Minh’s Notes

Human-readable chicken scratch

Minh Nguyễn
May 24th, 2005
Going Out


Going Out: Making a point

On Friday (MusicFest 2005), I paid a visit to Mr. Hoar down in the Community Service office, since it would be my last chance to before graduating. I pointed out Peter Rother’s weblog, which somewhat fascinated him.

Mr. Hoar related to me that the faculty committee that he’s a member of discusses addicting habits for students and ways to deal with them. Someone apparently brought up blogging as a highly addicting activity, and everyone immediately turned to Mr. Hoar for advice, since he’s the resident technology guru. He quickly dispelled the FUD, comparing it to journaling (the Religion Dept.’s favorite pasttime), and the committee dismissed the topic.

But I find it pretty funny that the faculty is worried about blogging, of all things, as being addictive. I mean, judging on the number of posts at pX that either promise to stop updating or apologize for doing so, I’d say that most students consider blogging a chore.

As I see it, the committee would better spend its time chasing after the multitude of MMORG players at St. X. Every time I walk into the first floor computer lab, I’m greeted by at least 20 screens filled to the brim with “Soldat and other pointless games.” (Yes, organizing the Writing Center computers was my idea.)

And wikis are all the more addicting. A few months ago, I registered an 87 on the Wikipediholic scale, and I’ve likely risen much higher than that by now. Yes, there is such a thing. (I happen to talk in wiki syntax – see number 23. :^) )

It just goes to show how out of touch many of our teachers can be with technology. The only reason why they use Edline is because the administration makes them attend Edline workshops by the IT Dept.. And even then, there are a few holdouts.

Of course, it’s not just the teachers who are criticizing a medium they’re not familiar with. I have many classmates who cringe at the thought of a blog, because they automatically associate all blogs with LiveJournals, where you can find nothing but “emo” rants and cat pictures. What do they have to say about DeadJournal and Xanga, then? Certainly, there are a multitude of blogs that are that way – though I prefer not to call them blogs. But why would the media suddenly love blogs to death, if rants and cat pictures were the end-all and be-all of blogs?

It’s also easy to believe that blogs are a passing fad. Brad used to think so, and vowed never to get one for that reason. Then he got a blog. And another one.

Fortunately, some teachers understand. Other than Mr. Hoar, a couple of teachers regularly read or maintain blogs of their own. Mr. Ott happens to read mine on occasion (though I’m still waiting for him to comment). Mr. Lamping maintains a private .Mac blog on his computer at home. And the infamous Mr. Lolne makes an appearance every now and then. (Sorry Mr. Lolne.)

Mr. Ott made a good point the other day: blogs are only really worth reading when the author has something to say. Over the past six months or so, I’ve made a real effort to write more meaningful entries here. It basically started with politics. Although my work on pX did bring in more readers, a more significant rise in traffic occured as I covered the elections.

On topics like politics, technology, and society, I tend to actually have something to say. In the past, I would sit down for a few minutes, browse around a bit, and find something to post about, because I really wanted to extend that ten-day consecutive stretch of entries. These days, I don’t usually post until there something that really irks me, like a Blueprint issue. (Of course, it’s also because of procrastination – I’m good at that.) Although I tend to post much less frequently than I used to, the quality is much higher. And the entries are usually much longer, too.

I realize that, for many people, blogging is all about revealing oneself. It’s a public private diary of sorts. That’s a dichotomy that I’ve never quite understood well, but I hear that journaling on a blog is very theraputic. Whatever works.

My role as a blogger is twofold: on the one hand, I’m a journalist. I cover stuff that you might not catch on the nightly news or in the Sunday paper, like REAL ID. On the other hand, I’m like one of those people who write letters to the editor or call into the nearest talk radio station. I voice out against something that I don’t agree with, and I say it with as many words as I can, like I did after the confiscation of thousands of Blueprints.

From time to time, one role might stand out more than another. Sometimes, for example, I’ll use headline-style entry titles. Other times, I’ll come up with something witty. But it always has some meaning. I want to say something that means something to my readers. And that’s what makes it so hard for me to stop blogging: it’s not some mysterious kind of addiction that needs to be curbed by my school; rather, it’s a yearning to make a point, and the freedom to do so.


