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Much as any artefact exposed to the maw of a small child eventually becomes soggy and turns brown (after it stops working, if moving parts are involved), I am coming to the conclusion that any comment thread on this blog will, between 100 and 200 comments in, circle around to become a discussion of:

* Space colonization

* Automotive technology

* Things that go fast and explode (rockets, military aircraft)

* Alternative energy (from solar through wind/wave to nuclear)

* Libertarianism (and everything is worse with libertarians)

Am I doing something wrong with the moderation here? Answers on the back of a postcard, please.

NB: attempts to derail this comment thread into orbit around one of the above strange attractors will probably result in mockery, before I delete them. I'm serious. Bored, now: want a new commentariat. (If you want to discuss The Usual, you may continue as before in the comment thread under the previous blog entry, a serious essay about the future of genre fiction, which ended up circling the drain in well under 250 comments ...)

520 Comments

1:

I think this is inevitable with linear comment threads.

PEople who post new ideas get mixed up with people wanting to dicuss the original, people repsonding to them get mixed up too and so on, so eventually the pmost popular topics crowd everything out.

If you want to sort this I think you need threading like slashdot, or the now ancient and broken kuro5hin.

2:

They are the memetic attractors of the "future".
I mean, for the kind of world we want to see what are the critical elements? Top of my list is cheap energy.

3:

Feeling Brechtian, Charlie?

After the uprising of the 17th of June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

4:

You have a relatively small and dedicated band of followers (as well as occasional forays into huge numbers of readers).

For whatever reasons, so fairly obvious, some less so, your readers share clusters of those and comment drift will inevitably happen and settle around one of those buzz topics and then regain a huge burst of energy as the entrenched positions come out to play.

Unlike #1 I'm not believing it's a fault of linear threading. Unless you get a much bigger pool of readers and commenters (when it's just going to increase the number of strange attractors - although you missed the threading style one I note, sorry!) this sort of thing tends to happen in any group discussion, whether blog mediated or f2f or whatever.

I'm not sure there's a moderation style that will fix it though, sorry.

5:

I'm not sure there's a moderation style that will fix it though, sorry.

I suspect ruthlessly weeding out off-topic comments would work. Whether that would drive away commenters you'd miss, or whether it would be worth the effort, are separate questions. (I suspect the answers are 'maybe' and 'no', respectively.)

6:

Any one of those five subjects in a thread where you don't want them, wield the mallet of staying on-topic, explain why, and keep a list of repeat offenders.

Remember free radical chain reactions? Initiation steps and propagation steps. Since you're a widely read blogger, the initiation steps are going to happen all the time; it can't be helped. Upshot: you want to cut the propagation step off at its knees.

And you don't have to be a social media expert to see who some of the serial propagators are. But best to give them fair warning first.

7:

I suspect it depends how much effort you're willing to put in to moderation.

You could try setting a list of what's considered on topic for the comment thread at the end of each post and a standard boilerplate of "The following are NOT on topic". You could then aggressively moderate away anything that doesn't fit that list.

You could also just disable commenting if you don't feel you're getting much value out of it.

8:

Possibly posting (in the sidebar for example) clear rules about what is allowed / not allowed in comments and delegating moderation facilities to long-time commentators might help.

Currently it's not clear what is expected / allowed behavior, and what is inappropriate / irrelevant.

9:

You could also just disable commenting if you don't feel you're getting much value out of it.

I'm loath to do that, as a rule: this blog has become, to some extent, a community watering-hole and discussion site. And I think that's a valuable thing to protect (as long as the culture doesn't become poisonous).

I do disable comments if (a) I need to do so for administrative reasons (e.g. migrating to a new server, or under attack by spambots), or (b) I am really angry and making a controversial political statement and don't have the energy to engage with what I anticipate will be widespread disagreement (I try to limit those to no more than one a year).

But in general, I think the discussions here are valuable to people other than just me.

10:

Hmm. You seem to have two competing goals then: On the one hand you want to protect the community. On the other hand the community wants to repeatedly talk about things that are boring you.

How about this: Regular (e.g. monthly) open threads which + a list of topics that are only ok in the open threads and will otherwise be moderated into oblivion?

11:

I point to the threading model as I have seen useful and focused comments on posts where comments are shown as threads, splitting off at each sub level with toggled visibility.

Aside from the reasons mentioned above, Charlie has a huge moderation ability in silence which I'm not sure he's aware of. Responding to things moves discussion in that direction, in a threaded model it's easy to see which posts are getting attention, and which aren't, and it will tend to draw people in line.

With a linear set of comments they just appear in the middle of two people bouncing back and forward over some kind of space propulsion and the impact and of silence and attention is lost.

12:

I suspect that the "100-200 comments" territory is where people begin to comment without reading all the previous comments. So it isn't a "conversation" anymore and it could be logical that it falls back to familiar themes.

As for moderating options, if you don't want to close threads nor to implement a flag system, jut leave it as is. 100-200 comments is a lot already.

13:

For the first four topics, is some sort of board arrangement possible? Call it Strossland. People could go there and debate space car bang-bang fusion to their hearts' content. I think Warren Ellis has some sort of arrangement like that.

The fifth topic, libertarianism, is the dimethyl mercury of political discourse (and thank you for reminding me of that compound; I had nightmares about Karen Wetterhahn for weeks). There are other places where it can go, and it's not ever going to add anything to your blog.

14:

* Space colonization

* Automotive technology

* Things that go fast and explode (rockets, military aircraft)

* Alternative energy (from solar through wind/wave to nuclear)

* Libertarianism (and everything is worse with libertarians)

These are all areas of interest to someone interested in the future.

Space colonisation isn't likely an important part of the future... any more. It's probably the most used idea of the future anywhere.

Automotive technology - you've made a following here, but it's the current major means of transportation and doesn't look all that sustainable. Therefore it must change.

Things that go fast an explode are likely a key part of future strategy (military), as well of one of the areas of technology to receive real funding.

Alternative energy doesn't need justifying.

Libertarianism is the starry eyed ideology du jour. Of course I have an opinion on it.

15:

I want to add my voice to the threaded conversations idea.

In terms of internet communities that stay on topic, www.reddit.com/r/askscience is about the only one that I'm aware of, and they achieve that through threading and brutally strict moderation.

16:

Yeah I noticed. Was catching up to a few posts and the comment threads were kind of hard to tell apart.

Not, however, easy to mistake for another site's comments, I tabbed by mistake onto another comment thread on a different site, read half a paragraph and started to wonder "just who is this idiot" before I realised I wasn't on antipope.org anymore.

So... yeah we may go on about the same old stuff but at least there's a bit of quality. :)

I think the guest bloggers comment threads tended to go haring off into relatively newer territory, so maybe try more of that, I guess?

17:

Ta-Nehisi Coates at the Atlantic has a good commentariat because he ruthlessly wields the delete and ban-hammers. You must do the same, in real time.

18:

You're doing nothing wrong. Blogging is like throwing a party; you invite your friends, put out drinks and hors d'ourves, and if everyone has a good time, it counts as a win.

A host who blows up because Bill and Steve continue their life-long argument about which football team is best is generally accounted a putz; any group of people will have long-running meta-discussions. Meta-discussions are a good thing - they signal that the group has cohered nicely and will last a long time.

As host, if I don't like the discussion on libertarians in the kitchen, I say "Hi" and move to the dining room. Your blog is a roaring success despite those things you identify as faults (and nobody else worries about.) So relax; you've done an excellent job as host. If you want something more structured, start a think tank. :)

Note, BTW, that 99.9% of blog owners would kill to have your problems. All that being said, three suggestions:

1.) Make a new post when the old one goes stale, and thereafter ignore the old one.

2.) Threaded comments would probably be a good idea.

3.) Have you considered a forum?

19:

[Long waffle about moderation which I've since realised is probably off-topic.]

Maybe, if a community is forming here that wants to talk about those things, give them a place to do it? Some forums would give the budding community somewhere to go - whilst giving you somewhere to boot comments that are drifting away from where you want it to go.

Drifting slightly off topic myself; I'll admit the comment threads have got to the length where I scan them just for your comments and comments you reply to. Highlighting these would make the site significantly more useful to the tl;dr set.

20:

It's not your moderation policies that are the problem, Charlie, it's us. The conversations devolve to those topics because those are the topics we like to argue about. And since you're the focal point of this community it's at least in part your fault for having shown an interest in those topics in the past.

21:

The fifth topic, libertarianism, is the dimethyl mercury of political discourse

Thank you for that image! Yes, you're right: slips through shields while nobody's looking and causes a lingering, horrific death.

(Unfortunately, here in the UK, since 1980 libertarianism has succeeded on the right where trotskyism more or less failed on the left.)

22:

More to the point, what do *you* want from this blog?

23:

...whilst giving you somewhere to boot comments that are drifting away from where you want it to go.

That's a really intelligent observation. The nice thing is that Charlie can say, "That's a brilliant observation about Ayn Rand. I've moved it to the 'Libertarians Ranting Room' where it is now a top post" instead of wielding the hammer and giving someone a hard time.

24:

These are all areas of interest to someone interested in the future.

Why?

Why are they intrinsically more interesting than, say, the politics of gender/ethnic emancipation? Or the design of better kitchen appliances? Items which directly affect a near- or outright majority of the population every day?

Your focus on these fetish items -- indeed, the focus exhibited by many commenters here -- seems to me to betray a certain narrowness and lack of depth to their interest in the future.

25:

I'm not interested in throwing out my entire blogging system and reimplementing from scratch, just to experiment with a commenting model that I think is actually toxic to community discussions. Hint: I prefer it unthreaded (but with back references to indicate replies, as we have here.)

26:

Oh dear lord. If one were interested in the finest haûte cuisine, would one visit Lutèce if it held a perennial hot-dog-eating and slurpee-drinking contest in the peanut gallery, with periodic Cat-Piss-Men visits to the Grand Salon seeking Hot Pockets?

"Oh, monsieur, the oysters are off!"
"Oh, non, non! C'est Jordan Bassior; allow me to escort him back to the sty."

Banhammer. There is an aristocracy of comment which is a true meritocracy, and the iron hand of an editor is absolutely necessary to bring it into being.

27:

Haven't been commenting here much lately. Whether one is causing the other, I can't say.

Anyway, how about a script that counts 100 comments then starts scanning for the offending keywords, and if it finds them used X times auto-shuts down the thread, pointing commenters to the next post (or possibly an open post which does allow mention of these).

28:

IYAH! IYAH! UTTER NOT THAT NAME --

29:

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they are of interest to the pre-1980s future.

30:

More women who comment would improve matters!

Love, C.

31:

I'm going to add a few cents here.

1) Post the rules. Keep them where they are easily seen. Maybe have a Rule 0 of bore me and be deleted...

2) Adding to the moderator pool seems a good idea.

3) Be prepared to cap and close the posts after 200 posts. After all, boring is not fun.

4) The old Warren Ellis Forums were fun. But they required a crew of moderators (the filthy assistants) and Ellis did call it retard farming at one point - I doubt the internet has changed that much since it was closed. I'm leaning towards, no on the forums. IIRC you and he are occasionally in touch - you might ask him about his experiences.

5) Deletion may not be the best tool. Perhaps disemvowelment is in order?

32:

The future of agriculture, forests and water, climate change, as well as education and families seem to me far more important.

But then, I'm female and you know what that means.

I'm also probably one of the few who comes here who has any hands-on experience with farming, and that too makes a difference in how I view things.

33:

I've stopped reading comments on youtube and news sites. The muck I have to wade through is not worth the few gems that actually have interesting things to say. The inevitable " This is why America sucks" comment.... it's just a video of a puppy; or, the man murders wife story which gets a " Obama is a Muslim" comment. Sometimes I would pray for a EMP to force me off; cause that power switch on the corner on my laptop certainly wouldn't help..... I'd know.... I'd just know that they were still out there jabbering away. :-)

Your fans are also a community of similar minded individuals. They love the interaction with each other. I think you brought them here, but most stay because of the arguments that they can get into on subjects that people they interact with might not even care about.

You could divide the comments into sections. Answers to questions you proposed and the sections devoted to ongoing conversations on the recurring topics. " Sorry, your comment has been moved to the Space Colonization section." Lot more work I imagine though. So that's probably not going to happen.

34:

Well, having the dubious honor of being kicked off the two most prominent Transhumanist mailing lists pre-zero state (eXi and WTA) for "breaking the unwritten rules" and making politically unacceptable arguments I would hate to see this blog go that way.

35:

One more - I do like the idea of having a script start counting and then start scanning for key words. At that point, it either auto disemovels or holds it for review/deletion.

Just noodling.

36:

Earlier comments referred to Warren Ellis's forum hosting style. As a member of his Whitechapel forum from the start, I can draw attention to the main techniques that worked well there:

1. Members have to register to comment. If they are repeatedly offensive and/or off-topic (mostly the former) they have posting rights suspended for a month, with a little sign next to their profile (which appears on all their prior posts) reading "I'm having a time-out while I learn some manners."

2. Repeated threats from Ellis that malfeasance will be punished by the application of Arse Eels.

I understand both would be a pain in the tuchis (as it were), but Whitechapel has managed to last several years with upwards of 5000 members.

(In case Charlie or anyone else wants to apply this, it runs on the Vanilla forum platform.)

37:

The politics of emancipation - gender, race, sexuality and any others that that turn out to be needed are interesting, and valuable. Kitchen machines only have that significance as a group, and all of the major tasks have already been domesticated.

38:

Yes, well, you're absolutely right -- but if you can figure out how to motivate more women to comment here, I'd be very grateful!

As it is, I can wield the ban-hammer on any displays of overt misogyny, to make it a relatively safe space. But beyond that, I can't easily go forth and magically recruit and motivate new and talkative commenters. I don't even know what the gender breakdown of my readership is, and how it compares with readers of the blog, let alone how it maps onto commenters. Any suggestions?

39:

Wouldn't it be more a function of your fanbase, rather than your moderation here?

At least you've been able to keep us away from OTHER popular strange attractors.

One I noticed the other day was Tesla. Any pop science fiction or conspiracy series or publication eventually winds up talking about Nikola Tesla.

(Not that there's anything wrong with that, every now and then. But it can easily be overdone.)

40:

All of the major domestic tasks have already been automated.

41:

you can just point to this here onwards when it happens, and we'll get the idea quicker. no need for further action in my opinion.
in fact most of your options in this(including what's being suggested here so far) are hurtful for a healthy discussion.

42:

I think this shows you're doing the moderation RIGHT! Everywhere else, comments end up including Nazis or penises... or Nazi penises.

43:

Can you tweak the code to allow collapsed/expanded.view for each comment?. Default would be expanded, but as mod you could set the default to collapsed for an off topic comm ent and ghave that inherit to any replies . Having one's comment collapsed would have negative connotations, people would learn through operant conditioning.

(text munged by android sorry )

44:

can there be a Lockheed SR-71 fan thread, where the initiated can mutter words like "triethylborane", "Ichi-ban", "Tagboard" and "Aurora project" and not get called weirdos?

45:

I don't know where the impetus to discuss 2-4 is coming from. However, your opinions on Libertarians and Space Colonization are so strong you can't resist jumping into discussions on either subject. Step one is probably for you to ignore any comments on Libertarians or Space Colonization.

46:

+1 for open threads. Works for Ta-Nehisi Coates, even works for Pharyngula. Close them off right around 200 posts and open a new one. This will push your posting rate up fairly significantly, I imagine, which I think will also help.

Now that I think about it, closing off all posts around 200 comments might be worthwhile. If you really want to hear more on a topic, put up a "Topic, Continued" post that clarifies what you'd like continued discussion to focus on.

Finally, I'd take some steps to make your posts (or moderator posts, if you enlist help) stand out- a different background color, ideally. Scalzi does this on Whatever and it makes it a lot easier to follow his "OK, people, DON'T DO THIS anymore!" statements when you're skimming through a string of hundreds of posts.

47:

Hmmmm ...

I have a theory! (Yes, I've been re-watching my BtVS DVDs.)

And, as usual for me, it's not a complete theory, and as usual for me, my expression of it will showcase a symptom of what I'm talking about.

Some people come into a conversation with fully formed opinions about the topic, and so they can go on and on with absolutely no feedback.

Some of us actually sometimes get struck with a new (to us) notion. I know, hard to believe, even though we're not professional authors.

SO let's say this notion has happened as a result of something we've read in a post, and that post has a comments thread. Say we get up the nerve to post it, even though it's just a notion.

AT WORST, there's a flurry of "That's what Google's for. Go away and look it up." (That doesn't happen here.)

But even with a total lack of malice on the part of other commenters, the ones who are sporting their already-made-up minds drown out the rest of us with the sheer quantity of their typing.

So I would say, if non-boilerplate discussions are the goal, a perfect moderator (and/or her deputies) would seek out and actively RESPOND to the more tentative and less doctrinaire comments, to draw them out and change the mix.

Otherwise, the only way we might feel like we're participants at all is to make puns around the periphery, just to show we're paying attention and are trying to respond to the mood of the room.

Yeah, this counts as moping. And I know that The internet is a disappointment engine. But dammit, I didn't get anywhere near your listed five topics.

48:

It could be worse, every comment thread could degenerate into endless theological debates been the followers of Raptor Jesus and the Flying Spaghetti Monster faithful.

Or would that actually be better than the Libertarians?

49:

Sometimes I really, really miss Usenet. (Yes, I know it's still there; it just hasn't been a useful venue for discourse for a long time.)

50:

You might consider having occasional open topic threads as on PZ Myers' Pharyngula blog. People who just can't leave those topics alone could be told to take further discussion to the latest of those threads.

51:

well, I assume that you assume that I am female,
I don't have much to say on threads that tend towards = about shiny machines
i would probably have something to say about the previous thread if I hadn't be put off by the comments about shiny machines *rueful smile* and had taken time to think thinky thoughts

apart from general cheering from the side lines I some time post my two penny worth on anthropology/archaeology, the evolution of technology and being a londoner. I don't always feel my comment is appreciated* [I don't expect it to be] and I don't like being shouted at by Greg. Personally I'm not terrible interested in shiny machines in and of themselves, just what they _do_ to people.

*i'll also stick my hand up to being vague and ill edited on occasions, see bellow

we had a long discussion here about threading the comments and decided ( or charlie did) that we like it how it is thank you. I don't thinking changing the comment thread will disappear the problem of rehashing old conversations.

I think one problem of comment threads in general is in the quickness of response. On one hand its the quick back and forth of conversation. On the other it's text that is left behind as evidence. In practice how much of a comment is a knee jerk response to the subject rather than a considered answer to the subtlety of OGH's essay, which would have been edited before posting?

I'm happy for Charlie and his minions to wield the mallet of Off-topic if that's what he sees is appropriate.

and to close: +1 for 'Glasshouse' it's my favourite

52:

I apologize already for the whiny tone of that post. When I set out to write something, it sometimes gets away from me.

53:

I don't know the cause, but a solution might be to throw up an open thread every other week or so, to siphon the off-topic comments out of the way. Then you can add a little note to the open threads about them being the place to discuss space colonization, jets, the singularity and other toys. I think pretty quickly, the community will catch on and start self-policing.

54:

It's hard to resist posting a comment about the need for fast explosive things for libertarian space colonization to this posting, but I'll try to do that, i.e. resist.

On topic: Ignore everything posted after comment #150 and say so?

55:

One reason I don't spend much time in your comments... they tend to devolve into discussion between the same 10-20 people to such a degree that I have to wade through all that to see new comments. Since you won't thread them and don't quash those, they are 1) hard to skip past and 2) keep popping up like weeds.

As someone above said, you seem to have competing goals - to foster the community that's arisen and to not have it talk about the things that interest that community. The only way you're going to effect a change in the topics is to, well, change something. Ideally, that would be by broadening the number of people who participate so it's not the same crew talking about the same stuff, but frankly, unless you give us some tools to ignore the old guys muttering in the corner about space flight and libertarianism we'll just skip this pub and go to another.

56:

Hurray! More of the Cat Valente (especially) and Karl Schroeder stuff, please!

I occasionally write comments, but most of the time I end up not submitting them. I read the comments that have been posted since I started writing, and think, what's the point? (I would add a sixth bullet point: talking past each other.)

(Based on your statement in the post, Charlie, I'm surprised that comment #2 has not been ruthlessly and comprehensively mocked. "Top of my list is cheap energy". This is exactly what you are talking about.)

For a blog model, you could do worse than John Quiggin's. He has a weekly open thread, a weekly space for long comments, and one or two "sandpits" per week - the latter being for extended discussions among a few commenters on idees fixes or hobby horses. He weeds comments on his single-topic posts quite firmly.

57:

carlos @ 13
& others
"Libertarianism"
Is one of those labels with many meanings.
In a USSA context it usually means a rabiod crypto-fascist who won't admit it.
But ... if it looks like either your guvmint or somoene else is going to impose some idiot ultra-survellance ID system on you, as is rumoured of the EU ... then maybe, just maybe, it's not such a bad idea.
See HERE for what I mean.
It can get difficult.

Tim Whitworth @ 14
You missed the other fashionable "religion" the uber-Greens.
Who are really dangerous luddites, actually (Waits for fight to start)

Which brings me to al_zorra @ 32
I too do small-scale agriculture, and am interested in survival, as in a continuing food supply.
Good points.


58:

@Tim #37 and 40.

Five billion people, Hans Rosling tells us, have never had their clothes washed in a washing machine, and the women who wash them spend upwards of ten hours a week on laundry - often around twenty. One of the most important near-term likely applications of nanotechnology is self-cleaning (or dirt-shedding) textiles.

Discuss the economic, social, and political significance of wide dissemination of this technology.

-- Actually, don't do that on this post. But one day soon, I hope.

59:

I think you've sequenced the memetic genome (memome?) of your blog's readers. The interests are mainly at the Venn overlap of nerds (space travel, science) and guys (explosions, cars, independence, avoiding discussions of gender politics).

I think part of it is how you use the blog. You tend to fish for plausible ideas for your science fiction here, which invites random nerds worldwide (like me) to weigh in on our favorite futurish subjects. If you posted more about, say, Lovecraft or spies or robots (to name three things you write about but rarely blog about), you might get different responses.

60:

"Your focus on these fetish items -- indeed, the focus exhibited by many commenters here -- seems to me to betray a certain narrowness and lack of depth to their interest in the future."
Yes, I certainly agree with you on this. The probleme with SFF is that the people who read it are very different : young males lookingfor rockets and adventure (and tits) ; readers (m & f) that seek romance (and, NO, it is not a bad word!) and interesting thoughts on the world we're living in or the one we'll discover (what you call big ideas, althought I'm not sure SFF had ever had big ideas at all)and finally real fans of the "what if" wonder, waiting for the Wouuuuff ! in their brain.
But Mostly everyone of us is still a part of these 3 readerships. We want romance and ideas with rockets (and tits) and don't want thekid in ourself to desappear...
Yopu don't have kids, do you ? Kids are talking every single minte of the day (sometimes even while sleeping, and I've learned not to wke every single time my kids shout at night, most of the time they don't shout for me...) and the kids who read books ... they are ... euh ... exhausting, always wanting to show the big ones that they are very intersting indeed and know things and have their own ideas. Does it remind you someone ? Yeah : US. The grown up kids who comment on your blog ... and who want YOU, the big one to notice we are here.
I don't think there is anything you can do there... unless... ok maybe it's a bad idea, but .. let's try it :
I've noticed you seamed worried about the future of SFF (and your own future as well which depends on the first), plus you seam tired of blogging, plus a lot of us expect you to write something non-fiction about trends (or wathever you want) plus you have readers all around the world so , here is my idea :! why don't you go on a vacancy, travel the world, see other things, other people, learn things you don't already know ? Why don't you ask us to receive you as a host for (say) 1 or 2 weeks, couch-surfing? Most of us would be honored to welcome you, show you how we live, what we feel, discuss with you about what you want, answer your questions. You could travel the world for nearly free 4 or 6 months ... and write a book about your travel.
Comme and see the kids ! You are welcome home !

61:

I have no idea. You're looking at a melee and trying to see a parade. There's absolutely nowhere that comments actually work the way the blog host intends. Maybe Boing Boing, but I doubt there's anyone available with Antinous' patience to mod for you.

62:

I think a forum would help as the usual topics could be discussed in the forum and you could moderate the blog post comments more aggressively to keep them on topic.
I don't really see why you would have to scrap you blog system, they do not have to be liked that closely. The biggest issues would be forum moderation. You would need moderators and a number of them. That and probably more hardware.

63:

I think a forum would help as the usual topics could be discussed in the forum and you could moderate the blog post comments more aggressively to keep them on topic.
I don't really see why you would have to scrap you blog system, they do not have to be liked that closely. The biggest issues would be forum moderation. You would need moderators and a number of them. That and probably more hardware.

64:

I'd be happy to help with forum moderation (Though my hours are somewhat irregular.)

65:

Given that he's kept this custom software going for so long, I wonder if OGH would feel at ease with the transition from being its engineer to being a customer of other people's software.

(That's presumptuous of me, I know. It's just that describing the change in those terms has helped other people I've talked with who were confronted with similar decisions.)

66:

I think your biggest problem is people not reading the preceding comments: when it gets to 100+ comments that's a big job, so people EITHER won't contribute unless they feel strongly on the topic, OR they'll just wade in with the usual BS in response to the last few comments. I'm (I hope) in the first group, and for a variety of reasons I don't generally feel able to sit down with the first 200 comments most of the time. Which is why I've commented here hardly at all for the last year or so...

What do you do about this? I have no idea. Other than invoke a level of moderation and comment-smiting that you're probably not really keen on, as others have said. Could you successfully translocate the arse-eels to this blog ecosystem?

67:

Perhaps you need some to apply some artificial intelligence to the moderation of comments. Nothing so crude as a list of stop words, but perhaps a sentiment analysis and keyword scoring ensemble that you train to recognize comments that are beginning to spiral into a known sinkhole. Combine it with persistent reputations and collective tagging of comments (for training purposes) and you should be able to identify the hobby horse cavalry and figure out a constructive way to divert them.

The issue with any such system is that it will (if successful) be subject to attacks by people who want to push their memes on your now more valuable readership.

68:

Internet Man reads clumsy roadblock as a network fault and easily routes around it.
If the moderation isn't at least as intelligent and concentrated as the commenting the commenting wins every time due to sheer volume and persistence.

69:

If we imagine a space of things people are interested in, people form various clusters. There is cluster around spaceships and libertarianism and so on, "hard science fiction", a part of the lumpy thing called science fiction and fantasy. Charlie is a point somewhat removed from this local cluster, and the blog is neighborhood of people with similar interests. Within the neighborhood there is a density gradient increasing toward the local cluster, and the paths of conversation people know tend to lead toward the center of the cluster, and therefore there is an ECCENTRIC NUCLEUS of discussion.

But consider the dual. If this were not a neighborhood but a meetingplace on the SUBCULTURE BOUNDARY, the opposite would hold, it would be the eccentric nucleus for people further out in the weird. I guess this means that instead of being the eccentric nucleus of a single neighbourhood, what is needed is connections to a set of distinct IDENTIFIABLE NEIGHBORHOODs.

70:

One possibility: posting periodic open threads (as at Making Light Ta-Nehisi Coates's blog, etc., under various names) as a place explicitly reserved discussion of The Usual Stuff, so there's a place for that without derailing more topical threads.

(Which, among other things, gives moderators a more gentle tactic for keeping discussion focused than the ban-hammer. "Very fine insight --- but take it over there, please...")

71:

First up, Charlie, do you have any other strange attractors you'd prefer?

I have to admit, I look at the list of strange attractors, and I immediately think of late-Heinlein space opera. It may be that "Saturn's Children" attracted a core of people who were interested in those sorts of thing to your discussion space, and they're hanging around and talking about them here because they haven't been booted for boring the britches off everyone in range for it. It would probably require a certain amount of jiggery-pokery (or at least a certain amount of chasing through commentariat posts) in order to identify whether this is the case, and to possibly identify whether it's the same small group of people who are prompting or prodding the threads to drift in a particular direction, and I strongly suspect you have much better things to do with your time than chasing through the back archives of blog comments.

About the only thing I can think of which seems fairly simple (from the outside, anyway) and which might make a difference is altering the visual width of the comment section. It strikes me as being very visually narrow, and that limits how many comments can be seen on the single page, which in turn limits the number of topics which can be visible at once (and can thus act as a sort of "aide memoire" to the short term memory of about eight items give or take). Maybe widening the comment column by an inch or so might alter the zeitgeist.

I'll be honest - I tend to read comments on just about everything with a Notepad window open these days, and I'll compose my replies in that. But any comment thread in any online space, unless it's very carefully curated indeed, will start to morph about two or three "pages" in (where a "page" is determined by pressing the "page down" button on the keyboard). If I'm in the unfortunate position of coming into a thread late, I'll generally read all the way through it, and realise that my carefully thought out and cogent (well, to me, anyway) points that I wrote up at the beginning of the thread will be completely and utterly out-of-place down at the tail end of the whole discussion when the whole thing is doing the equivalent of turning into a bread thread and poetry slam. So I won't post anything.

(Oh, and for the sake of the record, I'm female).

73:

I will say, as a white guy, that I just don't have anything helpful to say about gender/ethnic emancipation. I'm broadly in favor of it as long as it doesn't negatively impact me, but the real work, pretty much by definition, can't be done by white guys.

74:

I agree with those that are saying a forum would be a better venue for most commentators. Blog comments are good for feedback for a particular piece, but don't work as well for conversations. As time goes on, the original post falls off the page, so discussions have a time limit. This puts pressure on people to try to get in on the conversation as soon as they can, rather than wait until they have something to say. People have to wait for your posts, and so they'll often bring up other issues that aren't on topic, because they feel that they don't have other outlets to talk about it.

This is something I've noticed on a lot of blogs. Blogs just aren't a good venue for facilitating discussions. Forums are, but they don't tend to be very popular, even with those that want these types of discussions.

75:

One reason I don't spend much time in your comments... they tend to devolve into discussion between the same 10-20 people to such a degree that I have to wade through all that to see new comments.

I've noticed this, too — a dozen people who are both prolific posters and pretty predictable. I confess I sometimes wish certain people would stop repeating themselves and let some of the quieter folks get a word in edgewise.

Maybe a solution might involve limiting either the frequency or number of comments people can make.

Or possibly just handing out yellow cards to folks who repeatedly drag the conversation off-topic.

76:

Feel free to mallet this comment or ban me, Charlie.

From the previous essay: "So what's at the root of this problem? Why are the innovative and rigorously extrapolated visions of the future so thin on the ground and so comprehensively ignored?"

When we try to get into a rigorous discussion of the future, it tends to revolve around some of SFF's favorite tropes:

* Space colonization

* Automotive technology

* Things that go fast and explode (rockets, military aircraft)

* Alternative energy (from solar through wind/wave to nuclear)

* Libertarianism (and everything is worse with libertarians)

Personally, I'm just as happy without the libertarianism, I'd be just as happy if we could get the "oh it has to happen on another planet to be SF" crowd to deal with a future on this planet. Given most SFF fans' joy in dealing with alien worlds (and yes, that includes me), I don't think that's going to happen any time soon.

I'd point out that even you attempted to derail a discussion about whether computer technology could survive a societal crash to local resources by saying they'd only be useful for targeting artillery, although being so rude will undoubtedly get me a well-deserved yellow card. I'll admit that I thoroughly enjoyed playing with the idea of post crash future with computers, even simple ones. Beats the heck out of Road Warrior or any other book with The Road in its title. Still, I understand.

What to do? I don't know. I'd love to see science fiction re-engage with more probable futures too, rather than just being about Rockets to Planet Escapism, but that inevitably seems to involve the silly discussions around over-done topics like what the world might look like in 100 years. All I can say is sorry, I'm fresh out of ideas about what to discuss.

77:

Y'know ...

Regarding usenet (I remember USENET and downshift the whole thing as a concession to not shouting, as well as a part of my overall lower-case branding) OGH could simply set up a server and offer his own custom newsgroups.

Then we could use our favorite client software and adjust the display of things to our own twisted desires.

78:

Maybe Charlie needs to post, at length, about the issues he does want to discuss? Or maybe he can find readers with interesting ideas and let them be guest-bloggers.

79:

Warning, long.

I buy and enjoy your books Charlie, and I occasionally enjoy reading your blog. I'm not altogether sure that reading your blog induces me to buy any more of your fine product than I otherwise would, however.

