Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Dog Ate My Blog

Not really, but Monday I worked from 7:30 in the morning until 9:30, and then I went to Durham Tuesday — leaving home in Oxford at 6:00 and arriving back home between 11:15 and 11:30 in the evening. Yesterday and today have just been standard eleven-hour days (Morning Prayer begins at 7:30, Evensong ends at about 6:30), but I’ve been helping comfort Margaret, who has had a tooth extracted. I want to blog more, but I haven’t had time to think seriously about non-work matters.

Back soon, I hope.

Semiotic Economies

Quadriga Observe the consequences of the few paragraphs we’ve walked through. Granted that there’s no subsistent “meaning”, and granted that verbal meaning is an atypical instance of the more general phenomenon of expression and inference, I submit that words in verbal communication function in the same way as gestures do in the frantically-mimed communication of someone who has just bit his tongue (for instance); there is no single exact right meaning to them. One may propose an indefinite number of meanings, depending on one’s interests. A psychoanalyst listens to your speech with specific interest to things that you are not saying, to things that you didn’t intend to say, on the basis of which she quite justly says “The meaning of these omissions and those unintended slips is….” Her assertion is not simply the assertion of a personal preference for viewing your slips and evasions in a particular way; you are both participants in a semiotic economy in which slips and evasions constitute an intelligible basis for interpretive inference.

“So can anything means anything? Are there no boundaries?” This question crops up all the time. Now, we know two things from the start: First, and this is important, we know full well that anybody can say “X means Y” no matter how daft we may think that assertion. At the same time, second, no assertion about meaning stands on its own; under most circumstances, such assertions carry the unstated subtext “In the semiotic economy of psychoanalysis…” or “Among all speakers of more-or-less standard English…” or “Assuming the speaker knew the word’s usual semantic range…”. Since those qualifying subtexts almost always remain tacit, though, it’s easy for people to mismatch assumed qualifications (“I thought we were talking about our relationship, and she thought we were talking about welfare policy”). Sometimes speakers deliberately operate with asymmetrical assumptions (psychotherapy again, for instance). And sometimes we deliberately interpret statements from one (presumed) semiotic economy in terms of another. But — and this is the key issue — no interpretive mandate can prospectively regulate the interpretations someone offers. (I’ve written about this before, in “Twisting To Destruction”; interpretive rules can function descriptively, but no interpretation was ever precluded because there was a rule against it.) Anything can mean anything to somebody, in some semiotic economy or another; the only boundaries come from our interest in participating in certain discourses, discourses where transgressive interpretive behaviour would be unwelcome.

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Old School Master

Imagine that Yoda were regular height, could speak lucid, straightforward, idiomatic English, was hardly ever seen without his camera, understood the internet the way a farmer understands seed and season, and knew more about broadcast radio than all but a dwindling number of rf-spectrum vets. You’re thinking about Doc Searls.

Doc’s another one of the homesteaders we used to banter with, link to, listen to, and learn from. He’s the one (you may remember) who supplies thousands of Commons-licensed photos to Wikipedia, to print and broadcast media, and to bloggers — especially bloggers who want to illustrate their pages with aerial views of their subjects,

 
or well-composed topical photos,

 
or just bunches of internet friends in interesting places.

 
That’s all just a warm-up, since the Web has grown from rural community with party line phones, general stores, and a stick-together, barn-raising ethos to a hyper-urban celebrity culture. A dozen years ago, you’d have known Doc — but he’s not on Huffington Post or whatever, so you may need an introduction.

A couple of days ago, Doc posted a lovely, thoughtful, un-dramatic reminder about mortality: his, ours, the universe’s, everything. It’s Doc all over — wisdom that’s neither awesome in its unexpected profundity, nor clothed in elementary homespun simplicity, but just true, illustrated from his own photos, informed by his own fascination with geology, and utterly saturated with his love for humanity. Thanks, Doc — you’re a champ.

Old School

Gather round the YouTube video of a campfire, kiddies, and Grandpa will tell you a story of the days before the Web had coalesced into the shopping mall of franchises and brands that it is today.

In those days, bloggers didn’t have Facebook or Twitter to spread word of their memes, photoshopped images, and even their original ideas. And again, in those days, blogs didn’t have commenting capacity coded in; you could add comments on, or switch platforms to a more advanced blogging app that did support comments, or you could do without comments. Heh, we used to have arguments about whether a blogger was obliged to allow comments or, contrarily, that comments were a bad thing (someone was foreseeing YouTube comments).

If we saw a blog to which we wanted to respond, we wrote about it on our own blogs, and made a link to the other site.

Those days saw lots of workarounds and kludges and brilliant innovations to accomplish things that quite ordinary blogging apps do today (if indeed they’re still possible). Among the people who contributed to that ecosystem of connection and innovation was Kevin Marks. (He also used to blog more often than he does now, but I can’t throw stones about that.) So a week or so ago, Kevin was at a W3C meeting, when he realised that it’s important that a blogger be able to link not just to a page, but to specific words on a page. He devised a way for this to work, and Jonathan Neal wrote a script that, if added to a site, would enable links to specific words on a page — what Kevin calls a “fragmention.” Indeed, Jonathan wrote an extension for Google Chrome to enable fragmentions to workthrough the browser, regardless of internal scripting. And they worked out a refined implementation a few days later.

In the old days, we wrote about one another’s ideas and implementations, kicked the tires (or “tyres”), and responded to each other. Like saying, “Thanks, Kevin — this looks very cool. I’ll poke a round and try it — I hope it catches on.”