Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘Writing

Capitalization of racial colors

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I capitalize quite a few words, and tendentially more as time goes by, including Democrat/Republican,* Liberal**, Conservative**, Feminist***, and various nationalities**** (e.g. Swede and German). Sometimes, I follow standard use; sometimes, I do not; sometimes, there is no true standard. (The reader is encouraged to check this text for various uses of capital letters, even outside first-letter-of-a-sentence.)

*The U.S. party belongings, to differ them from the more general words denoting attitudes towards forms of government and whatnot.

**The ideologies, as opposed to everyday meanings.

***Originally, probably, by analogy with something else.

****As per standard conventions in English.

This includes “White” and “Black”, when I intend the racial groupings—not the actual color. (Contrast e.g. “White man” and “white boat”. As can be seen from the footnotes above, disambiguation is often the cause.)

I have some concerns about the appropriateness of these terms based on e.g. the difference between claimed and actual skin color, and questions like how to handle e.g. black or dark-skinned people who are not of African descent—should e.g. some Indian or Australian groups be considered Black, despite not being African? Ditto the paradox that many Asians are whiter than “White” Europeans.

Only very recently, have I become aware that even capitalization can be an issue, if often for idiotic reasons. Much of the linked-to page boils down to a conflict over whether those who use capital-B
“Black” should also use capital-W “White”. (A question that by any reasonable standard should have the answers “yes”, for reasons of consistency, just like we have “Monday and Tuesday”, not “monday and Tuesday”.)

For instance, it quotes the “Washington Post” as saying “Stories involving race show that White also represents a distinct cultural identity in the United States”, to support its recent decision to capitalize both words, while “Associated Press” and “Columbia Journalism Review”, apparently, has a capital-B-only policy.

Several (mostly incoherent) tweets are quoted, including one claiming “[…] or it* could imply White Power, White Pride, etc, which makes me very uncomfortable.”

*From context, the capital-W.

Both the concerns around identity, be it cultural or racial, and “White Power” should be entirely irrelevant to the question of capitalization:

The former refers to something highly arbitrary and ever-changing, which makes it entirely unsuitable as a criterion. It could, for instance, lead to situations where Pat Buchanan was born white, because there were no “White” cultural identity at the time, and by now having turned White, because such an identity would now exist. We might then, in the atrocious style of Wikipedia, find claims like “A White man, Pat Buchanan was born to white parents. Originally a white baby, he began turning White in 1982.”. For instance, we might find that capital-B is eventually unacceptable because the “Black” identity fractures too much over time. (Indeed, even now, it can be disputed both whether e.g. Obama, a Black Bronx-kid, an elderly Alabama Black, and a first-generation immigrant from the Ivory Coast, have that much of a common culture, identity, or whatnot, and whether any related identity would be “natural” or imposed by propaganda.) For instance, it leaves open how to handle those who carry the outward signs, but do not share this identity.* Moreover, this would leave a great deal to arbitrary judgment and a danger of abuse through Leftist tolkningsföreträde.

*By this standard would Rachel Dolezal be White or white, or would she even be white and Black. Is an “Oreo” black or Black, or even black and White. Etc.

The latter would involve both a dropping of context* and open doors wide open for misinterpretation, even of a deliberate kind: “Hey, he used a capital-W. Now we know that he is a White supremacist—no further proof needed!”.

*Consider e.g. the drop of modifiers from “discrimination” (say, “sexual discrimination”), which has led to a severe distortion of meaning, or the ridiculous abuse of “chauvinist” to mean e.g. “misogynist”, instead of “nationalist”, based on the analogy expression “male chauvinist” and the later dropping of “male”.

Two simple rules:

If you do use capital-B, then capital-W is mandatory. (And vice versa.)

Whether you do, is up to you, but I recommend it for reasons of disambiguation and disambiguation only—to differ colors from groups and entities named based on colors.*

*This not restricted to racial groupings. For instance, if we have a tournament between teams identified by color, it would usually make more sense to e.g. speak of “the White goalkeeper”, “a Blue forward”, “the Green team”, etc. (And, yes, the White goalkeeper might very well be a Black man, but that should be beside the point in this context.)

As a corollary: Never assume anything more than disambiguation from this type of capitalization.

Note on quotation marks:
I have deliberately left out quotation marks on a good many places where they normally belong. This, in part, to avoid cluttering; in part, because of a problem of interpretation and expression: Everyone writes “Black” with a capital “B”, and saying e.g “Spell ‘Black’ with a capital ‘B’!” would be tautological and uninteresting. If it is not spelled with a capital “B”, it is not “Black”, but “black”. (Or “Slack”, “Alack”, whatnot, depending on how the capital “B” is avoided.) The latter complication has also led to use of “capital-W” and “capital-B” above.

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August 9, 2020 at 3:27 pm

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Disappointing August/ Follow-up: Blogging, records, and new-beats-good

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As predicted, July turned out to be the second best month in a good long while. (The prediction was not astonishing, as it took place on the 31st of the same month.)