The comments here however are just plain tedious and are often dominated and/or hijacked by folks who appear to me to want to wave their intellectual cocks at the other commenters, and not coincidentally impress you with their erudition in the process. I am here to read your thoughts, not theirs.

Ahem. It also does appear that almost every blog post closes with an INVITATION to those very commenters to do that very thing. A recent sampling:

-snip-

So let me pose for you a different question, which has been exercising me for some time: If SF's core message (to the extent that it ever had one) is obsolete, what do we do next?
--
What everyday items in 30 years time will we not be paying enough attention to? Or continuing to use despite their obsolescence, for purposes radically at odds with their original role?
--
Today, there's far more stuff out there: but without the clear signifiers, the tags saying "queue here to join the ongoing conversation", it may become increasingly hard for new readers to recognize what's going on and join in.
What is to be done?

-snip-

If this blog was mine I would:

1. Decide what I want the blog to achieve. Sales? Injection of plot ideas? Witty repartee with like-minded nerds? Whatever.

2. Migrate the blog to a recognised platform. You build and maintain a nice buggy whip here, fuck knows why but I can only assume it's your hobby. Your energies are better spent as an author than as a programmer/IT wallah. But by all means, have another IT hobby of some kind.

3. Thread comments, so that if one DOES want to follow a train of argument, one can.

4. Moderate all comments before posting.

5. Require commenters to register.

6. Close comments at 100 or 150 or whatever.

7. Run a separate discussion board - maybe that can be your IT hobby.

FWIW.

80:

He could, but it would be a lot of palaver. Besides, there are forums available that allow for threading, which seems to be what people on this comment thread are pining for. I do miss using my own client software though.

(Threading does increase usability, but doesn't increase the quality of the discourse. Just look at Reddit if you want to see a threaded cesspit. I don't think it's the answer we're looking for - I was just overcome with a wave of nostalgia, that's all.)

81:

IMHO The reason for threading is not so "people can follow threads" but so "people can skip threads."

A thread which starts, "The proper Libertarian view of Space Colonization..." can probably be ignored in it's entirety.

82:

"Migrate the blog to a recognised platform."

TO be fair, this is run on Moveable Type. It's not Charlie's roll-your-own.

83:

Reddit is actually a good example of how threading reduces the tragedy of the commons. If you don't want to read the 50 comments from teenagers competing with dirty puns, flick your finger and scroll to the next thread started by a former public prosecutor.

The solution to crap filtering is not manual curation, it is automated chunking of data into ignorable blocks.

I usually ignore the comments in this place because of the lack of threading. It *hurts* to try to follow conversations, like trying to read source code that has had the indentation removed.

84:

Charlie, I suggest doing as John Scalzi does when he's concerned about the same kind of thing: make the first comment a reminder of the topics not welcome in this thread, and then go ahead and delete ruthlessly.

85:
I guess this means that instead of being the eccentric nucleus of a single neighbourhood, what is needed is connections to a set of distinct IDENTIFIABLE NEIGHBORHOODs.
I was going to say "group blog", but maybe something like multiple author-blogs under one brand/umbrella could work? If you want to talk about X, go to A's place, that sort of thing. Don't know how compatible that is with the idea of running your own thing though.

And definitely open threads. Start a new one when the previous one gets too many comments, and throw some red meat to commenters if needed. (SpaceX! Asteroid mining!)

I don't really believe in having a threaded display, it would just be too hard following what is going on after a few days and a couple of hundred of comments. On the other hand, all the metadata is already there (as long as people use the "Reply" link) so it could in principle be done clientside by a user script...

86:

Charlie -- I've thought about it too, wondering why more women don't participate here, since there's no dearth of them on your lj for instance.

And there are women we both know who are in the field in one way and another, and who are in the sciences and technologies.

Sometimes I've thought the reasons are the same as those subjects you listed that your topics default back into, which then provoke more and more rapid-fire response from the same people who default into those subjects. AGAIN. Then attempts to track through those comments is a huge undertaking to get somewhere where perhaps one can make contribution that isn't to those subjects. And by then it's too late.

This isn't to say people who like discussing those subject are wrong or bad -- and by golly it's YOUR blog and you get to decide, not me.

But its discouraging for anyone who would like to see some innovative thinking on future agriculture in the era of climate change, growing populations (but we are told that the world's birth rate is falling, even though it's hard for somebody like me to see that when every year the global population numbers are higher than they were the last count) and shrinking arable land.

I mean, these days much of our arable land in the U.S. is given over to biofuel crops that are monocultures. They need the biofuel to fuel the gigantic machines that make the monoculture of biofuel crops possible. And now the designs of unmanned drones are for biofuel bladders to power them, and they're working hard supposedly to developed jet biofuels. In the meantime the price of popcorn has doubled and tripled in the last four years -- because, as in the days of tobacco booms and busts, every square inch of land was planted in tobacco, the cash crop, not food crops. People starved. Food was imported, even for the slaves, at inflated prices. And only a few made Big Money, and they were the Big Planters, and they only made it in the occasional boom years.

This isn't sustainable in any of the areas this touches. Biofuel grains and cereals aren't fit for human OR animal food; they are also more and more the one pop Monsanto genetically modified to produce non-fertile seed; the fuel is used to spy or kill human beings, or to transport what isn't really productive and sustainable products either. This is what we're doing to the foundation of our food supply. I haven't even mentioned what this in particular and our other practices are doing to the water supply.

Please tell me the future of this ....

Ah well, thank you for allowing my fears to show. :)

Love, C.

87:

These are all areas of interest to someone interested in the future.

Why?

Why are they intrinsically more interesting than, say, the politics of gender/ethnic emancipation? Or the design of better kitchen appliances? Items which directly affect a near- or outright majority of the population every day?

Your focus on these fetish items -- indeed, the focus exhibited by many commenters here -- seems to me to betray a certain narrowness and lack of depth to their interest in the future.

I'll go out on a limb and say the listed items are more "fun" and "safe"... the old standard of "Try to avoid conversations about Politics and Religion" since there always tend to be those that go somewhere between frothy and bat-shit loony if they feel compelled to preach because someone doesn't agree with them.

The social items, like the listed gender/ethnic emancipation, are more... icky... like slavery was here in the States during the American Revolution. There were some that knew it was wrong, agreed it was wrong, but weren't really sure how to go about excising it from normal practice so they kept putting it off (politically) until the proverbial crap hit the fan in the 1860s.

I think part of why conversations gravitate back towards the "safe" items is because there is a disconnect between knowing that the social issues should be addressed but either: a) don't know how to implement change fairly, in a manner that will keep anyone opposed from going all frothy or b) don't wan't to take your site down the troll-laden path, should folks randomly pop up and decide to get frothy (much like happened with Scalzi's recent "Lowest Difficulty Setting" post...)

88:

This seems a species of the general problem that the average political action (statement in public; vote; nomination for candidacy; article) is not by the average person. Right-libertarians, for example, seem to have a space in the Anglo internet far greater than their position in general life outside the US, probably because of their demographics. That said, I don't think it surprising that an essay on whether the assumtions of Anglo SF from 1940 to 1980 are obsolete should lead to discussions about those assumtions ... and classic SF did focus on travel and energy technology and contain certain political currents which those who want rule by money or engineers find agreeable today.

I find that comment trees are hard to follow and waste bandwidth.

89:

Other blogs I like deal with the problem by having permanent threads for these type of popular offtopic discussions. So you could have 5 threads linked prominantly that dealt with each of these issues and have some code to create a fresh one every time a certain number of days or comments was reached. They'd also provide a quick place to go for those of us who like to read conversations on these topics.

90:

You're one of the lucky ones. You know about the scientific method. Do it.

Experiment. Take notes.

91:

... as well as the apostrophe flames.

92:

I stand before you a prime offender...

Taking immediately prior big ideas post as an example...

I think there are sets of easy things in SF and futurism upon which agreement is easy or agreeing to disagree is easy, and there is little interest in extended tedious debate.

Then there are middle things, upon which many have strong opinions but agreement is hard, often even on debate parameters. Your five are a useful subset of these. Debate is hard here but energetic.

Then there are really hard things, like the root of the question you asked. I think in general, comment threads are ill equipped as a medium for addressing these things. Many people have a hard time getting them at all; many who do can't address them concisely. The odds of being sidetracked into middle debates are high.

An elitist approach, for really tough things, could be to define a two-level system. One must do an independent "position paper" (blog post, web page, whatever- but significant independent original thinking) on-topic to participate in the top level round-table, and then mods can topicality warn, trim, ban at the lower level if required.

A populist approach would be more Scalziesque, just mods warning, redacting, if necessary threadbanning those going seriously off track.

Both take more mod effort...

93:

If you're polling by number, I support suggestions given for more active application of banhammer or OT stamps and the addition of more moderators.

I do think that the age and gender skew of folks who read hard sf and tend to have time to comment on blog posts isn't helping you.

My list of times I was like "oh hai, I'm the only woman again" (although it took practice to start noticing it it), include picking up flowers at the florist on Valentine's day, playing at a Warhammer tournament, taking a welding class, and standing in the Vernor Vinge autograph line.

You're doing different stuff, but I suspect you share fanbases.

Which is a tragedy because as a woman, and I often don't want to identify that way, I really appreciate how you write genuinely strong female characters as if it weren't a big deal that they were. And even explore the psychology of complex and headf*cked female characters like Freya, who fascinated me (yeah, I know she's annoying, but that was weirdly part of her fascination) in an interesting way.

I kinda like the threaded comment idea too, even as I see a few reasons why it is suboptimal.


94:

Time zone differential may be one reason for the ease with which we fall into a few common attractors. A large number of the usual suspects are in the UK or nearby, but there's a significant group here in the US, 5 to 8 time zones away. For about one thread in 3 or 4 that keeps me from commenting during the active period of a thread, because there's often nearly 100 comments by the time I see it, sometimes a lot more. I'm in UT-8, which means that there are a lot of people in the US, especially on the East Coast, who see less differential, and so get to comment earlier on many threads. It seems to me that there is a distinct difference in the interests (and certainly in the politics) of the people in the UK versus those in the US, and that may have something to do with the attractors and the time it takes to get to them.

My feeling about topics is that I'm interested in a lot of things, and I'm always willing to learn something from someone who's an expert in a field I'm not. I don't see a need for Charlie to post a list of topics he's interested in; we know what they are: they're the topics of the posts he puts up. So if we're sincere about wanting to discuss the things Charlie wants to discuss, all we have to do is stay reasonably close to topic.

The thing that's been irritating to me about the way the comment threads have been falling into the same pits all the time is that most of the discussions end up being the same; everybody says the same things, and none of us learn anything new. On the other hand, one of the really exciting things about this blog is that every once in awhile Charlie asks a question or calls for a debate about some topic that interests him or might affect his writing, and the resulting discussion brings up some interesting and maybe even new ideas. I would hate to lose that because we collectively aren't able to venture out beyond a few safe topics.

95:

My instinctive first idea was same as in #90.
The drawback I see in this are that you might not want to host a general SF/futurist discussion forum, which may add to your moderation effort. If you should decide to do some kind of "sticky threads" for popular topics, you might want to outsource moderation (and maybe some faq building) to trusted regulars. Maybe you could even enlist some of the frequent derailers for this?

96:

I would like to second the wish that we could have more women posting comments here. It would make for a broader range of outlook and experience, and might keep us from getting into these stale discussions. Failing that, I'd like a few more people, male or female, who are interested in areas outside the physical sciences: biology, medicine, psychology, sociology, systems science, art, music, whatever.

97:

Charles,

If I may call you Charles ? I think it is time to embrace the reality that your comment threads exist as a reflection of your fans and supporters and they in turn exist as a reflection of your enthusiasm and work. Possibly they only way for your to change the commentariat is to embrace a new genre. I recommend a pitching 'The Only Way Is Aberdeen' to endemol. A reality TV show about the lives and wives of Oil workers on the east coast of Scotland. Then you need to break out that long awaited teen/milf romance novel detailing heartbreak and love life of 17year old girls who fall in love with supernatural predators of some sort. Something which you can imagine Warren Ellis secretly enjoying on his executive Atlantic jet rides. This I feel is the best opportunity to change the nature of your comments.

98:

"Failing that, I'd like a few more people, male or female, who are interested in areas outside the physical sciences: biology, medicine, psychology, sociology, systems science, art, music, whatever."

I've lurked around here for some time now, but I'm usually not brave enough to comment. I've seen too many people get slapped down for daring to not be an engineer of some sort or another, and as has already been pointed out those technical viewpoints tend to be quite privileged around here. My background is primarily in international relations, and I recall very vividly some of the comments that have been made about "people with no appreicable skills whatsoever" in relation to those with interests or qualifications in the social sciences. While I'm interested in the topics OGH writes about, and many of the commenters often also seem to have something interesting to say, it can be a rather exclusionary environment. There's a small but vocal minority who make it very intimidating for new arrivals.

99:

Communication works best if
a) you know something about what you're talking about
b) the others know something about what you're talking about

The more certain topics are being discussed, the more you can be sure that other people will know about them. Then you'll know that you will probably be able to end up having a discussion about those topics.

If you want to expand this set of topics, you might try to deliberately introduce them on a regular basis in order to get some discussion of them in the first place. That way people will become more comfortable discussing other topics, because they know they'll have an audience. (In space colonisation, energy or cars we all know we do.)

100:

Checkhov's Gunman writes in part:


My background is primarily in international relations, and I recall very vividly some of the comments that have been made about "people with no appreicable skills whatsoever" in relation to those with interests or qualifications in the social sciences.

I hope that I was not one of those people. I've been diving into gepolitics and nonproliferation from an originally engineering backgroung and found reasonable openmindedness.

On the more specific question, some of Charlie's wider fanbase are clearly non-engineers (Krugman, various other luminaries who are variously outed here and there ..). Question is, are gearheads more vocal, more prone to go off track, more prevalent on the average, more selfcentered, what?

Charlie is a gearhead, but much much more. Gearhead domination of conversations isn't helpful, hence this thread. Ok, message received that we're exhibiting exclusionary focus; please expand on the point.

101:

Bingo -- that was exactly my point.

If we start from the point that 1-2 billion people spend upwards of 10 hours a week washing clothes by hand, and that our technological civilization is the result of full-time 40 hour/week work by the 25% of the 1-2 billion people in the developed world who are in full employment, then it puts "washing clothes" in a very different light.

A pre-modern agricultural society where 90% of the population is engaged in subsistance agriculture with a surplus of less than 10% is a society that is trapped by survival: it can barely afford to experiment with ways of doing things better.

Similarly, today we're wasting human capital on the same order as the workforce that sustains the entire developed world on washing clothes. No, those washer-women aren't going to colonize Ceres. But if we manage to invent self-cleaning fabrics and then get their next generation into schools, their descendants might.

102:

Guys who complain about there not being enough women around here: explain to Jay why his comment is utterly wrong. Hint: it will not include space colonization, automotive technology, things that go fast and explode, alternative energy or libertarianism.

103:

PURLEASE - DON'T go to "threaded".
We already HAD this discussion.
As fo the strange attractors, I would suggest a mod to the moderation guidelines, reminding that, althought these topics are not forbidden, one should tread carefully around them, especially "libertarianism" in the USSA sense, that is.
[ At the risk of a flame-war I maintain that opposing a national ID computerised databse AGAIN is not libertarianism. However, can we please not follow -up on that comment I've just made? ]

@ 79
Well
"1. Decide what I want the blog to achieve. Sales? Injection of plot ideas? Witty repartee with like-minded nerds? Whatever.
AGREE
2. Migrate the blog to a recognised platform. You build and maintain a nice buggy whip here, fuck knows why but I can only assume it's your hobby. Your energies are better spent as an author than as a programmer/IT wallah. But by all means, have another IT hobby of some kind.
ERR - it's on one. No go.
3. Thread comments, so that if one DOES want to follow a train of argument, one can.
No, NO - we already had this discussion.
4. Moderate all comments before posting.
TIME, resoursces, and, some triggers will already get you moderated - like too many links, or posting too close together. So NO GO, again
5. Require commenters to register.
WHY?
6. Close comments at 100 or 150 or whatever.
And suppose it gets REALLY INTERESTING?
7. Run a separate discussion board - maybe that can be your IT hobby.
TIME again.
Overall, your solutions are worse than the problems - much too prescriptive.

@ 83
And if you hate the supposed "Reddit" format, or can't get into it?
I've tried, and it just bounces, I can't read Reddit.
No go, AGAIN.

@ 98
Biology is NOT a "Physical science"?
you what? Please explain.


104:

I quite like that these threads get any moderation at all, but if you wanted them to stay-on-targettt....stay-on-tarrgettt aw hell see now i'm having a Star Wars segue triggered by just a single phrase...

The only way to do it would be by a boringly huge amount of moderation, something I hope you don't have time to do because you're busy writing science fiction, or whatever exciting things science fiction writers do when they're, uh, not writing.

These topics are a delight for those of us who are nigh-fatally tired of spending most of our lives being forced to nod our heads diplomatically at threat of excommunication whenever the topic of gender emancipation comes up, which has been far too often.

Now bring me a Hyperfast Solar-Nuclear-Powered Libertarian-mobile, or, since that sounds difficult, a story that has one in. Thankee kindly.

105:

I will say, as a white guy, that I just don't have anything helpful to say about gender/ethnic emancipation. I'm broadly in favor of it as long as it doesn't negatively impact me, but the real work, pretty much by definition, can't be done by white guys.

Unfortunately the "doesn't negatively impact me" rider is extremely problematic. Because a side-effect of emancipation is that it reduces the relative advantageous status of the currently privileged (that is, folks who aren't on the receiving end of active discrimination, like yourself). Emancipation means more competition for the good stuff in life, to put it very crudely. And a lot of privileged-but-don't-know-it white guys seem to get very angry about the idea of anyone else getting to share the same benefits they live with.

For an ugly example, read the hostile comments on this piece by John Scalzi. TL:DR; Scalzi, who is a straight white male, but a clueful one, attempts to explain "privilege" to other not-so-clueful SWMs. He nuked most of the trolls and racists, but not before getting a faceful of sump oil from the underbelly of the internet.

(My take on privilege is that I have it, and I don't like it: I don't want my achievements to be undermined by the awareness that I only won those prizes because there was a colour bar on the door locking out a bunch of other competitors. Having more competition is uncomfortable at first, but ultimately rewarding. And that's from a purely selfish perspective: there's also a moral dimension to any consideration of privilege.)

106:

Charlie, replying to GregVP:


A pre-modern agricultural society where 90% of the population is engaged in subsistance agriculture with a surplus of less than 10% is a society that is trapped by survival: it can barely afford to experiment with ways of doing things better.
Similarly, today we're wasting human capital on the same order as the workforce that sustains the entire developed world on washing clothes. No, those washer-women aren't going to colonize Ceres. But if we manage to invent self-cleaning fabrics and then get their next generation into schools, their descendants might.

India and China show how hard such transitions are, but each is going to be 25% or so of the developed world in 25 years, roughly.

We sometimes see these things in futurism and sci fi; but not enough. What will the world be like with 3-5 times more bright producers and innovators? What will the world be like when geopolitical and geoeconomic issues drive multiparty innovation centers global?

107:

I tend to only lurk in those discussions basically because I'm not scientifically trained, don't know that much about militaria, jets, or energy equations. Not to say I don't enjoy reading and learning a bit. But as I think Paws for Thott put it. If you get a bunch of peple with similar overlapping and detailed knowledge, in the same room (vertual or otherwise) conversation will eventually gravitate twards certain of those topics. I'm not siting that as a criticism, just observation.

What is to be done to redirect the discurcive energy. A pointer, prompt. OK we have X but what are the implications with particular reference to ABC. Perhaps a more narrowly focussed area of discussion on any given thread, though this may tend to lead to being a bit dry or stayed conversationly. (bit vague, sorry.)

At risk of derailing. Please no nested comment structure. From a selfish PoV, they're a pain to follow with a screenreader. The use of which is largely a linnia means of taking in information from a webpage.

108:

My background is primarily in international relations, and I recall very vividly some of the comments that have been made about "people with no appreicable skills whatsoever" in relation to those with interests or qualifications in the social sciences.

Well, as the next novel I'm supposed to write is about the future of international relations (to a large extent), you may take it as read that I would like you to stick around.

109:

If we really demand more women here, let's stop dancing around the subject and hire some whores.

I'm sure women who have sex with fat strangers for money will charge only a little bit more than that to converse with the likes of us on topics of our choosing.

Even libertarianism.

110:

Greg, relax -- I'm not going to switch to threaded comments.

I am considering installing a stand-alone discussion forum system, and then shutting down the current comment system completely: instead of Movable Type's somewhat broken comment system that is a magnet for spammers, each blog entry will link to a new discussion topic in the forum.

But first I need to look at some forum software, and decide which I like the look of. Then I need to think some more. Then discuss the pros and cons in public. Okay?

111:

Just John, this is your Yellow Card. I don't care whether you're joking or not, your comment was in very poor taste.

Please re-acquaint yourself with the moderation policy (link above the comment form). Hint: future displays of racism or misogyny will get you banned.

112:

All right. Your place, your rules. I understand.

I'll still buy your books.

I have no yellow card system. Ergo: Good-bye.

Enjoy your libertarians.

113:

These topics are a delight for those of us who are nigh-fatally tired of spending most of our lives being forced to nod our heads diplomatically at threat of excommunication whenever the topic of gender emancipation comes up, which has been far too often.

Would you please go and read Scalzi's piece our host has linked to? As in, actually read it, not just nod your head diplomatically so those boring females would leave you alone? Thank you.

114:

First, i'd like to thank Charlie, and the other moderators, for doing such a fantastic job in the moderation already. This is the only place on the net that the comments are intelligent, coherent and actually add to the original post.

I'll add my support to an open thread, or specific topic thread for certain off topic subjects (i guess a good one to try first would be Aerospace) and good moderation/self policing of the usual suspects into those, and a slightly more aggressive punching of libertarian trolls.

115:

I have always liked the way that the comments on your blog branch out. I find some of the branches interesting, others not at all--that's a matter of individual interest, but I value having a choice of discussion lines to follow.

Once the comments exceed a certain number, I also have a tendency to skim the headers to the comments looking for your responses to others' comments and then backtracking to read the comment that piqued your interest. I doubt that I am unique in this, and it strikes me that you might be able to exploit this tendency to keep discussions on topic by explicitly awarding 'Charlie Stars' to comments you found stimulating. The prestige of receiving such an award might do much to train commentors to stay on topic--sort of a Pavlovian approach to creating a blogging community.

116:

Grey, have you forgotten much uphill those of us who actually are biologists got from some of the self-styled physical scientists here when Charlie was talking about generation ships? If I hadn't been rock-solid sure of my position (because it's my job and I have a PhD in it!) I would have been thoroughly put off by the point-scoring.

117:

(Continuing somewhat off topic)

If where you're going is a practical and realistic progressive yet utopian vision for how we as a species can get our act together and move on as a whole i'll buy it...

Other people have done, and continue to do, extrapolations and investigations of the politics of the left and right pretty well (i've even read the man himself say that for some of his readers snow crash is a libertarian utopia. Ken MacLeod and Iain Banks have added lots to the mix as well, plus various others. I'd find it very interesting to read a centrist/progressive take on things. (A 'light green' tinge wouldn't go amiss)

Of course being centrist/progressive would mean it could be set near future pretty believably since that's where a large part of the world is.

I'd also be fairly convinced that at some point in the future the engine for progress could well be a part of the world where people currently subsist.

As for the required 'shiny' Appropriate technology is neat enough today that you could have a whole host of fun taking it higher tech. Smart fabric - good one, fully moore's lawed communications tech meets Kahn academy with a developmental twist could be interesting. (BTW To charges of cultural imperialism I say 'Distribution of Wealth', deliberately without the Re- since technological progress is not averaging)

Maybe the list of topics these comment lists descend into is fundamentally linked with the previous thread and we have got ourselves into a cul-de-sac for progress. But since the progress is very unevenly distributed perhaps the rest of the world can avoid some of them.

Finally i'd not worry about the comment threads, as a regular reader I can simply stop reading and wait for the next entry if it gets a bit boring (and, in the case of space colonization, i'd say this blog has been very influential on my ideas on the subject, people here for the first time may find the continual rehash similarly opinion challenging).

118:

Not a guy here, although white.

And you're wrong. You, individually, may be the most egalitarian person in the world (although you'll forgive me if I doubt it on the evidence of your post).

Better power sharing on a societal level is basically achieved in one of three ways. One is that those who have the power choose to remove the barriers and share it. This might be idealistic to hope for but is probably the best one. Next up we have a group of (predominantly white, male) idealists seizing power and enforcing the change. The third option is a revolution. I don't think that's particularly likely to be honest, but it's the only solution where the non-white, non-guys do the heavy lifting.

According to several famous and quite a few other commentators from disadvantaged backgrounds, although the UK is not perfect on this, and making it better is well worth striving for, it's a lot better than many other places. The things that changed the UK? Equal opportunities legislation (racial discrimination, sex discrimination in the 1970's, more wide ranging legislation in the 1990's/2000's) and possibly the minimum wage. White guy idealists sharing the power more evenly.

Your attitude of "I'm broadly OK as long as it doesn't disadvantage me" is precisely why I support things like legislation to force companies to have 25% female directors. I'm sure some companies will struggle, others will do better. But if we introduce the legislation now, there's a good chance before I die the glass ceiling will be a memory. And we'll be a better place for it.

119:

Perhaps some old-school Dungeons and Dragons type topics might disrupt the inevitable futurology pigeon-hole thinking and get the group-think shifted. The Githyanki were cool. Tell us more about the Gith!

120:

Hi Greg @103.

Can I just observe - without starting a pissing contest - that if nothing changes...well, nothing changes. Clearly your post above is a plea for the status quo which, if I read our host's somewhat frustrated original post correctly, is precisely what he doesn't want.

There's general consensus here among host and readers that the current platform and format doesn't work for Charlie's purposes, and in addition feels lumpy to many users.

Web 2.0 (I cringe to use that phrase, but it's accurate) is about making the dialogue between the blogger and his audience seem as easy and seamless as talking with mates at the pub. This blog no longer does that and must evolve; we are privileged to be consulted as part of that process. I genuinely believe that the tone and content of post 103 is counterproductive in that regard.

I freely admit that I know NOTHING about Movable Type or any other blogging software for that matter - I'm neither a blogger nor an IT maven. But I do know that this blog works poorly and looks like shit compared with other blogs I read which seem to have a more polished and easy to use and read interface.

Now, Charlie likes to micromanage stuff. That's not a criticism, it's an essential part of being an author: God is in the details. But I strongly suspect that it would be to his pecuniary, temporal, and mental health advantage if he could bring himself to separate i) his creative process and ii) the webhosting/bloghosting/spamtrapping/computery scriptwriting/whatever-the-hell-else-he-does-to-make-the-nuts-and-bolts-of-this-website-work.

OK?

121:

Similar - ish. . I don't come to scifi as an engineer or scientist. I'm a useless Fine Art arts grad. Although trying to rectify that somewhat. My specific historic educational, employment choices or otherwise are too dull to relay here. Just adding as another datapoint.

--

I do up to a point enjoy reading about things that go woosh or bang and the precise mechanisms that cause them too. But it's a pretty exclusive conversation to follow.

The threads I find most engaging are the ones looking at the potential political landscape. The futurist speculation over trends and unintended consequences of new technologies. Which necesarily include ideas about, religious and political freedom, the division of wealth, human rights, social upheaval and how we come out the other end of our "interesting times."

A forum format might be the way to go, to have somewhere for conversations to continue in a more contained fashion. you can ban out and out disruptive posters, leave longstanding ongoing threads to drawer in those with a focuss on specifics, AKA nurd talk. ;) I'm not underestimating the work there though.

The repetition of certain topics isn't a problem with the blog format persay. Forum based style sites make it more explicit but easier to navigate. It's just what happens when you have regular interlocutorss. AKA a community.

122:

If you want to broaden the discussion away from your 4 or 5 Bored Of This topics you could try asking your community what topics they would be interested in discussing and then seeing if you have any thing interesting to say or ask about them. This might provoke some new conversations. It might give some other voices a chance to enter the conversation. It might produce some new bones for your community to chew over until you get bored of them too.

123:

coming to the conclusion that any comment thread on this blog will, between 100 and 200 comments in, circle around to become a discussion of:
* Space colonization
* Automotive technology
* Things that go fast and explode (rockets, military aircraft)
* Alternative energy (from solar through wind/wave to nuclear)
* Libertarianism (and everything is worse with libertarians)

Am I doing something wrong with the moderation here?

I'd say you're doing something right!

More seriously, isn't this rather like Janet Jones, who writes books about cats, complaining that everyone who comments on her blog seems to be obsessed with cats?
I mean, you write books with more or less nerdy protagonists (computer programmer, LARPing accountant, technology journalist, online entrepreneur) and a fair amount of go-faster technology (Lightning, Concorde, nuclear ekranoplan, starwisps)... the people who like that sort of thing enough to seek out your blog are probably, well, people who like that sort of thing.

124:

As predominantly a lurker, I generally agree with most of the sentiments above. You tend to drift into repetitive territory because that is where most of your recent questions lead. I can understand you avoiding discussing stuff you are actively writing on - no sense poisoning the well and I can see this blog as a blowoff valve.

As the international relations guy said, perhaps asking different questions would lead to different resident experts emerging, provided that the existing engineering gurus don't have the opportunity to shout them down, or are gently restrained from doing so.

Personally I dislike threaded comments a-la reddit or slashdot, but if it is a flat format they can help, so long as the nesting is limited.
The main disadvantage is the tendency to hijack early threads so as to stay near the top. Your strict chronological order is *much* easier to follow in that respect.

I really do like seeing the blog authors comments highlighted somehow - one blog I follow has the author in gold, and long term mods etc in green with everyone else alternating shades of blue. Makes for a nice level of readability, with the added bonus of seeing what the blog author is interested in, which helps focus discussion.

125:

I'm using "reply" here because I think everything Eloise said was correct. I'll admit to being one of those commenters who know a lot about things that are shiney, fast and go "whizz" and "bang".

But I know about other stuff too:-
Music
A bit of history (in fact, if you'd written this piece a year back Charlie, I'd suggest that the only notable change would be /s/automobiles/wars .
A wee bit about farming. I'm still awaiting anyone giving a rational explanation as to why putting MBF on fields is better soil husbandry than putting half the "intensive monoculture" load of Haber nitrates on them and practicing crop rotation. Hopefully that's enough to convince al_zorra that she is not alone.

On the gender bias issue, most of the people I've suggested to that they "might be interested in" this blog have been females. Somehow that isn't translating into comments.

126:

George, gearheads aren't the problem, in my humble opinion. Reading again Charles's first post the problems for him are

* Space colonization

* Automotive technology

* Things that go fast and explode (rockets, military aircraft)

* Alternative energy (from solar through wind/wave to nuclear)

* Libertarianism (and everything is worse with libertarians)

I like my future high tech as much as the next guy, but why Mars colonies, moon bases, missiles, rocket engines and energy generators and not skyscrapers, urbanism, railroads, aquaculture, vertical farming, cloning, robots or AIs...? And regarding politics, why is always Libertarianism? Why we see no Trotskyists visitors deeply interested in cheap rocket tickets to Mars? In short, I think the list equals saying that some flavor of Space Cadetism ends up derailing discussions all too often.

127:

I was going to say what al_zorra did, but thought it would likely trigger the "here we go with the feminists" spam, and then the delightful 'just john' came along. Personally I'd have banned him and mocked him on Twitter. People like him are the reason why there are a dearth of women and other non-hetero white males here and other places.

As much as I enjoy your blog Charlie, I've found the comments more recently have tended towards what I find on any tech-ish blog where the output is heavily skewed towards male commentators. It somehow becomes unattractive and/or uninteresting below the end of your post, despite the reasonably high level of discussion. I can't really say what exactly it is, it's not the subject matter, rather, it's how it is discussed that becomes this.

Perhaps it's that there's a direct correlation between the attitude of just john, the first comment on 'More on books', comments like that of Jay above, and the issue of comments tending towards those five themes, and this somehow needs to be addressed, because it's pretty apparent that despite your writing, they don't get it.

More female/quiltbag guest bloggers writing about the themes you do but considering how they affect other people?

128:

Trotskyists don't need to go to Mars, because as any kid knows it is already red.

Neptune, on the other hand is blue.