  1. Kenny Hofmiester, the only student to be known more by his epithet than by his last name, has something to say about the prevalence of Net lingo. Plus: A way to classify all the bloggers at


  1. When I think of addictive behavior at St. X, something dirty comes to mind (not that I had/have anything to do with it ... which, of course, I didn't/don't) but I won't go into detail. And by the way, gaming was my refuge back in high school along with programming. When you're a man of solitude, it helps to pick up on *healthy* addictions, it's the only reason I had such a great time back then. Now school (college) sucks because you have to be addicted to *non-healthy* things to have any fun.

    Concerning blogs, I look at them in two ways just as you. One, offering interesting articles around the web, computers, or anything on Earth (or possibly out of this Earth). You look at planet.gnome.org and the many hackers blogging about programming, cool programs, and other miscellaneous geekness. I often try to mimic this because I feel that blogs should be a hybrid between journalism and a means of attaining relevance/connecting with guests. For example, writing an entry about a movie and reviewing that movie will help people make a decision as to whether they are to watch it or not.

    Secondly, I do try to blog in a private journalistic/documentary/biographical type of way on occasion but only because I am the type of guy who still has papers, tests, and homework from 4th grade. Although I am trying to reform my "archive everything" attitude, blogging helps me archive events that will become memories and I think that's important.

    I'm just imagining what it would be like if more teachers/professors blogged and how almost scary it would be. I could foresee teachers getting fired for expressing their negative views of the school or students.

    Well, I guess I'll have to pay a visit to St. X next year and see how Mr. Hoar is doing since you mentioned my blog to him. It's a good excuse anyway.

  2. I think my main concern about that addiction committee was that they were targetting an activity that hadn’t even reached into the mainstream of student culture at St. X yet. I wouldn’t be the one to know how widespread that activity you’re alluding to is, but I would venture to say that gaming is much more prevalent – and invasive. I’m not just talking about the computer games that students flock to in the first floor computer lab, just because they have nothing better to do during their free time. Video games can eat up a lot of time. I see that with my brother, and I also notice the same thing about wikiing, which I also consider to be addictive (usually for different reasons).

    I believe that relating to / connecting with the reader is a part of the journalistic aspect of blogging. Apart from journalists at high-brow sources like The New York Times, journalists have to be able to connect with their readers; otherwise they’re lost in the pages, never read. This is especially true for online journalists like bloggers, since it’s so easy to avoid us – we’re not delivered to everyone’s doorstep each Sunday morning.

    I slip in a bit of humor every now and then, and I publish the tritest things sometimes, just to make this a more personal affair. But I’m careful not to turn this into a diary. Although I would very much like to return to this blog some years later and relive some of the memories, I’m well aware that there are many things that my memory will’ve glossed over, and for good reason. I don’t want to know that, on MusicFest, I got a senior coupon for one free Thai Chicken for the next school year. On the other hand, I will want to remember how much I despised Thai Chicken throughout my four years, and that the only time I ever ate it was during Junior Retreat.

    I have an “archive everything” attitude, too, which accounts for the sagging drawers in my desk, which even holds relics from preschool. I’m trying to keep that from happening here. It’s quite possible that, when I return to this blog ten years out, the only things I’ll want to read are the articles I published under the Gems category.

    Ever since sophomore year, I’ve been encouraging teachers to start “class blogs.” I realize that teachers have to keep a tight lid on what they say in public, since they’re always under scrutiny. So the idea is that they could setup a blog where students can voice their views and comment on each other’s each night, and the teacher can moderate and add information pertinent to the course. Then the teacher could pull up the blog on the SmartBoard and have a small class discussion / overview. This would keep it purely academic.

    Perhaps an academic blog wouldn’t be the most exciting, but it would be an interesting application of technology into the classroom. Since the weblog is simply a medium, not some kind of MLA format, it can play many different roles. Journalism, commentary, and collaboration are just a few that I happen to find promise in.

