October 30, 2010

A Few Aphorisms

Nothing original today, and nothing cynical or world-weary either, for a change.
Instead, here are some quotations which mean a lot to me, and which might speak to you too.

The first one is as close as I will ever get to having my own motto.
I discovered it as an embroidered sampler in an historic cottage, with the name and date "Ann Hewson 1780". I was quite young at the time, but even so I felt that it perfectly mirrored my own outlook on life, so I copied the words and laboriously embroidered my own sampler, serendipitously finishing it exactly 200 years after Ann signed hers.
It still resonates with me all these years later ...
Learn by the bee from each event to find
Some hint of use or profit to your mind.
Nothing so small but you may draw from thence
Improvement for your virtue or your sense.

The next one is a lot less ponderous, but a very useful reminder that our lives are neither as important nor as serious as we may think. It's from Jerry Seinfeld.
Life is truly a ride. We're all strapped in and no-one can stop it. ...
Sometimes you put your arms up and scream, sometimes you just hang on ...
I think the most you can hope for at the end of your life
is that your hair's messed, you're out of breath, and you didn't throw up.

Life is full of uncertainty, and sometimes the number of necessary decisions seems overwhelming. Lewis Carroll's eternally untroubled Cheshire cat has the answer.
Alice came to a fork in the road. "Which road do I take?" she asked.
"Where do you want to go?" responded the Cheshire cat.
"I don't know," Alice answered.
"Then," said the cat, "it doesn't matter."

It's unashamedly sentimental, but this quote from an American author named Agnes Sligh Turnbull never fails to bring a lump to my throat, and I'm sure it will do the same to anyone who has loved and lost a dog. (Vale Tess, Kimba, Mtani, Zu, Harry, Taka and all the similarly precious memories of my friends.)
Dogs' lives are too short. Their only fault, really.

Then, of course, there was Douglas Adams. Almost everything he said or wrote makes me respond "Yes!", so it is impossible to choose my favourite from thousands of insightful comments. Fortunately, there are many sites (such as this one) which share his witty wisdom, so for those who are unfamiliar with his view of the world, I'll close with this particularly pithy example.
In the beginning the Universe was created.
This has made a lot of people very angry
and has been widely regarded as a bad move.

October 23, 2010

Shhh. Don't Look Now, But ...

Like many other site owners, I am interested in who my visitors are, how they get here, how long they stay, and which pages they read.
For some people this is essential information in optimising their site for commercial purposes, but in my case it is simply idle curiosity about patterns revealed by the statistics. As you can see from the logo at the bottom right of this page, I use a free Sitemeter account to track visits, and although it shows very few details (just the IP address, for the technically minded among you), the records do provide occasional harmless amusement.

For example, every time I mention "DMOZ" or "ODP", or (nowadays) "DMOZ 2.0", and especially if I write about "Volunteer Admins", there is a flurry of visits from the same IP addresses.
Of course it may be sheer coincidence, but when those addresses match the countries or cities where DMOZ Admins live, I remind myself that I don't actually believe in coincidences.

But it is even more entertaining to see which blog posts attract the most general attention. Besides the above visits from people curious to see what I am saying about them, random visitors seem particularly drawn to posts about the following topics (in approximate order):
  1. British railways (yes really!)
  2. Ugliness
  3. Piratical eye injuries
  4. Bullying 
An eclectic bunch of topics, to be sure, and I guess some people might ponder their sociological implications.

Not me though - I just like sitting around, watching people come and go.


October 21, 2010

Beastly Backstabbing

There are few blows more shocking and painful than the betrayal of a "friend".
Being lied to by someone you trust is one of the most lasting and hurtful of all experiences.

It not only demonstrates one's own poor judgement, but highlights the widespread dishonesty and self-interest that we so often try to overlook.

Today I spent a happy hour or so chatting easily to an old friend, enjoying our shared interests and generally finding pleasure in each other's company.

Or so I thought.
How galling,
how humiliating,
how absolutely infuriating to discover just a few hours later that the conversation was a complete pretence.

This so-called friend had carefully refrained from mentioning a recent promotion that meant my "friendship" was now nothing more than a chance to gather information to my disadvantage.

What a despicable trick.

