October 26, 2009

Pssst! Want a free listing in ODP/DMOZ?

Hurry Hurry Hurry!
Special Offer!!
Step right this way!!!

Actually, it's not really a "special" offer, and you don't have to hurry at all, because the Open Directory Project has always been completely free, since its inception more than 10 years ago.
Yeah, I was just tricking. My bad.

I attribute such silliness to idiot-fatigue, brought on by listening to endlessly repetitive and strident rants from webmasters who complain that ODP/DMOZ doesn't offer the personalised listing service for which other directories charge hundreds and thousands of dollars. Why on earth would those other directories even exist if the Open Directory offered the same listing services for nothing?
It doesn't make any sense at all.

But wait, there's more!
Many of these people are so incensed about DMOZ being free that they try to pay!!
Yes, incredible but true!!!

This has always struck me as quite breathtakingly dumb, for the irrefutable reason that over 4.5 million sites have already been listed in the Open Directory at absolutely no cost to their owners.

But this blindingly obvious fact doesn't stop idiots offering to pay someone to list their site(s), and various webmaster forums and freelance tendering sites have several entries every week from people who seem completely oblivious to the consequences.
It is all rather depressingly foolish, because there are warnings all over the internet (even a recent post in this blog) about what happens when someone tries to buy a DMOZ listing.
Some people obviously prefer not to listen.

Astonishingly, it seems that even the risk of a permanent ban is no deterrent, when you'd think any reasonable person would try their hardest to avoid that. Fortunately, the volunteer editors at DMOZ are absolutely brilliant at finding and organising worthwhile sites, as I highlighted in my Blog Action Day post, so the banned sites of foolish people who break the rules are very unlikely to be missed by anyone.

October 19, 2009

Ugliness is not even skin deep

I inadvertently conducted a sociological experiment the other night, with interesting (although uncomfortable) results.
Having been invited to a 40th birthday party with the theme "Dress as a favourite movie star or character", and knowing that the hosts would have planned a glittering function, I had to give some thought to my choice. In a fit of whimsy, I decided to avoid the obvious and instead dress as the most unglamorous film character I could think of: Agatha Trunchbull from Roald Dahl's "Matilda" (gloriously played in the movie by Pam Ferris).

So I assembled my costume: deeply unflattering long shorts and a T-shirt, accessorised with a very sturdy belt, weight- lifter gloves, hiking boots, long socks and a riding crop. I carefully gelled my hair straight back, tripled the size of my eyebrows with eyeliner, and added a huge mole on my cheek for good measure. While our builds are not identical, I felt I made a reasonable facsimile of the character from the movie. (And no, there is absolutely NO chance of publishing my own photograph here. Pam Ferris got paid to look like that!)

So off I went to the party, chuckling at the consternation my costume would cause.

Sure enough, it was a very glamourous affair, with all the glitz of Hollywood. There were even 2 actors hired to greet arrivals on the red carpet in the manner of US television entertainment reporters, and it was certainly gratifying to see them lost for words when I clomped up the steps. They were obviously just on the point of suggesting I was seriously lost, or perhaps calling the police, but luckily I had remembered to bring my invitation, which I brandished triumphantly, and they were obliged to let me through, too stunned to offer me a drink or take my photo as they had done with others. (The latter was a Good Thing though.)

The other guests were a glittering crowd, to be sure, almost all of them in spectacular hired outfits. There were several Batwomen and Batmen, a Marie Antoinette, Zorro, FrankenFurter, Brad'n'Angelina, various Bonds and Bond Girls, the Blues Brothers, Braveheart, a couple of Audrey Hepburns and Marilyn Monroes, and an assortment of other attractive stars. I can confidently say that not even the Austen Powers costume was as unappealing as mine, and he had a proper wig and false teeth!

Well, I'm sorry to say that I seriously misjudged the reaction I would cause. Far from being amused or at least surprised at my appearance, those who did not know me (the majority) were either embarrassed or, worse, full of pity, apparently failing to make any connection between "fancy-dress" and "make-believe". One woman (a complete stranger) even went so far as to wonder why I obviously hadn't gone to any trouble creating a costume!! This was despite my helpful badge saying "Agatha Trunchbull (Miss), Principal." - she probably thought it was my own name, and a badge left over from some ghastly educational conference. LOL

I'm delighted to say that at least my host and hostess got the joke, commending me on my bravery at going against the obvious trend, and admiring my lavish eyebrows and home-made riding crop (a snorkel tube bound with black tape and a shoelace at the end, for those who want to try this at home). But apart from them and a couple of other people I already knew, it was very difficult to start a conversation with anybody, because people would edge away, smiling thinly, or even turn their backs with a poorly-concealed grimace at my approach.

