Monthly Archives: April 2012

About Discussion Boards and Chat Rooms

From a previous post April 3, 2005

Okay.  What’s been on your mind this morning, the readership asks, me adroitly putting the words into the communal mouth.

In between working on other internet projects, I’ve been thinking about Discussion Boards and Chat Rooms.  What is it about those things?  What’s the appeal to us?  Why do they so frequently erode into acid exchanges between the users?  How do complete strangers come to have such a rancor for one another?  And how to otherwise, probably nice enough people (they have to be… someone would have taught them manners if they behaved that way offline) come to have such nasty streaks when they wear a mask of anonymity?

I’ve seen discussion boards and participated in a few previously.  In those days, a few people were still doing non-spectator things outdoors.  Enough were, at least, to keep sites of that sort in business selling metal detectors, gold pans, books, sluiceboxes, dry-washers and whatnot.  That’s when I first noticed this discussion board spinoff phenomenon I eventually came to think of as the snake pit.

People would come to the boards to learn about prospecting, about a particular lost mine, about some piece of equipment or other. But on any site there’d come a time when a specific group of individuals would just sort of hang out there.  They weren’t there to learn, and they obviously weren’t there to share information.  Mostly, they were just wasting time, disparaging people who asked questions, disparaging the attempts others made to answer.  The snake pit.

These weren’t just trolls.  They were men who knew the subjects the board was created to discuss.  But treasure hunters and prospectors have never been long on the information-sharing business.  So instead, these guys hung around blustering at one another, arguing which had the most skill with a metal detector, which detector brand was best.  Online acquaintances who frequently hated one another and everyone else, but still hung around.

Mid-1998, I became convinced Y2K was an actual threat.  That belief led me to another type of chat room.  A place where people who believed similarly hung around to talk about  TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it) and exchange information about Y2K preparedness.  At least, that’s how it began.

Before too long we all discovered that, while we each believed Y2K was going to happen, to one degree or another, we had some serious rifts in the other aspects of our lives.  Some were born again Christians who wanted to ask one another and answer one another whether this was going to be the Rapture, and if so, when it would begin, and what it would be like, both for themselves, and for the non-believers who’d be left behind to suffer it out on the ground.

That sort of thing.  That, and just how bad would things get, post-Y2K.  And how much a person should bet that it would happen at all. Attempts at risk analysis, though most of us didn’t know a lot about computers.

From mid-’98 until I departed for my woods-retreat mid-’99, I watched the Y2K chat room with a measure of awe, disgust, concern and wonderment.  I watched those people who came to the chat room to learn become experts after a few visits (the fundamentals of preparedness were, after all, relatively simple).  I watched the competition among the new survival experts when `newbies’ came to the chat room. People who’d just heard about Y2K and wanted to know more.  The poor old newbies found themselves swarmed by all the old-timers who were, themselves, newbies a couple of weeks earlier.  Everyone wanted to demonstrate his knowledge by telling some newbie about it all.

Meanwhile, the rancor, the snapping and snarling, the pro-gun/anti-gun, born-again/non-religious wars raged among those folks who came there first to just learn, who all had the same reason for their original visits.  And, of course, the romances.

The snake pit.

So.  How do strangers who have no reason to give a hoot in hell what one another think come to such a pass?  What is it about discussion boards and chat rooms that draws people so closely into one another that they wish to apply pain, sarcasm, poison?  That they actually allow the poison being spewed by the malignant random stranger to pierce their feelings?

It’s a study.  I’ll swear it is.

Old Jules

Unanticipated Consequences – An Accidental Great Read

English Seamen In The 16th Century, Lectures Delivered at Oxford, Easter Term, 1893-94, James Anthony Froude.

Saturday evenings after they finish an auction a couple of blocks from her home in Olathe, Kansas, Jeanne often goes to the parking lot to nose through what didn’t sell and is being readied to haul to the dump.  When she comes across books she thinks might be to my tastes, she calls me and asks if I’d like her to snag them and send them to me.  This tattered old tome was one such.