129:

And regarding politics, why is always Libertarianism? Why we see no Trotskyists visitors deeply interested in cheap rocket tickets to Mars?

Hello? English language blog? (Run by shame-faced monoglot.) Barring an expansion into India and China, my largest audience in that language sphere is American, and Americans just don't generally do Trotskyism. (Or rather, Trotskyism in the USA occupies the same niche as Libertarianism in Scotland: it's so far out of the mainstream that the only people who go there are the Awkward Squad, spoiling for a pub argument.)

I suspect if this was a Russian language blog the politics riding alongside the imperative of space colonization would be very different.

130:

The juxtaposition of Charlie's posting schedule and my reading schedule means posts tend to have 100+ comments on them by the time I get here. I generally don't have time to read the entire thing, so generally don't post for fear of just repeating what someone else has said, and joining an existing conversation is hard because of the single threaded nature. Yes you can follow the links, but only backwards, meaning you have to digest the conversation backwards, even assuming all the relevant content is there following one trail of crumbs.

I appreciate the objections to threading (cf. Reddit). To me a compromise is some form of forum layout - each topic will be single threaded like the current structure, but each post could allow multiple topics. Its easier to recognise when conversation has strayed from the original topic, and doesn't spell death to the original topic as the divergance can be split off into its own topic.

131:

On the gender bias issue, most of the people I've suggested to that they "might be interested in" this blog have been females. Somehow that isn't translating into comments.

We also have little idea of how many female readers — as opposed to commenters — there are. The count of commenters as a proportion of readers is low: I would be surprised if it even reaches single figures. If, as my experience would indicate, women are more reticent about joining in online conversation than men, then that small proportion here is unsurprising.

Part of this, I think, may be the very open nature of this forum. It's very different from LiveJournal, for example, where I do see far more women obviously joining in.

So it's quite possible that every woman you pointed in this direction is indeed reading, and yet none are pushing to the front to share their opinions.

(c.v. 'Panel parity' in SF fandom as of recent months. That is being addressed by some conventions by insisting on equal representation of women on panels, but I can't see how we would be able to do that here.)

132:

We have been running a conversation in Zero State discussing how we might attract more developing world members. One suggestion that seemed frivolous was to promise them we would work towards providing everyone with a washing machine. Turned serious when it became obvious that this would be an excellent thing to do simply because of the infrastructure necessary to make it happen.

133:

In your line of work you're a privileged white guy not because there are billions of women washing clothes by hand but because you speak English.

134:

These are the hot button issues of our times among fandom. You're not alone.

135:

That took a careful reading to parse, but is possibly the most apposite high-level diagnosis so far. How to implement the prescribed treatment is a little more difficult; guest bloggers from way out of left field that may draw in some new blood?

136:

I wonder if you could try ending your posts a little differently.

I'm sure someone else commented that quite a few of your posts have ended with questions leading to discussions of things near to the strange attractors already, but I can't spot it skimming up and down the page while short of caffeine.

Why not revisit your post on stuff, and instead ask what kitchen appliance would make the biggest difference to the standard of living in the next decade? I'm not trying to suggest women will comment because they spend more time in the kitchen, but it's a harder stretch to the strange attractors. I suspect a proportion of those that discuss the strange attractors will have some interesting insight but a proportion won't and will fail to comment, giving room to others.

Or discuss and suggest three possible changes to legislation and how they might change society. Flip that into asking what 3 laws we'd write/change if we could. OK, we're close to the libertarians there but it's a different slant to normal and looking at social change rather than technological ones.

Your post on LGBT characters in Rule 34 ended up being different in that it devolved into a discussion mostly of authorial tricks. No question at the end of your post. I'm not quite sure what I'd have asked there but you could have guided something more into LGBT characters/lifestyles maybe. An obvious one - what will Scotland/UK look like if the much-hated-by-Tory-loudmouths "gay marriage" bill gets passed? You might have to announce the ban-hammer and remind people of the rules, but I bet you'd get some discussion going. I'd be willing to be you pass the 200 comments mark before strange attractors act too. Maybe even pass the 500 mark.

137:

Milena, you are quite right.

I'd like to say to Jay, "Jay, read Cat Valente's guest posts here on Charlie's blog, especially the one in which she talks about her time in Japan. Think about it. Understand it. Think about analogues in Western society. Then, read Charlie's comments above, #101 on waste of talent, and #105 and the linked post by John Scalzi. Think about them. Understand them. Then, think about what you can change about yourself to make things better for people around you" --

-- and have Jay change what he thinks, what he says and what he does. But I doubt that a person can be deprogrammed so easily.

138:

Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) said @ 96:

"[...] I'd like a few more people, male or female, who are interested in areas outside the physical sciences: biology, medicine, psychology, sociology, systems science, art, music, whatever.

Well, my main background up until now was in social sciences and arts (previous degree attempts prior to this one were all for BA degrees - subject fields included Politics (plus some philosophy and sociology), Education (specialising in secondary drama teaching with a minor in teaching English), and Professional Writing). My current field of study is Computer Science (mainly because I figure that a BSc (Comp Sci) will at least make me vaguely more employable in IT than my five years experience in technical support, given I'm fighting the disadvantages of being female, fat and forty) but I'm also picking up some psychology units as an effort at getting some breadth in my studies. I'm also a long-term feminist (goes with the being fat, female and intelligent, as far as I'm concerned).

I do try and bring these perspectives to my comments when I can. Unfortunately, I also suffer from the rather thoroughgoing geographical handicap of living in Western Australia - I'm in timezone UTC +8, which means I'm eight hours out of synch with the UK (8 hours ahead), 8 hours out of synch with the US West Coast (16 hours ahead, which means I'm posting from Tuesday by the time they've woken up on Monday morning) and 12 hours out of synch with the US East coast. Yays. So when I'm kicking open my browser at 6.30 or 7am in the morning (it's the equivalent of the morning paper, okay?) I'm generally coming in at the tail end of discussions which were started when I was still asleep; when I come home and open the browser at the end of the day, I'm basically seeing the new discussions starting around the time where I'm heading off to sleep again.

There's also the standard phenomenon of the people who love to pick holes in arguments (who aren't just specific to this particular commentariat - they're all over the internet). However, the ones on this blog do tend to be of the variety who deem themselves to be very voluble (and loud) Experts on Everything, and I therefore have to be extra careful when writing comments in order to leave the minimum number of loopholes in what I'm writing. Which means the drafting process tends to go as follows:

1) Write down what I want to say (in Notepad)
2) Read through what I've written with my mental filters set to "extremely bloody-minded pedantic nitpickery".
3) Rephrase at least half of what I've written in order to attempt to remove the possibility that someone (usually someone who is white, male, heterosexual and university educated) will either creatively misunderstand what I've written, or take offence at the suggestion that their experience of $SITUATION is not universal and attempt to flame me across the room.[1]
4) Rewrite the rest of what I've written in order to try and get my point across after having removed all the more obvious flame warrior triggers.
5) Reload the thread. Discover the conversation has moved on to the bread-thread poetry slam (or equivalent), and if I post what I've written, it's highly likely nobody is going to either read it or respond to it.
6) Realise I've just wasted about a half an hour on this. Swear.
7) Delete what I've written and wonder why the fsck I bother some days.

Now, if I were able to avoid steps 2 through 4 (which is what takes up most of my time) I might be able to participate in the discussion a mite more readily. But unfortunately, there are several people in this particular commentariat who seem to enjoy the process of picking away at a single perceived flaw in an argument (and this "flaw" can be something as simple as them not actually sharing the frame of reference with the poster of the argument) to the detriment of any actual point being made. When I get to the point anywhere where I'm feeling as though I have to post a lengthy statement of context in order to be able to join in discussion at all (because if I don't contextualise my statements so people *know* they're coming from a white, anglo-celtic, female, fat, intelligent, working-class, mentally-ill person based outside the UK or the USA, then I'll get another screenful of abuse to deal with) then I seriously start questioning whether it's worth my while to post somewhere. It hasn't quite reached this point here on a regular basis. But sometimes...


[1] It's not that I dislike vigorous argument. It's just that there are ways of phrasing a request for clarification which don't imply that the person you're requesting the clarification from is either psychotically insane, moronic, or actively posting with malice aforethought; and gee, wouldn't it be nice if people used them more often?

139:

In my general experience of online fora, the regular participants are a big part of the key. They can tend -- as does at present take place here -- to drift easily into the "same old" discussions. However, if they can be recruited to internalize and then (quietly, politely) enforce the restrictions Charlie, as host wants to impose -- steering conversations back on topic, or at least away from the same old attractors -- then you get a feedback dynamic (negative in the engineer's sense, positive in the "effect on discourse" sense) which improves the state of discourse, while reducing the need for heavy moderation.

I suggest having the topics which are not so much banned as deprecated posted at the side, along with (maybe) a pledge for commentators to take...

140:

>>>I suspect if this was a Russian language blog the politics riding alongside the imperative of space colonization would be very different.

Hear, hear! I frequent Russian forums, and Space Communism is very annoying. But at least Strugatsky Brothers, the fathers of the Noon Universe, didn't pretend it was anything but an utopia ("a world we wanted to live in"), which they populated by the best people they knew and hand-waved almost all social problems away with the unspecified High Theory of Education.

Basically, just as a libertartian society can only function when everyone behave like the ideal libertarian, Noon Universe functioned because everyone behaved like ideal communists.

141:

[[ Off topic commenter ignores instruction not to go off topic ]]

142:

[[ Off topic commenter ignores instruction not to follow off-topic commenter off topic ]]

143:

Me, I'm sitting here with a tub of popcorn, reading the comments and crossing of Charlie's five points.

It's interesting that people can't resist even in a thread like this.

144:

Well, I, for one, have a variant of the same issue (I only have net access 8 hours a day even though I'm in the same time zone as Charlie), so I tend to make sure to look for new comments on pre-existing and active threads before going on to new ones.

I'm not asking "do it for me"; rather I'm saying "I'm the guy who's prepared to say that I do it, and from what the mod team say there's probably another 99 who'll look too but would never dream of saying so".

145:

You can resist anything but temptation...

146:

I'm one of the female lurkers. I don't have much to say on the subjects of obligatory space colonization, automotive mechanics, things that go boom, or the technical spec of alternative energy, and ranting libertarians give me the hives. That and I'm in UTC -5 (US east coast) so by the time I'm home from work and on the internet for the evening, the discussion has usually fallen into orbit around one of the usual attractors and OGH has clocked out for the night.

I do look for the interesting bits, though.

I'm a regular reader over at Scalzi's, too, and I appreciate the highlighting he uses. First rule of playing in somebody else's sandbox: be able to identify the host and/or mods, and shut up before they bust out the banhammer.

147:

If the problem is with the audience in general -- rather than ten to twenty diehard bores within the audience, which is my guess -- then try shifting the topic base as well. Things a little outside the comfort range of this blog, and maybe outside your personal interest, but that you have a vague curiosity about. As this thread demonstrates, there's interest about the washing machine.

In those posts, hammer down the obvious strange attractors: so if it's about future music, no filk, no Steeleye Span, no prog rock, no nerd core, not even Amanda Palmer. If it's about future fashion, do we really need to hear that some men don't like wearing neckties for the millionth time? Hammer time. Or let your inner contrarian out: defend the necktie! (And if you use that topic, google "Francis Heaney tie project" first.) Most men prefer women dress with a level of complexity that most men wouldn't wear on a bet. Why is that, and why do these same people complain about neckties? And so on.

Remember, as a science fiction writer who makes a living from his writing: despite the best efforts of the self-appointed guardians of the genre, significantly more people read SF than fans or nerds or geeks. This includes your blog.

148:
There's general consensus here among host and readers that the current platform and format doesn't work for Charlie's purposes, and in addition feels lumpy to many users.
If I may butt in..

"Consensus" is a bit strong IMO, there's also the parallel track of "more moderation", as well as open threads. I like a technical solution as much as the next person, but are there actually any good ones? (except the one in our heads that hasn't been written yet)

That's an honest question; I see problems with a forum approach (who will moderate it? will random people bother to register just to comment, or will it be just for the regulars?) as well as more "modern" things like Disqus.

And you say "looks like shit", I say "looks clean and uncluttered". The bit where you type in HTML directly in the comment box and a stray less-than character will eat your comment could be improved though.

149:

Good question. a couple of divergent things came to mind:

1) be glad for a community that wants to share ideas, even if some of those aren't terribly evolved intellectually yet; many of those commenters may get there eventually. There may be other modes to steward that community - more moderation or a forum - but then you need to weigh time and energy investment involved. One option might be to simply let things be - it teaches one to be a better reader by learning to skim; also, because of diminishing returns places less value in the later comments of a 250+ comment thread, it encourages the high-value commenters to click often and say their piece early. You might consider providing an incentive such as rewarding good comments by elevating them to your posts;

2) linking to your previous discussion regarding "where are the big ideas in Science Fiction these days", maybe a component to the problem is that the audiences aren't terribly interested in "big ideas", but rather space colonization, automotive technology, things that go fast and explode, alternative energy, libertarianism, or alternately dragons, zombies/werewolves/vampires, medieval empires based on magic, etc. Besides, who said Science Fiction is supposed to be the literature of big ideas? Where the hell is the rest of the literary community when it comes to shaking people out of their complacent attitudes? I think you're doing your part to challenge your readers - the rest is up to them; Again, rewarding those with the best ideas or writing by featuring them in your posts might be an incentive for your community to write better posts.

So, I don't think I'd change what you're currently doing too much - exhorting your readers to think a little harder and express themselves more eloquently; pay little heed to the pedestrian comments about space colonization et al. but recognize them as part of the community critical mass; skim the mass of material and reward the best commenters by "mentioning them in dispatches", as a means to improve the overall tone of the narratives and the health of the community.

150:

+ 1 for Glasshouse, too. I put it up there with He, She, & It as one of my favourite pieces of feminist SF.

151:

Perhaps the reason is your earlier work. Many long term fans would have been introduced to you via Singularity Sky or Accelerando. A cursory reading of these lumped with an assumption that what you believe falls in line with the standard space cadet ideology. Things that go fast work their way quite well into this.

Libertarianism works into this because in my experience (IME?) a lot of space cadet/singularitarians have integrated these ideologies into their own political/economic one.

As for alternative energy, well we are facing an energy crisis. For any tech-head AE is a big deal.

152:

I don't think anyone else has said exactly this. So I post.
I am a great believer in technical and "hands-off" solutions for web based discussions. Having hidden fields, and changing the names/ids of fields to catch spam bots for example.

I also like the idea of having community moderation (to a limited extent). That is, those little plus one and minus one buttons. I have seen cases where they work really well (and cases where, they don't...). Perhaps with community moderation, cap how far up/down the post can go (à la Slashdot). If a post gets to -1 (off topic, spam, or similar), you might auto-hide it, or hide part of it (making sure that to unhide does not require JS!). In this case you also clearly need rules about what +1 and -1 means. (E.g. +1 interesting, helpful, etc. -1 off topic, spam, hateful etc.) I would also have a little moderator button that sticks a post at a certain level so that it can't go up or down any further (hey, your blog, your rules, right?!). (You could also make community moderation possible by logged in users only. But I would hate for you to go to logged in commenting only.)

Also, perhaps as part of the community moderation (if a post gets to +5), but also as a moderation option, highlight good posts. Another moderation option already mentioned is devowling. But we want to limit moderation by yourself. In which case, add extra mods.

For people who are logged in, make it an option so that they can ignore others (both those not logged in, but using a consistent email/tripcode, and those logged in). Oh, and make it so they can set their own threshold for posts generally. Also for registered users, you could give them some sort of reputation (existence for a certain period, a number of +5 posts, whatever), which could then auto-highlight their posts. Oh wait, I'm really channelling Slashdot here.

Sockpuppets (only a problem if you have registered users who can do extra stuff) can be autodetected to a limited extent by IP address matching.

The problem with most of these ideas is that they require changes to the software. Which I understand you aren't too enthusiastic about. I actually don't know of any software that will do all these things "out of the box", though WordPress probably could with enough plugins :p.

(Also, I think that I disagree with your comment that everything is worse with libertarians. Unless you restrict it solely to those libertarians that think that no/small government but large corporations is just fine. Personally I think that everything is better with left (i.e. sensible and non-contradictory) libertarians.)

153:

For general information, as far as moderators on this blog are concerned, there is a pair in the US (Dan and Sean Eric), and Charlie and me in the UK.

When you see me post, it's almost always as a general poster and what I'm posting is not then posted as from a moderator. As the newest and most junior moderator, I try to restrict myself to:

a) Killing any actual spam that gets through.
b) Removing any duplicated comments
c) Fixing any obviously broken HTML to restore links, lost text, and so on
d) Restoring any comments that have ended up in the Pending folder for no obviously good reason

There are three folders: the Published one (what you see), the Pending folder (stuff that triggered the automated filters and is being held for manual perusal) and the Spam folder (a fetid mess that builds so fast that anything that ends up there is irretrievably lost).

On occasion I will remove a published comment to the Pending folder, and mention it to the others. There's then about a 50/50 chances that Charlie will restore it after all. But in general, I have taken my role so far to be to maintain as light an oversight as possible.

Wielding banhammers more readily would change our jobs somewhat, possibly for the better if it led to fewer but better comments. (Reading every comment on the longer threads takes a while.)

Unfortunately, we all have other things to do, so even when there is some egregiously bad behaviour going on, it may be an hour or few before it is noticed, particularly if a convention is occurring that both Charlie and I are away from home at.

154:

Why not have some permanent threads for these strange attractors with links up on the right, so the bores who are stuck go over and over the same topics again & again, can comment over there leaving the new threads clear for the rest of us who want to think about something new.

I'm a long time lurker but get put off posting because of this issue.

155:

here's another: lifting out some comments amongst comments, as guides of discussion?(by the moderator) maybe ones who stay on topic and well formatted.
I for one tend to search "stross replied" and read only those.


make the first comment a reminder of the topics not welcome in this thread, and then go ahead and delete ruthlessly.
Bruce @#84: I second that.

156:

I genuinely don't understand this attitude of "I don't post because the usual suspects (acknowledged that I can be one of them) are off on the usual subjects again.

If you don't like what we're posting, surely that's more reason to post something different? You never know, we might be interested in that too, and will happily be led off down your track instead.

157:

Personally, the one thing I'm not seeing in these sorts of discussions is more discussion of biotech. One highly useful tech/biotech innovation might be to try to get cephalopod skin chromatophores to work in humans, very likely with the aid of technological add-ons. What you get are humans which can change colour, and not just along the rather boring pink-white to black-brown range, but also off in a set of other directions.

If nothing else, such innovation would make football supporters a very great deal more colourful to say the least, and the technology would also be rather interesting were it plumbed into human emotional responses as well.

A further interesting thing to discuss is how silicon tech and biotech might interact in future. Currently we're at an early point here, with mobile phones being some of the more common interfaces, but as Charlie has intimated, such systems are only going to get more immersive in future.

Now, the interesting thing here is how does silicon-biotech integration affect standard human interaction? Secure reputation servers which tie to the hardware in/around people and allow us to make decisions on how much to trust other people is going to make life somewhat interesting in future; it already exists in markets such as eBay to the extent that newbie sellers quite often have to game a reputation before anyone will take them seriously.

158:

Agreed. The moderation here is truly superior.

159:

What's the male/female ratio at the typical SFCons that Charles speaks at?

160:

A plea:

One of the chief features of the real problems we face is that they're hard to think about - they're cross-discplinary, or at least not in any discpline that was around when most of us got our tertiary education.[1]

Anyway: the attractors listed in the post are all part of our fathers'[2] future, not ours - a future based on calculus, not graph theory. The training we got was for the calculus future. Somehow, we received the graph theory future instead. As a result, we don't feel competent discussing real possibilities, but some of us here do feel competent discussing the finer points of nuclear-powered chromium-plated missiles of liberty.

So, a plea:-

It's OK to feel incompetent when talking about our own future. Really, it's OK. Do read up on it, but remember that it's new, and it's hard. Everyone else is struggling too. Feel OK about being incompetent, and try to learn.

But for $DEITY's sake, forget about your father's future. It ain't gonna happen. Focus on what could happen.


[1] Unless you graduated within, say, the last four years. And most likely even then.
[2] Sexist language used on purpose. That is how it was, then. We don't want to go back there.

161:

"It ain't gonna happen. Focus on what could happen."

Or what we could make happen, and how we could make it so.

162:

I've been lurking on this blog for several years now; there's always something thought-provoking to find here thanks to the efforts of our host. I want that to continue.

There's an important big-picture view of this blog to take that hasn't been considered sufficiently -- influence. A lot the 'problems' this blog is experiencing have a lot more to do with that then anything about thread structure.

SF has a disproportionate social influence for a so-called ghetto genre of literature. Niven and Pournelle's influence comes to mind for the right-wing types, as does Gene Roddenberry for the left.

There are open discussions (in an SF context, true) on this blog of things that are really important: climate change, sexism/patriarchy, inequality, disruptive technologies, the increasingly unsustainable nature of the US-dominated economic model, just to name a few. The host has a left-of-center, 'red' political view that is heavily suppressed in the US context and is directly in conflict with the dominant, well-financed ideology of our time.

This blog is also known to have readers who are famous or influential in media and politics, eg Krugman. Given that, the blog doesn't need millions of followers for it to come to the attention of those who want to shape public political discourse. This could be the professional influence adjusters, such as PR firms or RWAC think tanks; or individuals like the (largely white, male and privileged) sort who just proved their ubiquity at Mr Scalzi's blog recently.

For those groups I just mentioned, disrupting conversations and/or grinding the political axe is the whole POINT of their presence. So any changes to the blog comments should probably include:
-More moderation / heavier ban-hammering
-Color-coding or other indicators of authority on the part of host and/or moderator when commenting/yellow-carding/down-rating, as symbols of authority will help with that poster demographic that respond to it
-Active anti-trolling moderation; I think many people are discouraged from posting when they see someone arguing in favor of obvious troll points (does anyone really believe our society will collapse because we have TOO MANY human rights??) over and over, and not getting shut down for it

I know this is rambling, sorry. Just a few points, I'll give more if I can.

163:

Well Charlie, I’ve done my part to add some ideological and philosophical diversity to your blog, and in return I’ve been banned and bashed repeatedly. You see, this blog is microcosm of the problem with our secular, modern civilization here at this fin de siecle moment; obsession with gadgetry and commerce, spiritual bankruptcy, soullessness, nihilism. Your friend Julius Evola said it well more than eighty years ago:

“Present Western ‘civilization’ awaits a substantial upheaval, without which it is destined, sooner or later, to smash its own head. It has carried out the most complete perversion of the rational order of things. Reign of matter, of gold, of machines, of quantity; in this civilization there is no longer spirit nor liberty nor light. The West has lost its ability to command and to obey. It has lost its sense of contemplation and action. It has lost its sense of hierarchy, spiritual power, and divine men. It no longer knows nature. No longer a living body made of symbols, gods, and rites, no longer a harmony, a cosmos in which man moves freely like microcosm within a macrocosm, nature has assumed for the Westerner a dull and fatal exteriority whose mystery the secular sciences seek to bury in trifling laws and hypotheses.”

Now, words like these may not mean much to many of you, but if you really want to understand the world from a different point of view, as many of you claim, you need to step outside of your reality tunnel of Western techno-materialism and do some introspection, then return here and report what you find. Otherwise, this blog will continue to be a dull procession of nerd fascists who imagine themselves to be liberal, open-minded and “progressive,” but are in reality merely mundane, shallow and trifling.

164:

My suggestion is to periodically pick the comment (or comments) you think are most interesting, and spawn a new thread based on that. I distinctly remember you doing that with the Beer In Space conversation, and it led to a brilliant thread of discussion. Libertarianism was hardly mentioned at all.

As well as refocusing everyones attention on the novel stuff, it's like giving a gold medal to the person that comes up the most interesting post. It could also stop threads getting too far past the 100-150 comments point, where most people (myself included) will struggle to synthesise the proceeding discussion.

165:

I second the idea that you colour your posts, Charlie. I try to at least browse most comments, but overwhelmingly I read your comments and the comments posted by whoever you replied to, and if this is universal behaviour then this simple trick could have a marked difference on the tone.

It's also helpful to know that you DON'T in fact enjoy the little asides we sometimes entertain. That alone means I'm far less likely to make an off-topic comment. I'm a fan, and those times when you've approved one of my posts it's felt like an achievement; and those times you've disapproved of something I've said, it's made me want to disappear inside a hole for a few hours. I think a lot of commentators here feel similarly, or at least the regulars do.

166:

"5) Reload the thread. Discover the conversation has moved on to the bread-thread poetry slam (or equivalent), and if I post what I've written, it's highly likely nobody is going to either read it or respond to it.
6) Realise I've just wasted about a half an hour on this. Swear.
7) Delete what I've written and wonder why the fsck I bother some days."

I'm consistently impressed by your posts and would happily read any that were posted an hour after the conversation had moved on.

167:

It's "what I have to say will just get lost in the noise", at least for me. If there is a, ahem, "vigorous back and forth" going on, even more so.

168:

Not been laid recently, Sean?

Seriously, if the best you can do is to trawl up a reactionary mystical monarchist, you've already lost the argument. Yes, the post-monarchical system isn't very romantic -- but it seems to generate fewer wars, less oppression, and more wealth.

Next you're going to dredge up the ghost of that odious fascist-wannabe Leo Strauss, right?

169:

It takes, to appear to be sexist for a moment, a fair amount of balls to just jump into a conversation that's settled and going somewhere, sure enough of your topic and thoughts to derail all these other posts.

As someone so notably wrote for Dame Judi "At least not having a pair means I don't have to think with them all the time!"

In less sexist terms, you will probably notice as the conversation settles and becomes more and more entrenched, the number of females commenting tends to 0. I'm not always the last to leave, but pretty often I think. But when people throw their PhDs and the like around, I'll hold mine up and keep going happily. But you will probably also notice the number of posts off the attractor topic fall dramatically. It's not only women who are loath to redirect.

170:

>>>then return here and report what you find.

Report: I found Christ!

Anyone need it? Because I don't.

171:

Charlie, your response sort of proves my point. Asking someone if they've not been laid recently, is that your idea of dignified discussion? If you want to understand the appeal of Traditionalism, or Islam, look no further than this thread. Think of it like the yin-yang symbol; within one extreme their is always the seed of its oppose. What I see here are people without confidence, dignity or spiritual power; a fallen people whose embrace of socialist ideology will be their downfall as surely as it was for the citizens of the Soviet Union.

172:

from Charlie: Unfortunately the "doesn't negatively impact me" rider is extremely problematic.

Well, sure, but how could it be otherwise? I am far from alone in having a limited tolerance for things that negatively impact me. I'm perfectly willing to bear some costs, but not others. $20 a month for orphans? Sure. $100 a month for college kids? Probably, unless money's tight at the moment. $1000 a month for rappers? Hell no.

Once negative impacts are on the table, we have to get specific about what the costs are, who will bear those costs, and what the costs will buy and for whom. Trying to hold that discussion in your blog comments is preposterous.

The responses to that comment have mostly reinforced my bigger point, which is that this even participating in a discussion of gender and ethnic politics is generally a mistake for white guys. These discussions are more stick than carrot, and I'm not a masochist.

173:

That's entirely fair. Maybe the issue (and I don't know who's it is if so) is that I don't perceive a thread like this that has diverged as "a single conversation" but as a number of simultaneous conversations which I can contribute to several of at once or none of depending on skills and knowledge. Don't ask me about, for example, $complex_microbiology because I've no knowledge there.

I'll give anyone a fair hearing if they'll say something intereting, and give me one.

174:

The problem with people like Evola is that they look back to an idealised Golden Age that never existed and use it to try and justify a future modeled on an impossible dream. Add in coercion and you get the Twentieth Century evils. There is no "one size fits all" and the best we can achieve is a dynamic equilibrium of "good enough most of the time". Beyond that you have to start sending dissenters to the gulag.

175:

Whatever else you may think of the Soviet Union and its people, it and they played a vital role in smashing forever the poisonous ideology of fascism, as represented by (amongst others) swine like Evola.

176:

Sean, I'm responding to you at what I perceive to be your own level: thinly-veiled contempt.

(If we had karma scoring on this blog, you'd be under water.)

177:

"Biology is not a physical science."

Not my categorization. I've been told that by a lot of physicists and chemists and such. A large number of people seem to believe in a strict hierarchy of science, in order of "elegance" or perhaps inverse order of "messiness". Perhaps you've heard the pejorative term "Physics Envy"?

178:

Random thoughts, most of which have already been expressed by other people:

By the time I see a thread, it's already sufficiently long that someone else has said what I might have wanted to say, and I've been around long enough to remember the use of "Aol!" as a synonym for "me too!" and where that usage came from.

It's also frequently already settled into orbit around one or more of the strange attractors, which I may find entertaining at times to read (especially if Antonia Tiger's writing ficlets) but normally feel no inclination to contribute to.

I find Scalzi's use of a coloured background to mark his own contributions to the comment threads very useful, for the reasons described by others.

I feel that Tuxedo Dolphin @162 is correct in noting that some of the problem is astroturfing. There doesn't need to be very much astroturfing, whether paid or amateur hour, to create that initial seed of a derail, and you may need to consider cloning the Mallet of Loving Correction.

Threaded or flat depends very much on the exact nature of the forum software and/or distribution mechanism. I read Usenet in threaded format, because that offers me easy options for ignoring a sub-branch without having to actively open interesting sub-branches. I dislike threaded on long Livejournal posts, because it requires me to actively open interesting sub-branches looking for new posts. I have RSI... Here I think I would prefer flat, but would appreciate an Open Thread, aka a "Get A Room" thread for the strange attractor conversations.

Our Good Host does not make me feel unwelcome simply for being female. Quite the contrary. The commentariat are for the most part not completely clueless and/or wilfully mysogynistic. Nevertheless, I would suggest that comments seriously claiming that the major domestic chores are now all automated are an example of comments which are likely to make many women feel that they are likely to be simply ignored if they take the time and energy to compose a thoughtful post, and thus their time and energy is better spent in other activities. That particular comment led me to conclude that the commentator is probably not the one who cleans the bathroom or does the ironing in zir household, and probably does not recognise the value of the time taken by the person who does. (Note that suggesting that the way to deal with ironing is to refuse to comply with society's irrational demands that we wear ironed clothes is in itself a display of privilege -- not all of us are in the position to do this.) The strange attractors tend to generate comments that subtly or not so subtly suggest that women's opinions are irrelevant. There is a vicious circle problem here.

179:

As we approach the 100 comment derail, instead of posting the same things as many others, I would like to consider, what makes me post (infrequently) or not post here. Like a few others, I post a lot in forums, but unless I find a thread in its infancy, I see posting here pointless, as the odds of getting a meaningful reply, or even noticing that reply, is incredibly small. Meanwhile, those that post no matter what settle in their own routines.

The main exception is when OGH clearly asks for information, opinion, or ideas, because in that case the visibility gets higher, and usually infractors get squashed.

My own proposal would be to limit people to two posts (increased by one every time OGH or any other so anointed moderator replies to that person, even if it is only "Good Idea!" or "Tell me more") per thread. Use your slots wisely!

180:

I note your choice of "rappers" as the "hell, no" point and wonder if it might not be unconsciously revealing of your attitudes. Rap music being associated with a non-white ethnic community, of course ...

I don't want to belabour the point, but your response seems to embody a very common misconception: that privilege is a zero-sum game, and that if someone else's lot improves (i.e. if they squirm out from beneath the iron jackboot of oppression) everyone else's lot gets worse.

It ain't so. Jews gaining the right to vote and stand for parliament in post-1832 England didn't devalue Church of England male land-owner's voting rights. Nor did female emancipation devalue the male vote. Rather, in both cases, parliament had to start paying attention to groups who had formerly been easily ignored.

Again: the Human Rights Act isn't about protecting criminals from the consequences of their crimes, whatever the Daily Mail might want their readers to believe: it's about protecting everyone from abusive treatment -- including Daily Mail readers who might find themselves on the wrong end of the long arm of the law's pepper spray.

This is why I'm unequivocally in favour of abolishing privilege: it's because the right way to do it is to help everyone else level up, not to tear down those who currently benefit from it.

181:

If you don't like what we're posting, surely that's more reason to post something different? You never know, we might be interested in that too, and will happily be led off down your track instead.