I was reminded of those TV documentaries where a reporter dresses as a homeless or obese person, revealing the prejudices that still exist in society towards those who don't "fit in". The guests at this party were well-educated, mature, socially adept people, many of them well-travelled, and all of them no doubt considering themselves fair-minded and lacking prejudice. And yet their social skills promptly deserted them in the presence of someone so out of place and physically repellent. More than that, they seemed to wish nothing more than that I would simply go away and leave them to "their" partying.

Of course with hindsight, I could have taken a more "acceptable" costume and changed into it after an hour or so, to confirm that I had only been play-acting. That would have been very interesting indeed, but I expect the dramatic conversion would have made the more sensitive among them feel rather ashamed of their earlier behaviour, so although the thought is very tempting, such point-scoring is morally no better than their condescension and revulsion.

October 15, 2009

ODP/DMOZ: Climate Change

On Blog Action Day, bloggers all over the world are invited to participate in an annual event to raise awareness of a particular issue, and this year the topic is Climate Change.

I freely admit to being wilfully ignorant on the subject, largely due to all the empty promises and endless rhetoric from politicians, who can effortlessly reduce a meaningful discussion to a monotonous argument. As soon as I hear the words "carbon emissions" I tend to switch off, both literally and metaphorically, but I am certainly aware that this does matter, and it does affect us all.

I am therefore very proud of my fellow volunteer editors at ODP/DMOZ (the Open Directory Project), who have assembled an impressive collection of hundreds of worthwhile sites on the topic: http://www.dmoz.org/Science/Environment/Climate_Change/ .

As you can see, these volunteers have found sites covering all aspects of climate change, including
An outstanding effort, and a comprehensive resource for anyone wishing to find useful and current information on climate change. Please take a look!

October 09, 2009

ODP/DMOZ: Plus ça change

It's been quite a while since I last posted about the Open Directory Project where I volunteer my time as a meta editor. This may lead the optimistic (or naive) to suppose that all has been going swimmingly, but in fact the reason is simply that nothing seems to change or improve, and even I can get tired of describing the same problems over and over again.

Hence the title: Plus ça change can be roughly translated as same old same old.

Every now and then there'll be a brief drum roll and some AOL person will announce that a Shiny! New! Improved! DMOZ 2.0 is "just around the corner", and that all the paid (ie invisible) staff are working terribly hard on it. These announcements have been happening every few months for about 3 years now, so they don't have quite the morale-boosting effect on the unpaid volunteers that management obviously expects.

In fact, not surprisingly, the opposite happens, which is that more and more people lose interest. This situation starts at the top, with the ongoing decline of the ironically named Administrators, whose numbers and activity levels seem to have dropped even further than when I last recorded their attrition rate:
"So out of 16 people specially chosen by the Emperor to manage DMOZ, we are left with
4 invisible and inactive Admins,
2 invisible but apparently active ones, leaving
just 3 who are effectively fulfilling their roles."
That was back in April. The numbers are now even sadder, with the 4 invisible and inactive ones still resolutely declining to meet even the bare minimum requirements of their position, and the number who seem to do anything at all being reduced to 2. Full credit to them for carrying on, of course, but it does beg the question "why". Is the Admin role so pointless/untenable/onerous or just plain unpleasant that more than 3/4 of them are unwilling to do it?
If so, then why remain in the position year after year, when all other editors are required to contribute something to the directory in order to maintain their accounts?

The other thing that never, ever changes in regard to DMOZ/ODP is the frequently wilful misunderstanding of the role of an editor.

To increase the endless repetition by one more, here are the reasons editors do not "process submissions" in any time frame desired by the webmaster:
  1. All editors are volunteers who are free to spend as much or as little time on the ODP as they choose.
  2. DMOZ/ODP is not a listing service, and site suggestions made by non-editors are nothing more than that - suggestions of sites that an editor may wish to look at.
  3. There is absolutely no requirement for any editor to look at these suggestions, although someone probably will, eventually.
  4. Editors have many, far more useful places to look for worthwhile sites to add.
  5. It's a hobby, that's all.
No matter how many times these simple facts are repeated, obstinate webmasters and SEO "experts" keep on and on and on with their complaints, while steadfastly refusing to listen.

This technique might work for some small furry mammals, but it's pretty silly and very seldom effective in the world of grown-ups.

October 05, 2009

Canberra 3: Corrections (and some quick counselling)

I can now tell my friends I've been to prison.
Fortunately it was only for a morning, and although the admission process was rigorous, it did not involve anything more intimate than an iris scan.