    Mr. Hoar would be glad to see you again. He misses having students who can program. :^)


  4. By the way, I like how Planet GNOME is organized now. Looks like they took a queue from iChat, with all its fruity bubbles, but they managed to make it look professional. I should use that as a base for pX’s redesign…

  5. Interestingly enough, Mr. Molony was able to spell my name correctly most of the time. Of course, he had a gradebook…

  6. I was hoping you'd take notice to that Planet Gnome makeover, I thought it was pretty cool myself ... well, except for the long rendering times on a few of my slow computers since it has to condense the text more (longer output). And there are a few problems with images stretching width (wonder if overflow can fix it or fun dynamic resizing with ImageMagick), but overall it looks really beautiful.

    I fell in love with shadowing a while back but then realized my rendering speed was shot just by having those few pixels span a page. Of course, no one complains on macs since video acceleration on the desktop is far superior to windows and linux. Sure, eye candy is great when it's on my 3ghz gfx5200 machine but on my 1.4 tbird gf-mx, you can forget it. I wonder how the balloons would look with a simple 1px border and maybe some more girth so as to reduce output length. I prefer functional applications over anything else.

    Summer break starts in two weeks from today which means more free time to do stuff even though I will be working full time. Let me know if you want to collaborate on pX or the alum planet, I'd be more than willing to chip in.

  7. I wonder how feasible it would be to use a CSS-based approach to the rounded corners and shadowing. Maybe something like Sliding Doors (2). When CSS Level 3 gets released a few millennia from now, it’ll be so much easier to do things like that.

    Then again, SVG would do the trick, too, and Opera and the Mozilla nightlies now have native support for it.

    I’d really like to finish work on pX and start with that alumni Planet this summer. And I’ll need all the help I can get. :^)

    One feature I’ve been eyeing for awhile is something like GnomeWorldWide, since the alumni will be spread out all over the country. (And I think there are some former students overseas as well.) The problem is that most alumni will probably be reluctant to give out their coordinates or addresses. But I do have a 2005 Class Profile, which I can use for the outgoing seniors.

    I’ll also be willing to start taking a look at Ennui this summer, if you want.

  8. That sliding doors technique is quite interesting. I once attempted rounded corners on the main text section of my blog using top-left, top-right, bot-left, bot-right pngs which sorta worked with enough divs. I ended up hating it because you could literally watch as each corner was rendered and then finally the main text in between. *Druels at thought of CSS3...

    I'd imagine that most people don't even know what a nightly is so SVG might be out of the equation for now.

    As for pX, what are you still planning to do? What's keeping it in beta? And as for the GnomeWorldWide thing, I think it's a great idea. Have you ever played around with Xplanet before? We could easily make a script that generates a picture just like the one from GnomeWorldWide from a list of coordinates and names. Ennui can go at the end of the todo list, I want to see this alumni planet get somewhere first!

  9. Mozilla- and KHTML-based browsers (including Netscape [ick!], Firefox, Camino, and Safari) now support the border-radius-* properties, so it is possible to do rounded boxes using CSS. The browser might not render very crisp borders, but I’ve found that it works for small radii, which is usually all you need. Actually I’ve noticed that the pendulum is now swinging toward sharp corners; that seems to be more appealing now, because it’s a lot bolder than the rounded edges that we’ve been seeing for several years.

    Opera also supports a subset of SVG (1.1 Tiny), and native support will be included in Firefox 1.1, though it’ll probably be disabled by default until a later release (you can always go in and edit about:config).

    I’m planning on several things for pX:

    • Right now, I’m in the midst of contacting everyone on pX and asking for their permission to continue syndicating them. It’s a real logistical nightmare, because I never collected anyone’s e-mail address or screen name; I was afraid that doing so would make some people more reluctant to participate. The effort is meeting limited success.
    • I desperately need to redesign the site. I’ve got some ideas, and I’ve started work on a design that’ll incorporate some space images from Celestia.
    • I need to figure out how to make Planet’s feed parser (the Universal Feed Parser) parse the titles of Xanga entries for the post date, so they’ll appear chronologically.

    I’ve got some more plans, but it’s quite late now. So I’ll fill you in later.

  10. Mr. McFakname

    And for all of you underclassmen the wrting center comuters have been loaded up with all the abandonware I could download on my last day (plus copies of Unreal, you need to crack them though). Think of it as my parting gift to bored students stuck after school.