April 2008

Some of you customise your journal’s appearance using LiveJournal’s S2 system. The whole thing looks a bit baroque, with much mentioning of “layers”, so I thought I’d just ask questions of people who might know how to do what I want.

I have a thingy which generates an Atom feed from the comments on each of public postings (by “thingy” I mean a couple of Python scripts, one of which is a heavily modified version of ljdump and the other of which is a script which generates the feeds using the dumped information. I might publish them if anyone’s interested). Proper blogs have these feeds, so I thought mine should too.

I would like to make people’s browsers aware of the feed when viewing an entry, which means sticking some extra <link> elements into the <head> element of the entry view. I’d also like to link to the feed somewhere on the entry page, probably in the little list of stuff you can do with the entry (you know, permalink, write a comment, add to memories, denounce, and so on). The link would reference http://www.noctua.org.uk/paul/lj/feeds/nnnn.xml, where nnnn is the unique number which LJ puts in the permalink to the entry itself (for example, this entry‘s number is 83644).

At some stage the script is also going to produce a single feed of all comments on my public postings (and maybe all my comments on your public postings, if you don’t object). So I’d also like to know how to stick stuff in the <head> of the entire journal view (which already links to the Atom feed of my postings which LJ generates itself).

Any help you can give in telling me where to start with this stuff would be much appreciated.

There’s a new LiveJournal meme doing the rounds, where you make a post about what you think of theferrett‘s Open Source Boob Project. All the cool kids are doing it, so I thought I’d join in. Here’s a compendium of comments I’ve been making elsewhere.

I agree with springheel_jack‘s point that this is all about geekery. theferrett has been here before, expressing similar sentiments about how it would be easier if you could just tell women you wanted to do them.

The dance that most heterosexual courtship rituals involve is (what? all my courtship rituals have involved dancing) at least partly about face saving if it goes wrong, but also about not scaring off the woman, who is physically smaller and weaker, on average, and probably has reason to fear the sort of man who would ask direct questions of the sort theferrett talks about. Some geeks do dispense with some of the dance, and that can work for them when they’re dealing with other geeks.

theferrett wants to dispense with more of the dance than most people are comfortable with. He had a nice time at the convention, which is fair enough. It also seems that the original thing was instigated by women who are happy to defend it. His mistake is to think that experience can be generalised and codified into a “project”, and his other mistake is writing about it on LJ, especially in the style he used.

I’m becoming a big fan of synecdochic, whose postings on the drama itself and how not to be That Guy are excellent.

The recent abolition of free accounts with no ads on LiveJournal provoked some interesting comments on LJ itself, and on the wider question of how social networking sites can make any money.

In a nice turn of phrase, antennapedia speculates that LJ may have “begun the descent through the levels of credible ownership” (which is presumably antennapedia‘s reason for producing a migration tool to assist in moving your journal to another server which uses LJ code). chipotle has some interesting numbers (although some are probably faulty) and some speculation on where the Russian overlords are heading.

There are the expected “let’s all go somewhere else” projects which will set up a page on Sourceforge/Google Code, argue about what to implement and then die (elsejournal, for example). synecdochic knows a thing or two, having worked for LJ in the past, and may have a credible proposal, although I’m curious about some of the technicalities.

After each fresh stupidity from LJ, a bunch of people bugger off to existing LJ clones which are running the Open Source parts of LJ’s code. GreatestJournal staggered under the weight. InsaneJournal is holding up, except when their hosting provider accidentally turns them off. synecdochic rightly worries about InsaneJournal in the long term, because scaling up your website when it gets popular is a hard problem, requiring equipment and people who don’t come cheap. synecdochic also has some insights into how that worked for LJ itself, if you’re interested.

Wired has a brief piece pointing out that nobody’s quite worked out how you make money of social sites yet. Perhaps you don’t: unoriginal1729 reckons search engines will always have the edge, because they can serve appropriate ads at the point where you’re actually looking to buy something rather than speculatively advertising based inferring things from your interests. Maybe the thing which precipitates a working verison of the geeks’ dream of Usenet-plus-crypto-magic will be all the centralised sites running out of money.

Things that caught my eye on the web recently:

  • marnanel supplies the ultimate version of all those “which local dialect do you speak?” questionnaires that people have been doing lately.

  • Zarf, otherwise known as Andrew Plotkin, gives us LOLGRUES. Makes a change from cats, I suppose.

  • scribb1e thought I’d like The Ongoing Adventures of ASBO Jesus. Some of them are good, some of them are typical “the church is the people, not the building” Christian greeting-card verse (but as cartoons!) The artist shows some signs of creationism, but as I’m no longer a Christian, I don’t have to do my “please get off my side, you’re making it look stupid” bit.