However, I just checked my statistics since then, and developments have been very disappointing and well in line with my “new beats good” claim:

The 1st of August had a somewhat average number of hits, the 2nd was well below average, and the following three days* have each scored 1 (!) hit. While that poor days are not unheard of for me (when I have not posted something new), three in a row is disastrous. I doubt that even the dreaded December of 2019 saw that happen.

*Including today, with roughly four hours still to go and a fair chance that this text will cause some hits.

Three days in a row without a new post, following a strong-by-my-standards month, gave me 1 (!) hit on the 3rd and another two days without a new post gave me 1 (!) each on the 4th and 5th.

There might, obviously, be other reasons involved, e.g. some type of search-engine block in the wake of my linking to American Renaissance and UNZ last week or some type of error with the statistics, but the most likely explanation is simply that “new beats good”.

As an aside, my not-updated-in-years website still had more hits than my WordPress presence the last time* that I checked. While the problem of “new beats good” appears to hold fairly generally, it might well be worse on WordPress than elsewhere—yet another reason to get off this shitty platform.

*Probably at some point last year.

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August 5, 2020 at 8:26 pm

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Record posts / Follow-up: Blogging, records, and new-beats-good

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As a brief follow-up to today’s text on blogging and records:

I just, out of curiosity, had a look at my WordPress post-statistics, and was a little puzzled/disappointed* by what I found. The current record post, On language change, prescriptive and descriptive grammar, and related issues, is one of the more well-written and valuable (to the right reader), but has never been spectacular in success. It has just racked up a view here and there over almost ten years, while flying under my own radar. While language topics have been recurring, they are normally of secondary importance. (The post is a positive, however, in as far as it shows that new does not always beat good.)

*Possibly, I should not be, as I have dealt with this topic before.

However, it is about to be overtaken, leading with just a few views over Stay away from Clevvermail—my complaint as a disgruntled Clevvermail customer. It is a fairly poor and valueless post, and I am almost annoyed at its success in just two-and-half years. (But this success has not flown under the radar.)

Only in place three, we find a post that really matches the main contents of this blog, that I have myself extensively linked to, and which is politically important: The “77 cents on the dollar” fraud.

Place four, a known oddity, is Doubt: A parable—a movie review, of all things. (It was fairly popular in my early days, but rarely sees hits today. Possibly, because the movie has grown old and unwatched?)

Place five goes to a text on Price segmentation. This too has flown under my radar. The contents are not necessarily bad, but they are a little “Economics 101” and something that, arguably, should be taught on the high-school level. If someone has to learn this from me, it is a little depressing.

Finally, in place six we find “The Male Privilege Checklist” debunked. This is a topic close to my heart and of societal and political importance, but the text is two sentences pointing to my website, where the actual text is published. This sixth-ranked page, in it self, is next to useless and likely to have disappointed all these visitors if they found it through a search—they would have been much better off landing directly at the full text.

Of these six texts, three are from 2010, two from 2011, and one from 2018. While older texts have, obviously, had longer to gather views and while my visitor numbers were higher back then, this is still a little depressing. (In particular, as the 2018 text is the Clevvermail one.)

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July 31, 2020 at 6:45 pm

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Blogging, records, and new-beats-good

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As I should focus on my books,* I try not to spend too much time blogging. This July has still seen a record 26 posts (this one included), to narrowly beat last July’s 25.** Moreover, the two month sum over June and July is another record with 41 to the 40 of last years June and July. How did this come about?

*In addition to (still) polishing the first, I have written minor parts of the second and try to plan out a reasonable overall structure in advance (unlike with the more improvised first book).

**After that, there is a fairly sharp drop to 21 for November 2017 as the only other month with more than 20 posts.

Firstly, as I wrote at the beginning of the month (regarding my book writing):

The last few weeks, I have been a little troubled to get work done again. This in part, because I needed a breather; in part, due to the current “interesting times” (note my increased blogging); in part, because the construction work is here again.

This has caused a bit of a vicious circle, as my blogging has taken time from my book writing, significant chunks of time have disappeared on various necessary correspondence and other tasks (e.g. taxes), and the reduced time spent on my books have made it harder to get back to them. Conversely, some of the blog posts have caused further posts to make clarifications, cover related topics, or similar.

Here, there might be a valuable lesson: That writing feeds writing and that it is important to deliberately feed the writing that has priority.

Secondly, for some reason, I find it easier to blog during construction noise than to do other types of writing. I am as yet uncertain why.

Thirdly, at some point, I saw that both my post count and my visitor numbers where heading towards a record level for “all time” resp. a good few years, which motivated me to deliberately post more. (Partially, see below, with an eye on testing the new-trumps-good principle in blogging. Cf. at least [1], [2], [3].) To be more specific, my thoughts on post count went through a chain of “just a few more posts and I will hit 20 for the third time”, “just two more posts and I will have my second highest post count ever”, and “just four more posts to get the record—and I have days left to do it”.

