The Pipwick Papers

[This edition was first published on 3 November, 2015]

I spent a month focusing almost entirely on keeping up with League of Legends for their World Championship, now it’s over and I’m doing that thing where you try and remember what life was like before a big project. Mostly emails, it seems. While I regroup I’ve been reading up on taxidermy, Reddit Star Wars theorising and a $180 maths book:

  • Here’s Margot Magpie on the question of whether taxidermy is a “girl thing”. I’ve attended a taxidermy workshop previously, although I wasn’t doing the taxidermy, I was just the event photographer. If memory serves that class was a pretty even gender split, but all of the people I’ve met who lead taxidermy classes have been women.
  • Here is one of the pictures from that event: a rat looking like it is about to get into an argument:

  • The Practical Ethics blog run by the ethics departments at the University of Oxford has a piece called “Why it’s OK to block ads” by James Williams. I disagree with some of what he says, particularly that “both sides of this debate seem to simply assume the large-scale capture and exploitation of human attention to be ethical and/or inevitable in the first place.”
  • I also disagree with the assertion that websites are essentially an “ad for the ad” i.e. that all the stuff on a site and the site design itself is kind of a pre-ad, meant to lead you to the thing you would recognise as an ad. I get what he’s saying, and I’m not denying that sites are designed around getting people to stay and move around the site and that this is largely guided by commercial interest, but it also entirely dismisses the other motivations behind what’s on the site.

    I’ll limit this to speaking of my own intentions but I write because I still want to communicate with people and to entertain or inform them. I like directing them to the work my colleagues have done which is good. I am well aware of the commercial side of writing because it’s what pays my rent and it was key to surviving as a freelancer but operating within that system doesn’t mean every call on someone’s attention is rooted in getting money. I think some of the phrasing in this article dismisses that and oversimplifies for rhetorical effect. BUT it is also an interesting perspective.

  • Here is a rather entertaining Reddit Star Wars theory about how you can read Jar Jar Binks as the intended villain from the prequels.
  • Now if you lend even the slightest credence to my above points, and acknowledge the possibility that Jar Jar might not be an idiot, you’re almost forced to conclude that Jar Jar Binks and Palpatine were co-conspirators. If Jar Jar is putting forth an elaborate act to deceive people, it means he’s not a fool… and if he’s not a fool, it means his actions in Episode II that facilitate Palpatine’s plans are not those of an unwitting tool- they are those of a partner.

  • Scott Jaschik has a piece on Inside Higher Education about university textbooks, cost and access. Academic publishing can be prohibitively expensive. I used to work in an academic library and there’s a lot of awfulness when it comes to things like needing to rebuy books each year because they’ve been revised (sometimes incredibly minimally) and publishers raising the price of journal subscriptions or forcing you to buy then in bundles with a lot of things you don’t need…
  • This specific piece is about a $180 maths textbook and how a professor chose to use a $75 alternative and free online materials instead, saying they’re as effective and less expensive. The university’s argument is about multi-section courses needing to use a common textbook.

    Bourget said faculty members need to remember that “our students aren’t rich, and we have a responsibility to look for inexpensive materials.” He said he has long been frustrated by the way textbooks issue edition after edition, with professors requiring the latest edition, making it more difficult for students to buy used books. “My students aren’t rich,” he said. “We need to stop accepting this racket.”

  • Finally, I’m really loving You Must Remember This, a podcast by Karina Longworth dedicated to the histories of 20th century Hollywood. At the moment she’s covering listener requests related to MGM but I started listening when she was covering Charles Manson’s Hollywood. Here’s her account of Jean Harlow:
  • This post was made possible by the RPS Supporter Program. Thanks for your funding!

    19 Comments

    1. Wowbagger says:

      Yay for taxidermy articles and the linked article (in that article) about ‘searchers’ i.e old biddys that pronounced cause of death in the olden times.

    2. Premium User Badge

      Oakreef says:

      I’ve achieved an accidental middleground with regards to blocking ads. I initially started browsing with a javascript whitelist to try and stop my tablet fan revving up every time I opened three tabs in chrome but for 99% of websites disabling javascript also has a side effect of turning off ads. So my end result is if a website offers me some functionality that convinces me to add it to my whitelist it’s free to serve me ads.

      • aoanla says:

        This is also mostly security-conscious too – the Bad Things which Ads do are all dependant on some kind of scripting language (or Flash/Java apps), so blocking it helps a lot.