    Inevitably, the cartoon with the most comments is the one about gay marriage. Inamongst the usual godhatesfags stuff (or rather, God hates the faggotry but loves the fags, naturally) there were a couple of links to interesting interviews with N.T. Wright (no relation), the Bishop of Durham. There was also an interesting comment from Tyler on just what Paul did mean by arsenokoites (the word translated by the NIV as homosexual offenders, about which there’s considerable debate as it’s a novel coinage as far as we know). Tyler points out that the Septuagint puts the two words that Paul has used in his portmanteau word right next to each other in everyone’s favourite bit of Leviticus (scroll down a bit for the Greek). So it looks like you practising gays (or even those of you who aren’t practising because you’ve got very good at it) are pretty much out as far as Christianity goes. Have you considered atheism?

  • If your internet connection comes from BT, Virgin Media or Carphone Warehouse’s Talktalk service, you should be aware of the evil that is Phorm, a cunning plan to intercept all your web browsing and use the knowledge of what you’re interested in (from your web searches) to display targetted advertising on collaborating websites. Richard Clayton has spoken to Phorm and has technical details of how the system works. It’s a horrible hack, in all senses of the word.

    Talktalk aren’t all bad though: they just told the British recording industry to get stuffed in a highly entertaining way. The BPI are now threatening to sue.

Karen Armstrong’s book is a potted history of the Bible and its interpretation, starting around the time of the Babylonian exile and continuing up to the present day. Armstrong’s writing is succinct: the book is short (229 pages in the main text of my copy) and easy to read.

Armstrong sees both the Christian Gospel writers and the Judaism of the first and second centuries CE as profoundly influenced by the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. Their conflicting ideas on the future of Judaism can be seen in the attitude of the Gospel writers to the Pharisees as it became clear that the future of Judaism did not lie in a belief in Jesus as the Messiah, but in a revitalised Judaism which the party of the Pharisees would lead.

The parts of the book which deal with interpretation were most interesting to me. Armstrong interweaves chapters on Christian and Jewish interpretation. Later texts start out as reactions to earlier texts, drawing on them to find something useful in the writers’ times. The later texts may eventually come to be seen as scriptures themselves. Armstrong applies this idea to the Christian New Testament and to the Jewish Mishnah, as well as to modern commentaries like the Scofield Reference Bible, the source of much of fundamentalist Christian theology on the End Times.

Armstrong discussion how later commentators draw out meanings which they believe are hidden within the text, a process which she describes as pesher, referring to the commentaries produced by the Essenes. The methods of interpretation are often quite strange to modern readers, but reflect the belief that scripture was infinite, containing a variety of meanings. Sometimes passages are re-interpreted in the light of the Golden Rule, as in the case of Rabbinic punning on scripture to show God’s compassion, or Augustine’s statement:

“Whoever, therefore, thinks that he understands the divine scriptures or any part of them so that it does not build the double love of God and of our neighbour does not understand it at all. Whoever finds a lesson there useful to the building of charity, even though he has not said what the author may be shown to have intended in that place, has not been deceived.”

Some Christians, such as Origen, viewed the Old Testament as a commentary on the New, rather than vice versa, and produced detailed allegorical interpretations of OT events, which were taken to refer to Christ or the church (a tradition they could claim was started by the apostle Paul, in letters like Galatians).

The book contains some uncomfortable facts for someone in the modern evangelical wing of Christianity (as I once was). If evangelicals insist their approach is the only correct one, they must conclude that the church has been doing it wrong for most of its history. Worse yet, for evangelicals who claim to use only scripture to interpret scripture, is realisation that the New Testament writers would be seen as terrible exegetes by modern evangelical standards.

As I said, these are not comforting thoughts for evangelicals. While I was writing this, I found an interesting review of Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament by Peter Enns. Enns has written a book which, if the review is anything to go by, talks about these exegetical problems and tries to address them, still remaining within a reformed Christian theology. Enns does this by drawing an analogy between the humanity of Jesus and that of the Bible. For this, he is well on the way to being drummed out of the seminary where he holds a professorship.

Back to Armstrong. As her story moves closer to the present day, she writes about modern scriptural interpretation with dissatisfaction, albeit tempered with some sympathy for fundamentalists who feel threatened by, well, practically everything that’s happened since about 1800. In the book’s epilogue, she calls for a return to Augustine’s principle of charity as the means of interpretation, arguing that “hurling texts around polemically is a sterile pursuit”, and that rather, the entire Bible should be interpreted as a commentary on the Golden Rule. She rejects criticism of the Bible by “secular fundamentalists”, presumably in the knowledge that in the past both Christians and Jews have seen the violent or otherwise “difficult” passages as an invitation to look deeper rather than as an invitation to imitate God or Israel’s bad behaviour.

I’m a little sceptical, because I think the horse has bolted, at least as far as Christianity is concerned (I’d be interested to hear what Jewish people think). Since Luther, the authority of the church to interpret the Bible has diminished. Everyone is their own pope, vigorously defending their interpretation and eager to anathematise the people closest to them (as Enns’s case illustrates), even more so as believers feel threatened by modern developments and batten down the hatches. I’d like it if Armstrong’s vision became reality, but I’m not sure how she intends to bring it about. More people reading her book might help. I recommend it.