The post record I do reach with this post—and this post is motivated exactly by getting that one extra entry to break the tie. The visitor record will probably remain with last year’s July, but this month’s numbers will almost certainly be the second highest since 2013.*

*There is some small residual uncertainty depending on today’s numbers. I had considerably larger visitor numbers in 2010 and 2011, and some months of 2012 and 2013, for reasons discussed in [1]. This is OK, there is much that I could do to drive traffic here that I deliberately forego.

This brings me to new-trumps-good: The two months with the highest number of visitors since 2013 are the ones with the highest post count—yet another indication. Unfortunately, comparing months more in detail is tricky, because there is a lot of individual fluctuation. For instance, if a single user simply runs through most of the “archive” this will give an artificial boost to that month, and my overall numbers are sufficiently low that this will be very noticeable. For instance, there appear to be some seasonal trends, like that darn December—and, yes, these two top months are both Julys, which might have played in. (But there is no obvious “July high” in the way that there is an obvious “December low”.)

Speaking of December, last year’s December remains the low-point of the last few years, despite this year having several months with a low post count, so December appears to beat new-beats-good. There was a close call in February, but February had two days less to build traffic. Of course, February also saw all of 8 posts to 14 for December.

As to the August that begins tomorrow, there will likely be far fewer posts: I feel satiated, blogging-wise, I really need to get back to my books, and the construction works, knock-on-wood, appear to be over.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 31, 2020 at 7:45 am

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Issues with search listings and emotionally manipulative writing

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A recurring problem with online journalism is that the information shown in search listings is often highly misleading, including click-baiting, contents that turn out to be pay-walled after the user clicks the link, and a misleading impression of factuality (cf. below).

A recurring problem with journalism in general is undue emotional manipulation, cheap and pointless* human interest angles, etc.

*As opposed to more legitimate cases—they are rare, but they do exist. In contrast, it might be argued that emotional manipulation is always undue in journalism (and politics, advertising, and similar).

Both are exemplified by my search for an English source for the topic of my previous text (I encountered the topic in German): I was met by a number of entries in the search list that seemed to be calm and factual, but which turned out to be cheap attempts to provoke emotional reactions when I actually visited the pages. The source that I did pick was the least evil, by a considerable distance, of the four or five pages that I tried. Even here, however, we have a start of: “One-month old Haboue Solange Boue, awaiting medical care for severe malnutrition, is held by her mother, Danssanin Lanizou, 30, at the feeding center of the main hospital in the town of Hounde,” with a corresponding image. This in contrast to a search-list entry of “Hunger linked to coronavirus is leading to the deaths of 10,000 more children a month over the first year of the pandemic, according to an urgent call for action from the United Nations.”

In all fairness, that page lived up to the claims after the image and image text, and even the image text was not that bad. But what do some others do?

Consider https://kvoa.com/news/2020/07/27/covid-19-linked-hunger-tied-to-10000-child-deaths-each-month:

The lean season is coming for Burkina Faso’s children. And this time, the long wait for the harvest is bringing a hunger more ferocious than most have ever known.

That hunger is already stalking Haboue Solange Boue, an infant who has lost half her former body weight of 5.5 pounds (2.5 kilograms) in the last month. With the markets closed because of coronavirus restrictions, her family sold fewer vegetables. Her mother is too malnourished to nurse her.

“My child,” Danssanin Lanizou whispers, choking back tears as she unwraps a blanket to reveal her baby’s protruding ribs. The infant whimpers soundlessly.

Excruciatingly poorly written, horrifyingly cheap, and a waste of time for anyone who wants to actually understand the situation (let alone is looking for a reference). This is the type of anti-hook and reader-despising drivel that kills my wish to read on.

The search-listing?

Virus-linked hunger is leading to the deaths of 10,000 more children a month over the first year of the pandemic, according to an urgent call to action from the United Nations shared with The …

Calm, factual, and something that I would consider reading (and what seems to make a good reference).

Assuming that we wanted to include contents like the above, it should (a) have been moved to a side-bar, not the top of the main text, (b) have been written in a more factual manner. Consider e.g. (with some reservations for the exact underlying intents and facts due to precision lost by the poor original):

The children of Burkina Faso are at particular risk. The harvest is still far into the future and supplies are already low. The coronavirus restrictions have closed markets, which does not just reduce access to food but also the income needed to pay.

Many have already been severely hit, like Haboue Solange Boue, an infant who has lost half her former body weight of 5.5 pounds (2.5 kilograms) in the last month. The closed markets have hurt her family’s vegetables sales and her mother is too malnourished to nurse her.

But it is not just the infant who suffers: the emotional stress on her mother is great.

Note the difference in tone, the lack of (or, at least, far lesser) emotional manipulation, how information is more accessible, and how much easier it is to actually get an idea of what goes on.