I’d never heard of Froude and she said the book was beat up badly, but I made a snap decision and had her take it.  Thanks, Coincidence Coordinators, and twice-thanks, Jeanne.

The Project Gutenberg EBook of English Seamen in the Sixteenth Century, by James Anthony Froude,

I considered myself modestly well-versed on the times from Henry VIII through Elizabeth, the English Reformation, the Huguenots in Holland, the Inquisition, the Spanish super-power status, and the troubles with Mary, Queen of Scots.  But somehow I’d never put it all together.  I’d never paused to ask myself how England, a country virtually without military power, no navy to speak of, came to become an empire, a sea power without equal during a relatively short time-span.

I’d also never asked myself the careful questions about the defeat of the Spanish Armada by what amounted to a scattering of privately owned ships, almost without any help from the crown.  In fact, a tiny, fragmented private navy having to find ways around the obstructions, mind-changings, mood shifts and flighty fancies and wishful thinkings of Elizabeth.

Froude makes a strong case for the premise that the two greatest western powers of the time, the Catholic Church and the king of Spain, forced them into the future kicking and screaming in protest.  By arrogance, pride, cruelty, certainty in the belief they could do anything and get by with it, they blind-sided themselves.  They forced a population of merchants and fisherman-sailors to learn to build ships and fight at sea as an alternative to being tortured by the Inquisition, forced into slavery in Spanish galleys, or burned at the stake.

Even after Citizens Hawkins and Drake began ravaging the Spanish shipping, intercepting Spanish treasure, burning Spanish towns in revenge for Spanish and Inquisition atrocities, the Inquisition and Philip refused to see what loomed on the horizon.  They continued plotting to assassinate Elizabeth in hopes of bringing Mary to the throne and Catholicism back to the realm.  They continued capturing English crewmen and punishing them for doctrinal heresy.

And eventually, assembled the greatest war fleet in the history of mankind to invade the island and restore doctrinal purity.  The outcome seemed obvious to them and there appeared to be no other, gazing into their own futures.

But Froude, gazing into the past, has an advantage, looking through the centuries since, past the Napoleonic times, the generations of British imperialism and conquest, to the day the power of the Catholic Church began the first lesson in humility.  And to the day the power of Spain imploded.

A recommended read.

Old Jules

Today on Ask Old Jules:  Your Life’s Work?

Old Jules, what do you regard as your life’s work?
What will be your major contribution to the world?

Amazing Instant Pain Relief

From a previous blog entry a few years ago:

Have you ever heard anyone say, “Wow!  I just put out my eye with a nail-gun!  Thank you Lord (Universe, Goddess, Higher Self, Coincidence Coordinators, or whatever the person happens to hold sacred)!”

Probably you haven’t.  Not many people know it’s a profoundly effective way of causing pain to diminish or vanish entirely.

I usually don’t even remember to pass it on, though my Y2K and since friend, Jeanne,  has seen it work.  She might use it.

Try it.

  • Go find a hammer, put your thumb, thumbnail upward, on the front step.
  • Draw the hammer over your shoulder and smash hell out of that thumbnail as hard as you’re able.
  • The moment your vision changes to a nuclear fireball, shift gears mentally and say, “Thank you Lord.”

Doesn’t matter whether you’re a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Taoist or atheist.  You’ll be amazed.

See for yourself.

I don’t know of any better demonstration of the power of gratitude.

Old Jules

Today on Ask Old Jules: Ethics and Morals?

Texas Ideaology: So Many Ideas, So Little Truck

And too few handicapped spaces

But otherwise

It’s mostly complete.

When Americans use bumper stickers to tell everything about themselves worth knowing they usually don’t need so much vehicle to do it.  Bumper stickers to describe the depth and breadth of their thought processes, their tastes in literature and philosophy, everything important about themselves don’t take up a lot of space:

“Pro- Choice“:  a telegraphic way to say, “I don’t have a fetus inside me, but if you are unlucky enough to have one I’m rabidly enthusiastic about your right to kill it and flush it down the toilet.”

