, and South Knox Bubba may not be aware of it, their blogs all seem to have functional (or at least semi-functional) RSS feeds there. Incoming Signals and Max Sawicky have Blogmatrix feeds that don’t appear to work at all. That leaves Timothy Burke, Avedon Carol, Iain J. Coleman, Daniel Davies, Avram Grumer, Mike Kozlowski, Emma of Late Night Thoughts, Liberal Oasis, Scott Martens, David Moles, and Eve Tushnet still entirely unsyndicated, as far as I can tell. Along with quite a few other fine weblogs that aren’t syndicating and Should Be. I urge any and all of them to go over to Blogmatrix and see if they can get a feed going. And let us know about it! A grateful nation thanks you all.

UPDATE: Mike Kozlowski of Unmistakable Marks has stepped up to the plate. As have Kate Nepveu of Outside of a Dog and Scott Martens of Pedantry. Meanwhile, David Moles’s Chrononaut is another weblog on my list that turns out to already have a feed.

[12:17 PM : 33 comments]

Query answered. Chris Bertram of Junius came up with the right answer within 38 minutes of my post below: none of these otherwise excellent weblogs syndicate their content with any sort of XML/RSS feed. And, you know something, I wish they did.

I use NetNewsWire Lite as a simple notification tool. With one mouse click, I have it check over sixty weblogs I’ve “subscribed to,” and tell me which ones have new posts. I then use it to load the weblogs with new posts into my regular browser. This is orders of magnitude faster and more efficient than laboriously clicking through a long list of sites to see whether they’ve put up anything new.

The result over time is that I find I read weblogs with XML/RSS feeds much more regularly than weblogs without them. I suspect I’m not alone in this. It’s true that Movable Type makes it particularly easy to syndicate your content, since the RSS feed is enabled by default. But I can’t imagine it’s all that difficult for non-MT users to set up feeds, since so many not-awfully-technical bloggers seem to manage it. (Chris Bertram is one. Thanks again, Chris!) Typing “RSS for Blogger” into Google takes us to these fine instructions, from the Digital Medievalist, showing how to set up an RSS feed with Blogger Pro. I suspect other useful recipes for the non-geek are within range of your preferred search engine—and, for that matter, I expect my commenters (who know, I mean, everything) may have their own tips to offer.

Go! Syndicate! Feed!

UPDATE: Uncertain Principles turns out to have a feed after all. Yay, Chad.

UPDATE: So do This Modern World and Charles Stross.

[08:51 AM : 12 comments]

May 21, 2003
Sometime Electrolite commentor Scott Martens announces that he’s “not going to write a real post about The Matrix Reloaded,” and then goes on to write quite a good one.

[08:43 PM : 0 comments]

I don’t know who dreamed up the name of this retail concept, but I’ll bet you lunch it wasn’t a Brit.

[03:04 PM : 14 comments]

As you may have read, President Bush, addressing the Coast Guard Academy, has promised that the “war on terror” will be won.

Matthew Yglesias is good on this:

But what could this possibly mean? If it means that al-Qaida won’t destroy the United States and impose a worldwide Islamic state well, then, of course we’re going to win the war on terrorism. If it means that at some point in the near future there aren’t going to be any more terrorist attacks, then we’re obviously not going to win. If it means that at some point in the near future there will be more terrorist attacks but they won’t be organized by al-Qaida then I suppose we very well might win, but that sounds like a pretty hollow victory unless we accomplish this goal in a way that makes people safer or improves the world in some other way.
As someone or other pointed out a while ago, “terrorism” isn’t going to sign any surrender agreements aboard the battleship Missouri.

[02:58 PM : 4 comments]

It’s just hard to imagine a major American newspaper’s web site running something like this.

[02:33 PM : 2 comments]

Glenn Reynolds seems to have neglected to drink FCC chairman Michael Powell’s Kool-aid:
Michael, here’s the deal: if you think that concentration in Old Media is okay because New Media will provide the discipline, then stand up for freeing the New Media from the shackles that the Old Media are trying to weld on. Because if you’re not serious about freeing the New Media, then you’re not serious about competition, and what you’re describing isn’t a bold new world, but a sellout.
Read the whole thing. Really.