The problem with you bores -- and I would include you among that group -- is that we don't care what you have to say, but you insist on saying something anyway. You've demonstrated that you don't have anything new to add, but you're asking us to pay attention to you on the off-chance that you might, if we just change the topic? Since you can't be bothered yourself.

(And dude, look at an American football playbook, and then get back to me about it not being like chess at all. Silly nerd.)

182:

All of the major domestic tasks have already been automated.

First world relative to the 30s, maybe. Relative to me dealing with eating, having clean clothes, and a reasonably clean house, well, no. I still have to cook food, wash dishes, do laundry, vacuum (my house is NOT Rumba friendly.), rake up leaves, etc...

Now my work load for these things is MUCH easier than when my dad was growing up but it is no where near zero.

183:

I am always amused by the oxymoron "underprivileged"

184:
What will the world be like with 3-5 times more bright producers and innovators?

I don't think you're being optimistic enough. The privilege systems in the developed nations today prevent large fractions of their populations from taking part in the development as much as they could, based on class, gender, race, religion, etc. I would bet that we double or triple the number of bright producers and innovators in the US and Western Europe by removing the effects of White Straight Christian Male privilege, and multiply the entire world's supply of such by at least 10.

185:

Yes! it takes me back to trying to be served in a pub, being 5'2" and surrounded by taller, louder lads
(though bar staff appear to be better trained in this regard nowadays).

186:

Carlos, paws4thot is emphatically not American, for Glaswegian values of "not American". (American football playbooks are, shall we say, exotic on this side of the pond: we're talking about a sport that isn't generally shown on TV, played in schools or colleges, or covered in newspapers.)

I'll concede your general point, but you may want to bear in mind that this is an international forum -- probably more so than s.h.w-i.

187:

Sometimes in pubs I use barstaff sexism and send Fiona to get the drinks. She gets served faster than me.

188:

There speaks the voice of privilege.

189:

As to the suggestions to limit comments after you hit 200, this post alone has 180 in the first 20 hours or so. So I spent some time with my extended family yesterday afternoon, took a flight home, went to bed, got up then would have realized I missed the entire debate expect as read only.

190:

No complaints here. At a minimum I am amused and at times educated. This is one of my standard looks.

191:

And to remedy the situation you ensure everyone is privileged? Which rather negates the meaning of the word. So what is literally needed is to make everyone equally underprivileged.

192:

Charlie, I know. He made his background clear in his earlier dismissal, made in utter bloviating ignorance -- which is the problem in a nutshell.

It's more important to this cohort that they sound off and score points, so they can rehash the same tired arguments over and over again without interruption, like a bunch of rummies at a dive bar, rather than putting anything new into the discussion and attracting new blood.

Of course they want to preserve this privilege. I remember the same pattern on Usenet. The worst offenders squealed the most.

193:

Ah yes - me as "the voice of privilege".
Despite me earning less than the UK tax threshold for the past 5 years. A certain irony there don't you think?

194:
It's not that I dislike vigorous argument. It's just that there are ways of phrasing a request for clarification which don't imply that the person you're requesting the clarification from is either psychotically insane, moronic, or actively posting with malice aforethought; and gee, wouldn't it be nice if people used them more often?

Great Cthulhu eat us, yes! This. The difference between a debate and a conversation is vast, and I would much rather take part in a conversation. Though I must confess that there are times when it's difficult for me to not reply to someone who just isn't listening and keeps repeating the same point as if that were a refutation of everything.

And to support your point about time zones and schedules, I'm frantically typing this in at 9:30 in the morning, having spent the last 45 minutes reading comments above and drinking my morning coffee. I actually should have left for the park to walk the dogs, as I do every morning, but I got stuck following this thread. And now I don't have time to finish reading the comments that are already here, and by the time I can get back to it there will be 100 more.

195:

Personally, I find this blog - and its comments - to be one of the most thought-provoking and interesting sites on the internet. However, I have noticed the tendency of commenters to slip into the five topics listed, and it would be nice to try to avoid such.

My recommendations:
* Highlight posts made by OGH in one colour, moderation & meta in another colour, to make it clear what is "on-topic" (if you steer the conversation in one direction, it'd make it easier to follow if your posts were highlighted).

* Lose the comment numbers. It encourages people to use those instead of the "reply to" button, and then the numbers change as mods delete posts or approve held posts... also: make usernames bigger, so we can track who said what more easily? Maybe add Gravatar support, or similar?

* Better reply code. john king @43's idea for collapsing messsages and inheriting the property is a great one; applying italics to the quote environment, auto-quoting the message people reply to, and teaching Greg Tingey how to use the system (argh Greg, seriously, why) would help stop repetition and talking at cross-purposes.

* Include a five-line moderation / comment policy above the comment box (or in the comment box by default, to force people to read it?) asking commenters to "stay on-topic, ignorance before malice, and don't mention Libertarianism" or similar

* Force preview before submit (maybe with a five-second delay or something). Editing would be a nightmare but people losing half their comment because they don't know about < HTML codes > is a regular occurrence.

* Maybe, some kind of reddit-a-like per-comment karma score, to let lurkers +1 or Like comments (eurgh) and increase their engagement without needing them to post long, articulate and detailed comments? Doesn't need sort-by-score or tracking of total scores across threads (reddit's biggest problem IMO) but it might help unify the discussions. Not sure.

In any case, I'm still going to be reading (and buying!). Thanks for asking.

196:

I have an idea, Charlie.

1. Force people to create an account before they can comment.
2. Make a cool-down period of 24 hours between comments in each post for each account.
3. Suddenly, people write long, thoughtful comments.
4. ???
5. PROFIT!!!

197:

Well I've lived in Russia, and I didn't find a lot of love for Soviet ideology. In fact, I found Russians to be a very soulful people, much closer spiritually to Evola than Marx, who were rather horrified that the West seems to be embracing a version of PC as sterile as the Soviet one!

198:

It's a glass half empty/glass half full thing, Dirk. Also: not a zero sum game.

Would you rather be a 18th century aristocrat, living high on the hog by 18th century standards (with a 30% probability of dying of a fulminating bacterial infection, a high probability of burying half your children before they reached the age of five, a 10% probability per birth of your wife dying in labour, and not even daytime TV to watch for shits and giggles), or would you rather be a late 20th/early 21st century ordinary citizen, with none of those drawbacks?

Loss of relative advantage is not the same as loss of absolute wealth.

199:

Or;

4. Registration puts up a barrier to commenting, and only the regulars bother to do it.
5. Nobody wants to waste their precious place in the spotlight on odd asides, and instead write six page monstrosities that mostly reiterate their position yet again.

200:

This might be a little far-fetched, but would it be possible to write a comment plugin for Moveable Type that would be either threaded or non-threaded per the user's preference? It would solve a gigantic number of problems as long as everyone used the "Reply-To" function where appropriate.

201:

That doesn't work. There are a lot of forums that require registration and are still full of shit-posting.

202:

Anyhow. To put positive incentives in place to reduce this behavior, since I doubt that these people really want to act like rummies in a bar, perhaps you could encourage them change the topic themselves.

I remember that soc.history.what-if had the ObWI -- the "obligatory what-if" content -- to nudge a thread back to the purpose of the newsgroup. For your blog, commenters could be encouraged to "Bring It Back" to the topic at hand at the end of their posts. (Many ADHD people are taught this practice these days.) A digression might be interesting, but this way the poster can end with a comment meant to keep the discussion on track. Have it become part of the informal netiquette on your blog.

(E.g., "BIB: Charlie is awesome lorem ipsum et cetera.")

203:

I choose the third option - the transhumanist project come to full fruition and goodbye to Homo Sapiens and its defining traits of greed, stupidity, violence, cruelty, suffering, ignorance and general all round failure to live up to its highest ideals.

204:

See this thread: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2011/10/design-changes.html

OGH said that he thought it would be too much work to have a switch, @11; Chris Sullins @118 managed to built a prototype, though.

205:

OTOH, you're less likely to be discriminated against when you go looking for a job, and less likely to have a nasty accident involving the stairs if you ever visit your local police headquarters.

206:
Lose the comment numbers. It encourages people to use those instead of the "reply to" button
Hadn't thought about it, but you're right.

All good points. (Guess I disagree with collapsing away off topic comments though.)

Another thing might be to show currently active threads in the sidebar; name of post, last commenter, time ("one hour ago") – it might help people find the relevant place to post things. As it is now, most people seem to move on as soon as a new entry is posted.

207:

Returning to the notion of us over-privileged white males, here's the global average income:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17512040
"Let's put the world's average salary - in PPP dollars - of $1,480 a month, or almost $18,000 a year, in context:"

Well, in context it appears I am part of the underprivileged minority, globally. I demand more privileges!

208:

What won't work? (Are you disagreeing with yourself or me?)

My comment wasn't entirely serious, but it's a pessimistic view that doesn't seem that unlikely either..

209:

I think Eloise and Megpie71 say everything I said/ thought last night. I'm not tied to a web browser either, all though I am on the same time zone as OGH
If you do set forums Charlie, you can also set up discussion areas on all the subjects that interest you that regularly fall by the way side currently.

Greg vP @160 you comment is very reassuring when sometimes it seems that some commenters are very confident in their positions. I studied 'digging in the ground' engineering in the early 1990's and most of the stuff I studied was very 19th century. It's attitudes that change as much as anything. And you've reminded me that its permitted to be fumbling towards a possible answer. Bruce said something nice and encouraging too. Maybe I need to get Notepad out!

Thank you for showing just john the door. It's Charlie's party and all the other guests prefer the absence of the rude and idiotic. But as it took me an hour to read down to the bottom of the comments, i resisted the temptation to slap him around the head.

I can't contribute towards f/m balance of readers/commenters etc. But I often discuss Charlies's topics with people off line - not that's any help to him here.

Dirk @ 200
what makes you think that transhumanism will make all the 'monkey' problems go away? People have been trying various recipes for k- years and the problems is still around…

210:

When I lived in Russia, I found a people who were justly proud of their part in crushing the likes of you, and the rest of your fruity little club.

Now why don't you naff off, put on your rubber lederhosen and start strutting round your bedsit swigging from a bottle of schnapps and singing "tomorrow belongs to me"?

211:

Dirk, mate, it's not always all about you. . .

212:

"what makes you think that transhumanism will make all the 'monkey' problems go away? People have been trying various recipes for k- years and the problems is still around…"

That's because the *problem* is Homo Sapiens.
Bolting on a new philosophy, ideology or religion or throwing the monkey some more toys will, as you have pointed out, change nothing.
The answer then is to change Homo Sapiens, or replace it.

213:

>>>What won't work? (Are you disagreeing with yourself or me?)

Simply forcing registration won't work. Registration is easy. Cool-down, however...

214:

"Dirk, mate, it's not always all about you. . ."

It is when I am incorrectly, and pejoratively, referred to as "over-privileged" when by even global standards I am not.

215:

Privilege isn't only about income. And if you bother to read the page Charlie linked to about privilege equating to playing the game on the easiest possible settings, you might have noticed being privileged doesn't guarantee you win, reach the highest levels etc. It simply makes it easier for you to do so.

216:

And with this post you have posted as often as OGH and three times as much as the next poster in number of posts (18 and 6, unless my finger counting went off).

You are surely privileged in having web access, time, and enjoying your own prose. Probably less than 1% of humanity does so.

217:

+1 for periodic (or episodic) open thread. It works in keeping discussion corralled at Pharyngula. As a regular reader but very infrequent commenter, there's definitely a bit of an echo chamber feeling here at times.

218:

And who's going to be doing the cmd-F / replace operation?
Sorry this is probably not the place to be asking that question.
But in passing it was genuine.

219:

Have you read Scalzi's "Lowest difficulty setting" essay? Or Louis C.K on being white? Please do, then think about it. Please realize that someone telling you you have some privilege is not an attack on your character, or an insult, or an implication about your ability.

220:


Eben Moglen's keynote address at freedom-to-connect 2012

makes the interesting claim that a large chunk of the
restriction (at this point in time) comes from closed,
proprietary systems. He explicitly talks about making
innovation as feasible as possible for curious children
around the world.

221:

I'll chime in with the few other folk who are coming from other time zones.

I'm in Motor City (or what is left of its suburban regions), which shares UTC-5 with the USofA East Coast.

Sometimes that means I jump in at about 50 comments. Sometimes that means that I just read through 100 comments and decide not to chime in.

Most technical solutions will suffer from time-zone-itis. A discussion board may be more friendly to such interactions, though.

222:

I genuinely don't understand this attitude of "I don't post because the usual suspects (acknowledged that I can be one of them) are off on the usual subjects again.

My blog-checking time is limited enough that I rarely get to these posts until there are 200+ posts. When I do have something to say regarding the original post, and actually do manage to read through all the comments (often on the aforementioned usual sidetracks) to make sure I'm not repeating folks or missing the point, what I have to say generally forms a little momentary blip in the out-of-control (see: comment 343 to the big ideas post).

As an aside, this is also why "cut it off at 150" or such is not in itself an answer -- that just leaves us with 150 posts by the same folks who get there first and take it off topic every time, and even more completely leaves out of the conversation the same people who are already left out by the current state of affairs.

223:

I tend to agree, biology is not a physical science. It deals, for example, with (as the engineer working down the hall from me in the biology department described it) "horrendous amounts of noise all the time" that I just call "simple biological variation."

Biology also "smears" rather uncomfortably around a lot of topics which don't meet good reductionist principles. Ecology (not my area really) is one that's pretty well known for looking at complex webs of interactions that aren't amenable to reductionist analysis, but biochemistry is too in many ways and so on...

224:

Well, playing the game on the easiest possible setting has got to be being born really smart, and to parents who were not total wankers. I shall have to plead guilty on those counts.

225:

I do not understand how biology can't be a physical science. It used to be called natural science, meaning dealing with the nature of the world and all the creatures that interact and inhabit the natural universe. How much more physical than that can you get? I mean, you know, flesh, blood, brain, bone, gut. Why are phenomenoma that you cannot see with the physical eyes more physical than the eyes that can see, ears that hear, flesh that feels?

226:

You could just treat these observations as marketing information. This what your readers gravitate to. So, if you ever need to pick up your sales, all you have to do is write a story involving nuclear powered vehicles that roar around the surface of Mars shooting at each other in some sort of Libertarian utopia/dystopia.

227:

I refer the honourable gentleman to my post #208 above.

228:

And you are still wrong

229:
Thank you for showing just john the door. It's Charlie's party and all the other guests prefer the absence of the rude and idiotic.
just john wasn't shown the door, he just didn't like the moderation and left. Yellow card – entirely appropriate.

On balance, I'm not sure I am one of those "all" other guests who prefer his absence; if what he said were an actual bannable offense I'd probably leave too. (Stupid and inappropriate, for me that's just a question of time before it happens.)

230:

Charlie, If you'll refer back to comment #73, you'll see that I started out in favor of positive-sum forms of liberation.

My larger point is that this topic forces me into one of two roles. I can play the Enlightened Former Oppressor, taking personal responsibility for every bad thing that ever happened to a black person, despite the fact that bad things were happening to black people before white people even evolved. If I fail to play this role, I get cast as the villainous Unreconstructed Voice of Privilege (boo! boo!). Rather than play either role, I prefer to see what else is happening on the net. L8r.

231:

Biology is also where the cool stuff that doesn't cost several billion quid for a single piece of equipment is happening these days - summed up by overheard career advice from a programmer to a proto-nerd: "don't go into computer science, get a bioinformatics degree."

232:

You mean it really *is* always all about you?

233:

Ooops, goofta before intention to submit ....

What I'm trying to get at is that the future, at least the one(s) we who comment here and our progeny have and will actually experience, is physical, yet by and large it seems hardly to be considered in sf, outside the now very popular YA dystopias, which aren't really focused on how, why, wherefore and whither either.

234:

"You mean it really *is* always all about you?"

When somebody says so in a post directed at me, then yes.

235:

Which post was that then?

I've not bothered reading the whole thread - I much preferred yanking on your chain. :-)

236:

It's not messiness, it's complexity.

Physics is math applied to the universe. Chemistry is physics in one of its most complex forms. Biology is chemistry in its most complex form. Psychology is biology in its most complex form. Sociology is psychology in its most complex form.

With each jump in complexity, much of the underlying science becomes too complex to calculate, and rules of thumb are substituted.

237:

Dirk: you are (a) becoming annoying, (b) wrong, and (c) more importantly, you're derailing the discussion.

Please take some time out.

238:

[cooldown]
Hmm. Come to think of it, limiting the number of comments you can make in the first 24 hours of a post going up, and then opening it up, could be an interesting experiment.

That, and an open thread for the off-topic tangents that people will inevitably have anyway.

(But having it permanently in place would get rid of a lot of interesting discussion too, IMHO.)

239:

Oh, if this were Usenet, the karma points would live in killfiles (I know my shwi killfile got up to 40K worth of entries). But this is not SHWI - this is, for better or for worse, an open web forum.

'Zo. How to make it better? I've mentioned Banhammer before, so I won't belabor Banhammer again (Banhammer comes in six shades of gold, smells like pine, and tastes like manna.)

How expensive in dosh, time, and computational resources would adding a comment log-in system be? There's the OpenID system, et cetera, that the major blog and newsaggregator sites employ. If nothing else, a commentator having access to trackable histories of problem posters could discourage responses to trolls.

But we are back to the problem of traffic, which sheep elect to join the traffic, and how to keep the feedlot as free from manure as possible.

I like Carlos' idea of the ObBIB - fostering a social norm of returning to the point of the discussion. That will take a lot of guidance, filtering, and banhammering to make effective. And You will have to make it effective - and not retreat - once you enact the policy. Even the most recalcitrant of monochromatic turds will respond to public shaming and gentle guidance back to the TAH (Topic At Hand). But it will take much time and patience and repetition. And is your blog atmosphere worth expending RSI endurance on? Important question - do you get enough from these fora to change them?

Notice the diversion from YOUR PHLEGM ZHAWN ~150 posts in - the right response, in a guided discussion regime, would be to roll his post up and toss it into the can, say, "Pipe down, I'm not talking about models of modernity here, I'm talking about tools to foster good discussion. When I bring up that topic, you can post this. Until then, shut up. Post again about this, and you will shut up for good."

Instead, you engaged. Pig, mud, rinse, repeat.

240:

Charlie @ 110
THANKS
And THAT looks like "Interesting times".

Chris @ 116
Are you saying biology is or is not a physical science?
Yes we have a problem - we are already ON a generation Ship.
Now, how far can you downsize one to make a practical proposition?
And, is that a physical science Q, or a sociological one?

Eloise @ 118
Correct, but only partly.
Your focus is MUCH too recent.
The drive to "Equality of opportunity" started much earlier - somewhere between 1642 & 1688, actually, then abolition of slavery & trading, abolition of slavery abroad, gradual "reform" (Expanding the vote), pension schemes, etc.
Interesting sidelight ... Charted Accountancy, in the broadest sense is now approx 52% female.

@ 120
Not quite - I was not amused by the previous posters' suggestions. That is not to say that improvements can be made.

paws4thot
MBF (?)
Haber Nitrates have a nasty habit of washing out, and polluting watercourses, manily because people WILL put too much on - the idea of a recommended safe dose doesn't seem to have translated across.
You CAN do the same with horse-shit, but you have to work at it.

Charlie @ 129
Yes, learning to speak another language is a very good idea. But, don't worry.
Many Chinese Universities are using English as their principal teaching medium, the Italians are starting to switch, and the French(!) already have at least 6 doing this. [ I can quote you the correspondence from a friend who’s son is doing Latin (!) at Edinburgh, right now.]

Anatoly @ 140
So, you are saying libertarianism (USSA-style) is a religion? Because it requires humans to be that which they are not?
Them how long before it starts industrial-scale killing, then, to really qualify as a religion?

magetoo @ 148
NO
There is not a "general consensus" of which you speak.
BUT
Charlie is asking "How can we improve this blog, and how can we cut down on some topics (though not ban them outright).
Which is a very different proposition.

@ 150
"Feminist SF" ?
THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS.

Dirk @ 159
I would guess about 40-45% female (?)
PLENTY of female fans.

Almost-namesakeVP @ 160
Spot on.
But, it's difficult.
Our actual future?
Well, thin-films/graphenes/silicenes ... biotech are going to make really big differences in the next 20 years.
Provided, of course, the so-called "green" morons can be persuaded not to trash the oldest research lab on the planet @ Rothampsted.

Your friend Sean @ 163
You just trashed yourself.
You used the word "secular" [ =non-religious] in a pejorative sense.
I suggest you re-read my comments on why this is a good thing, and why religions, all religions, and especially organised monotheistic ones, including communism, are irretrievably evil.
I mean, haven't you got the message, yet?
WE HAVE TRIED YOUR FUTURE.
It was called "The Middle Ages, or even, "The Dark Ages", in Europe, at least.
Just for starters, could you define this "spirit" thing of which you speak, pretty please?
... oh, and Charlie (@ 166)
No, he's calling for not fascism, or old-fashioned autarkic monarchies, but a RELIGIOUS dimension to control society - a recent example would be Ireland 1923-90, with children and women enslaved by the church.
Delightful.
& @ 169
Islam? A religion founded by a man who had sex with an 8-12 year old girl? (Ayesha) & who ordered his "enemies" murdered? Err, what "socialist" ideology would that be, then?
As for yin-Yang, THAT shows just how far off-base, to actually insane you are.
Ever read any le Guin?

Light is the left hand of Darkness / And Darkness the right hand of Light / the two are one / Like hands joined together / Like lovers in Kemmer / Like the End and the Way.

[ WE had that at our wedding - so there! ]

Dirk @ 173
This evil started a long time before.
The full-fledged police state was invented by a religious leader (what a suprise that wasn't!) - Jean Calvin. Including arbitrary arrest, torture, and death.

DJPo'K @ 173
I suggest you read "Hitler & Stalin, parallel lives"
NOTHING, at all, to choose between them, really. Or their ideologies, in numbers of innocents killed.

Bruce Cohen @ 176
I suggest you re-read my original comment, as it had a question mark. I was astounded that someone thought biology was NOT a physical science.
Oops.

Jules Jones @ 176
You'd understand better if you met Feorag!

Charlie @ 178
Agreed - but the HRA has been horribly misused, by lawyers gaming the system, which then gives the Daily Nazi (spit) a lever based on a tiny fragment of truth buried in a mountain of lies, to use as a fulcrum for their levers.

Bruce @ 182
Disagree.
The number of people who can usefully get and real advantage from a proper University education is less than those going now.
What we do need, desperately, is a better system at the next level down, for tertiary ed, at least.
In England primary/secondary education is broken, completely, since there is no real academic desire to succeed - since that's "elitist".
Look at the actual dumbing-down of exam grades - which is HORRIBLY unfair on the children, since they are, actually, doing their best, and the adults have betrayed them. ( I used to be a teacher, among other things )

Dirk @ Charlie @ 185/6
Want to hear about the time Rhona & I walked into a pub full of 6'4" very pissed rugby fans [Barbarians vs S. Africans ] ... guess who got served instantly? (not me)

dr demento @ 192
BUT if you "reply-button" you bounce up & down all over the place - & I get sea-sick!
My real problem is typos - its better than it was, but too many still slip through, even with preview.

241:

The Original Sin model of dealing with privilege issues is something else again, and one I take exception to.

I am not directly responsible for the crimes of other peoples' ancestors. (Reductio ad absurdam: I'm not American, none of my ancestors were American, nor did any of my ancestors hold properties on that continent or make money from trade with that continent -- yet I'm supposed to feel guilt for the genocide of the First Nations? Yes, I regret their murder: but I'm pretty certain none of my ancestors were involved in any way. So ... am I guilty?)

I am responsible for not repeating those offenses, and not taking unfair advantage from the degradation of the victims, but that's a different matter.

242:

You have a sample set of several tens of thousands of comments, yes? Can you (or would you, or would you have the inclination or will) to analyze comments paired with nyms or ip addresses, so you can identify who is providing you with the bulk of your comment traffic? Are you comfortable with getting rid of them, if they turn out to be the same folks who (with or without correction and guidance by BANHAMMER) gravitate to the strange attractors? If your comment threads were 30 entries long, instead of 350, as a result, would your ego take a hit?

243:
There is not a "general consensus" of which you speak.
That was BO who said that, not me. Block quotes probably need to stand out more...
BUT if you "reply-button" you bounce up & down all over the place - & I get sea-sick!
Is it really that bad? What you are doing – posting comment numbers, so one has to scroll to them manually – is pretty hard to follow, even when the numbers don't change. (and I usually skip past comments that do that to be honest)
244:

"I would guess about 40-45% female (?)"

Surprising, but then I have never been to any SF fan event or even book signing.

245:

The problem that Charles faces is simply that this is a *very* successful blog. Tweaking something is far more likely to make it less, rather than more, successful. Big unpopular changes could kill it. Maybe by eliminating the top 20% mouthy people most of the blog, and its hits, drops off a precipice.

246:

That's only important if Charlie measures success in how many poster/commenters he has accreted to his popularity ball. Most websites measure success in traffic and eyeballs, but they do it to show stats to advertisers, of which Charlie has none. Paris Review, or New York Daily News - which do you prefer?

247:

"Paris Review, or New York Daily News - which do you prefer?"

Me? the one with the biggest circulation all other things being equal. I assume what Charles ultimately wants from this blog is first (I guess) influence, and second a launch platform for his wares. Influence comes from either millions of eyeballs, or a very select few who comprise the elites of our societies.

248:

The blog is an ad, if you think about it -- for my writing!

And it has viewers up the wazoo. I mean, 5.8 million visits in the last 12 months. Averaging 15,600 visits per day in this month alone.

249:

Ah yes, that famous politician's trick the untenable (and almost always false) dichotomy.

You cannot reasonably be held responsible for the actions of your ancestors in general. (You can make specific points about elderly parents where you have the power of attorney though). Similarly you can't be held responsible for your descendants (save your children and possibly grandchildren under similar conditions), your entire culture or similar. You can be responsible for others - an obvious example if you're an officer in the Navy and you give an order, you bear some responsibility for the actions of those that carry out the order.

You *can* choose to be the unreconstructed voice of privilege. You have that right.

There are a whole range of choices in between though. You can choose, for example, to do more than the legally required minimum wherever you are: preferentially promote women say. Make a point of employing disabled people wherever possible. There's more of course, but that's two quick ones.

Or you could advocate and agitate for more change. Don't have that sort of authority within your job? Make suggestions to change the company culture that way. Challenge examples of discrimination that you see.

There's a lot you can do to take responsibility for yourself and your organisation and make it clear you're not part of the problem that doesn't require either of those extreme positions.

250:

I have ancestors on both sides of the American Civil War. Some of my ancestors owned others of my ancestors (I'm only about 1% black, specifically Bantu, and look like a particularly large Norwegian with Amerindian hair) (Since you're Scottish, let me convey my regret about all those times my Viking ancestors landed on your coasts and burned shit down). My ancestry includes Gypsies, Jews, Creek Indians, Englishmen, Irishmen, Germans, various Scandinavians... Short version is, I'm a fairly typical American white guy.

Am I somehow guiltier than you? I accept responsibility for the things I've done, and for the things I should have done but didn't, but it's not my job to fix the whole world. That's God's job, and if it drove him crazy that would sure explain a lot.

251:

"But first I need to look at some forum software, and decide which I like the look of. "

I deeply hope that we will still be able to do a general text search (Édition - Rechercher, in my Firefox browser) on the contents.

252:

(Guess I disagree with collapsing away off topic comments though.)

I thought it was a nice middle ground between allowing crazy offtopic diversions (like that which Dirk has so helpfully provided here) and deleting / moderator-warning / posting notices. Anyway, it was just a suggestion - while I'd love them to be taken up, I'm in no illusions as to who's paying for the bandwidth!

(Apart from the karma one. I've thought about it more, it wouldn't really help with anything.)

Greg @235 - I find it much more confusing to ctrl-F the comment numbers you're referencing! With a replying-to link you can click, read, and then hit backspace and you're where you started.

Maybe there's a Third Way! Which doesn't involve PFI / PPP. How about a popup box to show the comment in question when you click on the reply-to link? Let's get extra-fancy: any mentions of @$number will be autohyperlinked to that comment when they get posted. Shouldn't increase server load much at all (small bit of well-made JS?), minor change to current status. And I've done it here.

253:

I'm not Scottish; I just live in Scotland. As it happens, most of my ancestors come from the Jewish bits of Poland and Amsterdam -- mostly only about 2-4 generations back, at that.

Oh yes. Last week I had a hospital appointment. The appointments secretary was updating their records, and there's obviously some sort of rudimentary effort under way in Edinburgh's hospitals to work out the ethnic identity of their users. "Are you Scottish, English, or some other ethnicity?" She asked me.

("Prefer not to say" was, it appears, an acceptable answer.)

Yes, "White English" is an ethnic minority here.

255:

If you really want the topics to stay away from the topic attractors for most posts, then may I suggest putting those attractors in a place to remind us to stay clear of them. I think most of us are adult enough to follow such a simple rule to maintain polite conversation. Then just delete the offending posts, with a marker indicating the deletion.

256:

Wow! This is another thread where by the time you read and digest comments, you've been left in the dust.

Re: more women. Good idea. I think they are less interested in rocket ships and blasters. But I've tried.
My boss is really interested in augmented reality, (we're aiming at mobile apps for social service caseworkers) so I thought Halting State and Rule 34 were naturals. I got her to read 40 Signs of Rain and the extended version of True Names. She was blown away by that. "how did they know 40 years ago?" I think she may have read your blog a couple of times, but no impact.

And you met my wife at the pub in Manhattan. She loves escape literature of the Jane Austen variety. But she is planning the near-term future of lots of kids with her social service group. But that night, after a hard days work, all she was interested in was sitting down to eat. There are other things besides washing machines that women need.

257:

Actually, Augmented Reality has not had much in the way of SF treatment. It could have huge social implications, esp if direct brain computer links are viable.

258:

You are not the only one interested in sustainable agriculture, with some experience, alas I am not female however. I live in minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. I am part of a cooperative that has one of the biggest urban farms in the USA. I also think sustainable agriculture is a very important issue in our future, but so are many other things, such as education, economics, and social organization. I think OGH does a pretty good job of covering many of these, he has the only blog that I follow. However just wanted to let the host and most of the regulars know that I value your insights and I generally enjoy the conversations.

259:

If long comment threads are a problem, then perhaps it may help to close threads when they get too long but open a new thread with your summary of the comments you found important and where you want to nudge the conversation. I have seen that be effective on other blogs with long comment threads.

260:

You have developed an effective IA system that can answer just about any question, but with any search you will get chaff along with the wheat.

The problem you have is that when you ask the question, enter the search parameters, you are already anticipating the answer that "you" want, so if you don't see "your" answer you feel the search has failed.

The best way to use the system is to harvest the best info after the thread slides to a stop. Even with a high signal to noise ratio there are often priceless gems revealed; if you can step back and look at the result another day to see what is actually there rather than only accepting your predetermined result.

The way the current thread has exploded is because you asked the IA system to recursively look at itself and see how to avoid the chaos, thus increasing the chaos. Listen to the feedback squeal. HA!

261:

So what is OGH looking for? He mentions up the line advertising and (perhaps influence).

Another guess on my part is new ideas. (But when does Charlie actually have time to write instead of reading and moderating? I think he may be at the point of diminishing returns on this.) I tend to search on his name to see what he is responding to.

Someone mentioned avoiding what is too common. Forgotten what it's called, but there are sites that show a (cloud) list of topics with most popular in the largest font. Those are the comments to avoid. I have hunch you also might filter out topics that are too ... whatever. Don't know if the package you're using supplies this feature.

262:

I suggest the following techincal solution: let everyone tag the various posts with the various attractors (+other), and filter.

Thus, you need not see the drivel. A threaded system with collapsible threads would also help.

263:

Sorry for the double post - the first threw an error, and I thought it was gone into the ether. (Didn't save the message either.)

[[ It happens. I've trimmed out your duplicate ]]

264:

Well, while I've been curating this discussion I also wrote >2000 words of "Neptune's Brood" today. And I've been averaging over 2000 words per day for over a week now, despite taking days off. Because, y'know, I'm a writing machine. It takes a huge blog storm to eat into my writing time, if I am feeling motivated to write.

(Trouble is, the easy, low-hanging fictional fruits have been plucked, and I am both older and slower than I used to be, and more susceptible to getting tired and needing middle-aged mid-afternoon naps. The same pressure that eats into the writing time eats into the blogging time.)