Right to Life – translates:  I think abortion’s a bad choice and I’d like to kill, or imprison anyone who believes differently. Knitting needles in the bathtub were good enough for grandma and they’re good enough for you.” 

“Support the Right to Keep and Bear Arms”  Translates:  “I like guns a bit overmuch.  I’ve got them and, while I’m a patriot, probably a flag waver and mindless supporter of any unconstitutional war our prez gets us into, I don’t want them taking away muh guns.”

Ban (Firearms)(Handguns  Translates- “I am an idiot and don’t know it, but I want you to know it.” 

“Support Your Local Police  Translates:  “I’m either a cop, or I drive 75mph through school zones and figure anything might help.  Either way, don’t trust me.”

Save the Whales  Translates:  I’ve never seen a whale, but I’m hoping this bumper-sticker will help me meet people who have seen them.  Or meet females who haven’t seen whales, either, but who would like to talk about saving them over drinks and maybe have sex afterward.”

Proud to be an American  Translates: I’m glad I was lucky enough to be born in a country where everyone’s fat, has MasterCard, and can talk in English about what team won the game last night.  I’m most especially proud not to have been born somewhere full of non-English-speaking poor people who are hungry and get the bejesus bombed out of them all the time by us.”

GAY (Pride)(Marriage)(Rights)  Translates:  I want to tell you what me (the owner of the bumper-sticker  – not, ‘me’, Old Jules) and my friends do with our genitals.  I’m in your face about it because otherwise you mightn’t care.  I, the bumper-sticker-owner is saying, am a really shallow human being who doesn’t care what other people do with their sex organs, but believe everyone should care what I do with mine because there’s not much else about me anyone would be interested in.

Bumper-stickers are probably dying, however,  in favor of the less-literary, shorter-attention-span next-generation.  The brave new world has little magnetic ribbon icons made in China of all different colors.  Each color makes a pronouncement about what the car owner thinks will interest other Americans.  Yellow means support the war (as though a person could pay taxes but not support the troops and the war).  Etc etc etc.

I saw one recently,  a brown one of those ribbons turned upside-down so the ends stuck out like ears.  Support Bambi  was printed in the center decorated with two doe-eyes with long lashes..

“You can take my pit-bull when you pry my cold, dead fingers from his snout” must have had defective adhesive so’s to not stay on the bumper.  I’ve never seen one.

I forgot to mention my favorite bumper-sticker:

WHITEY WILL PAY”  Translates: There’s maybe more pigment in my skin than some people have. Or maybe not. But I blame all my flaws, inadequacies and shortcomings in my life on what hypothetical dead white males did to my long-dead ancestors. If it hadn’t been for that my life would be a paradise.”


Old Jules

Introduction to Being a Hermit

The following is an email that Old Jules wrote several years ago and subsequently posted on a previous blog. I’m posting it after his description of the Peace Corps experience to give continuity to that time period.  ~Jeanne

Old Jules:
This was the most recent of a long line of exchanges with an online friend, a man  who mostly he believes his life is a living hell out of habit, except when he reminds himself he’s blessed, which is only when I remind him to remind himself, thinks I.

Thought I’d share it with you blog readers.  I don’t believe I’ve ever mentioned my brief life as a hermit.

Morning Pal:

I suppose you’re right.  You live a complicated life.  It would be complicated, just with your interpersonal relationships, even if you didn’t have a job that would be enough to satisfy most needs for complication.  Even if you didn’t have a piece of real estate that’s located in and part of a subtle war zone.  It’s relatively easy to imagine how you’d have some difficulties focusing, relaxing, or anything else.

A long time ago, when I had a complicated life, I used to wonder whether a stay in the sort of place where you work, an asylum, would do the trick as a means of getting me removed from the system of complications I’d built around myself to help make myself unhappy.  I concluded that it wouldn’t.