[09:22 AM : 1 comments]

I’ve been interested in how much people disagree about The Matrix Reloaded. We saw it last night; we were entertained. Ambling through the blogosphere this morning, it seems like Julian Sanchez saw the same flawed but interesting action comic-book shot through with playful philosophy references that we did.

Just as common are reactions like MemeMachineGo’s:

My mind boggles that there are actually people reading depth and significance into the Matrix. Phil Dick was examining these themes with 100 times this depth 50 years ago. With 1000 times the depth in his later career, 20 years ago. Not to mention all the literature he inspired.

But, of course, one has to have actually read science fiction to know that. Even if you haven’t…c’mon…”what if we’re just brains in vats”, “what if we don’t have free will”—these aren’t exactly exciting and new questions. And the Matrix doesn’t offer anything interesting in considering them…it just raises them and hopes the audience will confuse special effects with sophistication.

Well, leaving aside the question of whether there are all that many “exciting and new questions” at this level of metaphysics, I have to wonder whether this isn’t making an extravagant claim on behalf of poor old Philip K. Dick. Exactly how much of Dick’s “depth” actually has to do with his brilliant answers to questions of philosophy and epistemology? Indeed, it seems to me that a lot of very good written SF, including Philip K. Dick’s best work, primarily uses this stuff as titillation and decoration, just as MMG plonks The Matrix for doing. It “doesn’t offer anything interesting in considering them…it just raises them and hopes the audience will confuse special effects with sophistication.” With the understanding that irony, tone, and sketched-in characterization are just another kind of “special effect” (and they are), you could say exactly the same about Valis or Ubik. You’d be right. And you’d have gotten no closer to understanding why Valis and Ubik are good books.

I dunno, maybe after all these years working with prose SF, I’m just less impressed with its inherent formal intellectual superiority to action movies and comic books, the claim for which seems to be an article of faith with many of my friends. I’m not arguing that The Matrix and its sequel are inherently profound. They’re entertainments, not treatises. I feel like I’m making my way by touch down a darkened hallway with a blindfold over my face, but I think I’m becoming radically opposed to the notion that we should “boggle that there are actually people reading depth and significance into the Matrix.” It’s hard to avoid noticing that, on the commanding heights of literary culture, the official position on writers like Philip K. Dick is to boggle that there are actually people reading depth and significance into their work.

Am I suggesting that there’s no such thing as artistic merit? Not a chance. Am I coming to suspect that it might be more complicated than the rigid hierarchies of merit (Ironic dialogue: virtuous! Chopsocky action: sinful!) we all seem to be in a big hurry to construct? Could be.

[09:05 AM : 22 comments]

Hey, we said (right here) that these were “intermittent weblogs.” Okay, so this one has been more intermittent than not lately.

[07:52 AM : 7 comments]

May 07, 2003
And while we’re on the subject of science fiction people with weblogs, it transpires that uber-anthologist and skiffy big-think maven Kathryn Cramer has made it her business to link to all of the SF fans and pros with weblogs that she can find. Kathryn herself is writing a nicely understated and provocative blog; check it out.

I personally have read almost no blogs in the last three weeks. Today is the first day I’ve even made a stab toward getting back into it. I’ve caught up on Avedon, CalPundit, Max Sawicky, Timothy Burke, Kieran Healy, Henry and Maria Farrell, and Soundbitten. Next: the lime-green expanses of Jim Henley. Pray for me.

UPDATE: Okay, it was worth it. “Second-rate online dictionaries have been the cause of more unnecessary grief than all the nation’s Lite Rock stations put together.” How could I have doubted?

[08:47 PM : 13 comments]

Still not dead. Still catching up. Meanwhile, boggled and pleased to discover that Ken MacLeod has a blog. (Snappy blog title, too.)

[02:18 PM : 5 comments]