265:

Or the design of better kitchen appliances?

"The Lathe of Heaven" by U. K. LeGuin (1971) ?

Admittedly, not a major plot point, but it's the only mention of designing Kitchen equipment I can recall in SF.

266:
You *can* choose to be the unreconstructed voice of privilege. You have that right.
There are a whole range of choices in between though. You can choose, for example, to do more than the legally required minimum wherever you are: preferentially promote women say. Make a point of employing disabled people wherever possible. There's more of course, but that's two quick ones.

You also - not to put too fine a point on it - get to decide which category of under-privilege you wish to address. Left-handed people have a disadvantage in this vale of tears. Adults under five feet tall are also disadvantaged. I suspect there's a lot of people who are not only aggressive advocates for minority/women's rights, they honestly believe that those are most important dimensions of privilege. They also (as a group), sadly, tend to swarm all over those who disagree with their ordering of priorities. To paraphrase a commenter upthread, they need to get over themselves.

Apologies for the continuance of an off-topic thread.

267:

My understanding is that in the your area of the world, Scots and Englishmen are still a bit miffed at each other, but serious ethnic violence is a long time past. In America, the grievances are fresher and the conversations angrier. I am thankful that you have no significant Iraqi following, or things would really get loud.

Sometimes the best way to deal with these things is not to. We can't set the past right, but we try to get along as well as we can for now, and it gets a little better with each passing generation.

268:

Interesting - four of the five categories Charlie mentions have this in common: they are concerned with things that can be tinkered with on the nuts-and-bolts level. Stuff like biology and psychology, maybe not so much.

That being said, I like to read the comments of people like Heteromeles because it's stuff I'm not familiar with. Said comments incidentally (or so I believe) highlighting the difference between a formal education and those who are self-taught.

269:

Scent @267:

The really funny thing is that Charlie started this thread, back in #24, asking why nobody wanted to talk about gender and ethnic politics. I replied in #73 that I didn't think we had anything helpful to say about gender and ethnic politics, and we spent the next 200 comments proving it.

270:

I've skipped reading most of the previous and offer that commenting itself is a poorly-defined concept that does not serve its best purpose. "Threading" is an improvement, but I tend to think that a very slight formalization of topic would benefit the various *readers* of discussion pages (including the moderator/facilitator). One system I tinkered on simply started with (ad hoc) semantic tagging of elements of a post, which included a formal thumbs-up/down on a per-element basis, and then comment content would be associated with that set of thumb-ings. The benefit is mainly to aid in semantic(ish) filtering, so that sentiment aggregation is achieved at a high level with minimal initial investment, and then facets may be delved into once determined valuable. Essentially, no one says anything without voting. That could still be gamed, but the gaming would hopefully scale poorly.

271:

I don't understand, how can biology be anything other than a physical science, given a certain lack of information about a soul or spirits?
All that makes it harder is that it has many more variables which are difficult to model. People were doing reasonably good chemistry long before they knew how atoms worked and nobody claimed chemistry wasn't a physical science. Same surely with biology.

272:

Charlie @ 248
Word-of-mouth / word-of-blog, the BEST form of advertisining that money can never buy.

Jay @ 250
Actually, a lot of the vikings didn't burn shit down in Scotland - they settled.
Control of the Jarldom of Orkney did not pass to the Scottish crown until after the battle of Largs, 1263, and the title was not ceded until 1468, because the Norwegian King reneged on a debt (A dowry, actually!)

dr_demento @ 252
Like it!
Can I second that one - it would make it easier for me, and if it makes it easier for other people as well, then it's definitely worth a try.

Charlie & Dirk @ 253/4
Ethnicity, ah yes ... deliberately designed to make everyone feel guilty about something.
And a deliberate offcious, interfering impertinence.
If possible my reply, either spoken or written is:
Homo sapiens, sapientes africanus
[ "Man who thinks he thinks, comes from/native of Africa" ]

John @ 258
Do you have Allotments in the USA?
[ Explanation - rented (v low rent) plots approx 10x30 metres for growing your own vegetables, usually located on "spare" ground in cities, towns and villages.
Can be very productive. ]


273:

Isn't it nice to have the evidence, though? ",)

274:

"Homo sapiens, sapientes africanus"

With a little help from Transhumanists maybe we can make something better. If I thought we were the end of the line instead of the beginning I'd shoot myself now.

275:

Up until a couple of decades ago biologists in general were strongly resistant to the idea of "theoretical biology", holding that biology by its nature had to be inductive rather than deductive. This wasn't helped by the attempts by some physicists and cyberneticists in the 1960s and 70s to create a field of theoretical biology. The debate became conflated with the controversy over the relative merits of the study of genetics (championed by the supporters of the inductive view) and development (championed by the deductive crowd, including a number of physicists).

The result was that some physicists felt that the inductive biologists were abandoning the pure scientific method, and began to distinguish between "physical sciences" (physics, chemistry, astronomy, geology, etc.), "biological sciences" (biology, paleontology, etc.), and "social sciences" (sociology, anthropology, psychology, etc.) in (to them) decreasing order of rigor, elegance, and importance.

For a very good analysis of the history of this argument, see Making Sense of Life : Explaining Biological Development with Models, Metaphors, and Machines by Evelyn Fox Keller. She was a physicist who became a molecular biologist and then a student of the history and philosophy of science with emphasis on gender and feminism.

My personal opinion of the comparison of scientific fields is agnostic. As a child I wanted to be an astronomer; later I studied to be a photographer and filmaker, but became an electronic engineer instead; still later I changed into a software engineer who specialized in computer graphics for a good part of my career. So it's all interesting.

276:

It also depends on your definition of ethnicity - the differences nowadays between Scotland and England are really just cultural. Sure, if you do lots of DNA analysis there are gradients in prevalence across the countries, but there has been sufficient population movement in the last few centuries that getting all snooty about exactly who was whose great grandfather is pretty pointless. (Outside of the aristocracy that is)
There are still pockets of it such as the Orange order.
And it is still possible to be assaulted in Scotland because you are English, but it is pretty rare and usually involves alcohol.

277:

Just having the wrong accent in the wrong place can get you in trouble. Don't need no stinkin DNA for that. Or even the wrong haircut.

278:
The number of people who can usefully get and real advantage from a proper University education is less than those going now. What we do need, desperately, is a better system at the next level down, for tertiary ed, at least.

I think your first sentence here is incorrect, for the very reason that the second is very right. Primary and secondary education in the USA is seriously broken, and I'm hearing from you and others that the same is true in the UK, and for what sounds like similar reasons: unwillingness of the political and managerial class to pay for it, and the desire to ensure that the lower classes aren't educated well enough to be competition for them.

ISTM that if we fix the lower educational levels, and in particular make it a fundamental principle to get the kids to understand why it's in their interest to be educated, a lot more of the people going to university will be prepared to actually learn from it, and to use that learning, whether inside or outside the academic system.

279:

Really Dirk? You'd shoot yourself at the mere thought that your distant descendents, whom you will never know, will fail to become "something better" than you? See this is why I always bring up spirituality, because without it people end up in crazy mental cul-de-sacs like this. Science fiction is a lie dude; there's no better future coming and there never was. At the end of the day, all you're doing is rearranging the furniture until the ship goes down. My advice is to learn to enjoy the art of furniture rearranging!

280:

Biology progresses; and with the best technology humanity has at the moment we can do biologically the sort of things that the better sort of steampunk costumers do with their costumes; we can attach some kind of gear to something else and in the best cases have it revolve.

A company in Israel has worked out how say unto a carrot cell 'Produce glucocerebrosidase, and cause it to appear in vacuoles'; and then grow the carrot cell in culture, blend the culture and extract the gluocerebrosidase and sell it to people whose bodies don't produce it ... this made the papers today, it took quite a lot of reading to notice that this was cell culture rather than fields of special carrots, and even the investor relations material says 'immune to animal viruses!' without mentioning the splendid collection of plant viruses out there.

I was amazed to discover that a company in Canada had edited a pig genome ('enviropig' is the Google term) and ended up with a herd of pigs that produce phytase in the salivary glands, which releases otherwise indigestible phosphate in whatever the pig chews; this means you can feed the pigs on grain and their manure doesn't come out full of surplus phosphate and prone to causing algal blooms.

The biologists I hang around with are pharmaceutical people, and that's a world which is about as far from can-do engineering exuberance as can be imagined; almost all projects fail and most projects fail miserably. You can design an awesome compound for inhibiting the folate synthesis pathway in trypanosomes, and use this to discover that trypanosomes have a backup folate synthesis pathway and your compound is about as harmful to them as lemon juice; building the tool to do the experiment with the negative answer was a dozen man-years and a million euros, which is a factor thousand less than the average phase-three failure wastes.

And a very, very sensible and frugal thing to do, since if it had worked it would save lives by the hundreds of thousands; but not terribly easy to write engaging fiction about.

281:

I remember thinking, when first reading "The Female Eunuch", that a lot of the book would still make sense if the word "women" was replaced by "people". Just because males (generally) get the upper hand in this particular Zimbardo glasshouse doesn't mean that they aren't oppressed just as heavily by socialisation.

In my family and in many others, a great deal of enforcement of male children was by the application of violence - this was much less common for female children. The same is true for violence amongst peers.

In adult life, I hope I'm wrong but I suspect that men (especially young men) statistically receive more violence than women. This is not to belittle the awful and frequent things that are done to women.

Without overlooking the many genuine ways that women get an unfair deal - and their deal is less fair - nobody wins. The concept of "privilege" is a tricky one to me. Certainly I'd be a different and probably nicer person, braver and more trusting, if I hadn't been smacked about so much as a child. My sister is, and wasn't.

282:

"Really Dirk? You'd shoot yourself at the mere thought that your distant descendents, whom you will never know, will fail to become "something better" than you? See this is why I always bring up spirituality"

Yes. Otherwise its all rather pointless.
Non existence may turn out to be the superior option.
Even from a Buddhist POV.
As for spirituality, perhaps you would care to define the term before using it? With most people it's just a bullshit waffle term with added hand waving. Are you any different?

283:

Isidro Ramos:


...
I like my future high tech as much as the next guy, but why Mars colonies, moon bases, missiles, rocket engines and energy generators and not skyscrapers, urbanism, railroads, aquaculture, vertical farming, cloning, robots or AIs...? And regarding politics, why is always Libertarianism? Why we see no Trotskyists visitors deeply interested in cheap rocket tickets to Mars? In short, I think the list equals saying that some flavor of Space Cadetism ends up derailing discussions all too often.

Interesting. And it's not like we don't get those things in other speculative fiction; skyscrapers, urbanism in Metatropolis, railroads in Iron Council, the last few in Bacilagupi's Windup Girl, for a few easily at hand examples.

There are some Trotskyist spec fic writers; as Charlie mentioned, american reaction thereof is more or less 'not even wrong...'

Less Space Cadetism, check.

284:

bruce:


I think your first sentence here is incorrect, for the very reason that the second is very right. Primary and secondary education in the USA is seriously broken, and I'm hearing from you and others that the same is true in the UK, and for what sounds like similar reasons: unwillingness of the political and managerial class to pay for it, and the desire to ensure that the lower classes aren't educated well enough to be competition for them.

I believe it' shortsighted unwillingness to pay for it - nevermind that high tech is now having to make forays into secondary education to start getting trained workers.

I hear the "uneducated lower classes" argument a lot. I don 't believe it, because if true it would indicate that the rich are so far divorced from reality of how modern society works that a middle class jihad might actually be necessary...

285:

It's all rather pointless if the future doesn't feature transhumanist supermen? Where do you get that crazy idea? A Buddhist of the Zen variety would probably tell you that your life at this moment is the only point, and to forget about your imaginary futures. But if you still find life unbearable, I guess you can join the growing ranks of antinatalists who think life is a mistake that needs correcting...

286:

And regarding politics, why is always Libertarianism? Why we see no Trotskyists visitors deeply interested in cheap rocket tickets to Mars?

Because adolescents are a huge part of the target audience, and because Libertarianism is basically a teenager's cry of "Leave me alone!" expanded into a political platform. If the audience wants fantasies of independence, that's what they get.

287:
Really Dirk? You'd shoot yourself at the mere thought that your distant descendents, whom you will never know, will fail to become "something better" than you? See this is why I always bring up spirituality, because without it people end up in crazy mental cul-de-sacs like this. Science fiction is a lie dude; there's no better future coming and there never was. At the end of the day, all you're doing is rearranging the furniture until the ship goes down. My advice is to learn to enjoy the art of furniture rearranging!

I believe Dirk's bordering on a mental cul-de-sac here, but Mr Pot is paging Mr Kettle to the white courtesy phone. Mr Kettle.

Spirituality is many things - including dead-end religions, suicide cults, and gross disrespect for human rights other in than believing their preferred religion.

It's also much more than that, and i don't want to tar a lot of perfectly good people who are religious, their deep and sincere beliefs, the good many of them selflessly do in the name of their gods.

But the way you are using it here it's a code word for hateful misunderstanding, not joy and good works, and that's wrong. Go away.

288:

"I hope I'm wrong but I suspect that men (especially young men) statistically receive more violence than women."

This comment is badly phrased and I wish I hadn't put it like that, it gives the wrong impression of what I meant to say. I don't "hope" anyone receives violence.

289:

Of course our descendants will be better people than us; they'll have read better books, watched better movies. Maybe there's only one novel fit for the ages published per million writers per month; maybe only one movie fit for the all-time top-100 comes out each year; but over time, in the fields in which good old things are reasonably comparable with good new things, the pile of the best things will get only better.

Doesn't even require exponential growth; writing and publishing books is far from energy-intensive. Movies still cost in props and in CPU cycles as well as in brainpower, but to spend two hundred million dollars making something which entertains two hundred million people for two hours each isn't so bad a deal, particular if each person is paying you five dollars for the entertainment.

290:

(Someone gets it.)

Okay, let's upgrade the subject of discussion from "privilege" to "kyriarchy". More useful, but a whole lot harder to understand!

Does that help?

291:

Don't worry, I won't go away. Especially not now that I've found a new purpose in life -- therapist/cult deprogrammer for science fiction addicts and other true believers in the religion of progress.

292:

"Spirituality is many things - including dead-end religions, suicide cults, and gross disrespect for human rights other in than believing their preferred religion."

So which is Sean going on about? I notice he did not define the term. I should also point out that of the tens of thousands of posts I have made over the years most have been on religion and spirituality, so I'm not going to easily fobbed off by some NewAge BS.

293:

Multidimensional pecking orders

294:

I'm so happy to read this blog post.

I have wondered for some time: How can an author whose work I like and respect so much have such, well, trite and predictable commentors?

My idea: Have a trial period during which you delete every comment that bores you and replace it with a brief note about why.

This will operate in several ways: (1) Pavlovian training for existing commentors encouraging them to step up their game, (2) cutting down the Heinlein-esque dross so people can actually find the interesting responses, and (3) encouraging new commentors to speak up once there's a little breathing space. Don't think of it as censorship, think of it as training, or curation. And maybe you'll only have to do it once or twice a year.

I'm also annoyed by the scarcity of women's comments. You write incredibly perceptive feminist science fiction, surely you have lots of women fans!

But speaking as a woman myself, I'd rather suck the snot out of dog's nose than engage in discussion with, e.g., Dirk Bruere (Hi, Dirk!) so I can't really fault women for not participating in the current situation.

295:

Charlie:

I hardly ever comment here, although I am a fan of your work and enjoy speculative discussions. One, I can't follow the threads unless I read all of the comments. I prefer to browse until something catches my eye, but on this website that is an exercise in chaotic futility. A forum with a "Reply With Quote" button might help somewhat.

As for the content, what websites have communities of commenters that you admire? How are the posts at those websites different from your posts? Maybe you are trying too hard. What if, for some of your posts, you simply posted a short quote from a news article along with a comment like "this is great" or "this is awful."

It's a quandary when you are the star of the show and people come here to get freebie short works from you in between your published books. That puts a lot of strain on you. Commenters try to keep pace by being as clever as you, which to tell you the truth doesn't make for very interesting comments.

For me, the most interesting comments are generated by your most specific posts, like "what car should I buy." People have to have some intelligence about a topic to be able to comment intelligently.

296:

I will concede that the myth of progress is to some extent a quasi-religious belief. In evolution -- both genetic and memetic -- we see a drunkard's walk through the phase-space of possible outcomes, not a teleological, directional progress.

However, in the accumulation of knowledge of process that we derive by following the scientific method, we can see an expansion in the amount of information about how the universe works that is monotonic and expansionary. Science is progressively expanding because it incorporates mechanisms for invalidating and expelling incorrect information.

What we make of our increased scientific knowledge by way of social utility is, well, potentially random. (Lest we forget: Stalin thought that Lysenko's scientific" knowledge was valid. Hitler thought that racism was "scientific". Both were actually misapplications -- perversions -- of science, but achieved prominence because of their political expediency.)

But the underlying factual information remains.

297:
I replied in #73 that I didn't think we had anything helpful to say about gender and ethnic politics, and we spent the next 200 comments proving it.

Don't get me wrong - I do think straight white males have some sort of privilege. It's just that discussions like these tend to be rather useless until you can prioritize them in a spectrum of privilege. And - legions of washed-up Amanda Marcotte's[1] to the contrary - I don't happen to think that gender inequality is the most serious or most urgent priority when it comes to dealing with types of inequality.

[1]They are in fact, rather grating and given to deliberately conflating "your priorities are not mine" with "oblivious sexist jerk". Which is just soooo twentieth-cen.

298:

Okay, let's upgrade the subject of discussion from "privilege" to "kyriarchy". More useful, but a whole lot harder to understand! Does that help?

The word "kyriarchy" seems too broad to be useful. Any time people cooperate, there are pressures (whether subtle or not) keeping each from going his/her own way. A word that covers control systems from outright slavery all the way down to pointed glances includes most human interaction.

299:

It still remains all rather pointless if at the end of the day its just more toys for the monkey who will remain a monkey. Scitech then simply becomes intellectual masturbation before the inevitable fall of night. Which is OK if you like being a wanker.

300:

Firstly, the author is not responsible for their followers.

(Else how to explain prosperity doctrine pentecostalists from the preaching of Yeshua ben Yusuf?)

Secondly, er, maybe if you'd stick around and keep on commenting it'd drive down the ratio of folks you dislike to people like you?

301:
I don't understand, how can biology be anything other than a physical science, given a certain lack of information about a soul or spirits?
All that makes it harder is that it has many more variables which are difficult to model.

I suspect that it's more that biology is not as amenable to tinkering on the nut-and-bolts level (or at least not yet). It's relatively easy to design and build a plane with one engine, or two or three, for example. It's much, much tougher to tinker with the basic mammalian design to come up with, say, a six-legged cow or an eight-legged horse.

302:

My own proposal would be to limit people to two posts (increased by one every time OGH or any other so anointed moderator replies to that person, even if it is only "Good Idea!" or "Tell me more") per thread. Use your slots wisely!

As I said upstream "Maybe a solution might involve limiting either the frequency or number of comments people can make." Clearly showing that it's easy to miss comments when so many are made. :-)

Thinking on this further (something that a post limit might preclude, I admit), I like the suggest that Charlie's posts be easy to spot. I think a way of having Charlie (or designate) 'tag' posts he feels useful/relevant/funny/worth reading would also be handy — with several hundred posts to skim, it would be nice to be able to quickly pick Charlie's posts and the ones he liked.

(If coupled with some sort of quota, possibly getting 'liked' by Charlie could bump up the quota.)

Another possibility could be to throttle people, maybe to one post every 24 hours. Or maybe only throttle those who seem to need it. (Into which category I probably fall myself sometimes, being a recovering engineer and all…)

The least intrusive change would probably be to colour Charlie's posts, followed by colouring posts Charlie thinks worth reading (for whatever reason). No one is being silenced, but those of us with limited time could quickly find what OGH thinks are worthwhile points, and read/reply to those while ignoring the dross. (Or not ignoring it, if we so choose and Charlie doesn't mind. His server, his bandwidth, after all.)

303:
Don't worry, I won't go away. Especially not now that I've found a new purpose in life -- therapist/cult deprogrammer for science fiction addicts and other true believers in the religion of progress.

I would personally just ban you for that, but it's not my blog. Perhaps the site owner will be highly tolerant of your self-admitted highly off topic focus area you admit intending to use to derail conversations.

Bwhahaa

304:

Actually, the "religion of progress" comes closest to real religion with transhumanism and its aims of not only creating synthetic intelligence, achieving immortality and surpassing old HomSap but re-engineering the entire universe. It has all the aspects of Xianity, for example.

305:

It still remains all rather pointless if at the end of the day its just more toys for the monkey who will remain a monkey. Scitech then simply becomes intellectual masturbation before the inevitable fall of night. Which is OK if you like being a wanker.

What did you think scitech was, a religion??

306:

I would also vote for the creation of a proper forum infrastructure. I think the utterly vast number of comments per post indicates that there's a large community reading this site that wants to talk, and they're using whatever post happens to be at the top to do that talking. Having a group of forums dedicated to that community would mean that most of the noisy discussion would be moved out of the way.

Yes, forums require even more moderation overhead, but I'd bet you could find volunteers for that very easily.

307:

"What did you think scitech was, a religion"

A pointer to something better.
And you still have not defined what you mean by spirituality. I could post a chunk from my forthcoming book on the subject, to enlighten you, but I think Charles would rather frown on that.

308:

IMHO the guidance away from endlessly repeating the same five arguments will need to be gentle and persuasive, preferably not involving the use of banhammers whenever it can be avoided.

There is a science fiction writer I will not name who was such an asshole on his blog/forum/usenet that for years afterwards I would go into bookstores and hide his books behind other books. Correction needs to be G-E-N-T-L-E... or the fans will bring the mallet of correction down on the author. I don't say this to be threatening; I'm not invested in these particular issues and I can't imagine being that angry at Charlie, but I'm not the only person who's got some ego invested in this blog, and correcting a long-running tendency in which many, many people have become invested will require a good bit of diplomacy.

Once again, this is my opinion, not a threat or attack of any kind.

309:

Obligatory XKCD reference:
xkcd.com/435/

I found this pertinent while coping with a apparently permanent lack of mathematical ability..[yes, I am aware of Heinlein's comment about maths..]

310:

"Yes, forums require even more moderation overhead, but I'd bet you could find volunteers for that very easily."

I would be useless in the role as I would probably not censor anything but outright abuse.

311:

FIRST !

312:

Problem is, you threads R too long.

313:

Don't get me wrong - I do think straight white males have some sort of privilege. It's just that discussions like these tend to be rather useless until you can prioritize them in a spectrum of privilege.

I agree. I was trying to express, not a disbelief in privilege, but a lack of interest in the moral posturing and scapegoating that come with discussing this sort of thing in a public, consequence-free forum.

314:

"One highly useful tech/biotech innovation might be to try to get cephalopod skin chromatophores to work in humans, very likely with the aid of technological add-ons."

That would be a sad day for the tattoo industry!

I might go for it. One reason I don't have tattoos is that I would get tired of those I had fairly quickly. And changing them is, I understand, an annoying process.

315:

'"...nature has assumed for the Westerner a dull and fatal exteriority whose mystery the secular sciences seek to bury in trifling laws and hypotheses.”'

I suggest you do some reading on current theories in cosmology, astrophysics, biology, computational finance, brain science....

And I think you're misusing the term "fascist" a bit. See http://tinyurl.com/7m7gqgo

316:

I was born in 1943. The US reached its height of relative economic, social, industrial, etc. power in 1945, and has undergone relative decline since then. My family wasn't nearly upper class; but we were higher-status than many other Americans.

I would not want to go back to that time. For one thing, I depend on a couple of medications which didn't exist back then.

317:

I think the line from the beginning of The Great Gatsby is useful to keep in mind: "Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, remember that all the people in the world haven't had the advantages that you've had."

Scalzi post failed for me because instead of saying that being white/male/straight was a privilege, he was saying that those were the defining privileges. He also tended to come in with a combative attitude towards some the the straight white males he was arguing with, . He could have gone a long way by noting that his life was probably "easy mode" compared to most of theirs, but that would have required him to reexamine the dynamics of his own societal positions.

I think someone made the good point here that ultimately, oppressive systems are poisonous to us, no matter where we stand in the hierarchy. Ultimately, our archenemy in this battle will not be others, but our own entrenched feelings of anger and resentment. Which brings to mind another quote, "...we shall meet the enemy, and not only may he be our, he may be us."

318:

My ancestry: According to the records, pure Jewish as far back as is traceable. Which doesn't explain why my mother's cousin looks almost as East Asian as his Korean-born wife. Or why some of my relatives look more Northern European than Mediterranean.

And, of course, like most people I have some Neanderthal genes.

319:

Yes, there are equivalents to allotments in the US; and specifically, in Minneapolis. Plots in community gardens (the term used here; might be different elsewhere in the US.) Sometimes rented; sometimes free.

320:

I'd like to query your assumptions about Charlie Stross's readership.

IMHO the guidance away from endlessly repeating the same five arguments will need to be gentle and persuasive, preferably not involving the use of banhammers whenever it can be avoided.

Why? I mean, I take issue with the notion that "gentle" can be persuasive. When you have strange attractors absorbing and negating useful discussions within one hundred comments, how can you extend the useful life of the symposium without cracking the krater over the heads of nattering fools? If I interpreted Charlie Stross right, above, he wanted a commentariat that would respond to and dialogue with provocative statements or theses that he presents - you know, have a topic of conversation which would then be the structuring principle of the following exchanges, until the notion is insbetontotepferdeschlägt. Wading through irrelevancies and self-regarding fanboi twittering is lick picking through cognitive litter - it's buzzing, distracting - a twinkling barrier.

There is a science fiction writer I will not name who was such an asshole on his blog/forum/usenet that for years afterwards I would go into bookstores and hide his books behind other books.

Ha! That's either Stevar or Will Sh*tt*rl*.

Correction needs to be G-E-N-T-L-E... or the fans will bring the mallet of correction down on the author. I don't say this to be threatening; I'm not invested in these particular issues and I can't imagine being that angry at Charlie, but I'm not the only person who's got some ego invested in this blog, and correcting a long-running tendency in which many, many people have become invested will require a good bit of diplomacy.


Whose blog is it? I have no illusions that this is my space - I can be banned in an instant, surely. What kind of person would I be if I had to demand that Charlie truckle to my every demand, to make me comfortable enough to come here? In the world of the web, censorship and excision is the strongest tool for changing the presentation of the discussion - as simple as applying a razor blade to the platen. And that's what needs to be changed - the discussion! If it looks better, it will be better.

321:

"You also - not to put too fine a point on it - get to decide which category of under-privilege you wish to address. Left-handed people have a disadvantage in this vale of tears. Adults under five feet tall are also disadvantaged. I suspect there's a lot of people who are not only aggressive advocates for minority/women's rights, they honestly believe that those are most important dimensions of privilege. They also (as a group), sadly, tend to swarm all over those who disagree with their ordering of priorities. To paraphrase a commenter upthread, they need to get over themselves."

There aren't any derogatory terms for left-handed people. People don't make disparaging comments about LHP and then say, "It's okay, I have friends who are LH and they don't mind." You don't have to state you are LH on government forms. When you get a job, people don't say, "They only got the job because they're left-handed." If you're elected to office and you're LH, talking heads don't analyze how being LH might negatively affect any policy you make. Police don't stop you for Walking/Driving While LH. You don't get neighborhoods of LH people which receive less government money. You don't get accused of being sexually immoral because you're LH. LH people aren't told they can't understand science, math and logic, or that they are too ambitious and should consider a career more in line with their condition. People don't stop you on the street to tell you you're LH.

Left-handed people are disadvantaged in that there's an implicit assumption that being right-handed is normal, so why design things for people who aren't normal? But they're not underprivileged in any meaningful sense, and their experience is not nearly comparable to that of women or oppressed ethnic groups. Why are you suggesting that it is?

In your hierarchy of privilege, who is at the bottom if sexism is comparable to the experiences of the left-handed?

322:

I wonder if there's any degree of redesign that could shake things up? For example, switching to facebook's commenting system cleaned up Techcrunch.com's commenting threads from a lot of nastiness since people couldn't conveniently post anonymously.

I'm not suggesting facebook's commenting system necessarily, just some kind of radical redesign. Hmmm....

323:

Regarding the original topic:
Sounds like your comment-threads converge much like ADFP threads. Not terribly surprising, given your readership.
The major loci of convergence seem pretty standard for gatherings of high-IQ Aspie-ish types.
The difference is that your comment threads don't have subjects or threading so folks can distinguish the stock patterns and avoid them.
ObP: We got to the pinnacle of discussion-facilitation machines, and then pulled back.

324:

"Am I doing something wrong with the moderation here? Answers on the back of a postcard, please."

Yes. Four of those five topics (Space colonization, fast cars, military tech, and libertarianism) are actually derived from the same motivation- the desire to tell others to fuck off.

Space colonization = fuck off, I have my own planet/O'Neill colony.
Fast Cars = fuck off, and eat my dust, slowpoke. Also, screw public transportation, I have a car.
Military tech = fuck off or I'll kill you.
Libertarianism = just plain fuck off.

Why lots of this attitude on the internet? Because unlike actually being out in public, the internet allows you to encounter what you like, and avoid what you don't. I.e, it's a great place to avoid most of the world. Unless this central desire is addressed, it'll keep popping back out of the collective consciousness pool

How to get variety? Tricky- you'd have to explicitly bias answers away from options that solve social interaction questions by saying "We just won't interact. Or if we do, it'll be brief and loud."

325:

So is this what I'm getting wrong, my definition of physical? That the physical does not include flesh, i.e. human beings and anything about plants and earth and water and all those elements?

When did that happen and how did I miss it?

Maybe this is why my students' papers are incomprehensible because to me they are using words to define what the words' definitions never were, at least according my dictionaries.

326:

There aren't any derogatory terms for left-handed people. People don't make disparaging comments about LHP and then say, "It's okay, I have friends who are LH and they don't mind.".....

In the US up to the 60s amongst certain ethnic and/or religious groups you would be forced to be right handed if you showed signs of being a leftie. And in much of the middle east / central Asia your left hand is used for toilet paper so left handedness is a really big bad deal. Even amongst people who use real toilet paper.

Now in the US for a long time being left handed and somewhat skilled at baseball has increased your long term earnings potential. Especially over the last 20 years. Left handedness seems to be about a 1 in 10 thing in the general population. But since baseball teams typically want an even mix of left and right handed pitchers and more than 10% left handed hitters being left handed can be a plus.

327:

So anyone who believes that humanity's shared future could improve is a deranged cultist? And you have the authority to 'correct us' at will.

You are basically giving yourself free license to derail here. You are stating your intention to deliberately be condescending or patronizing (rather than, say, engaging or conversational) towards anyone who'd like to work towards a future that sucks LESS than the present?

The fact you can repeatedly do this--and have--for the past two major conversation threads pretty much validates the points I made earlier. Repetitive, borderline trolling... Thanks!

328:

"There aren't any derogatory terms for left-handed people."

Well, there's the British "cack-handed." And the assumptions embedded in the term "left hand path."

329:
Secondly, er, maybe if you'd stick around and keep on commenting it'd drive down the ratio of folks you dislike to people like you?

What's my incentive? If you're asleep, the best I can hope for is a reply explaining why we should build a Mars colony first. Which, of course, is rewarding to exactly the kind of commentor who is boring you out of your mind. It's a self-sustaining system.

There are two stable equilibria: one majority libertarian solar-powered space car fanatics, and one majority people with a wide variety of interests in all the varied themes of your novels who can engage in intelligent discourse.

How do we move from one equilibrium to the other? It seems unlikely that the answer is "Valerie comments more." I could see that answer starting with, "Charlie changed the comment system."

330:

I'm not saying it doesn't suck to be left-handed. At the time when they were coercing left-handed students to write with their right hand, however, they were outright obstructing people's access to higher education for having a uterus or too much melanin in their skin.

Oppression of woman and certain minorities is radically more pervasive than that of left-handed people (just the derogatory language we have for these groups of people should tell you that -- or else consider that there have never been laws which restrict voting and property-ownership to right-handed people).

I know it's difficult to recognize your own privilege, but this is fairly obvious stuff.

331:

As to which writer annoyed me so, I'm not saying, but you're not even in the right neighborhood.

I say "Gently" because IMHO if Charlie hammered every person on his blog who's willing to argue Libertarianism, weapons, space colonies, etc., this place would be a desert very quickly, and he'd have some very annoyed fans.