Excursion on perceived value of “emotional” writing:
The naive might argue that writing like the original would make it easier to empathize with and understand the situation emotionally. Not only am I highly skeptical to this, based on myself, but I must also point to two major risks: (a) That the reader falls victim to an analogue of emotional contagion.* (b) That reality is distorted (more easily than with more factual writing). More generally, decisions, including government policy, should be made by reason, not emotion.

*More generally, what is meant by “empathy” very often amounts to nothing more than emotional contagion—something which distorts understanding, leads to partiality, and brings about poor decisions.

The latter can be the result of e.g. exaggeration or melodrama, deliberate distortion, and different perceptions. Notably, using emotional writing, narrating reactions, speculating about the internal state of someone, whatnot, it is very easy both to give and to get the wrong impression. Moreover, internal states and external displays do not always reflect what is reasonable.* For an example of such distortion consider the following hypothetical example: “Felicia felt her heart compress painfully as she looked down on the dead body, the remains of her old friend. Tears welled up into her eyes and she sat down in shock. A moment ago, he had been so full of life and now he was gone, gone forever, ripped out of her life by a moment of carelessness. Oh God, what had she done?!?” Here is the hitch: I wrote this with the sudden death of a gold fish in mind and I wrote nothing that might not genuinely have applied in such a case (allowing for some metaphor).

*For instance, when I was a young child and my toy penguin lost an eye, I cried much more than when I, as an adult, learned that my mother had died. Cf. parts of an older text.

Excursion on search listings:
The situation with search listings is quite negative, and includes such problems as various web sites feeding different contents to different user agents, e.g. web browsers used by humans and the “spiders” that gather data for search services. A potential solution would be to require that spiders are fed the exact contents of a regular surfer and that search listings always show the first X words of the page contents. While the result might sometimes be misleading, it will often be better than today, there will often* be a clear indication whether content is pay-walled, and it might lead to better writing that gets to the point faster. The pay-wall issue could be partially solved by some mandatory content tag which can be evaluated by search engines to give the searchers a heads up.

*However, likely less often than could be hoped for, as a simple “pay NOW to read” message might be replaced by a teaser text followed by “pay NOW to read” to ensure that the latter is not present in the search listing. Indeed, such teaser texts are fairly common, even today.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 28, 2020 at 10:40 am

Pseudonyms in writing and my own choices

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Earlier today, I visited “educationrealist” (Ed) and found a post on issues on my own mind: Will the Rising Tide of Nuttiness Come My Way?.

This especially with regard to the sub-topic of anonymous or pseudonymous writing and potential backlashes in light of today’s utterly insane climate.

Firstly, is there a risk that my attempted literary career will be ruined because my political writings will automatically cause too large groups to consider my literary works “evil”, regardless of actual contents and literary merit?* That I will not just risk rejection by publishers or low sales because my writing does not measure up or is not sufficiently commercial,** but that I face the additional burden of having the “wrong” political opinions or having at least attempted to apply reason and objectivity where emotion and subjectivity is mandated? Of claiming that free speech must apply to everyone in order to be free speech? Of calling “bullshit” on Feminists and the PC crowd when they do use bullshit arguments?***

*Note the controversies around even Peter Handke, last year’s winner of the Nobel Literature Prize and one of the most highly regarded “serious” German-language authors for decades, whose personal opinions where not kosher enough to many complainers, who saw it as a scandal that someone like he could even be nominated. (While Bob Dylan was accepted with open arms …)

**The simple truth is that few aspiring authors meet with any major success.

***Which is very often the case. See a great number of older texts.

If I had not already decided to use a pseudonym, this alone would be reason for me to do so. But: Even that is not likely to help, as keeping an identity secret for the duration is hard or impossible. (If with the upside that no-one is likely to search me out unless I have already become successful. Then again, an intolerant publisher or editor might disapprove a lot earlier.)

Secondly, what might come of my political writings, per se? I have so far published under my own name (and will likely continue to do so) and have yet to experience any known trouble, but with the ever worsening climate, who knows what will happen in the future? As Ed writes:

I am quite afraid of being outed as Ed and then fired and cancelled and probably stripped of a pension. Hell, maybe not even outed as Ed—the wrong person could learn I voted for Trump, and it’s game over.

My situation is not as potentially dire (and I would not go as far as saying “afraid”), as my pension is guaranteed* by the government, as I live in Germany, where things have yet to progress as far, and as I am self-employed (be it as an author or as an IT consultant). However, my writings might be an obstacle should I ever seek regular employment again. Other risks, like someone attempting to hack my accounts are certainly conceivable (and apply to e.g. Ed, too). What if my writings are blacklisted by Google? (If they are not already, then it might well just be because I am too small a fish.) What if someone outs me with a photo, locally, and I am refused service here and there?**

*Other concerns, like a too small payout due to under-financing of the overall system, are present. It is, after all, a Leftist scheme :-)