As a sort of "field trip" for the Custodial Medicine unit of my post-grad Forensic Medicine course, we were taken to the brand new, architect-designed Alexander Maconochie Centre just outside the city. After 2 days of tedium, I was quite excited at the prospect of seeing inside a maximum security prison, especially when my prompt release was guaranteed!
It was definitely memorable, but a lot less intimidating than I had feared, with plenty of natural light and an air of quiet efficiency. Certainly the heavy doors (half glass, half steel) shut with a loud conclusive clang, and there were occasional announcements over the speakers, but in general it was remarkably like an office block , albeit one with a very minimalist approach to interior design.
We met several of the custodial officers, and they were affable and quietly spoken, but with the calm authority of experience, and a surprising (to me) understanding of the varied personalities in their charge. Overall, the manner and opinions of these prison staff were far more positive than I had expected, although the ever-present cynic in me wonders if we met only the best ones.
Nevertheless, the experience did not depress me in the way I feared, although it was certainly a relief to pass back through all the security checks and into the free world.

I hope it is my last prison visit.

I'll finish this series of posts with something I saw on my first day, and which will remain one of my lasting memories of the city. Canberra was purpose-built, of course, and despite the best efforts of town planners since then, it still feels rather officious and sterile. Almost everyone seems to work for the government or its satellite industries, and everyone I saw on the city streets had an ID card on a lanyard. They all seemed to be very important people in a great hurry to get to their next meeting, so it is not surprising that they don't have much time to spare for introspection.

Not far from my hotel, this sandwich board was placed on the footpath each morning at 7.30 am, presumably to enable workers to pop in for speedy analysis on the way to work.
I have cropped this photo to avoid inadvertent advertising, but the therapist had included a photo of himself, and you won't be surprised to learn that he sported one of those very irritating tiny square beards in the middle of his chin.

Anyone who entrusts their angst to such a fellow, or who expects a quality service in the time it takes to write out an invoice, deserves our compassion.

Canberra 2: Colour and Calliope

After sitting through several hours of mind-numbing PowerPointing (it's a really bad sign when the first slide announces it is 1/143), I staggered out into the watery Canberra sunlight and decided to restore my spirits with a visit to Floriade, the renowned annual flower show.
The organisers had sprinkled helpful signs around the city, showing the direction to go, but it wasn't until I'd walked for half an hour and ended up with no way of crossing a 4 lane highway that I realised the signs were for motorists and not pedestrians. Grumbling mightily, I clambered over a crash barrier into the car park and finally found my way over the pedestrian bridge, arriving about 10 minutes before the show closed for the evening.
Not that it really mattered, because I was surprised to find nothing more than a few large beds of tulips and assorted flowers, arranged in admittedly pleasing patterns, but hardly the floral extravaganza I'd expected.

It was certainly very pretty in the late afternoon light, but I found it rather disappointing. I guess I am spoiled, because not far from my home in Western Australia is the extraordinary Araluen Botanical Park, where volunteers plant millions of tulips each year, creating immense drifts that extend for hundreds of metres in every direction, between the native eucalypts. Click here to see photographs taken by Flickr users.

In fact, the best thing I saw at Floriade was a beautifully restored calliope:

October 04, 2009

Canberra 1: Cant

Last week I was in our national capital for a 2-day "symposium". I've been to many thousands of seminars, lectures, tutorials, meetings and presentations; and even a couple of conferences, but I've never knowingly attended a symposium, so I was a little curious about what it would be.

Well now I know.

It's a euphemism for "sitting around a long table in a small room listening to other people talk and use PowerPoint until you lose the will to live".
There's a lot of that sort of cant in Canberra: using fancy words to describe something completely mundane. Politicians do it as easily as breathing, and it seems to have infected everyone in the city.

One day I walked for 3 blocks behind a man with a very snazzy tracksuit, plenty of hair "product" (another stupid word), and a mobile phone clamped to his ear. Without breaking stride, he maintained a steady stream of the most impressive twaddle, reminiscent of "Yes Prime Minister" and every political satire since then. But this guy had no script nor team of writers, so it is very disappointing that the only phrase I was able to memorise was
"We'll have to consolidate the neo-liberal economic platform before we rationalise our own objectivity parameters."
Of course it could have been the other way around.

An equally adept exponent of cant was our "speaker" for one afternoon session, although "droner" would fit just as well. In order to avoid one of those ghastly head jerks or involuntary snuffly grunts which are such an embarrassing giveaway of the secret snoozer, I kept track of the nonsensical jargon and euphemisms in the presentation. Fotunately these came along pretty often, so it was enough to keep me awake. Here are my favourites:
"adverse outcome assessment analysis"
"suboptimal problem resolution strategies"
"diagnostic overshadowing"
"mapping the behaviour curve to generate intervention plans"
and the truly inspired
"the success of positive behaviour support is judged by the durability, social validity and generalisability of the outcome."


Related Posts with Thumbnails