332:
How do we move from one equilibrium to the other? It seems unlikely that the answer is "Valerie comments more." I could see that answer starting with, "Charlie changed the comment system."

To be clear, if you did announce some kind of significant change in the commenting system, I would totally make an effort to comment for at least a month, and I would recruit my friends as well.

333:

I think that the topics listed are equivalent to flying cars in the 1950's. In other words they are what everything thinks and hopes will advance and be tremendously important, and I suspect they are completely wrong (who cares about flying cars if you have a self driving car and can take a nap, and not have to park the car when you arrive?). I've been thinking about this a lot, what do I need to teach my kids so they can succeed? I realized the the things they will need to know for their jobs don't even exist yet. My example: the most important day to day skill I have/use is searching the Internet and bugzilla/man pages/etc. to find documentation/information. This barely existed when I was in high school. So the conclusion I have come to is my kids will need the same fundamental skills I have, reading comprehension, logic, critical thinking, project management, conflict management and resolution, and so on. As far as specific technical skills go I have no idea (I'm guessing they will know how to use things like a gene sequencer or something along the lines in the same way that I use things like email, just a daily tool, no big deal).

334:

Valerie Aurora:


There are two stable equilibria: one majority libertarian solar-powered space car fanatics, and one majority people with a wide variety of interests in all the varied themes of your novels who can engage in intelligent discourse.

We're not exclusive sets. It is everyone's loss that things are out of balance.

335:

There are two stable equilibria: one majority libertarian solar-powered space car fanatics, and one majority people with a wide variety of interests in all the varied themes of your novels who can engage in intelligent discourse.

Okay, so I think I've heard enough about the space-going Libertarian rocket car for the moment - what do you want to talk about?

Recently I tossed out ideas about novel urban design and business opportunities in a world with teleportation, for example; this seemed to me more interesting than endlessly repeating the same few schemes for random terrorist activity. I'm sure you know things I don't and that will be novel to many of us; you also have a reasonable command of the English language, which is always nice to see on the internet. So yes, please do chime in when you have something to say.

336:

The great thing about the Internet is that anyone can write whatever they want. The bad thing about the Internet is that everyone does.

337:

At times like this, I always ask myself: What Would Ann Rand do? She'd say that what society really needs to do is build a fleet of solar-cell-powered rocket cars to colonize space. They'd be piloted by libertarians and explode upon landing.

338:

Perhaps using "say" and "there's more of course, but that's two quick ones" wasn't clear enough to suggest this was a small sample of possible examples to you?

Yes, there are many forms of discriminatory behaviour. Ideally it should all be stamped out. But in a discussion that started from white, male privilege they're two big obvious ones to point out to someone that just doesn't seem to get it.

339:

"Yes, there are many forms of discriminatory behaviour. Ideally it should all be stamped out."

I'm guessing that might be impossible without genetic engineering- humans seem to have a number of odd biases. Symmetrical features, height, etc.

To say nothing of mate selection...

340:

"Sinister", "southpaw", "goofy" - sure, they are at the benign end of the spectrum, but they exist. Similarly, try using a pair of scissors left-handed, or playing golf left-handed. In the grand scheme of things, being left-handed is a small disadvantage, but it is not non-existent.

On the original topic, as a regular reader but (very) irregular commenter, I like the idea of highlighting Charlie's posts (I too use it as a pointer to interesting comments). Also count me as another who prefers the current non-threaded system.

Generally, I think this site works very well as evinced by the community that has coalesced, and also by the explosive comment rate when OGH posts something provocative. These are good things. So I guess the idea is to redirect somewhat, once the conversations start to fragment. I like the idea of dedicated space for the strange attractor topics to compartmentalise those conversations. That coupled with more moderator nudging of discussions back on-topic should help.

Main reasons I don't comment: coming in late and it's been said by others already (& better), nothing substantive to add (coming from a biology background, discussions of power/mass ratios of propulsion systems are of limited interest), or I prefer to view the discussions from the sidelines.

341:

I really like Valerie's idea of Charlie taking some time to nuke everything that bores or annoys him, with a brief note about why. I wouldn't want it on an ongoing basis, but over a stretch of a couple of weeks at his usual posting volume, might be illuminating all the way around.

I'm smiling at the thought as I type, but I actually mean it seriously, too.

342:

Bruce @ 278
Interesting proposition. You may easily be correct.
Also @ 284
Of course what those supposedly "in charge" don't seem to grasp is that education benefits everyone, including THEM - so it looks like the lessons of the 19th Century are being forgotten.

Sean @ 285
But a Zen Bhuddist would also say; that in the next instant of time, "You" becomes a different you - you cannot step into the same river twice.
So THAT argument fails as well.
Nice try, no banana.
& @ 291
Progress is NOT a religion. It is a FACT.
You are sitting in front of a computer, denying progress?
I suggest you need medical help!

GWH @ 287
Can I modify ONE sentence of you otherwise excellent post to: "It's also much more than that, and I don't want to tar a lot of seriously deluded perfectly good people who are religious, their deep and sincere beliefs, the good many of them selflessly do in the name of their gods."
And, of course, it's horribly easy to alter their views to the deus vult/allah ahkbar mentality, once you've got the "god" meme implanted first.

Dirk @ 303
So you are saying that the "religion of progress" is a ultra-form of Space Cadetism?

@ 308
XKCD?
Try this one HERE go to 5 down, 2 across ..... where there's a PTerry quote.

C @ 324
Possibly, a persuasive case, but not entirely true - you are sounding like a lawyer making a case ... (Yes, that's derogatory)
1: Space colonisation - NOT all the eggs in one basket (Earth?)
2: Fast Cars - maybe - what about my car is slow, but I won't ever need another one, and it's cheap to run [Literally true for me] ??
3: Very close to true, but there are real threats out there, because there are psycopathic nutters in charge of countries. Now what?
4: Very true in USSA, & partly here - but, erm, what do you do when guvmint comes along with some insane snooping/control/über-ID system? Is it "libertarian" to oppose such proposals?
Discuss - but NOT on this thread, please!

Valerie Aurora @ 329
ONLY two stable equilbria?
How do you know? We haven't tried, and the trend of this discussion is that we CAN shift the balance, carefully. It can be done.

Shall we try that?

343:

If that is the aim, then I classify it as engineering. Roughly speaking, I define them as science is about learning how things work, so biology definitely falls into that category, and enginerring is about using the scientific knowledge to make/ change things according to social needs.

344:

I don't know what the solution is, but I agree with people up-thread complaining about there being too many posts! Perhaps a forum is the answer (then all the posts on topic X can be split out).

Anyway, now I want to talk about privilege, normality and kyriarchy.

Left-handedness is not 'normal', and so those who are left-handed are disadvantaged in many cases (examples given by Soon Lee above). In many other cases where someone is not 'normal', they will also be disadvantaged or even discriminated against.

(A quick story about privilege. I used to live in Switzerland. I used say how great the Swiss border controls were (esp. compared to other countries). I would sometimes just literally just get waved through, no one looking at my passport (or only the front cover). I later talked to an American (with an USAian passport) who was always stopped and often interrogated (why are you coming to Switzerland? how long are you staying for? etc.) something that never happened to me. The difference? Well, she was female and "black". I suspect the second difference was the reason for the difference in treatment.)

Anyway, kyriarchy is an interesting idea. It is the first time for me to encounter the term. I had known about the concept before. (Of course, anyone who has thought about hierarchy, oppression, racism, sexism, etc. has realised that sometimes different characteristics are "worth more" in some circumstances than in others.)
For those that haven't quite got what the idea means yet, an example. A gay white man will not be stopped for DWB, but could be killed or beaten up for daring to hold hands with his partner in public.

Oh, and all you people who currently can read this thread, y'all have privilege. Where I live currently (globe trotter that I am...), some people might not access the Internet for months at a time. And those are the ones in the big cities. E.g. I know people who are working twelve hour days, six days a week, which doesn't leave much time. And when your wage is around $100 a month, and rent takes up maybe 40% (not sure on that number), and Internet costs a dollar an hour... Well, from the $60 you have left after the rent is paid, you have to feed yourself and your family (I guess around $15 to $25 a month for 2-4 people, I know I pay more than the locals so my numbers are probably on the high side), schooling, clothing, electricity, water, etc. etc., it all adds up.

Um, right. So the solution to all of societies ills? I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader for now.

345:

I think that the problem with the UK education system goes much deeper than money. A major problem is that a large proportion of the population see no value in it, and this is transmitted to pupils and teachers alike. No matter what the resources, no matter the quality of the teaching, you cannot hide the fact that you are imprisoning active and intelligent minds in classrooms trying to teach them things that they regard as irrelevant.

Our education system has been captured by those for whom education is an end in itself. A distressing proportion have gone from school to university to teacher training college and back to school again, NEVER leaving the education system. They are assisted by the government who see that while the youths can be kept in school, they can be kept off the unemployment numbers.

There are plenty of stories of people leaving school as soon as they could, and acquiring the learning they need for their chosen career much later.

When I was at university, the two clear outliers were those who had left parental influence, and whose motivation had collapsed, and those who had left school, worked in a factory and were working hard to avoid ever going back there.

Old style industry used to take apprentices at 15 and put them through day release. They could choose to stay on the shop floor, or to acquire more learning and progress. Many took the latter choice. In fact many of the old MoD establishments used to have disproportionately large apprentice training operations, which were promptly cut back after privatisation.

I think we could be much more creative about our education system. Let people leave at 14 if they want, work in low skill jobs, and return to education when the are ready and know what they want to get out of it.

346:

Yep, I'm with you. Plenty of examples in language that indicate being left-handed is wrong/bad/evil, and Sinister is one of the oldest.

Arguing by escalation means we'll end up insisting that the ultimate lack of privilege is that of a short black one-legged female lesbian left hander from Iran, but that doesn't make any of the constituent parts any less of a lack of privilege.
A modern egalitarianism expects eventual addressing of all issues, and if it is hard for you to assist one aspect (hey, you might not live in Iran) then start by considering what you can. A simple one that we encountered last project was ensuring we provided ambidextrous mice for the users rather than the right handed ones they previously had.

347:

I agree with you somewhat but think your are exagerating some things and leaving out deeper issues.

I definitely agree that too many people see education as a linear process of school --> 6thform/college --> university rather than a branching path. Partially though this is due to the rise of credentualism but also the formation of the higher education industrty as a lucratie business.

Whilst I do agree that kids should be given more choice I don't think it should go back a system where at a young age they have to make the choice to get a job, apprenticeship or academia. It should be modernised and be more structured. So perhaps aged 13-16 (KS3/4) the curriculum can be more heavily divided into academia and vocational with the latter emphasising on both trade (carpentry, electronics, software design) and a range of general workplace skills (admin, sales, services etc). This would allow kids to get a wider but more defined range of skills and an appreciation of what is useful where. It will allow them to make better decisions about what they enjoy.

After that I'd say at age 16 you either have to continue in academic studies (e.g. a-levels at 6th form) or vocational studies (e.g. NVQ at college) or in the job market. For the latter there should be a divide with apprenticeship schemes for those that want them and job placements for others; e.g. from 16-18 you work in a variety of places (tailored for your interests) organised by some branch of the education department.

All of that would ensure that kids can excel in areas they are good at and enter adulthood with a firm understanding of the roles they want to fill. It would also give them a better appreciation of each other. If the curriculum was this diverse it would be hard to have the general overachievers and general underachievers. Rather achievement would be more specialised and kids would learn to deal with this, hopefully leading to positive outcomes.

348:

I comment rarely myself, mainly because the comment threads seem to get new posts at such a rate that if I want to comment something it's already a hundred comments old. Also, often much of what I'd like to say has already been said, and I don't want to AOL too much here, what with the threads being rather long anyway.

It might be that the moderation has only the problem that it's not rigorous enough. Of course with just four(?) people doing it it might be impossible to use more time for the moderating.

The culture of on-line discussions is strange, or rather how they can be cultured (pun, well, somewhat intended). In my experience it seems to be a combination of aggressive moderation for both offensiveness and offtopic, and the people themselves trying to keep on track. I'm not sure how those items apply here, though. This is a community, but there are a lot more people who read the comments than who write (as always).

One of the most best cultures I've seen on Internet forums are the rpg.net forums. They are well moderated and personal attacks and such are not allowed, nor going (much...) offtopic. The discussions are usually good.

Of course, going offtopic, or rather changing topics, is easier on a forum platform than this kind of blog engine. One can't just start a new topic when needed, so the offtopic goes easily into the blog post comment thread.

349:

Before I reply to Carlos himself, let me say thank you to anyone else who replied to my open questions from yesterday afternoon.

Ok Carlos, here's what happened as I see it:-
I post an open invitation to "say something about something that you're interested in" and your response is a series of personal insults. I think we can draw all the necessary conclusions from that and Charlie's factual reply at #186.

Charlie's not interested in Rugby (Union or League) AFAIK, but I am. Both codes use playbooks for set-piece restarts, but anyone I know who watches or plays either would still consider "Rugby is Chess on a green field" to be intelectual self-abuse as I originally said.

350:

Ah, I think we have a definitions problem.

You're dividing into physical and metaphysical. In which case I would suggest that physical science is an oxymoron - all the sciences measure physical things. Even the social sciences measure and describe behaviours of (mainly) people, so they're looking at physically-based things.

To my mind there's a spectrum from the physical sciences (looking at forces and building blocks of matter) to the social sciences (looking at behaviour and culture) through into things which describe culture and behaviour without the scientific method being applied and continuing out into the arts and so on. I've got less precise as I go along thanks mostly to lack of knowledge not an imputation that arts are less important.

Biology fits somewhere between the physical and social sciences. Biology keeps having these issues about not being able to define and measure some rather core things. For example, biology, literally by definition, is "knowledge of life" but can't find a really good definition of what life is* and certainly can't measure it directly.

This is perhaps most notable when looking at medicine. It's obviously rather helpful to be able to say "alive" or "dead" about potential patients, or ones that have just died and ceased to be patients any longer. But you don't hear "whip out the biometer, lets see if they're still alive!" rather we have an agreed series of indicators (mostly these days circulating around measurable brain activity when in hospital, but out in the field including things like heart beats and respiration). That is, we don't measure life, we measure indicators of things that living humans do and dead ones don't.

The physical sciences, by and large don't have that issue. Dark Matter might be an exception to it - although if we find a better model than dark matter with something measurable we'll laugh about dark matter in a century or so, just like we laugh about the ether now.

Sorry about the diversion from the main thread.

*My favourite current definition is that life is a somewhat-self-repairing local entropy decreasing system interconnected with a wide variety of other living systems and the ability for the system to reproduce. It seems to cover the bases but still can't measure it directly. And a prisoner in solitary on hunger strike is not alive by this definition, so it's not complete really.

351:

Ref #240

MBF - Male Bovine Faeces. My parents are from Ayrshire, so I'm sort of used to mixed farming including pasture, a dairy herd and some cash grains or roots.
I think we at least agree in principle about Haber nitrates, since I'm arguing that full-on intensive mono-culture over-uses them. Thanks and kudos for being the first person to actually make a sensible response to the question.

352:

Ryan

Thanks; my point is that education should be looping as well as branching. We need the institutions to allow people to return to education much more easily.

353:

There aren't any derogatory terms for left-handed people.

Really? You may wish to look up the word "sinister" in a proper etymological dictionary. Pay particular attention to how it links being evil and/or treacherous with being left-handed.
Similarly the Scots "corrie-fistet" carries undertones of being dishonest and/or incompetent.

354:

It's called boys and their toys... they always want to play with boy-type toys, which is what your list seems to be!

355:

I'm not 100% sure I agree with your cures for the problem although I do quite closely agree with some of the things you're seeing.

But a lot of the problem really is that the education system tries a "one size fits all" solution to a population, mainly in large groups. It then complains bitterly that "teachers aren't any good" when that approach fails.

There is a solution to this, but it's not cheap. It is, was rather, used in adult basic skills education with good results (but high costs). That approach is to discuss plans with each student as an individual, develop a learning plan for them based on a mixture of an assessment of their needs, interests, learning styles and the like. This led nicely to smallish groups that tended to work well together and where a reasonably competent teacher could maintain interests well - because if you're teaching 2-8 people even if each one doesn't like one or two bits in the class you can make sure they all like something. You can even teach the subject in a couple of ways - which helps reinforce it to many and will often cover the subject in a way that all of the group appreciate between the two approaches.

With adults there's perhaps less need to have teachers that control the group in the way a school teacher must on occasion - although with smaller groups that control is easier to establish when needed too.

The downside? Well we more or less quadruple the cost of education overnight - the bulk of the bill is in teacher's salaries. There'd be some start up costs too, because class-rooms are designed for 30+ students and would have be rebuilt somehow.

Such a system would still have failure points of course - it's run by humans and they will make mistakes. But selecting students off into different styles of education, letting them take apprenticeships and the like, and all those other things is much easier if you do this too.

I'm going to stop now before I launch into a manifesto of wholesale changes to the education system. The political will to make useful, insightful and valuable changes isn't there under any government sadly. Until it is, and as we can easily see, levels of students leaving school functionally illiterate and innumerate will not change despite tinkering with the system. You can change which group of students you fail to serve well, not change the fact that one size fits all will always fail a proportion of them.

356:

Ok, I don't think this one has a "right" or "wrong" answer. Still, here's the front page from Scots Wikipedia to illustrate how they've done it (and I guess this will be how the entire Wikipedia project has divided sciences up?)
http://sco.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page

357:

The downside? Well we more or less quadruple the cost of education overnight - the bulk of the bill is in teacher's salaries. There'd be some start up costs too, because class-rooms are designed for 30+ students and would have be rebuilt somehow.

For the bean counters you'd have to pitch it in terms of an economic investment in the future work force. Also addressing FB's point @352 if the same system can fit well with adult learning then we've got a good investment for the current work force.

Related to this conversation I've been quite interested recently in the idea of gamification of education. There are good examples of where this happens already (turning building tours and health and safety talks into an orienteering/scavenger hunt e.g. "Each team has a map of the buildings and a list of questions to answer such as 'how many fire alarms in D block?' first prize is..." rather than "Now if you follow me to D block and please take note of the fire alarms here, here and...") but if the idea was given central focus we could work towards a substantial new paradigm in teaching that is far more successful because it is designed to be fun.

358:

I'm glad nobody yet has suggested charging tuition fees for secondary education, repayable when child reaches a threshold level of earnings. Also, pocket money loans.

359:

In my view this is turning teaching the 2 H&S relevant points which are:-
1) What does a Fire Alarm point look like? Everyone should be taught this, but a classroom environment seems adequate.
2) If I am moved from H block to D block then I need to be given time to explore and find the FA points, Fire Exits and Fire Routes relevant to my new work location.

into a game which is utterly irrelevant to anyone who is not presently, or soon to be, housed in D block.

Maybe I've missed your point, but if so perhaps it needs explaining better?

360:

There aren't any derogatory terms for left-handed people.

Oh, really?

Start with "lefty" and "southpaw" and "sinister". And then you only have to go back around 50 years to find it treated as a handicap in schools. Left-handed kids being beaten if they tried to hold a pen in their natural hand, being forced to learn writing with their left hand tied down, and so on. Playground mockery from their peers. Fairly heavy discrimination, in short, which extended vertically: if you're clumsy (because forced to do everything wrong-handed) you're less likely to get the manual job. Less likely to pass the exams in an era where poor handwriting would cost you points. More likely to be involved in an accident, by a whopping 20-50%. More likely to die prematurely because of a fatal accident, at that.

It's a mild level of discrimination compared to gender or race or sexual orientation, but please don't insist it doesn't exist. Some of us still have the scars. (I'm just lucky that by the time I reached school age the worst of the abusive teaching practices had been dropped.)

361:

Excellent analysis! I will have to try out the "fuck off" attractor tag as a yardstick and see if it measures up in all cases ...

362:

Greg, this is your yellow card.

Please lay off the cheap shots at religion.

(We know what your thoughts on the subject are. But you're annoying a lot of the regulars and, worse, scaring less-regular commenters away. Please stop doing that.)

363:

You could be right - humans could be hard-wired to exhibit discriminatory behaviour. There are plenty of post hoc claims for how it enabled our ancestors to survive. While the scientist in me is cautious about such claims they're hard to disprove too. And I can't find a culture which doesn't display forms of discriminatory behaviour.

On the other hand I'm unaware of a culture in which (one of) the guiding principles has been not to express discrimination at all. I was raised in a culture where it was 'right' to love rugby, hate the English and hate the French for example. One of those really took and I still talk the "hate the English" talk at times although I don't really walk the walk (I think). I was also raised in a culture that expected me to like boys but fortunately one that has coped well when it turns out I like girls.

How different would the world be if we were raised to strive not to express any discrimination in action I wonder? Would we discover that we can do it, or would we find there is a minimum amount of discrimination we need to stay sane? Even so, I'm thinking a culture in which we exhibit as little discriminatory behaviour as possible will be a happier and better place for all parts of society.

364:

I like that this thread has finally gotten off the banned topics and moved into some weird calvinist version of oppression olympics, where privelege is something only those granted Irresistible Suck can care about because of the Total Depravity that results from the sin of Original Imperialism/Capitalism that all of humanity is cursed by to some degree.

266 however deserves note for coming up with a form of oppression olympics dafter than the regular kind of oppression olympics; oppression olympics by proxy, where the possibility of someone else engaging in oppression olympics for some "lesser" oppressed group is itself used to make the oppression olympics argument.

To quote GLaDOS: "Ah good, my slow clap module made it into this thing *clap*, *clap*"

296: Strictly speaking the idea of Progress-with-a-capital-p just requires accepting that technological progress behaves like a ratcheting system – technology advances and can't backslide simply because anything that might damage society sufficiently to destroy useful infrastructure also creates conditions that make a hoe (for instance) more useful than using your hands or a stone axe, so anything that can allow the manufacturing of metal hoes gets retained.

I feel comfortable accepting "the arc of history bends towards better" as a valid axiom (with full apologies to MLK jr.)

Social justice has followed something more like a random walk, in large part because societies get invaded or roll over every so often, and a lot of kyriarchal systems often involve the setting up of ratcheting systems to maintain themselves, often linking themselves into systems or things that are otherwise useful and thus experiencing the same sort of ratcheting system as technology, often because the niceness increases for the soceity as a whole even if niceness decreases for specific smaller groups within society (see the "roaring 20s" and how the great depression afterwards produce a massive increase in social justice as a reaction to it once soceity niceness was no longer though to inexorably REQUIRE micro-scale oppression.

But the "arc of history bends towards justice" within societies in large part because people do not like being opressed, so slaves will always rise up, peasants will always revolt and the underclasses with protest, and once slaves are freed, peasants are given suffrage and underclasses get the boots taken off their necks, any attempt to return to the previous status quo entails a return to the responses to that status quo.

Note that it doesn't all happen magically in one smooth step, take for instance Russia, where whatever badness there was in the old soviet systems, it was STILL, even under stalin, better than the preceding tsarist autocracy, in large part because the KGB would occasionally kill people fairly quickly and would usually stop torturing people once they'd agreed to sign a confession and agreed to read it outloud in front of a kangaroo court. "nicer" is not always objectively "good", but it is "nicer".

The trick is overcoming the ratcheting mechanism of the kyriarchal systems – not accepting the zero sum games, not accepting the weird learned helplessness that some are arguing in favour for ("let he who is without sin cast the first stone" works when you are talking about killing a woman for adultery, less so in less extreme cases where it becomes the anti-oppression equivalent of a segfault), thinking more about how you're benefitting from/supporting kyriarchy or could undermine it (a good case in point was Charlie's previous post about how he had QUILTBAG characters treated as normative in Halting State not because he wanted to have QUILTBAG characters but because there wasn't a particular reason not to have them and they would be normative in the setting).

365:

Rosie @ 354
Also sometimes, ahem: "Penis substitutes"

FatBigot & eloise & GWH
Agreed about both return to education (I did my MSc @ age 43-5) and the percieved low value in many places. Sad, but true.

Phhil Knight @ 358
SHUT UP! You'll give the bastards ideas!

Charlie @ 362
Oops!
Noted.

Fred Davis @ 364
"Oppression olympics"?
Euw. Oh, and don't. please mention the "O" word again, or I will go into full-rant mode, since the blasted things are being held 4km from here, shudder.
Oh, and : " ...it was STILL, even under Stalin, better than the preceding tsarist autocracy ...
Really?
Don't believe you, at all, ever. Killing quickly? Really, read any Solzhenitsyn?

366:

Rosie @ 354
Also sometimes, ahem: "Penis substitutes"

FatBigot & eloise & GWH
Agreed about both return to education (I did my MSc @ age 43-5) and the percieved low value in many places. Sad, but true.

Phhil Knight @ 358
SHUT UP! You'll give the bastards ideas!

Charlie @ 362
Oops!
Noted.

Fred Davis @ 364
"Oppression olympics"?
Euw. Oh, and don't. please mention the "O" word again, or I will go into full-rant mode, since the blasted things are being held 4km from here, shudder.
Oh, and : " ...it was STILL, even under Stalin, better than the preceding tsarist autocracy ...
Really?
Don't believe you, at all, ever. Killing quickly? Really, read any Solzhenitsyn?

367:

>>>>Note that it doesn't all happen magically in one smooth step, take for instance Russia, where whatever badness there was in the old soviet systems, it was STILL, even under stalin, better than the preceding tsarist autocracy, in large part because the KGB would occasionally kill people fairly quickly and would usually stop torturing people once they'd agreed to sign a confession and agreed to read it outloud in front of a kangaroo court. "nicer" is not always objectively "good", but it is "nicer".

Yeah, no. Try to compare the number of people persecuted under tsarist autocracy and under the soviet system. Also, compare the conditions. Seriously, oppression under Stalinist USSR was far worse than under the Tsar. Arguably, it was worse through the entire Soviet era. At least under the Tsar, you could leave the country.

368:

but isn't there a difference between, accepting that 'technological progress behaves like a ratcheting system' where investment leads to phase change in social organisation which can lead to catastrophic failure states and the idea that this process is tending towards some $silver_city.

You state that 'social justice has followed more of a random walk' why can't the implementation of scientific enquiry/ technological innovation be seen in this way also as it's just as vulnerable to social mores as social relations. One of the Georges up thread said that the dream of $shiny_machines is a our parents future*. Our improved understanding of how change (evolution) actually works means that we should be able to accept that the spread of possible futures available to us from now is quite different from what we might have anticipated/dreamed in the past.

* or even our great grandparents - reference the Vorticists/ Futurists in the 1910s and for example the architecture of Antonio Sant'Elia

369:

Charlie's not interested in Rugby (Union or League) AFAIK, but I am. Both codes use playbooks for set-piece restarts, but anyone I know who watches or plays either would still consider "Rugby is Chess on a green field" to be intelectual self-abuse as I originally said.

Was I talking about rugby? I don't care about rugby. You can't even read what I wrote correctly.

I think my point about "utter bloviating ignorance" stands. You've made it clear that you're one of the bores here that causes the problem. You're a friend of Charlie's and that's fine, but that doesn't change how you operate here, and how your behavior here works to the detriment of Charlie's common areas.

Your "intelectual [sic] self-abuse" might be enjoyable for yourself, but who else wants to watch it? Not I -- and this is what drives people away.

370:

I assure you that I read what you wrote. I also read what Charlie wrote, and made the deliberate decision to point out that, whilst I might not watch "Gridiron", other team-based field sports also use playbooks and don't feel the need to compare themselves with Chess.

I am now going to exercise self-censorship, because I simply don't feel the need to enter a battle of wits with an unarmed opponent.

371:
And then you only have to go back around 50 years to find it treated as a handicap in schools. Left-handed kids being beaten if they tried to hold a pen in their natural hand, being forced to learn writing with their left hand tied down, and so on. Playground mockery from their peers.

Sadly you don't even have to go back 50 years. I remember lefties getting your laundry list of abuse when I was at lower school in the late 70s. Admittedly at a rural school run by an "old" headmistress - I'd like to think it wasn't wide spread.

They sadly remained the "stupid & clumsy" kids throughout the rest of their school years. As the bough is bent...

372:

Indeed.

It isn't just the negative connotations of "sinister" versus "dexter" but also the extra positive connotations associated with "right".

I'm right-handed myself, but I was somewhat irritated the other day when I saw an advertisement for a fruit/energy beverage featuring a baseball player with a tagline something like "Bats right. Throws right. Lives right." which managed to conflate the two meanings of "right" (== opposite of "left" and == opposite of "wrong") in a way which must have been really grating to left-handers.

373:

Personally, I find playing Oppression Olympics to be about the daftest activity imaginable, and would be perfectly happy to see any post that could be summarized as "My grievance is more important than your grievance" routed to /dev/null.

374:

Compare the oppression of the entire peasant class of the russian empire across several centuries against "anyone stalin felt paranoid about during his 3 decade reign of terror"? I think the tsarist state is going to win that easily, bear in mind that the 1892 famines killed in the region of 3 million people, multiply that by a lot for all the other famines experienced during tsarist rule, add in the pogroms and eastern european crusades and the general "kossacks can hunt russian peasants for sport if they get bored or look a nobleman funny"... yeah, It's absurd sounding, but Stalin looks good in comparison to the Tsars.

Or the british empire for that matter, bearing in mind that about 85 million people died from the famines caused by the british east india company's activities in the indian subcontinent. Stalin's 30 million death toll looks a bit amateurish by comparison.

(kicking myself for not using the less edge-casey "Castro vs. Batista" comparison – I should know the internet is made of anal retentive american cats as a matter of course by now and pick examples accordingly argh!)

375:

Yes, as a matter of fact I am sitting in front of a computer, denying progress. I am denying that your conscious experience right now is subjectively better than that of people from 10,000 years ago. I am saying that your notion of progress is a tautology, that you have defined progress in such a way that everything that came before us was ignorance and barbarism. I’m saying this belief is as delusional as that of any other religion. I’m saying that there are other ways of measuring the world than computer speed or industrial output. I am saying that value comes from the mind, not from the external universe, so it doesn’t really matter how you rearrange the atoms of the latter. If you want a pretty good summary of my philosophy, allow me to quote Osho: “God is dead, now Zen is the only living truth.”

As for needing medical help, well, who doesn't?

376:

I'll happily be called out on my ignorance regarding left-handed people as long as my greater point is upheld - that in no way is discrimination against left-handed people comparable to that of sexism and racism.

I was going to claim 'etymological fallacy' on 'sinister', that the word simply means 'malign' or 'evil' in modern English and the overtones of leftyness are lost on most people - my goto dictionary puts 'left-side' way down the line of definitions for 'sinister' - but if the word is still used to imply that left-handed people are wrong or inferior then I'll take the point.

But I'll note that the two worst words I can think of in the English language happen to be slurs for a woman's genitals and an ethnic group. Again, we're talking about a magnitude of difference.

377:

I don't understand why Libertarianism is a political philosophy and/or party instead of a set of things one is encouraged to do without help. The term is as redundant as "Transhumanism." Once a Libertarian or Transhumanist goal becomes viable in the marketplace, it will happen automatically. No ideology necessary.

378:

Some of the testimony you received on "left-handed predudice" was that, within living memory, it was possible for lefties to be legally tortured and disbarred from employment for being left-handed. Maybe they're slightly ahead of the curve wrt other easily recognisable groups in that these things don't usually happen to them today.

Any devaluation of your message happened, at least IMO, because of people picking up on a statement within it which was just plain wrong.

379:

>>>Compare the oppression of the entire peasant class of the russian empire across several centuries against "anyone stalin felt paranoid about during his 3 decade reign of terror"?

First, you can't compare centuries with decades.

Second, go read The Kolyma Tales and you'll see the Tsarist regime never even got close. Stalinist era atrocities were in the same league with the Holocaust.

380:

If you're going to moderate, you might consider asking a volunteer (who would need to have a consistent view with you with regards to the content of the site) to do it instead. Really, it's a bit beneath you to be personally handing out yellow cards. You want to be the one leading by example, not the one who enforces the rules.

381:

My last reply went into the moderation queue - any news on it?

382:

"Once a Libertarian or Transhumanist goal becomes viable in the marketplace, it will happen automatically. No ideology necessary."

Try creating a market for cloned Humans and you will come hard up against ideology, both political and religious, expressed in terms of laws severely enforced. There are all kinds of technologies that *might* be stopped dead in their tracks by existing prejudice unless we do something to change people's views beforehand.