**Not (yet?) a concern in Germany, but something like that could easily happen e.g. on a current U.S. college campus.

Moreover, while things are not as bad in Germany, they are growing worse and worse, including hysteria over (real or alleged) “extreme Right” groups* and constant complaints about “Rechtsruck”**. The border between what is classified as “extreme Right” and “Right” is being increasingly blurred, and even a moderate “Right” or Conservative position stands the risk of being condemned with a blanket “Right; ergo, evil”. The criteria for condemnation/inclusion seem to grow laxer, and I suspect that it is only a matter of time before the Left will begin to apply “extreme Right” to e.g. anyone who uses public*** violence, where a violent attitude becomes an ipso facto proof of being “extreme Right” (which would, incidentally, give the Left a good excuse to disassociate it self from e.g the Antifa or the “autonomous” Left, should the need arise). It is possible that I am overly pessimistic on this point, but it is hard not to be pessimistic in light of the U.S. situation and the disastrous developments over there, and this type of Orwellian control of terminology and tolkningsföreträde has been an ever recurring theme on the Left during my adult life.

*Defined almost exclusively based on anti-immigration or nationalist positions, and with no regard for positions on other issues.

**Roughly, “shift to the Right”—a fairly generic complaint directed at any trend towards a position not on the Left, even despite the disturbingly strong (old) Leftist take on society that dominates much of German discourse and government efforts. German politics needs to be shifted away from the Left.

***For want of a better word: Here I intend e.g. political violence, riots, soccer hooliganism, etc., but exclude e.g. robberies and physical altercations of a private nature.

Then we have the question of time and importance: The comments discuss Slate Star Codex/Scott Alexander*, including the claim by one Mark Roulo that:

*Who stopped his, apparently, massive blogging and deleted his blog due to threats that his full identity would be leaked by the New York Times. (Also note other recent concerns about the NYT.) “Scott Alexander” appears to be a part of his true name, which reduces the search space very considerably and, with other freely provided information, cannot have made him that hard to identify. (Even alternate routes like hacking or inquiries to his ISP aside.) His blog appears to have been right up my alley, but, unfortunately, I only found out about it when it was too late, and I must go by reputation.

But his popularity grew slowly and at the beginning the NYT would not have cared about him. Today they do, but there wasn’t a clear line that he crossed to become interesting.

So he didn’t self-censor and then a publisher with a large audience became interested in him. Ooops. But in some sense only ooops in hindsight. Who would have guessed five years ago that the NYT would want to write a piece on his blog AND insist on publishing his name as part of the piece?

Well, my own visitor numbers are small these days (and have never been truly notable), but who knows what could happen in the future, e.g. if some post goes viral or I do have success as an author. Indeed, note the recent controversy over J. K. Rowling for statements that are trivial PC-violations compared to some of mine—imagine if the NYT found out that Rowling had written texts like mine? The scandal … Similarly, who knew that the negative trends would continue* in such a horrendous manner when I (or Scott Alexander) began to publish thoughts on the Internet, and who knew in 1980 what claims made then, and then perfectly acceptable, would be met with cries of “racism”, “sexism”, and whatnot today?

*With hindsight, it might not be that surprising, but when I began my own activities, I was expecting the opposite, as I saw a counter-movement gathering momentum, that more and more people protested against Feminist nonsense in Sweden, that alternative views were gaining at least some traction in broader circles and might gain a sufficient presence in media that the propaganda web would collapse. (That “a lie repeated often enough is taken to be true” only holds when the actual truth is sufficiently suppressed.)

If I had begun my writings today, I might well have chosen a more anonymous road. As Ed says (in the context of the attitude “that there’s no real excuse for the cowardice of a pseudonym”).

The idea that I should* post under my own name is….insulting in its grotesque stupidity. Who the hell do you people think you are, I say as respectfully as possible, to Philippe to Jonah Goldberg to Tim Carney to Charles Murray to all the other people who think the eggnuts trolling them on twitter are the same as eight years of blogging and tweeting under the same identity.

*In my case, substitute “should be obligated”.

Of course, to this I note recurring demands in Germany that e.g. bloggers should be not just morally obligated to reveal their true identities, but actually be so by law, e.g. to make it easier to pursue “hate speech” from the “far Right”.

Excursion on my original motivations for a pseudonym:
Almost paradoxically, in light of the above, my original motivation was that I wanted to keep my privacy, even should I meet with an unexpected amount of success. (Whereas the above deals with fears that publishing under my own name would make success impossible.) While I want for my books to be read and for some money to flow in, I do not want to be someone of public interest, see a blog flooded with visitors (who visit just because I am famous), have people from my past read my books and draw incorrect* conclusions about me, etc.

*A book is almost invariably colored by who the author is, but it is quite hard for the reader to see the difference between where the author writes of himself, where he merely uses own experiences and characteristics as input, where he writes with next to no self-connection, and where he might even deliberately reverse himself.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 21, 2020 at 1:21 pm

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The struggling author VI

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Unfortunately, the nine* days since the previous installment have brought no improvement in the construction work. It has, mostly, not been as bad as last summer, but it is still bad enough, with a lot of hammering, drilling, various machine noises, … Two weeks for now, and no sign of an end.