 I also gave some thought to whether prison life would do it, but unless it was one of those kinds of Federal prisons all the Watergate folks went to, I don’t think it could.

Thought about a Trappist monastery a bit, even.  That might do it.  I don’t know, but it seemed so otherwise out of sync with my nature that I never tried it.

But I had the advantage over most people, because I knew what I was missing.  When I got booted out of the Peace Corps in 1964, after a bit of time trying to complicate my life in Honolulu the way a person will, I was contacted by the US Army Reserve telling me they wanted to know where I was in case they wanted to reactivate me for Vietnam if they needed people with my particular MOS.  In those early days of 1965 nobody knew where all that was going and reactivating the reserves was considered a real possibility.

My support for US military adventures overseas went away entirely during my tour in the Far East.  I was gonna have nothing to do with Vietnam.  I decided I was going to spend the remainder of my life as a hermit living in the jungle on the big island….. a place called Wiamono Valley on the drainage of the Kohala range…. used to be a village in there but it was wiped out by the tidal wave in 1947 and nobody laid claim on it since.  Nobody in there but a blind mule and me…. for six weeks that mule had company.

That six weeks with nobody to talk to but a blind mule changed my whole life.  It was a pivotal moment for me, one of the greatest blessings of my stay in this reality this time around.  In addition to a book-full of other benefits, it gave me a realization of what’s possible for a human being, mind-wise, if he can succeed in either simplifying his life, or in (I didn’t know then) distancing himself from the web of values, properties, interpersonal relationships and other tangle we do our best to mire ourselves in so we can’t see or hear what we’re trying to keep from seeing and hearing…… the voice of what’s beneath.

I definitely understand what you’re saying, my friend.  Hang in there.

(Old Jules)

Fans, Compromises and Drowning in Over-My-Head Math

Good morning readers.  Thanks for coming by for a read this morning.  I see people continue to read here, or at least visit here, and I’m dazzled by some internal response I can’t put a name to.  But reading the posts Jeanne’s added I’m also reminded that being me is a fairly weird experience for a human being to spend a life doing.

Whatever it is brings you here to read these fragments of my life, thank you for the interest. 

Last year I spang wore out seven [7] garage sale, thrift store and auction fans.   This, despite spending hours on each before it crapped out, taking it apart, oiling, cleaning.   I concluded there’s meaning to the word false economy occasionally. 

So I visited the Big Lot store in Kerrville, studied the assortment of fans, and picked out a few to hopefully carry me through the summer.  The box fans and window fan are for me and any cats willing to suffer sultry nights indoors during the coming oven-nights.  The two smaller, clamp-on fans are for the computers, hopefully to give them something to hope for.

But there must have been someone else doing the same thing in the Big Lot at the same time I was.  As I was waiting in line to pay I kept hearing people behind me talking about ‘the old fart buying all the fans’.  I didn’t want to be obvious, but I searched out of the corner of my eye for him.  Never did locate him.

Likely he’d had problems keeping his fans running, same as me.  I’d sure like to have all his old throwaway fans.  I love pulling the damned things apart trying to figure out what I can salvage out of them.

Meanwhile I’m spending as many hours every day as my mind allows following the tracks of whatever it is running this Universe, or this phenomenon we think is reality, sniffing down trails of obscure facts and barking up trees of complex math puzzlements.  Gaining new understanding daily, unwinding the warp and weave.

Clearing my head at intervals lopping cedar, placing it in a hundred places where drainage water attempts to go Communist by channelizing, forcing it back into sheet flow.  Forcing it to drop its silt loading.  Robbing it of the energy to carry the land away with it.

Last time in town I did something I’ve  never done before.  Took my poor old chainsaw to town and handed it to a real person  to work on.  Some things in this life are worth compromising.

Thanks again for coming by.  Live long and prosper if that’s what you have in mind for yourselves.

Old Jules

Link to short Old Jules Bio

Today on Ask Old Jules, a very short biography of his life.