the end of comments in a flattening media-hierarchy

Oh, the incivility!

Recently the Toronto Star turned off online comments on their website.  I beat them to it by about a year.  I was recently asked why I would do that.  Don’t I want people to interact with my online content?

I sure do!  And if they want to they can share my blog and then comment on it to their heart’s content.  What do I possibly get out of running a comments section on a blog?  Nothing!  If you ask for a login no one bothers to do it, if you allow open, anonymous comments you get buried in advertising and nastiness, the typical by-products of human interaction.

With the advent of pervasive social media the idea of needing a comments section within your online content has had its day.  Anyone reading online content has their own social media presence of some sort nowadays.  They are more than welcome to leverage that in order to comment on my content.  In doing so they share my content.  It’s the least they can do if it prompted them to have an opinion on it that they want to share.

We’ve moved from stratified, traditional, paper based media delivery though early adopter online media delivery to a more mature, everyone-has-a-presence-online media delivery system (nicely explained in this essay lambasting education’s inability to free the essay from its millennium of bondage).   Embedded comment sections are a hold-over from an earlier internet where online readers tended not to have their own online presence.

Digital technology is forcing an increasingly flat media-scape.  Millennials spend almost no time in traditional media.  They could barely pay attention to Star Wars in the theatre when I was there last week.  I’ve stopped showing videos in class because asking Millennials to watch media simultaneously is alien to them and frustrating for me.  In a world where people distrust and often ignore the patronizing nature of traditional media it’s best not to fight the flow.

If you’re determined to hang on to the comment section in your online content you’re swimming against the current.  You’re assuming that your content is somehow more established, more authentic, more valuable.  You are belittling your visitors’ online presence by making them work in yours.  It’s ultimately about you refusing to surrender control of your content in an increasingly democratic communication medium.  That idea of control is a holdover from traditional, paper-based media hierarchies, it isn’t surprising that a newspaper struggled with this.  You’ve got to let it all go Neo.

If you want insipid examples of human nastiness and stupidity you’ll find them online, especially in anonymous, internal comment sections.  I’d long stopped reading The Star’s comment section for this very reason.  I also tend to blacklist those brave (often conservative) souls on twitter and other social media who hide behind anonymous or fake user names.  They feel very brave and are usually overly aggressive in their anonymity.

What’s funnier are those people who create social media presences based on their real self and then proceed to advertise their ignorance to the world.  If someone is going to confuse Twitter with texting there isn’t much we can do for their employment prospects.  People who are nasty online tend to get bitten though.   It’s a self correcting process and it’s happening less and less because we’re getting better at it.

This flattening media-scape isn’t just hurting traditional media, it’s also snapping at people who don’t realize that their reach has changed.  Democratizing media means empowering people who have no experience with publication, and make no mistake, every time you post on social media you’re publishing to the entire planet.  People in Timbuktu can read your tweets if they are so inclined.

There will come a point when there have been enough cautionary tales and social experience with self-publication that people will learn best practices and the vast majority will realize just how empowered and potentially dangerous we’ve all become in our flat new world.

In the meantime, if people want to comment on my content they’re welcome to share away, but I’m not providing a comments section because it belittles my reader’s own online presence and dilutes my material with mean and often irrelevant comments.

Off-Roading Dreaming

My son, Max, got handy with dirt bikes at SMART Adventures last week and now I’m dreaming of some options that would let us explore trails together on two wheels.  If I had half a million dollars sitting around we could get ourselves into a winterized house/cottage on Lake Benoir on the south edge of Algonquin Park.  The only reason I’m even thinking about that is because of COVID.  In any other situation I’d rather travel than own more property but well over a year into this pandemic it doesn’t look like travel as normal will return any time soon.  That’d be a couple of acres in the woods in a small, simple house (electricity but mainly heated by wood burning stove) that comes with a good sized workshop.  They have some nice resorts on the lake so this isn’t as rough of some of Northern Ontario and it’s right in the heart of the Canadian Shield.  Off-road trails abound in the area as well as some of the best riding roads in Ontario.  We’d immediately get ourselves Ontario Federation of Trail Rider memberships and then get into the woods!
Back in the real world where half a million bucks and doubling down on real estate isn’t in the cards, getting off-road could happen in a number of different ways.  Here’s the most to least expensive in order:


Jeep Gladiator Overland:  $65,000

A capable off-roader that can get us to the trail head while carrying the bikes.  It’d make a great base from which to ride from and then would be able to get us out of the bush at the end of a long day of riding.  There are a lot of camping options that let you leverage the vehicle to make camping a bit less mucky including truck bed mounted tent systems and proper bedding.

2021 CRF250F:  $5649 x2

I took one of these out for the day at SMART Adventures and really got along with it.  I’d buy an Ontario used dirt bike but the prices are absurd.  Broken 20 year old bikes are asking ridiculous money!  New dirt bikes aren’t madly expensive and this one, being a Honda, would last as long as I’d ever need it to.  I’d get two of the same thing to make maintenance more straightforward and then my son and I could ride together.

Total (the camping gear is another grand):  $77k


2015 Used Jeep Wrangler:  $36,000

It’s got 90k on it, a 5 speed stick and a V6.  It looks in good shape and comes with the towing cubbins I’d need to tow bikes to where we could use them.  The Wrangler has a pile of camping related gear for it that isn’t crazy expensive.  The tent off the back is three hundred bucks and the rear air mattress less than a hundred.  The whole shebang would come in under $37,000 and would be good to go pretty much anywhere while still doing Jeepy things like taking roofs and doors off.