*Eight, counting yesterday. As will be clear, I cannot speak with certainty for today, but going by the odds …

The situation is made the worse by the behavior of one or several parties of neighbors. Notably, this Saturday and Sunday (11th/12th) were a horror, including wild stomping* and other unacceptable noises for minutes on end, even past midnight.

*To new readers: beware that I am not speaking of someone just walking in shoes in an apartment or running down the stairs, but of outright stomping, a manner that can serve no legitimate purpose, and (often) times of day and night where even noises with a legitimate purpose would remain unacceptable.

Not only is my quality of life severely reduced, but it is next to impossible to work productively, especially as the mental stress continues even between disturbances, and factors like a lack of sleep and the aforementioned stress damage my health.

Yesterday, around noon, I had had all that I could take and am now in a hotel room in Düsseldorf—and to think that I bought an apartment to live cheaply …

As to what will happen after these few days, I will have to see, but, at this juncture, hiring a lawyer seems almost unavoidable.

Looking at my claim that my book is almost finished “in that 99%-there-but-the-last-percent-will-take-time sense”, the question is how much time—even construction work aside: I have recently started on Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited”, and I have another “feeling like a rank amateur” period (cf. the previous installment and Conrad). The mixture of fluid prose and how seemingly unimportant detail give color to the text is quite impressive. The style of writing would likely not work very well with my book (and, generally, books with different purposes do not necessarily benefit from the same methods), but there is still a lot for me to learn and applying at least some of it could make my book better.

As a counter-point, I did not set out to make my first book a master piece that would instantly ensure my place in the halls of history’s greatest authors. (And I would have been a fool indeed, if I had.) The point was rather to learn the craft sufficiently well that the next book would be of quality. (Which is still a far step from the great masters.) Indeed, the early works of even great masters have often been far below their later level, as exemplified by e.g. Cup of Gold, the quite poor first novel of John Steinbeck, a later Nobel Prize winner. Rome was not built in a day and an attempt to reach perfection with this, my first, book would put completion years into the future. Indeed, with a continual improvement of ability to judge quality, I might never finish.

To boot, different authors have different strengths and (like their works) different purposes. J. K. Rowling* and Terry Pratchett, e.g., have** strengths in areas like a great imagination and the ability to build fantastic and fascinating worlds, but they fall well short of Waugh in terms of prose and style. In my own, subjective and partial, assessment, I too am ahead (in this area). In terms of e.g. “higher values”, I should be past at least Rowling, who is fairly superficial—-while she is likely ahead at writing books that sell by a very considerable distance.

*Disclaimer: I have to date only read the “Harry Potter” books, and her later works might be different. Even if they are, however, her early works are a more interesting comparison at the moment.

**The present tense is inappropriate for the late Pratchett, but I will stick to it for ease of formulation.

In the overlap between the details of Waugh, the worlds of Rowling and Pratchett, and my own book (which does fall in the fantasy genre), there is the question of how much detail is to be spent at different worlds, cultures, whatnot, both with regard to invention and to narration. Hogwarts is essentially a British boarding school with magic, Pratchett draws heavily on Earth (the UK in particular), most “high fantasy” seems to land in broadly “medieval Europe” settings, etc. In reality, if someone were to step into a foreign world through a magic cupboard, the variations might be similar to e.g. those between medieval Europe and medieval Japan, with corresponding differences in e.g. religion, morals, approach to art, ways to dress, writing systems, … (Or e.g. between current Europe and Paleolithic Europe.) In the case of non-human civilizations, the differences might be enormously larger yet.* Then, with an eye at realism, effort needed, effect on the reader, risk of inconsistency**, etc., where should the line be drawn? This point of struggle will likely not have any further impact on my current book (where I have kept things comparatively simple), but it might well do so on future works.

*Yet, here they are often almost ignored, especially in bad sci-fi. Of course, in some cases, there might be a deliberate element, e.g. in that C. S. Lewis might have used dwarfs, fauns, talking beavers, whatnot partially to illustrate aspects of humanity or human behavior. This is certainly the case with some animal fables.

**E.g. in that the author forgets his own fictional premises in favor “the real world” or that the intended consequences of something turn out to be unrealistic.