        I have Flash blocked in Chrome for the same reasons, and it’s very helpful at removing ads as well as improving my CPU temperature, page-load-times and internet security!

        (I’m one of those people who doesn’t object to Adverts – I object to the current mechanism of sites allowing third parties to send arbitrary code to my browser in exchange for some revenue from those third parties. I have no problem with little static banner ads hosted by the site itself, for example…)

        • LionsPhil says:

          Yep. You can pretty dramatically slash your attack surface (and improve the power/heat/responsiveness performance of your browser) by knobbling interactive content outside of a whitelist and click-to-activate. Killing the most obnoxious of ads is fringe benefit in comparison.

        • Baines says:

          Some sites themselves break if you specifically disable those scripting languages, though. It is particularly annoying when the site has little reason to actually be using said scripting languages.

          I’m cynical enough that half the time I wonder if it is intentional, to discourage people from blocking the scripting that the ads depend upon. But I’m sure the site owners would say that scripting allows them to built a better and more responsive site (even as their site proceeds to load slower while delivering the same content and features that they could have offered without that scripting.)

      • roothorick says:

        I have AdBlock Plus installed, but I only use shortlists that specifically target networks known to tolerate or even condone openly malicious ads.

        I run NoScript, with far more aggressive settings, which while explicitly NOT an adblocker, tends to block ads anyway. My attitude is, if you need JavaScript to serve ads, your ads aren’t worth my CPU cycles, and probably malicious anyway.

    3. Premium User Badge

      Aerothorn says:

      So far, there seem to be three business models to support writing:

      1) Pay for it (paywall)
      2) Ad-based
      3) Datamining
      4) “Synergy” (writing somehow directs reader to spend money in another way that the owner values – so Game Informer does this, along with 1 and 2 (and maybe 3))

      The second one is probably going to go away (and I say this as someone who blocks zero ads, because the other models concern me) simply because the arms race between ad-blockers and ads means that ads are worth less and less every year even as they frequently become more obnoxious (not on RPS). I’m really worried about what replaces it.

      • Premium User Badge

        Aerothorn says:

        Specifically, Williams writes “If enough of us used ad blockers, it could help force a systemic shift away from the attention economy altogether—and the ultimate benefit to our lives would not just be “better ads.” It would be better products: better informational environments that are fundamentally designed to be on our side, to respect our increasingly scarce attention, and to help us navigate under the stars of our own goals and values.” He provides zero idea of what this actually looks like and zero evidence that this non-existent vision broadly benefits people.

        • thedosbox says:

          He provides zero idea of what this actually looks like and zero evidence that this non-existent vision broadly benefits people.

          Exactly. This daydream might be applicable to sites with low expenses and tiny scope, but I’m sceptical it would work for bigger sites who have a much broader reach – and correspondingly higher expenses.

        • JamesPatton says:

          I agree. And surely this ad-free utopia he posits will be paid for by pay-walls? It surely can’t be free. I certainly can’t afford to pay for a site like RPS – I’d much rather pay with my attention instead.

      • Premium User Badge

        Aerothorn says:

        Also, by three business models, I clearly meant four :(

      • aoanla says:

        Well, or “5. Be independently wealthy enough to not need support for writing”, which is kinda the Self-Publishing paradigm for websites.
        (If we got to 5, then it would seriously negatively effect the number of websites which existed, and the variety of opinions expressed in them, so I’m not suggesting it’s a good idea…)

      • Hedgeclipper says:

        there was a interesting discussion on economic models for the web over here link to antipope.org

        One commentator who claimed to be closely involved with the industry side thought the problem was not so much ad blocking as targeted ads – the upshot of which was advertisers could catch their targeted market with a much smaller spend and the net result was aggressively bidding down the value of ad impressions.

      • roothorick says:

        The ad networks started that arms race, and it’s not too late for them to change their ways and combat malicious and obnoxious ads, so I have zero sympathy for them. They killed their own business model. They built their electric chair, and now they can fry in it.

        • zarniwoop says:

          Seconded.

          I have no problem with static banner ads hosted by the site itself. Just turning off my security settings makes the internet an incredibly annoying place to be. That’s no one’s fault but the advertisers and the sites that enable them. Also given the amount of malware and privacy violating tracking going on out there, I’m going to minimise the amount of third party scripts running on my computer wherever practical.

    4. melnificent says:

      I run adblocks on my PC and none on my mobile. Progressively the ads have been getting more and more intrusive to the point that outside of a small list of sites such as RPS I don’t browse for more than a wiki or answer on my mobile anymore.