Used Dirt Bike:  ridiculous prices

Here’s a random selection of used dirt bikes online in Ontario in 2021.  People are asking nearly four grand for sticker festooned, brutalized and rebuilt bikes covered in replacement cheap plastics because the OEM ones were smashed off.  Four grand for these POSes!  I don’t know that there is a cost effective alternative to dirt biking, at least in price crazy Ontario.

Here’s another example of the insanity complete with questionable literacy skills:  1998 ktm exc 250 2 stroke, Needs a crank seal, witch (sic) I have. ( don’t half to split the case) it’s a 40 min Job if that, it does run but I wouldn’t without doing that seal first as it pulls tranny oil in other than that it needs the front breaks bled and a few small things like bolts for a couple plastics and such, I have the ownership, full gasket kit for the motor, all the paper work on the bike. $2,500OBO  That’d be a sticker festooned, broken and abused 23 year old (!!!) KTM for two and a half grand!  I just can’t make sense of Ontario’s used dirt bike market.  By the time you’ve sorted one of these wrecks out you’d have dropped over five grand on it anyway, which would get you a new bike.

But then there are some Chinese manufacturer option:

SSR SR300S dirt bike:  $5000 x 2

Here’s a 31 horsepower, 300cc, 286lb well specified off-roader that undercuts the Japanese equivalents by almost a grand.  Of course, the ‘Japanese’ bikes aren’t made in Japan either so everyone is spending a lot extra on brand and dealership accessibility.  I’d have headaches finding parts for beaten up old Japanese brands anyway, so worries about parts don’t really matter.  For a couple of grand less than two new Hondas we could still have new bikes, just without the branding.
Here’s another:

Vipermax 250cc Apollo:  $2899 x 2

Based on Honda tech, these 250cc bikes have disc brakes and other modern tech and weigh in under 300lbs as well.  They’re not quite as big and powerful as the SSR above but they’re capable, new and feature a lot of recently updated tech.  The two of them together would cost almost what one CRF250F ($5800 for two vs $5650 for one CRF250F).  They’re probably built in the same factory.  Isn’t globalism fun?
If I could find a couple of used but serviceable 250cc trail bikes for a couple of grand each I’d happily take that on as a winter project, but they simply don’t exist in Ontario and with the Chinese options, why buy terrible, expensive and used?
A Jeep would open up camping and off-roading options beyond what the bikes could do and it’s something I’d like to get into in any case.  There are dirt bike hitch trailers for the Wrangler and it could tow a trailer too.
There are a lot of ways to get off-road and out into the wilderness, I just have to figure out the one that works for us.

from Blogger

Part 1: Magical Technologists

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Arthur C. Clarke

I’m reading Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near, and in the opening he compares computer programs to Harry Potter’s magical spells.  It seemed spurious when I read it, but now I’m wondering how it looks from other eyes.
I’m the go-to tech guy at school, and I dig the position.  I’ve joked before about how people need to sacrifice a chicken (or just wave a rubber one over the computer) if they want something to work, but now the metaphor is resolving a bit more.
Today our soon to retire head of guidance came in all worked up because he couldn’t take a document and put it in his powerpoint.  He was using and old, hobbled, board laptop with an ancient copy of, well, everything on it; it was state of the art in 2002 when he got it.
I copied his (wordpad!) file onto a USB key, opened it on my competent, not-board computer (it actually uses Windows 7 instead of XP – the ONLY OS of choice for our board) and MS Office instead of Wordperfect.  I opened the DOC in Office (which just works, unlike Wordperfect on the board laptop) and then screen grabbed the guidance material he wanted into two jpegs.  I then copied them onto the USB and moved them back over to his sad, old laptop.  In moments I had one of the jpegs filling a slide on his powerpoint.  After I did the first one, I got him to do the second one.  He was happy, it all worked, and he even had some idea of how to put jpegs into powerpoint too.
Looking at the order of operations above, it looks pedantic and pretty this/then/that to me, but many people reading it would get lost in the acronyms or the logical sequence of it.  It assumes an understanding of what works with what and how to bypass difficulties around software not cooperating, among other things.
From another point of view, it might look like I pulled out my own, newer, better wand (laptop), and made some arcane gestures (trackpad), spoke some gobbledigook (tech-talk) and dropped a regent into the spell (the USB key).  and made what seemed impossible possible.  Without comfort level, experience and equipment, it looks like I made something happen out of nothing.
The councilor with him said I was the secret technical mystic they turned to when things just didn’t work.

I try to be transparent with what I’m doing, and explain it to people as I’m doing it, but I see their eyes glaze over when I use the first acronym and then they just sit there with a happy smile on their face as the issue gets resolved.  I’d like for everyone to be able to cast their own spells, but I fear many would rather just applaud the magician.

Which takes me back to Harry again.  There’s a scene where Dumbledore escapes from the evil Ministry in spectacular fashion.  He could have just disappeared, but he doesn’t, he does it with a flourish.  Kingsly the auror says afterwards, “Dumbledore may be a criminal, but you’ve got to admit, he has style!”

If you’re going to be a tech-magician, and if you’re reading this you probably already are, then don’t cast your spells flat, be like Dumbledore, have some style!