Excursion on judging quality:
While there is Sisyphean aspect to my continually shifting standard and to negative comparisons like the prose of Waugh vs. my own, this is actually a good thing. It might be frustrating in the moment, but it simultaneously points to a prior improvement in ability and opens the door to future improvements, as I now have a better idea of what I should work on, might experiment with, etc.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 14, 2020 at 8:55 pm

The struggling author V

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The prior installment of my “struggling author” series, appears to have been published last November. Time for an update:

I have almost finished the book, in that 99%-there-but-the-last-percent-will-take-time sense: most of what remains is polishing and tuning, fixing up details, improving the language, whatnot. In this, there is obviously a risk of pushing things too far, as there is always something left to improve. There will be at least several weeks before this becomes a concern, but it does lead me to my current main struggle:

With time, I have become better and better, gained a better and better eye for what works, is good literature, whatnot, and grown less and less satisfied with prior works. As a consequence, my satisfaction with the book has not improved as much as its actual quality, leaving me with the paradoxical situation that it is much better* than I would have hoped for this time last year, but that I am still unsatisfied. Similarly, every now and then, I see some pages by someone else that make me revise my standards and give me an impulse to improve something—as with Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”: the early descriptive sections left me feeling like a rank amateur. I deliberately have not used much description, Conrad is a high bar indeed, and the rest of his book appears** less ambitious in this regard, but I still have the urge both to revise the descriptive scenes that I do have and add some more. (Whether I will, I leave unstated. If not, the impulse might affect my next book instead.)

*As in “I like it”. I make no statement about what publishers, readers, and critics will think, but no matter their reactions, I will have the knowledge that I went well beyond my own expectations for my first work, I will consider the time taken well spent, and I strongly suspect that I will love reading it, myself, ten years from now, when my memory has faded. But: if I stop revision today, I will fall short of what I could have accomplished.

**I read a chunk as I escaped construction noise this Friday, and have postponed the remainder with an eye on what might happen on Monday (i.e. tomorrow). I also read it once as a teenager, but my memory is very vague and I was less discerning at the time.

Looking at large stretches of my early efforts, just putting words on the page has been a major obstacle, to come up with something that makes sense plot-wise, to overcome my natural tendency to describe a running dog named Spot with “Spot runs”, etc. During the spring, this changed, likely, for two reasons: Firstly, I had reached some level of critical mass. Secondly, I learned to adapt my work to my strengths, including what is often a weakness when blogging: when my mind is occupied with something, ideas tend to sprout off that something*, and then new ideas off those ideas, etc. Similarly, when I see something, I tend to see things that could be improved, even though I might not have been able to spot the improvements during the planning stage. So then: “Spot runs” might be shitty text, but it is a text, and once I have “Spot runs”, I can improve it from there.

*Which explains e.g. the many “excursions” of my (blog) texts and, partially, the footnotes.

Of course, “Spot runs” is a metaphorical example, but the general idea holds true. For instance, once I have my characters in a certain situation, I might (at that point or two days later) see how something that they say or do in that situation would improve characterization or lead somewhere else, which in turn leads to some other improvement, and so on. Similarly, putting them in one situation might ring a bell regarding some accidental* detail in another situation, which causes me to add a plot development connecting the two, which in turn might add something to a third scene or give the inspiration for an entirely new scene. In one case, I had a chapter with a good idea, which seemed both thin and lifeless when written. To boot, it had the flaw that an intended plot-twist did not work, being (in my eyes, at least) too obvious. I tried to remedy the latter through adding a “guest character” (a virtual Spot) to serve as a decoy, and another character for symmetry. A day later, the chapter was twice as long and alive, as the amount of interaction between characters increased and a few sub-plots appeared—both in a manner that I had not at all foreseen as I added the new characters.

*The amount of things that have so far arisen more-or-less accidentally is enormous. In many ways, it is as were the book a river that I am merely navigating—not a canal that I am building. (As an example, above I mentioned “Heart of Darkness”. Here I coincidentally spoke of “river”. This is something that I might have been able to spin out.)

When I revise, the text tends to become longer. This is a further reason to watch the perfectionism, as too long can be worse than too short, and as the accepted wisdom is that revision should cut the old more often than add something new. So far, knock on wood, it has worked well, however, as I start from a comparatively “thin” position and as every revision tends to also improve quality. (There is at least one scene which is much too long, a “cut scene” (in movie parlance) waiting to happen; and one or two chapters that feel too much like have-a-nap-while-we-wait-for-the-real-story. They will be improved or cut, however.)

Incidentally, this way of working parallels what I often did as a software developer, and writing software and writing novels does have a thing or two in common. The former is not the perfect training for the latter, but it is not bad as a component of the training. My particular approach, which is not the only one, particularly resembles refactoring and test-driven development.

The last few weeks, I have been a little troubled to get work done again. This in part, because I needed a breather; in part, due to the current “interesting times” (note my increased blogging); in part, because the construction work is here again.

As to the last, I still do not know for how long. Friday’s disturbances were short and, unlike large portions of last year, there was no work on Saturday.* This might mean that everything was done by Friday afternoon—or just that someone was lazy and that things will start up again on Monday, to continue for months on end. If it is the latter, frankly, I do not know what I will do. Somehow, I will have to move out, or I will never be able to finish, my health will be ruined, and I will be driven to the edge of a nervous break-down. Note that around six months of construction work last year wreaked havoc on my writing (not to mention mood and health), and that the (non-construction) disturbances of someone stomping around for hours a day during the COVID-19 lock-down did a lot of damage on top of that. It is a wonder that I have managed to get as far as I have.