383:

Reading closer, it looks like you and Fred are arguing two different situations.
One is comparing the masses of unloved regularly famine struck peasants under the Tsars, with the slightly better loved institutional farmers post revolution.
Who now tended to die less frequently in bigger famines, which is a nominal improvement for the populace as a whole.

The other is comparing the regular disorganised massacre of handfuls of people with the institutional purge of a significant percentage of the population.

No wonder you're talking past each other.

384:

I'd like to disagree with cause. I won't repeat the original comment, but the fact that Charlie yellow-carded me personally for it pulled me up short in a way that I seriously doubt a yellow card from anyone else, even one of his mod team, wouldn't.

385:

Jon, I have a team of moderators. Working around the clock in different time zones. However, it's my blog: I'm the one who has to visibly set policy.

386:

Charlie, it makes complete sense that you set policy. I'm just questioning whether you're the one who wants to handle yellow-carding. You don't see the advantages of rising above it a bit? My argument is that you're going to continue to attract a lot of unsavory posters who nevertheless are attracted to your ideas--and you can focus on your ideas while leaving the police work to your moderators. Either way, I'm intrigued to see how this develops: it seems that small communities frequently suffer a great deal of pain on their way to larger communities...

387:

Part of the problem is that this blog has outgrown its status as a blog, but I haven't been willing to treat it as a major social forum: discreetly monetize it and then use the proceeds to pay for the necessary infrastructure to support it.

It's a social hub. That much is obvious from the sheer size of the discussions here: compare the number of comments a thread gets with, say, tor.com (on the commercial SF side) or Daily Kos. (Did I say "big"? The "Amazon's business strategy" blog entry last month hit the ball out of the park -- over two thirds of a million readers, inbound links from Publishers' Weekly and Forbes. Even a regular blog entry has more readers than an issue of Asimov's SF magazine.) I could easily devote all my time to running it as a community site -- as a full-time job. And I gather sites with this amount of traffic should be self-supporting from advertising revenue, if I went that way.

But I don't want to go there. And the corollary of this is that I like having a blog, but this one has become a bit big and cumbersome and time-consuming to manage.

388:

@347:
After that I'd say at age 16 you either have to continue in academic studies (e.g. a-levels at 6th form) or vocational studies (e.g. NVQ at college) or in the job market. For the latter there should be a divide with apprenticeship schemes for those that want them and job placements for others; e.g. from 16-18 you work in a variety of places (tailored for your interests) organised by some branch of the education department.
---
[looking at >30% local unemployment rate]

Ssooo... where are these apprenticeships and jobs going to come from? Are they going to be tax-supported make-work, or is the state-supported education system going to set itself up in competition with private business?


> tailored for your interests

At sixteen years old, that would probably have been either "barbarian warrior" or "pimp." In retrospect, probably not useful long-term career choices.

389:

On the idea of highlighting Charlie's posts:

Back before the emergency security update last month (or whenever it was), Charlie's comments (and a few others') had a userpic associated with them, instead of the grey silhouette that is now ubiquitous. It did indeed make scanning for his comments easier, and thus made reading long threads more enjoyable.

Hopefully resurrecting this capability would be easier than adding an entirely new feature, though I understand the pain of figuring out bugs in someone else's code.

390:

It's an interesting problem, Charlie (and by interesting, I mean interesting to me and probably downright painful for you--sorry). The challenge is that just about everything in life seems to be ruled by grow-or-die. There's no such thing as static existence. And to grow means evolving somewhat. It's the case with living things, with species, with businesses, and apparently social media.

391:

>>>Try creating a market for cloned Humans

Erm, what exactly are you talking about? Real human cloning, when it will be achieved, won't be much different than IVF. You'll need egg cell, a willing female, and the rules will be the same as the rules that are now for embryos.

Or are you talking about the fantasy cyberpunk version of cloning, where people are copied whole and used as slaves by evil mega-corporations?

392:

No, I am talking about a technology (Human cloning) that is now banned by treaty internationally. If you tried creating a market in it you would be arrested in almost all nations. It's not a technology that will be allowed to come to market.

393:

More specifically, reproductive cloning as opposed to therapeutic cloning.

394:

Can you point me to the treaty? All I can find is some non-binding resolution.

396:
So is this what I'm getting wrong, my definition of physical? That the physical does not include flesh, i.e. human beings and anything about plants and earth and water and all those elements?

When did that happen and how did I miss it?

Oh, I didn't say you were wrong; just that this might be the (subconscious) attitude you might be working against. We've actually been manipulating the physical characteristics of various organisms for a long time now; we call it "selective breeding". So you can arguably say that biological tinkering should be the standard cognate for that kind of human activity instead tinkering with wood, ceramic, metal, plastics and the like.[1] I'm just saying that might not fit the conceits of someone who's used to thinking of the merits of RP1 vs liquid hydrogen :-)

[1]Science fictionally of course, stories about biology have a long and honorable history, cf Well's "The Food of the Gods" or Shelley's "Frankenstein" - both comfortably predating the "modern" spaceship story. One of my favorites (and from a favorite author) is Damon Knight's "Natural State" which comes across as very contemporary in it's urban/rural conflict plot and pitting sustainable biological tech against a very fragile metal tech.

And of course, it's always possible to combine the two - in fact, "living spaceships" even get the hollywood treatment, what with shows like Lexx and Farscape.

397:

Reproductive cloning happens naturally all the time: we call them identical twins.

As anyone who's known a couple of identical twins will be aware, environment, nurture, and epigenetic modulation make for quite a wide range of variation among human clones. Yes, they're recognizable as siblings -- but they actively have to try to look identical (e.g. by using of cosmetics and hairstyle and clothing) in order to be instantly recognizable as such to other people.

"The Boys from Brazil" it ain't.

398:

This is interesting. I wonder how long those laws will stand? Probably until tissue engineering gets good enough that cloning yourself for new organs will become pointless.

399:

That's what is not being banned as far as I can tell.
The ban is on cloning Human adults Dolly style ie surrogate mothers, eggs stripped of their DNA and with the clonee's DNA in its place.

400:

The argument I was making is that some technologies might well be banned because as Transhumanists we get "out propagandered" by religious ideologues or political opportunists appealing to an uninformed populace. We see this already with genetic engineering of food crops. If we lived in a democracy there would be a vote to ban it all right now, irrespective of benefits.
The future cannot be left to "the market" if whole swathes of technology and research are placed off limits before viable products even appear.
The future I/we want is NOT inevitable.
This was the whole reason we created Zero State, because all we saw was a scitech fanclub that just assumed it was all going to happen without anyone lifting a finger.

401:
If that is the aim, then I classify it as engineering. Roughly speaking, I define them as science is about learning how things work, so biology definitely falls into that category, and enginerring is about using the scientific knowledge to make/ change things according to social needs.

Most definitely. I was just pointing out a possible (subconscious) prejudice against regarding biology as a physical science. Well, that and a lack of familiarity with it's modern treatment. My last formal exposure to biology (i.e., in a classroom setting) was in high school in the mid-70's and I'm guessing there's quite a few people posting here in the same boat. Don't get me wrong - I read the more accessible and popular articles so I'm familiar with stuff like Margulis's endosymbiotic (mostly confirmed, I believe) theories, or the role simple fatty acids may have played in the origin of life, or pax genes as universal regulators. But omnivorous and undirected reading is no substitute for a formal education, legions of autodidacts' testimonies to the contrary, and it's hard to talk sensibly about the subject or reliably evaluate various claims without such a background. I'd like to think that, disputatious as they sometimes are, the majority of participants at the least have some idea of what they're talking about.


Maybe Charlie could write a few Michael Crichton type medical thrillers to even out the mix :-)

402:

If you're going to moderate, you might consider asking a volunteer (who would need to have a consistent view with you with regards to the content of the site) to do it instead. Really, it's a bit beneath you to be personally handing out yellow cards. You want to be the one leading by example, not the one who enforces the rules.

WE HAVE A WINNER!!
WE HAVE A WINNER!!
WE HAVE A WINNER!!
WE HAVE A WINNER!!

Excellent. Carefully thought out and smart as hell!! Charlie, give the man a prize!!

403:

There almost certainly isn't a single answer to the question of how long the laws will stand.

In the UK for example the relevant committee (HEFA I think) reviews the situation every few years for a range of things like cloning, IVF, stem cell therapies and the like. I'm not au fait with US law but certainly human stem cell therapies and even research was (and I believe still is) banned for many years while it was going strong in the UK. You can supply your own guesses as to why this might be the case.

I suspect if we ever get to the point of taking something a pluripotent skin stem cell, reverting to totipotent and cloning tissues as desired and reliably and reasonably cheaply we'll see increasing pressure for changes to allow cloning of tissues for this.

Sometime after that we may see human cloning allowed - as we become an increasingly secular society many of the ethical objections seem increasingly dated and irrelevant to many. However, there are still some serious concerns around the topic (I seem to remember telomeric repeats and short life-expectancy of the clone being one) and for some of those there's some fairly complicated problems to solve before they can be set aside.

404:

re: Zimbardo, Glasshouse. Charlie writes a book on this very subject, and people mention the technology, not the psychology.

We can rabbit on about the properties of these hypothetical devices - and I'm happy to do that at great length now and then - Or we could be talking about things we could be doing today: simple modifications to our social environments that have huge effects on behaviour.

About the only thing that cheered me about Zimbardo's book was that it implied that positive social situations could be engineered and maintained with similar methods. And the plasticity of people - in the Stanford Experiment people behaved awfully and then (presumably) stopped acting like that as soon as the game was over and the toys put away - as long as they were put away. (It made me more forgiving of people I'd think of as "evil").

There's huge implications there - if it can be done with just a few nudges, is it moral not to?

What kind of future would it be where "nudges" came from Athena, or from an agency like the Laundry but less spooky (but still spooks)?

What would it be like to be a copper in such a world? Or a petty criminal? Or a war criminal?
..
Teleports? Brown Dwarfs and Really Clever Cats?
..
I love the technology in Charlie's work, love the detail and dedication to possibility. But it's the ideas that make it so much more than that.

I'm glad you've thought about beer in space, but I'm happy to think there's time to drink some of it and watch the people.

405:

Hmmm, I had an idea but it's perhaps a little too much - you form a group blog/ forum with several other SF or F authors whom you get on with, which spreads costs and increases traffic to everyone, and perhaps with pooled moderation teams it would work a little easier.

On the other hand it would sort of dilue the C Stross brand and there would be bound to be a tragic/ humerous/ dull breakup a few years down the line.

406:

BTW, the resolution is really "interesting". For example:

(b) Member States are called upon to prohibit all forms of human cloning inasmuch as they are incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life;

This is so vague bullshit that I suspect it was written by people who really wanted to ban abortions, contraception and IVF but settled for at least banning something...

407:

I'd be generally thrilled with discussions of the educational system.

408:

Yes - they are the enemy.
And it is not inevitable that they will lose.

409:

Do you know if Stanford Experiment was ever repeated by independent scientists?

410:

I think arguing about whether something is inevitable or not is pointless, because it will ultimately turn into the dreaded "determinism vs. choice" debate.

411:

Maybe at Abu Ghraib?

412:

Presumably based around the truism that the more you know the less choice you have.

414:

According to Zimbardo, there are similarities in;

Elgin State Hospital Illinois, Mock Psychiatric Ward Experience.

Lovibond, Mithiran, & Adams University of New South Wales, "Individualized Custodial" regime.

-The BBC "reality show" version was highly flawed and bears little resemblance to the original experiment.

The United States Navy's SERE program.

According to my own personal and nonscientific lay observation, similar work in encouraging positive alterations to behaviour may be found in the works of Rudolf Steiner, Maria Montessori, and the culture of 60's/70's children's TV programmes.

415:

"I think arguing about whether something is inevitable or not is pointless"

Not at all. It is the difference between doing nothing and doing something. At least if anyone in the future says to me: "... and what did you do?" I will have an answer I am not ashamed of giving.

416:

Indeed so.

My first wife was one of triplet girls. They were supposedly not identical, but they were quite similar (more so than my sisters, who are twins). I could tell them apart perfectly easily, as long as I could see them, and as long as I wasn't looking at a picture from more than a year or so before I met them.

If it was on the phone, then I could mis-recognise them. But that's easy enough to do, even with non-relatives.

I met them again recently, for the first time in years, and again had no difficulty in telling them apart. But they had finally gone for some genetic testing, and it turned out they actually were identical, after decades of denial.

So yes, if genetically identical people are trying to look different, they will do. If they're trying to look the same, they usually will do (excluding any physical happenings).

I find most fiction that deals with twins or triplets to be somewhat dumb.

417:

And what did you do?

And I said, "Littering." And they all moved away from me on the bench there, and the hairy eyeball and all kinds of mean nasty things, till I said, "And creating a nuisance." And they all came back, shook my hand..

418:

A common forum sounds like a neat idea. Any chance that the people who have been guest blogging here would be interested?

419:

You gotta watch out for those father-rapers right there on the bench next to you.

420:

My last exposure to structured biology education happened during a degree in a paramedical field, so I'm a bit out of date. The big action since then (the mid eighties) has been in genomics, proteomics, and immunobiology: those fields have exploded, but it turns out they're a lot more complex than anyone realized back in the early days. (No, DNA is not a "blueprint"; it's more like the static strings embedded in a frozen snapshot of a multi-threaded process running on a parallel computing architecture ... with some self-modifying chunks of code (HERVs and other stuff) and, well, the physical layout of the macromolecules concerned affects their function; you can't just look at a sequence and predict the tertiary structure and function of the protein it describes the primary structure of).

Aagh. Actually, just trying to understand biology today probably requires university-level physics, mathematics (including calculus), heterocyclic organic chemistry and biochemistry, information theory, and a bunch of other stuff. Cells are, fundamentally, no less complex than our climactic engineering products -- things like airliners, space launchers, and nuclear generating plants. I suspect a large part of the reason progress has been so slow since the mid 1980s is simply the intractable complexity of the field.

421:
I'll happily be called out on my ignorance regarding left-handed people as long as my greater point is upheld - that in no way is discrimination against left-handed people comparable to that of sexism and racism.

That wasn't what I was trying to get at, actually. It's not just that when comparing different types of discrimination it's reasonable to characterize some as "lesser" and others as "greater". And it's not that some people think that orientation/race/gender are the worst possible kinds of discrimination, or at any rate, the ones most in need of immediate address.

It's that you think these are worst types of discrimination and that anybody who disagrees with you - especially if they're single white males - are at best clueless meat-piles and at worst actively sexist jerks.

Me, personally? Sure, I'll agree that as a swm I have it pretty good along those three axes of privilege and that in modern times in Northern Europe/North America discrimination in these three named categories are among the more serious. I'll even agree that being short/left-handed is not the handicap it once was, here in the twenty-first century.[1]

I just happen to think that, assertions of white, college-educated women living here in the first world to the contrary, they aren't as ferociously and systematically discriminated against as, say, Muslims in Israel, or Untouchables in India. And that even in the West, there are forms of discrimination every bit as systemic as racial and sexual discrimination . . . and much, much worse for everyone involved.

That doesn't (imho) make me an ignorant buffoon, or an idiot man-child oblivious to his privileges. It just makes me someone who has a different opinion about priorities than you do. And I think Scalzi (and you, if I'm reading you correctly) do an immense disservice to the discussion by (deliberately) conflating people like me with those who really were quite vile in their unconscious assumption of swm (with emphasis on the "m" rather than the "w" in the comments, oddly enough) privileges.

That sort of behaviour won't change anyone's minds. But it will get the people who play at that sort of thing - however sincere their motivations or pure their intent - classified as "hysterical twentieth-century all-sex-is-rape Andrea Dworkin-style feminists". Iow, if it's results you're looking for rather than a feel-good glow of public self-righteousness, this sort of indiscriminate heckling probably isn't the way to go about it.


[1]Otoh, if in someone's honest opinion being short and/or left-handed subjects one to discrimination every bit as ferocious and systematic as the discrimination against non-straights, minorities, and women, well, I certainly won't automatically discount what they have to say as the uninformed and inconsequential - if not outright malicious - nattering of a conservative dupe.

422:

Yes: The Experiment. A documentary on it was produced by the BBC in 2002, but the core experiment was conducted by the University of Exeter. Their experiment diverged from Zimbardo's original, but -- again -- had to be terminated due to ethics contraventions after 6 days.

423:

That sort of behaviour won't change anyone's minds.

Ah, yes. A more specific case of the scream in the face of people who don't agree with you. I've never understood the thought process of lets change their minds by yelling at them until they change.

424:

Cells are, fundamentally, no less complex than our climactic engineering products -- things like airliners, space launchers, and nuclear generating plants.

I think they are more complex. I think of cells in terms of complexity in a typical mammal to be somewhat akin to a large first rate university campus. One with all the standard colleges, a medical school, large division I sports programs and sitting in the middle of a decent sized town. Say 40K + people visiting or living at the place daily. Including the power distribution and waste management systems.

But with a better IT system holding it all together than any Universities have.

425:

You could be right - humans could be hard-wired to exhibit discriminatory behaviour. There are plenty of post hoc claims for how it enabled our ancestors to survive. While the scientist in me is cautious about such claims they're hard to disprove too. And I can't find a culture which doesn't display forms of discriminatory behaviour.

I've come to the conclusion it is a function of being a mammal. After watching my kids grow up and in parallel raising two dogs from the same litter plus being in several large groups[1] over the last twenty years. I think if we got rid of sex, age, left handedness, and whatever through rules and/or societal changes, it would not be long before we came up with little feet, big feet, blue eyes, curly hair, overbites, etc... to use in their place. Oh, wait we already have all of those.

Discrimination will always be with us. People just seem wired to want to think they are all a part of a group that's better than the average.

[1] For an interesting self study in group dynamics join your local community pool board or deal with your kids in things like school marching bands or ROTC or a school sport where they have to play as a team. You learn to be a jerk or accept that the terms normal and obvious have interesting meanings to mean people.

426:
Aagh. Actually, just trying to understand biology today probably requires university-level physics, mathematics (including calculus), heterocyclic organic chemistry and biochemistry, information theory, and a bunch of other stuff. Cells are, fundamentally, no less complex than our climactic engineering products -- things like airliners, space launchers, and nuclear generating plants. I suspect a large part of the reason progress has been so slow since the mid 1980s is simply the intractable complexity of the field.

And not only are the part counts roughly comparable[1], but the individual parts in biological systems seem to interact with a whole lot more other parts in the system - this isn't like a chip where a few dozen transistors and related components can be effectively isolated and treated as a single unitary logic gate.

So yeah, a lot more complex than what we thought fifty years ago. But that's where the action is these days. As an older math guy starting from a physics background, if I had to do it all over again, I'd definitely have gone into the hot, sexy field of biology, not that stodgy old 50's style atomics/rocket science hype they were feeding us back in the day.

[1]10^-10 m for an atom, 10^-5 m for a cell, call it 10^15 atoms per cell. That's quite a few parts! Even a prokaryote or something like a mitochondria has a part count on the order of 10^12.

427:

Couple of things to add:

1. The "self-modifying code" thing is not a part of normal cell function, with the notable exception of antibodies (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V%28D%29J_recombination). It's mostly stuff that screws things up and drives evolution.

2. If one really requires mathematics, physics, chemistry and information theory to understand biology, then I can safely state than NO ONE here in the faculty of biology understands biology. 8-)

428:

Years ago a university education meant you studied most everything. Then about 100 years ago or a bit more it mean you tended to study science or the arts. Then after about WWII you got to where most engineering and other hard science areas specialized. Chem E, Elec E, Mech E, etc... (There are some exceptions but most people can't handle the workload in a 4 year program.) I suspect biology is now becoming more like engineering.

429:

As anyone else starting to think that we had a good thing going with the space travel, cars, explosions, energy, and libertarianism attractors, at least compared to the our new grievance politics attractor?

430:

Suggestions you might consider:

1) Set a maximum post length (# of characters).

2) Allow/include topic subtitles, preferably in point-form so that readers can more easily/quickly identify/see their preferred topic threads.

2i) Once you get enough subtopics, then allow for/encourage a sub-subtopic organization.

3) Frame questions/ideas to readers in more specific language to encourage the range of responses/posts ... or from a specific point of view. Example: "What would X be like if we couldn't also have/use Y?"

4) If you're looking for wide-ranging responses/ideas, ask your audience for their top-3 weirdest/least common ideas regarding "X" with a one-sentence explanation of why/where/what, etc. This top-3-plus-1-sentence-explanation restriction actually makes it easier for people to respond because they'll have a better sense of what "the right answer" should be. Often having more contributors will also result in a wider range of 'answers/ideas'.

5) Top-5 topic clusters -- sort of makes sense that people would be most comfortable discussing/relating to familiar ideas such as: home, transportation, entertainment, belief systems, etc.


The elephant in the room:

Writers/posters/readers just by their presence at this blog indicate that they know the power of words: a policy that allows hateful/venomous posts contradicts this reality/knowledge. I've had to physically step away from this topic blog a couple of times because some of the commentary literally turned my stomach. Not a good experience. Challenging viewpoints is one thing, but hate for the sake of hate is unproductive, therefore 'wrong'. It's your blog, therefore your boundaries.


Other comments:

Please keep the post numbering - it makes finding a comment easier.

431:

I'd absolutely love it if OGH's posts were highlighted somehow, perhaps posts replying to his as well, or posts he felt uplifted the quality of discussion. Carrot works better than stick although I don't like the idea of any of the suggested modifications that'd entail OGH having to spend even more time cleaning up after the blog's mess.

I pretty much read most comment threads with 'Charlie Stross' highlighted, ever since the recognisable avatar image went away. (That was a sad day.)

Also seconding the idea of an open thread to catch the fallover / crap, it works pretty well for a number of blogs out there.

432:

" I've had to physically step away from this topic blog a couple of times because some of the commentary literally turned my stomach."

I actually find this blog very civilized compared to the rest of the net, especially as a Usenet veteran. Is it the way the opinions are expressed or do you just not like the opinions themselves?

433:

Can I add another voice enjoying the uncluttered look?

As for possible suggestions for (gently) altering the normal form of discussion on this blog...

1: It seems that responses to guest posts often include different ideas - would arranging occasional guest articles (even when Charlie is not travelling/busy) be worth a try? (1)

2: If you are trying to modify posting behaviour, then the idea of a coloured highlight (maybe just the header) for not only "Charlie posts", but "Posts Charlie thought were interesting" (2) so that they stick out and the lack of highlighting for the usual obsessive stuff _might_ induce a desire to seem relevant or interesting.

3: (This is probably badly expressed, and could well be silly/irrelevant as well) - Um... as an attempt to broaden or maybe defocus the more... um... Boolean... thinkers/posters, would it be at all useful to have occasional posts documenting where politics (3) or negotiation _worked_, and therefore [Sarcasm] human problems can reliably be solved without extermination [/Sarcasm] - there can be better options than "fuck off" - type ones?


(1) It's anecdata, and may not show up in aggregate, but if a guest writes interestingly here, books get sold/pre-ordered. Often books that would not have been encountered otherwise.

(2) There would probably be a need for "Guest responds", "Guest was interested', "Moderator was interested" colours as well...

(3) Possibly a First World Problem, but politics is seeming horribly broken atm, and appears to be more "one gigabuck, (rounded down), one vote" - ie, concerns of mere millionaires are irrelevant, much less those of unincorporated peasants. ACTA etc seem to be purely for the benefit of rent-seeking corporations, ant they get negotiated in secret and then passed into law without any chance for democracy to interfere (insert long rant here).

434:

You're a tad behind the times with biology... the subject you would study at A-level or equivalent (final years of school) has been studied at University level as Biology, Botany, Zoology, Physiology, Human Anatomy and Comparative Anatomy (at least) for 150 years or more. By the time I went to university in the mid-80s you could routinely add Cell Biology, Microbiology, Genetics and Biochemistry (the start of the biology-crossovers) at least.

Since then you can add degrees in Bioinformatics, Computational Biology/Modelling, Molecular Biology, Immunology at least.

By the time I finished my PhD, the Biology department at the University of York awarded about 25 variations on a Biology Degree depending on specific modules and the like.

That's before you start getting into interesting cross-overs like Pharmacology and Pharmacy for example, which both have a big biological element. They've been around for a while, and there are now departments of Molecular Pharmacology and the like.

You can still do a degree called Biology mind you, which I don't think you can in Engineering any more. But optional units and the like fill every year around an increasingly crammed core.

435:

Oh, and I forgot all the medical, paramedical, veterinary etc specialisations. It's pretty hard to say they're biological sciences, although they normally go into faculties on their own. But just about every medical specialisation will have at least one professor (UK terms) in each medical school.

436:

The language/imagery used mostly ... very occasionally the opinions themselves.

I've never used Usenet. This blog is the most fractious that I visit/participate in possibly because Charlie's books include a wider range of points of view with major characters that are not just unpleasant, but creepy ... not the type of folks I'd invite to my family dinner. Having such major characters who sometimes are the 'hero' probably gives posters with similar personalities the impression that they have permission to behave just like these fictional characters when visiting this [non-fictional] blog.

That said, I enjoy most posters' comments - they're often interesting, informative, funny/wry.

437:

And another biggie biology -- neuroscience -- which is becoming very quant-intensive.

438:

I think the problem with the post "SF, big ideas, ideology: what is to be done?" came at the end where OGH asked


If SF's core message (to the extent that it ever had one) is obsolete, what do we do next? Any answers gratefully received.

That is very open ended request. I would go so far as to call it brain-freezingly open end. Imagine, 100 comments in, a wanna-be commenter looking back to the top because he wants to stay on topic. What is the topic? All answers to what do we do next. That is vague enough to make the brain freeze and the commenter fall back on the tried and true.

How about a much more specific request? For example: Social science seems to be the neglected science of science fiction. What kinds of novels could be written about different forms of social organisations? I'm looking for new ideas, so no libertarianism, no socialism. Also technology continues quite strongly; social collapse has been done to death as a setting.

I do see a problem. I think that the future of the science fiction novel cannot be discussed in a purely abstract way. There have to be concrete examples. Perhaps 500 words sketching a novel. But the FAQ says


There is the perpetual paranoid author's worry that $FAN will show $AUTHOR a neat idea, $AUTHOR will write a book with the idea in it, and $FAN will sue $AUTHOR for plagiarism. It's about as likely as being hit by lightning, twice, but — no thanks.

Perhaps the post has to be explicit in soliciting ideas to enrich the public domain - post your idea here if you are happy to see others take it and run with it and pay no royalty.

439:

You're a tad behind the times with biology...

Yep. I was on the Engineering side of the fence when I was at school. But you just made the point. It's hard to wrap your head around Biology unless you keep it simple or specialize. And keep reading. A lot.

You can still do a degree called Biology mind you, which I don't think you can in Engineering any more.

You can. But it's not for the faint of heart. In the US, Harvey Mudd, Duke, and I'm sure a few others offer it. Maybe West Point.

440:

Yeah. Not breaking golden goose is obviously key. It's pretty damn good now.

Beyond that, I'm not sure you actually want too many of the lurkers to comment, given what Charlie said elsewhere about the high level of readership. As discussed elsewhere the comments can already get unwieldy. This thread has pulled quite a number (including me) out of the woodwork.

RockPaperShotgun (games site) uses threaded comments. Don't think it works terribly well. They recently moved from just one level of threading to many deep levels. Finding new comments deep in threads is difficult. Usenet solved this back in the nineties, but I understand the dificulties in doing it on the web without hosting a massive database with everyone logging in individually.

When one comments could a link be added to the comment replied to taking you to the sub-post(s) so you could easily get back to where you were previously reading? (apologies if suggested, struggling with length of comments, thus nicely illustrating point)

What I have noticed is a well-run track into certain regular discussion areas where very familiar views are aired repeatedly by the same handful of commenters.

This is a risk, as it may eventually lead to others drifting away. (as well as clearly not delivering what our host wants on the website he pays to host and gives his time to).

How you encourage civilised dialogue in the direction you want it to go in without a heavy degree of moderation/censorship is a hard one. For my tastes Crooked Timber goes far to far these days (not questioning their right to do so on their own site, any more than I'd criticise Mr Stross, just don't find it makes for an interesting discussion when you seem to ban people who don't share a substantial part of your world view.)

I think this site has a good balance between reasonably civilised debate and not coming down like a ton of bricks on genuine dissent.

I rate the quality of debate, but rarely comment. Partly because of the high standard of debate. Partly because I rarely have anything to add about cars, mars, space that hasn't been said already. Talk about cities, public transport and urban development and I might comment if I think I can add something. But I'm quite happy reading other people say intelligent things about things they know well.

I don't feel particularly intimidated by the somewhat strong responses you can get from those who disagree with you, but do see how some might not like having "WRONG" or "NO" shouted at them when disagreeing with someone's sacred cows.

Ultimately I think we need to choose to talk about something more interesting rather than being banned into it, although clearly some steering will be needed. Not remotely easy. If it was I'd make a living running a sucessful web discussion site.

441:

I got on the Net in 97 and dived into Usenet.
Back then you mixed, literally, with the insane and psychotically abusive. I've even talked with mass murderers there, pre-killing spree.

442:

Ah, yes I should certainly have remembered them. Although I still have occasional nightmares about my neurophysiology module. And I suspect there are other specialisations with degrees you can do. Apologies to any graduates of any of those I've forgotten.

443:

Dirk:


I got on the Net in 97 and dived into Usenet.
Back then you mixed, literally, with the insane and psychotically abusive. I've even talked with mass murderers there, pre-killing spree.

Ah yes. The regrettable Mr. McDermott aka Mucko.

Slightly creepier is having gone to school with Hans Reiser, due to the proximity factor, but Mucko was pretty bad.

444:

A couple of Boston newspapers called me on the phone soon after. Just told them the usual, which was that he was polite and knowledgeable. Given the usual run of hate filled trolls on Usenet he came across as rather nice. I always wondered why he did it given that the accounts dept really had no choice but to do what the IRS told them. Cynically, he shot the wrong people.

445:

My fiance is back in school to get a chemistry undergrad degree. Her older sister, a surgeon completing her residency, glanced at the coursework and quailed. A decade ago, her sister only had to take algebra and statistics in order to make it through the couple of chemistry courses for her MD. Now the prerequisites for those same undergraduate courses include several levels of calculus and a smattering of advanced biology classes.

The field is getting more and more complex with convergences all over.

446:

That effect has been intensifying in various fields.

When I went to (engineering, naval architecture) university, my professors openly admitted that when they'd done undergrad work, what we were doing was considered masters or PhD level work, and that they had a lot more trade-school aspects to the undergrad degrees. Now, not only is it specialized, but it's escalating the skills set requirements.

447:

Meta-meta; would "The future of Education" be a sufficiently more-different topic that we should land on more often, on blog comments here?

It comes up more than a bit, and is sort of an opposite of spacecadetism, but also somewhat sideways from many initial topics.

Been mentioned a bit up-thread, and we're edging into it again, just wanted to explicitly ask what OGH and others think of it.

448:

"Teaching machines" were at one time a minor SF trope for future education until The Matrix appeared. Short of real AGI we do now have online courses up to degree level. The future has become history.

449:

like Charlie, I just escaped forced conversion at school to writing with the right hand by a year (early 1950's in a state school). Ended up like many lefties of the period writing "upside down" in a vain attempt to avoid smudging my writing (with ink from inkwells - no ballpoints back then!)
At High School, lefties were not permitted to do technical drawing beyond 3rd year (Year 9 in the new money) as the school would not convert right-handed drawing machines for a "minority" (the word used at the time, 1962)
It wotld be nice to have the fingerprint reader on my ThinkPad on the left side of the touchpad, but that's a minor nitpick...

450:

We haven't seen it fundamentally change any of university or the education system or career paths / life paths yet, though. The implications are still unclear.

And is online course content for free the end of changing education? I certainly hope not.

We see it as an ongoing thread in speculative fiction, but not a lot. I'm thinking of Scalzi's "The Ghost Brigades" and the special forces soldier learning process there as one good example of a very different education. We're not seeing enough people explore the whole process and society impacts and so forth... What does it mean for education if you're carrying around a smartphone/computer all the time, if there's loads of free content including really good educational content; what is left out by those, how do you approach it? What changes, if anything, if you have computers in your brain vs just your phone? Do changes like this actually change the educational outcome significantly - boost creativity, boost how well students retain knowledge, change norms for intellectual capability at various ages, etc. Brains are still maturing through the mid-20s (judgement finally solidifying then); does that change how it all comes together? Even if we could teach a PhD program to a 13 year old (and there are examples) do we want that?