The deception is all the more distressing because of the years of friendship and trust that were so rapidly and carelessly discarded in the cause of self-glorification.

Loyalty? Honesty?

What a naive fool I am to assume these things are as important to others as they are to me.

October 05, 2010

ODP/DMOZ: 2 bad, so sad

Prompted by a recent comment/question on my last post, it's probably time for an update on how the DMOZ 2.0 debacle is proceeding.
Depending on your point of view, the answer is
  • a) badly: the situation is deteriorating, 
  • b) well: the debacle itself is growing daily, or
  • c) Shhhh"Don't mention the war".
Does anyone remember Simon and Garfunkel? Probably not, but they had a song with lyrics very slightly like these:
AOL only knows, AOL makes its plan
The information's unavailable to the mortal man.
Admins keep on reassuring, try to justify their name,
Pretending DMOZ 2.0's the answer, when in fact it's slip sliding away

Slip sliding away, slip sliding away
You know the more they try to fix it, the more it's slip sliding away

I have just returned from several weeks' holiday (in fact if you've lost interest in DMOZ 2.0, along with most of the editors, then you are welcome to have a look at my holiday snaps here instead), and I expected to find that most of the apparently unforeseen bugs had been fixed. I say "unforeseen", because as I have previously noted, hundreds of bugs slipped through the net during three years of development and several months of intensive beta testing by paid staff and many volunteer editors.

By the way, these bugs are not minor problems with esoteric functions - we are talking major disruptions to many of the most basic editing processes. Fundamental functions are still unavailable to most editors, although the higher levels of editor seem to have a lot fewer problems. Funny, that.

The robust insistence of the powers-that-be that "everything will soon be working just fine" is starting to sound almost farcical, more than two months after the "third-time-lucky" launch. In addition, their almost universal disinterest in the continuing problems faced by ordinary editors is not just rude, but does nothing to provide the sort of guidance and support for which their positions were created. Of course this is a generalisation, and a small but much appreciated number of Admins seem to be actively involved in bailing water out of the sinking DMOZ 2.0, but in general, the highest level editors seem to have vanished. Mind you, it's happened several times before, so we really should not be surprised.

This is pretty much the final straw for me and the ODP. As I have already lamented, I fell victim earlier this year to a prolonged and determined campaign of FUD, which left me in the impossible situation of trying to obey contradictory (and increasingly imperative) instructions from on high. I tried for many months to comply with both sets of demands, but of course it was impossible to "serve two masters" as the saying goes, and the inevitable result was that I was branded as insubordinate and had my much-used permissions peremptorily removed (without even the common courtesy of notifying me, which added insult to injury).

Annnnyway, the current, apparently unstoppable decline of the editor-side of DMOZ has made my restricted permissions even less palatable, so I was ripe for an approach by BOTW to transfer my experience and enthusiasm to their directory. Specifically, they have asked for my assistance with mentoring their own volunteer editors, which was one of my greatest interests in DMOZ.
It is always wonderful to be appreciated, and that is something BOTW has consistently offered its editors, along with a blessed absence of hierarchy, bullying, self-interest, and the sorts of power games which have in recent years made DMOZ unpleasant for so many. I do not expect to be anywhere near as active in BOTW as I have been in the last 6 years in ODP/DMOZ, but I am sure the experience will be a lot more positive than is currently the case in DMOZ.

Postscript (added a week later)
In order to avoid accusations of speaking out of turn (or worse) by publishing the above comments, I made sure to send a similar announcement to the DMOZ Admins themselves. I received a reply which, while thankfully not condemnatory, completely missed the point about why I am shifting my attention and  efforts to BOTW instead of the ODP.
Let me make it very clear that this is absolutely not because I no longer care for DMOZ. I always will care passionately for that directory, its welfare, its growth and its volunteer editor community. I have never lost that dedication despite all the personal distress I have experienced there in the past couple of years. My partial departure now is entirely the result of the actions (and even more the inactions) of most of those who are allegedly in charge. 
If/when they manage to get the directory back on track, make some effort to fulfil the roles for which they were appointed, and without personal agendas and prejudice, I will be back like a shot ... if they'll let me, of course, after speaking out like this. 


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