*Sundays are work-free by German law, but then there is usually some idiot neighbor who sees Sunday as a day to make a ruckus, again and again—better than construction, but annoying enough. This especially when the preceding week would have made peace and quiet the more important. (And, yes, I suspect that it is the same idiot who ruined the COVID-19 lock-downs. It is rarely as bad, however.)

To finally revisit the Künstlersozialkasse: These idiots are still making trouble, costing me a few hundred a month. As it appears now, they refuse to admit me, because they do not believe that I am actually serious about writing. Their pseudo-arguments include that, as I have not taken a formal course in literature or writing, there are no signs that I would have a serious interest—never mind the fact that I have spent an enormous amount of time on this book, have it completed to the point of just-needs-polishing, and that I have foregone having a regular job in the interim … (To this, note that the formal, legal criteria for admittance are comparatively low, and that the Künstlersozialkasse appears to invent its own, illegal or extra-legal, criteria to artificially keep writers out. A formal requirement that someone needs to have taken a course does not exist, neither in the law, nor in their own official information. It is excuse making—nothing more, nothing less.)

Excursion on noise and health:
(What would one of my texts be without even just one, short, excursion?) The type of health damage that can occur through e.g. months of construction or the COVID-19 lock-downs should not be underestimated. Someone might seem to bounce back fine in the short term, but what about the long-term? Possibly, something like this can make the difference between having a fatal and a near-fatal heart-attack at 75, cutting of ten years of life? I have genuine concerns that my life is being cut down at the far end through the behavior of others. Health damage often becomes obvious only when the reserves run low, e.g. with old age or when a major disease strikes. (Something, incidentally, demonstrated by the much larger effects of COVID-19 on the elderly.)

Written by michaeleriksson

July 5, 2020 at 7:34 pm

The video infection of Wikipedia

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As I noted two years ago, one of the problems with the current Wikipedia is:

Increased use of animations instead of individual images to illustrate processes. Individual images are usually the superior choice for illustration, seeing that the users can jump back-and-forth as they please and can take their time or not. In addition, animations are highly destructive when trying to enjoy other parts of the page—like trying to read a book when someone waves a hand in front of the page once every second or so. With (at least) earlier browser/computers and some forms of animation (notably Flash) this also meant a considerable performance drain, especially for users of tabbed browsing. (I regularly have dozens of tabs open for days or weeks.) Unsurprisingly, to compensate, many users prefer to disable animations entirely, and these then have the problem that the animations are reduced to a single individual image with little or no value.

Since then, I have evermore often encountered something even worse: the inclusion of actual videos in lieu of text—but if I visit Wikipedia, it is to read about a topic. Moreover, these often give the first* impression of having a self-promotional “Youtube-y” character. For instance, the first shot shown to the Wikipedia visitors is often an entirely uninformative image of a speaker, as with e.g. the current version of the article on Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis. Here there is a video described as “A video on the history of black lung disease” depicting an older man in a shirt, apparently about to launch into a speech.

*I never watch them, so more than a first impression will necessarily be absent.


If the maker of the video is one of the editors or otherwise wants to contribute to the page, then he should write a section on this history and put it in the article. If he is a third party, then his video might or might not be worthy of inclusion among the “External links”. To include the video in the middle of the actual article is utterly idiotic.

Apart from Wikipedia naturally being a text medium, I note that this type of video brings a number of disadvantages, e.g. wasted bandwidth, in-text searches that do not find the information, screen-readers who will stumble on them,* the security risks associated with active contents from unknown** sources, and the lower rate of information processing forced upon the viewer compared to the reader. Even from the Wikipedia editors’ point of view there are disadvantages, e.g. (in addition!) that it will be harder to discover and often impossible to correct the type of information that is consider unwanted*** in the article.

*In a twist potentially making such videos detrimental for those with impaired eye-sight.

**Note that while Wikipedia, it self, is a known entity, this does not necessarily apply to editors, uploaders, whatnot—anyone can contribute and malicious activities are not necessarily caught in time by the other editors.

***E.g. outdated science, sensitive or dubious information about living persons, and copyright violations.

Editors: Please, never, ever include videos in this manner—and throw those that you encounter out in a summary manner.

Visitors: Please, never, ever watch these videos.

Self-promoters, etc.: Leave Wikipedia alone!

Written by michaeleriksson

June 7, 2020 at 1:26 pm

That darn December / Follow-up: WordPress statistics II

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I have already mentioned a recurring downturn in traffic in December ([1], [2]).

This December followed both this trend and the downwards trend on this blog discussed in [3], making it the worst month in almost two-and-a-half years, and showing no less than three (!) days at 0 (!!) visitors. (Four, if we count the immediately adjacent January 1st.)

This despite a comparatively high post count (14), which could be seen as weakening my “new trumps good” hypothesis (cf. [3]), strengthening my “December sucks” hypothesis, or indicate that there is a certain lag between post count and popularity (consistent with other observations, outside the immediate popularity boost through the individual post).

Written by michaeleriksson

January 4, 2020 at 3:40 pm