I'm even teching out a bit on the impact questions here, but stepping back - what does it do to society, and stories we can write in those societies.

451:

Left handedness in Japan:
http://web-japan.org/trends00/honbun/tj000202.html

A lot of traditional martial arts, esp sword, are still taught left hand only:
http://kenshi247.net/blog/2009/12/07/sinister-swordsmanship/

452:

"Excellent analysis! I will have to try out the "fuck off" attractor tag as a yardstick and see if it measures up in all cases ..."

It may also explain why debates between libertarians and the more social turn acrimonious so rapidly.
The libertarian is expressing his unstated feeling that other people are somehow threatening and that he thinks that some degree of physical, political, or economic separation is necessary for his peace of mind.
The more social person perceives this as a threat, because subdividing the polity is going to shaft those with the short end of the economic stick. He tells the libertarian that he's stuck with other people whether he wants to be or not.
And then both sides keep aggressively stabbing at the other's main worry instead of seeking some way to arrange at a situation that's not a threat to either.

453:

Now, not only is it specialized, but it's escalating the skills set requirements.

Actually, I'd say it's doing the opposite. A lot of jobs that used to be done by highly trained engineers and scientists are now done by people with high school or two year degrees. They don't really understand what their software is doing, but they know have enough training to know what to input into the software. Paying for higher levels of competence is usually unnecessary. There are a vanishingly small number of software development jobs that require actual understanding, but fewer than you'd think.

"Deskilling" is the awkward term for this phenomenon, by which software changes the nature of skill in the workforce. Skills which used to come with people and raise wages now are embedded into capital, raising profits at the expense of wages.

I see articles all the time about employers who can't find workers with the right skills, but the problem is too much education rather than too little. The employers are generally looking for high school graduates with above average math skills, above average work habits, and a willingness to work for $12 an hour with no career path. Of course, high school graduates who meet the first two criteria almost always go to college these days, pricing themselves away from these jobs.

454:

@451:

Scratch the surface of any media report about skills shortages and you will find a business group which is unhappy that it can't find people with very specialized skills who are prepared to work for minimum wage.

There is no skill shortage. Instead, there is a surplus of greedy business leaders who get very upset when market forces don't let them set wages as low as they want.

455:

Posts were renumbered while I was writing. The post above is in reply to what is now 453:

http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2012/05/meta-comments.html#comment-506702

456:

Hey Charlie, one really helpful thing you could do is to make sure that when a comment comes out of moderation it is given the last available number. It's really annoying when one's comment comes out of moderation and 100 comments have been made since, and nobody reads it.

457:

You don't have to do anything. If the comments become valueless after 200 comments, people can stop reading after 200 comments.

The bigger problem is if commenting doesn't rot after 200. Who has time to read all 450 comments on this post? I know you don't like threading, but it provides a great way to triage---if I don't like the head of the thread, I can skip the whole thread.

458:

Curmdugeon:


Scratch the surface of any media report about skills shortages and you will find a business group which is unhappy that it can't find people with very specialized skills who are prepared to work for minimum wage.
There is no skill shortage. Instead, there is a surplus of greedy business leaders who get very upset when market forces don't let them set wages as low as they want.

Nice rhetoric, but I have been in several situations where sufficient skills were simply not there, period, and money to pay good or extraordinary wages was as well had any people been there.

Dot-com boom, my consulting company literally hired out every west coast UNIX aware experienced person for sysadmin duties, then all the grad students, then talented upper division undergrads, and was into talented sophomores in east coast universities. We were disinvited from university job fairs for hiring the wrong people along with the right ones...

Right now, in Silli Valli, senior IT folks willing to consult...

It does happen.

459:

Ok - General point and very much IMO and about me. Apologies if it's effectively a pea-roast.

I find it easier and "more comfortable" to comment on topics that I know something about and am interested in, so I'm going to tend to follow trends in those directions.

No stats to back this up, but I suspect that I've commented less (before thread drift) on $new_shiney_gadget and "social sciences" threads than on "civil, electrical and mechanical engineering" or "chemistry, mathematics and physics" ones.

460:

Charlie, you're also on metafilter. Somehow I can read and read and read metafilter threads but most of the discussions here are basically unreadable quagmires.

If you compare and contrast this site and metafilter, what do you get?

461:

Charlie>Am I doing something wrong with the moderation here?

Well, after reading intermittently for a couple of days, and having reached the current end of the comments without becoming bored or disgusted, I think you're doing pretty well.

462:

This thread is obviously getting very self-referential, as it was mostly intended. I find it somewhat amusing which people are saying the system isn't broken, don't fix it. Reminds me of Red Dwarf when Confidence and Paranoia said Lister did not need to be cured cause he was already more than fine the way he was (i.e. his symptoms were features not bugs.)

I don't know how many practical suggestions I have. Limiting the number of responses per individual might help if the specific rules aren't too draconian.

Identifying and banning certain expressions which have proven to be toxic might also help. I hate to limit free expression, but some things have a track record of being 90% used in the service of abuse, blather or derailing. For instance: naming someone a troll. If the moderators think someone is a troll, they can act on it. Regular commenters use the label to wrong foot people they disagree with. Real trolls are blindingly obvious about their trolldem and we can all see it; so someone other than the moderator calling it out is relatively pointless. But the potential for it being used as a contentless rhetorical hammer is not harmless.

It would also not pain me to see ALL CAPS, extraneous exclamation points and gamer type chest beating shown politely to the door. It does not stop me reading here, but it does up the transactions costs of doing so and I bet it does discourage a number of other people from participation.

I am of two minds on credentialism: on the one hand, it can be a STFU to other commenters; on the other hand, it is good to know (to the extent that is knowable on the internet) where someone is coming from. I think the latter outweighs the former, but YMMV.

The site has a problem with differential treatments of ethnicism/racism. I have seen casually ( and sometimes more than casual) racist/nationalist remarks directed at the Irish, Americans, the Romany or Travellers (not sure which or both are the current targets of your slang), the Japanese and Iranians, without any sort of approbium. The blog does not condone racist comment in general. Why should it make any special allowances? (I saw some causual and arrogantly stupid use of the N bomb last year, but thankfully that has not recurred. But if any readers left because of that, odds are they have not returned.)

I will keep reading and occasionally commenting here if the blog stays as is. But if Charlie can think of some practical approaches he thinks will improve the place, I am all for it.

463:

Agreed - although I think Curmudgeon has a point too. Often "there is a skills shortage" actually means "there are too few people willing to do it as cheap as we think they should" but there are definitely times when there are just too few people with the qualifications and experience to do the job.

Sometimes it makes you wonder about the desire of the leaders of industry to actually practise what they preach. If you value a particular skill, pay more for it. Watch people with the skill leave their previous job and come work for you... keep the skill valued and watch people learn it to get the nice highly paid job. Or does the concept of scarcity increasing value not apply?

But there are times that's not so easy to do. I was faced, over several years, with a practical for first year undergraduates in biology. They faced a question that led to the (unsatisfactory) answer 2X10^9nm (if you're interested that's the approximate length of DNA in the human genome). When asked to cancel to more appropriate units even if they could tell me that 1nm = 10^-9 m most couldn't work it out, even if faced with choices like "gap between my finger nails (with fingers pressed together so

Scary lack of basic numeracy - and a skill that as biologists many of them will use regularly in lab work and other places changing units like that.

464:

Second to last paragraph: "approbrium" should be "opprobrium."

465:

The last time "the skills shortage" was mentioned, I think that Bruce Cohen and I more or less agreed that, at least in software, "the skills shortage" meant "we can't hire staff with 3 years experience in $software_V'new when it's only been out 3 months".
Bruce, I'm not claiming that we agreed on who was guilty of what in that cycle; just that the issue was people asking for and/or being offered a skills set that couldn't exist.

466:

Charlie, do you want a commentariat or a community? It's not clear. It is apparent that some people here (the usual suspects) do want it to be a community, or already consider it to be so.

Clarify your position (and definitions) and I suspect everything else flows from that - including how you wish to continue.

IMHO it cannot (effectively) be both, assuming I understand the meaning of 'communitariat' correctly...

467:

MTG dub
Can it be BOTH?
( Commentariat & Community) ??

GWH is wrong & Curmudgeon correct about "skills shortages"
Speaking as someone who has never meen able to use his M.Sc. Eng in earnest - "too old" - or too expensive or something ....

468:

My bad - I was assuming a request for skills that can exist. Serves me right for assuming reasonable requests with unreasonable pay I guess.

469:

"And that even in the West, there are forms of discrimination every bit as systemic as racial and sexual discrimination . . . and much, much worse for everyone involved."

Such as? From my reading, all you've said is that short/left-handed people get it just-slightly-less-worse than women/ethnic minorities*, and that there exist people who get it worse still (in Western society). And yes, there possibly are, but you've continuously neglected to mention who you mean, and in the vagueness your comments don't read that differently from those of an MRA who's just barely holding back on their conclusion -- namely, that patriarchy doesn't just harm men too, it harms them worse!

Forgive me for being suspicious but more than a few times I've waded through the muck of someone's thought-dump on privilege only to be rewarded with a small, dense nugget of misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia (etc. etc.) at the end of the brown shitty rainbow.

I do consider your "Muslims in Israel have it worse" point classic derailing, though. I can, and do, care about Palestinians, but that doesn't mean I can't care about sexism in contemporary Western society as well. (In Australia just today it was decided by the Supreme Court that you can in fact be prosecuted for raping your wife -- even if you did it way back in 1963 -- so I guess things are getting better.)

Furthermore, Dworkins never said that all sex is rape. If you're not even going to read her...

*Paws allows only that left-handed people are "maybe slightly ahead of the curve" in that they're prosecuted less today, as do you with your 21st century comment. This is fundamentally ridiculous. No one was ever denied the right to vote because they were left-handed, or deemed fit for slavery because they predominately used their left hand. I don't deny that there's been systematic abuse, but the difference is huge (as Charlie acknowledged).

470:

(I know that reads a little funny but I forget how to edit when flu season arrives.)

471:

> Unfortunately, here in the UK, since 1980 libertarianism has succeeded on the right where trotskyism more or less failed on the left.)

Yes, growth of the of UK government spending from $300 billion pounds/yr to $600 billion pounds/yr (corrected for inflation) shows that the libertarians over on your side of the pond have been utterly remorseless with their budget cutting.

http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk/spending_chart_1900_2011UKk_11c1li011lcn_F0t

Likewise, the average of 2,000 new pages of laws per year passed by your parliament since 1980 shows that your libertarians have been wildly successful at cutting legislation.

http://www.parliament.uk/pagefiles/10493/LLN2010_012.pdf

472:

I think the worst thing ever done to us left-handers was when it was us had to attack castle staircases. I bet that was a job with high employee turnover.

(bit of a blind alley, this left-handed business, surely?)

473:

Not as bad as left handers defending the castle staircase. An equally short lifespen

474:

Greg:


GWH is wrong & Curmudgeon correct about "skills shortages"
Speaking as someone who has never meen able to use his M.Sc. Eng in earnest - "too old" - or too expensive or something ....

My company is eagerly hiring people with the required skillsets into their 60s. Nobody older has applied that I know. If they had the skills and wanted in, and passed the technical interviews ok (which I do a fair number of, and I don't give rat's ass how old the candidate is if they know what they're talking about)...

That said, these accounts (yours, and mine) are both ancedotal. This factor is highly employment sector specific - there can be a huge drought of sufficient senior IT gurus and architects, and at the same time an unemployable glut of senior aerospace engineers or mechanical engineers. And visa versa. If I could magically wave a want and turn unemployed mortgage brokers and analysts into sysadmins it would be a blessing to the world.

This is part of why I'm employable in several fields, but not everyone can be proficient in several professional-level employable skills at the same time.

Eloise, upthread a bit:


Sometimes it makes you wonder about the desire of the leaders of industry to actually practise what they preach. If you value a particular skill, pay more for it. Watch people with the skill leave their previous job and come work for you... keep the skill valued and watch people learn it to get the nice highly paid job. Or does the concept of scarcity increasing value not apply?

There's an industry inertia problem, where it takes time to establish to the HR and management's satisfaction that there is indeed a shortage, that it's going to cost more to hire and retain, and make it so. It's a multiyear process. Companies go fish, or hire below required skill levels because that's all they can find, until that process catches up.

My consulting company will pay what is required to hire people, up to a ceiling that we can't pay more than what clients will pay us. Consulting rates are more flexible than hiring salaries are but not infinitely so.

Some of the adjustment here is structural, that corporate execs need to spend more in IT (or other fields going through this) and adjust their longterm budget process. That can take years to understand and act upon.

475:

Scratch the surface of any media report about skills shortages and you will find a business group which is unhappy that it can't find people with very specialized skills who are prepared to work for minimum wage.

There is no skill shortage. Instead, there is a surplus of greedy business leaders who get very upset when market forces don't let them set wages as low as they want.

In some businesses yes, that's the way they operate. But I'm in the mid to upper end of the IT skills spectrum and there is definitely a mismatch in many cases. In many situation is depends on if you're hiring a skill or an ability. If a skill, so many things have become specialties, it can be hard to find matches. If you're hiring ability, then you likely are not placing ads but relying on networking with existing employees or friends.

At the bottom of the wage scale, both my kids are in fast food while going to school, you have a lot of people who think they have a right to above minimum wage but don't have the basic math or social skills to interact with customers. They really don't understand why they are fired for yelling at a customer who asks for extra sauce even though they already have 3 or some similar customer transgression. Or for pocketing $5 from the register since "the company can afford it". Store managers are places in the US other than McD's or Chick-fil-A have a hard time filling entry level positions.

476:

Well, eventually all jobs are going to disappear or be severely de-skilled. So you either opt for a massive wealth redistribution or end up with a very rich oligarchy and 98% of the rest of the population on welfare and minimum wage.

477:

>>>very rich oligarchy and 98% of the rest of the population on welfare and minimum wage.

Welfare and minimum wage supplied by robot, I presume?

478:

"Welfare and minimum wage supplied by robot, I presume?"

No, the owners of the robots.

479:

"Welfare and minimum wage supplied by robot, I presume?"

No, the owners of the robots.

480:

Why?

481:

I am assuming that the vast majority of people will not have access to wealth creating tools.

482:

If you add incest and eugenic life extension, isn't the above a list of all the things you would reasonably expect to find in a Heinlein book? Maybe Saturn's Children brought an inordinate number of Heinlein fans into your readership, and they are particularly talkative, and your comment thread is now paying the price?

At the very least, it sounds like a very particular era of science fiction. But, replace libertarianism with fascism and you've got the taglist that characterizes futurist manifestos (of the Italian capital-F Futurists, not of the lower-case f futurists who sometimes guest post here).

483:

IIRC we were talking about common failings of recruiters, and we agreed that on one side, the recruiters are constantly offering resumes that cite impossible experience, while on the other the hiring managers are requiring the same.

If you don't mind, I'm not going to get into the discussion about jobs in IT again. My own experience in the last few years may be anecdotal, but I'm still pissed off about it, and don't want to have to go into again just now.

484:

...one side, the recruiters are constantly offering resumes that cite impossible experience, while on the other the hiring managers are requiring the same.

Perhaps the market is selecting for skilled liars. This would presumably be accidental, as few professions outside advertising are really helped by a knack for passing off lies as truth.

We had a conspiracy thread earlier, and this is a good example of one fuel for those: when something like this is spotted, it's nice to think that there's a plan somewhere (even if it doesn't benefit us) than to accept the actual dank pit of cluelessness and stupidity.

485:

#469 Para 6 - I think you've missed my point, and certainly don't understand my view. So to spell it out:-

IMO low-level discrimination like forcing natural left-handers to write badly right-handed then marking them down in exams for "bad hand-writing" is worse than high-level discrimination like not hiring $ethnic/religious_group because you don't like them, precisely because it is less visible and hence easier to ignore.

My comment about there being less discrimination about being left-handed now than 50 years ago placing them ahead of the curve was a suggestion that there were grounds for cautious optomism that things are getting better in that area and will continue to do so.

486:

@471:
Likewise, the average of 2,000 new pages of laws per year passed by your parliament since 1980 shows that your libertarians have been wildly successful at cutting legislation.
http://www.parliament.uk/pagefiles/10493/LLN2010_012.pdf
---
Not just the UK there.

You're looking at a situation where you're hiring legislators, and due to efficiencies permitted by office automation (ie, computers), they are able to do much more of... what they're paid to do. We're now faced with a Magician's Apprentice problem of getting what we asked for.

Many times over the years I've thought Frank Herbert might have been onto something when he created the Bureau of Sabotage as a common background for some of his SF stories...

487:

"IMO low-level discrimination like forcing natural left-handers to write badly right-handed then marking them down in exams for "bad hand-writing" is worse than high-level discrimination like not hiring $ethnic/religious_group because you don't like them, precisely because it is less visible and hence easier to ignore."

Given this qualification I really don't think I've misunderstood your view, because you're still asserting that discrimination against left-handed people is/has-been "as bad" as that against women and ethnic groups. Most oppression against women, ethnic groups, homosexuals, transgender people, etc. isn't on the books - even though, historically, it has been quite overt (no voting or property rights for women, homosexuality as a hanging-offense, and so on) most such oppression has been implicit & covert.

488:

Unfortunately, here in the UK, since 1980 libertarianism has succeeded on the right where trotskyism more or less failed on the left.)

Yes, growth of the of UK government spending from $300 billion pounds/yr to $600 billion pounds/yr (corrected for inflation) shows that the libertarians over on your side of the pond have been utterly remorseless with their budget cutting.

I said it had succeeded on the right. Among the Conservatives. Which is why we're now in this fucking depression (aka "double-dip recession") with gigantic cuts in government funding going through, large numbers of useful QANGOs being axed (ask me about PLR!) and so on.

It takes a generation for entryist movements to have a visible effect on a political party because the infiltrators have to work their way up to the top of the hierarchy. Libertarians have been targeting the conservatives since the late 70s/early 80s, and we're now seeing the effects of their small government dogma.

It's not pretty.

489:

Having a Labour Party to the right of Thatcher doesn't help either.

490:

Well, not on social issues. But yes, they buy pretty much the same bankrupt economics.
I came across a nice blog post on the topic of employment protection.
http://flipchartfairytales.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/wooo-here-comes-the-regulation-bogeyman-again/

Apparently the evidence is that tougher laws don't actually affect employment. Or in other words, Beecroft and his fellow travellers are totally wrong, yet they still insist that their methods will work, like the tories did with their austerity and cut the debt campaign.

491:

Linear comment threads will always work poorly...rather like human telephone lines...10% wander per comment will result in drain-circling within ~100 comments.

Groklaw's system works better. Key differences:

(1) generic base threads: off-topic, on-topic, corrections

(2) nested replies

(3) reasonably harsh moderation: if off-topic in on-topic -> off-topic, pruned at highest off-topic thread level

Of course, it is harder to follow, but would probably mitigate the problem you're seeing.

--Erwin


492:

As I see it, the problem is not so much the existence of traffic on the perennial topics, as their contamination of more interesting discourse.

Perhaps you could try going threading one better, and look towards means of semi-automatically migrating strange-attractor threads to a more appropriate forum? I realize that this is a significant R&D project, but the alternative is consistently diverting your personal effort into moderating the existing linear blog format.

This is actually an old problem, one of the more interesting ones there is, but the digital age has thrown it into sharp relief: how do you separate the good stuff from the bad stuff? Starting with how fuzzy this whole good/bad thing is, then moving on to how to do it cheaply and conveniently...

493:

Phil Knight @ 472
Unless your name is Kerr (Often Wardens of the Scottish Middle March.
Red-haired, tall and ALL left-handed - the Lords Kerr ares till L-handers(!) They built their castle stairs the "wrong" way round ....

494:

In case anyone is still paying attention here, but Ta-Nehisi Coates's twitter feed (of all things!) is currently featuring a discussion of commenting system mechanics, including (among other things) volume limits on individual posters as a moderation tactic, the worthlessness of "numbers of commenters" as a metric. (He's got a contest running for headlines designed to attract a crowd. You can leave out Ron Paul if you like, but you're not going to win.)

It's hard to do permalinks to a twitter feed, but over the next few days, going to his profile and scrolling back to about the time this comment appears will get you there.

A quote on his general philosophy: "I don't actually want to talk to 100000 people. I want to talk to like--five or ten--really smart ones." More: "I believe in applying elitism, snobbery, undemocracy, unfreedom, monarchy, despotism, and absolutism to comment sections." Somebody else noted he left out "censorship"; I'm sure that'll be remedied if this list reappears...

495:

@Charlie Stross:

> > growth of the of UK government spending from $300 billion pounds/yr to $600 billion pounds/yr (corrected for inflation) shows that the libertarians over on your side of the pond have been utterly remorseless with their budget cutting.

> I said it had succeeded on the right. Among the Conservatives.

In what way did the libertarians succeed (either objectively, or "on the right") such that their success has resulted in a doubling of government spending?

Are you saying that if libertarians hadn't been so wildly successful government spending would have been higher yet, and the mere 100% growth is the problem?

> Which is why we're now in this fucking depression (aka "double-dip recession") with gigantic cuts in government funding going through

The hm-treasury.gov.uk website is hard to navigate, but it seems to me that the 2012 budget is the same as the 2010 budget, and is larger than the 2007, 2009, and 2009 budgets. Putting aside one-off stimulus in 2011, what are the "gigantic cuts" you see, given that spending has climbed an average of 3% per year over this interval?

> Libertarians have been targeting the conservatives since the late 70s/early 80s, and we're now seeing the effects of their small government dogma.
It's not pretty.

Your libertarian UK politicians are amazingly powerful. Despite being outnumbered by the 345-to-305 in Parliament (I'm assuming that every single Conservative is a libertarian of course), they've not only managed to cut spending [ by growing it ? ] and cut laws [ by passing 1,000 more per year ], and thus lead the UK into recession, but they've also apparently forced a hard landing in China, have cut growth in half in India over the last year, *** AND *** fubar-ed the US economy despite the Democrat control of the presidency and Senate.

I wish our libertarians over here were as powerful as yours over there!

496:

Given this qualification I really don't think I've misunderstood your view, because you're still asserting that discrimination against left-handed people is/has-been "as bad" as that against women and ethnic groups. Most oppression against women, ethnic groups, homosexuals, transgender people, etc. isn't on the books - even though, historically, it has been quite overt (no voting or property rights for women, homosexuality as a hanging-offense, and so on) most such oppression has been implicit & covert.

Second opinons please - is it just me missing something, or does this paragraph actually contradict itself?

497:

The following is an opinion that I've heard from multiple sources:-

The "more laws issue" is a result of the excessive number of lawyers who are joining the legislature (all parties (and by the sound of things more than just the UK is afflicted), not just the Cons and Liebour).

498:

On castle stair twists, yes the KErrs were famous for being left handed and having the stairs to suit, but I've been in a quite a few Scottish castles and the stair turning direction is not always suitable for right handed defenders. I'd love to trace back the idea that the Kerrs built that way because of their left handedness.

On our triumphal liberarians in the UK, TJIC has forgotten that keeping the budget the same and spending differently has the same effect as cutting government spending, if you are talking about social programs versus paying off the debt. Which is what they are doing; cuts of 20% in many areas, and there's already been something like 400,000 redundancies as cuts start but before they are fully implemented. Also the usual loot the taxpayer setup, begun by new labour, is being expanded, so public services are being supplied by notoriously poor private companies. Maybe you'll forgive me for not going into more details because this isn't Private Eye magazine and I don't have time to list all the problems.

499:

I'm having a bit of trouble forcing it to make sense also - the final part is especially troublesome, seeming to state that most such oppression has been covert and (simultaneously) that it has been overt. I'm also unclear what is meant by oppression that "isn't on the books" - perhaps that's a reference to oppression that's written into some sort of law? If so, I think that's a fair point: a lot of this oppression is not the result of legislation, but the result of unwritten (and often unwitting) assumptions about "how the world is/should be".
Still, some clarification of what the author meant might help.

500:

"...but they've also apparently forced a hard landing in China"

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-15331523

For 2011
"China's economy grew by 9.1% in the three months to the end of September from a year earlier, down from 9.5% in the previous quarter."
Doesn't look all that hard to me.

501:

Thanks; those were some of the problems I was having too.

OTOH I also think Justin is arguing that "not being allowed to vote or own property (but being allowed to live comfortably off the income derived from the property that you don't own)" is as bad as or worse than being tortured and denied the right to make anything more than a subsistence income.

502:

Maybe the writer had more data, but that's completely lacking in adequate levels of references to support the writer's conclusions, or draw their own. Yes?

503:

Well, the point is that China applied their own stimulus to their economy and it seems to have worked. Dropping from 10% per annum growth down to 9% in the midst of what is supposed to be the biggest economic crisis since the Wall St crash means they are doing something right. AFAIK, none of the stimulus was a handout to their banking system.

504:

Oh I agree with you; I was attacking the BBC article for failing to back up its conclusions with meaningful amounts of actual data.

505:

OK. I seem to get the impression that economists in the West are a bit pissed that their predictions of doom for China never seem to come true. The most amusing criticism I have heard is that they do not have a mature international banking system like we do in the West.

506:

s/economist/politician would also hold true.

507:

> @Dirk Bruere
>
> "China's economy grew by 9.1% in the three months to the end of September from a year earlier, down from 9.5% in the previous quarter." Doesn't look all that hard to me.

Ah, yes. Official government figures. Those issued by dictatorial communist governments are notoriously accurate.


Check out what The Economist, China Daily, etc. are saying.

Also note the implosion of the Chinese construction sector.

Also note the graph of concrete production, steel production, etc.

Also note that China HAS to grow GDP by about 8.5% or 9% just to absorb the flow of peasants from the countryside. If you look at GDP divided by urban population to get productivity, they're preciously close to zero growth as is.

508:

Oh, I knew a left-handed Kerr - from Irvine, a wretched hive of scum and villainy - but a friendly place, at least to me. I didn't know they were a well-known gang of sinistralists. The one I knew was short (but tough, I remember him giving two people at once a piggy-back up Bower Hill) while his dad was definitely a "big man".

509:

Back to the question . . . You are doing something right, Charlie. A couple of months ago, in a space colonisation thread, I threw in a prediction that problems would be solved with advice from earth delivered in a reality TV style. 'perform the forfeit or we turn the laser off'.

And just now, what do I see but a bunch of Dutch boosters for a one-way Mars mission including this guy:

"Paul Römer, inventor of Big Brother: “This mission to Mars can be the biggest media event in the world. Reality meets talent show with no ending and the whole world watching. Now there’s a good pitch!”"


510:

http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2011/04/india_outpaces_china

"China grew by 10.3% last year, a punishing pace to beat. India, according to the advance estimate by its Central Statistics Office (CSO), grew by 8.6%. Fast, but not fast enough. But today a colleague pointed me to the IMF's latest World Economic Outlook (Table 1.1), released earlier this week. It says that India grew by 10.4% in 2010. "

511:

Dept of "you never know who's listening" - I have 21 second cousins from Irvine.

512:

I'll use made-up figures to make the point more obvious.

20% of discrimination against women is on-the-books stuff and 80% is implicit and covert. That is, most discrimination against women is completely and utterly hidden unless you (1) have lived experience as a woman or (2) listen to women when they tell you about the discrimination they face. Rather like how you learn about discrimination against left-handed people.

Your creative accounting where mild but covert discrimination is equally as bad as severe yet overt discrimination is completely ridiculous, but even if it were true oppressed groups experience both types of discrimination any way and your point still doesn't hold.

513:

I meant to reply to a comment here and time got away from me.

There's a reason I still read this blog, and still read your books, even when one or another isn't my favorite thing ever. It isn't just that you can talk intelligently about a wide range of ideas from scientific to sociological (teaching me things as well as provoking me to think); it isn't just your dry sense of humor, or your skill with words, or your rhetorical ability.

It is that you are coming from a ideological place I recognize, a place that stands for the reasons I still hope for the future.

Things like:
"Similarly, today we're wasting human capital on the same order as the workforce that sustains the entire developed world on washing clothes. No, those washer-women aren't going to colonize Ceres. But if we manage to invent self-cleaning fabrics and then get their next generation into schools, their descendants might."

and

"(My take on privilege is that I have it, and I don't like it: I don't want my achievements to be undermined by the awareness that I only won those prizes because there was a colour bar on the door locking out a bunch of other competitors. Having more competition is uncomfortable at first, but ultimately rewarding. And that's from a purely selfish perspective: there's also a moral dimension to any consideration of privilege.)"

514:

I was going to say what al_zorra did, but thought it would likely trigger the "here we go with the feminists" spam

Okay...
Sorry, this is kinda a trigger for me.

I must say I absolutely HATE this "here we go with the feminists" kind of crap.

I mean (and sorry if I am not very good in conveying my ideas), "feminism" and "feminist" have become kinda insults, which is infuriating to me. This should mean "someone who strives to that women can be as free as men/not discriminated based solely" or something like that, not "virago". Hell, every sensible man should be proud to call himself a feminist!
I often compare sexism to racism in that, in both cases, there's exclusion and discrimination against a group because they're different. Well, antiracist is not (yet) a pejorative label. And neither should feminist be.

Having "feminist" change meaning so as to mean some extremist virago who hates men and want them to be ground down under their iron heel is, IMO, one of the greatest victories of phallocrates worldwide.

Nonetheless, and, please, I urge you, don't let this get into you. Shutting up because of that, denying yourself the right to speak because some moron would accuse you of being a feminist? Not only is this an error IMO, but hell, of course you're a feminist (I hope) and you're proud of it! What is he, a sexist?

Oh, by the way, straight white male here. Never had my ID controlled by the police. And the only times I felt slightly discriminated because of race were when people reacted to my stranger-sounding family name before my looks.
Which is yet a reason to ask you to please stand up when you feel so. Because, sadly, I (and I suspect other males are similar in that respect) sometimes fail to see some problems. By having females, gay, black, whatever people point it, we can see it, too, which betters things up. And if some dumbass mocks you for not wanting to be his mom@home, we can support you, and tell him to grow up a little.

Respectfully

515:

The problem is assuming that the most vocal and extreme members of any group actually represent the views of the majority.

516:

I must say I absolutely HATE this "here we go with the feminists" kind of crap.

In that case, perhaps replying with long angry posts is not your optimal strategy.

517:

Am I somehow guiltier than you? I accept responsibility for the things I've done, and for the things I should have done but didn't, but it's not my job to fix the whole world. That's God's job, and if it drove him crazy that would sure explain a lot.

I disagree.

It is your job, as a fair and compassionate human being.
Sure, you can't fix it all by your lonesome. But you can contribute, make a difference, however small, and hope that, together, our small choices will contribute to fix it.
I mean, if you see an injustice or someone suffering and does nothing to correct it even though you could, aren't you guilty by association? If you accept responsibility for your past actions, you should also accept it for your present ones.

Sure, you'll put limits. Everyone does. I think that's the difference between us, and people who are more generous, more compassionate, although even they have limits. I suspect this is one of the main reasons things do not get better faster: self-interest gets in the way.

A simple example: Nothing stops you from giving, say, 10$ a month to, say, the UNICEF, or similar group. MOst of us can easily afford that, and it makes a huge difference to some people. Yet how many of us do that? I know that I spend this money to go to the theater. Which means I put my entertainment above the health and education of some children out there.
But OTOH, if I hear some jerk do a sexist, racist, or LBGT-bashing thing, I usually react, which contributes (a little) to better things on that front.

518:

In that case, perhaps replying with long angry posts is not your optimal strategy.

Hum...
Okay, my post is long, although there are scores of other long posts in this topic. I'm thus not sure this is very warranted.

But about the anger, could you please explain and elaborate?

I may be wrong, but I am under the impression that, maybe, you misunderstood me.
I am not talking to whomever would call frances a feminist like it was an insult (in which case, yes, my post is useless)
I was talking to her, trying to convey the idea that it is something we should all be, and that she mustn't refrain. If I failed in that, well, :(

@Dirk Bruere 515: Yes, sadly.

519:

You need a multi-thread tree format.

When people get off topic you spawn a new thread.

520:

I'm feeling a definite sense of irony when I look at the original post and the current discussion. Sigh. My sympathies to Stross.

Specials

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on May 27, 2012 9:44 PM.

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