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Teresa Nielsen Hayden

Life, I has it. ::: If I could have two icons, the other one would be a flammhetzer.

Undying love in ≤150 characters: the contest results

Following an extended wrangle, our distinguished panel of judges has settled on a winner for the Undying love in ≤150 characters competition: Misery4Brett, comment #39. Misery's entry, which Shapeways will be transforming into a 3-D candleholder, is:

It is dark
and when we kiss
my fingers find you
like candlelight

We're still waiting for Kevin Jackson-Mead's opinions on the three best entries of a romantically scientific or mathematical nature, whose authors will be receiving copies of Strange Attractors: Poems of Love and Mathematics.

If you haven't read the contest thread, you should. It's full of ingenious romantic geekery -- and, as our judges demonstrated, there's something there for everyone.

A contest: Undying love in ≤150 characters

This contest ends at midnight-sharp GMT this coming Sunday, four days from now. I know our contests and games usually run longer than that, but the Sunday deadline is necessary if we're going to have enough time for Shapeways to turn the winning poem (declaration, formula, epigraph, cryptogram, etc.) into a 3-D object -- a light poem, suitable for holding candles -- and express-mail it to you or your sweetie in time for Valentine's Day.

What's the catch?

First, you only get 150 characters total. This is a contest where speed and cleverness beat diligence, so start channeling your inner small mammal, and remember that spaces and punctuation count.

Second, you have to register an account at Shapeways, and download their Creator Java applet. Yes, that's slightly troublesome. Look upon it as an investment in someday being able to tell your grandmutants how hard you had it, back in the dawn of desktop 3-D fabrication.

Third, if anyone other than Randall Monroe tries to submit 0 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34 55 89 144 233 377 610 987 1597 2584 4181 6765 10946 17711 28657 46368 75025 121393 196418 317811 514229 832040 1346269 2178309, there's going to be some splainin' to do.

And that's all. Try not to wait until the last minute to post your entries. Posting them earlier gives others a chance to admire them, and reduces the chances that someone else will have the same idea and publish it first. If you've posted an entry, make sure you've sent your contact information and desired shipping address to before the deadline. If you make "contact information" the subject line, we won't look at it unless you win.

(While you're over at the Shapeways site, you might want to take a look at their gallery and shops. It's full of people doing exactly what you'd think they'd do: putting new hats on minifigs, visualizing infectious microorganisms, prototyping models and materials, making art, printing out remote-controlled helicopters, building finely detailed instruments and artifacts, playing "Oh yeah? Then top this" with their fellow topologists, and finally getting that Legion Flight Ring they've always wanted. Also, making valentines.)

If you have an idea for a game, or would like to donate a prize, let us know! One doesn't find good games hanging on every bush. As for donating prizes, I know it's often viewed as a good way to do a little genteel promotion, but you could also try thinking of it as a way to pass along nifty old objects which you no longer wish to own, but are unwilling to throw away. Again, send suggestions to


We're adding more goodies. Kevin Jackson-Mead of A K Peters, an independent mathematics and computer science publisher, is donating three copies of Strange Attractors: Poems of Love and Mathematics as prizes for entries of a romantically scientific or mathematical nature.
Further note: if you're having trouble getting registered at Shapeways, or making the Light Poem option on Creator work, let us know. In the meantime, post your entry here anyway. We can work it out.
Jessica Hasson at Shapeways says that If anyone is having technical problems, they can email her directly at and she'll help you resolve your problem.

Meowfaceman is seduced by the guitar pick carrier

On guest blogger Gareth Branwyn's My Wallet Just Got Raptured thread, we have Meowfaceman, comment 12:
My reaction:

Man, that's ridiculous. Let me look at these -- holy shit, does that wallet have a guitar pick carrier?.

I hate you BoingBoing. You make me spend money on retarded things ALL THE TIME. At the same time, however, I love you for it.


Also in that thread, FutureNerd, comment #4

My new wallet reflects my ambivalence about pretension with its appearance of genuine hand-tooled hand-stitched leather laser-printed on genuine Tyvek.
Which in turn grabbed Gareth Branwyn, #8:
Woah. I dig the Mighty Wallet. When my current wallet gets raptured, I think I'm going to trade down to a Mighty Wallet. Pretty cool. I love the faux tooled leather. Tres summer camp.
Good comments, front page.

A comment from Modusoperandi

Modusoperandi, responding to markmarkmark in the Attenborough's response to creationists' hate mail thread, said:
markmarkmark "Jesus is my rabbi and all that is best in me is him and every mistake is my own."
One Night a man had a dream. He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the Lord. Across the sky flashed scenes from his life. For each scene, he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand; one belonged to him and the other to the Lord.

When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life.

This really bothered him, and he questioned the Lord about it: "Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you you'd walk with me all the way, but I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don't understand why when I needed you most you would leave me."

The Lord replied, "My precious, precious child, I love you and would never leave you. Also, you're being intermittently stalked by the Invisible Man."

Good one. Front page.

More games: Summarize the year

We promised there'd be more games and contests, so here we are again. We're planning to run at least one a week. Naturally, your ideas and suggestions are welcome.

Here's this week's challenge: Everybody and their brother are doing year-end wrap-ups this week. Strike back! Write your own!

To be more specific: Summarize 2008. If you want, you can narrow it down and summarize the year in Boing Boing, weather, science fiction, weird science, plain science, international relations, bicycles, finance, real estate, disasters other than finance or real estate, cool gadgets, presidential campaigns, sandwiches (yours), sandwiches (eaten by others), violence, oxygen, polar bears in the news, weird sex, or whatever else you find meaningful, as long as it's a summary of 2008.

Format: Plain prose is fine. Compression is good. Formalism is very good. Chronological sequence is required, though it may be implicit.

You aren't required to use plain prose. As usual, poetry is an option; but so are obfuscated code, footnotes for an imaginary text, captions for the imaginary text's imaginary illustrations, crossword puzzle clues, lists of unanswered phone messages, copyeditors' queries, or entries from your cat's Live Journal. Just keep it coherent, and make sure the format and handling illuminates your summary of 2008.

Bear in mind that if you want to use flowcharts, rebuses, lolcats, XKCD cartoons, charts, photos, or sheet music, you'll have to stash the images elsewhere and link to them, because we're not set up to handle images in comment threads. That goes double for audio files, machinima, and flash games.

The length of your entry should not exceed your readers' patience. Entries will be judged by professionally impatient readers.

The normal moderation guidelines apply.

Hanging out in the thread, discussing the entries, and applauding good performances is virtuous, can be a lot of fun, and is a great way to get to know your fellow commenters.

Prize: To be announced shortly. Something good.

Poetry goes Boing!

The poetry competition announced in We can has games has been a huge success. We must have more of these, and soon.

The game this time was to write verse poetry about one or more recurrent Boing Boing obsessions, with the winner to receive a Gears of War 2 Special Edition Zune 120 GB. Readers responded with a thread over two hundred messages long that's full of charming, surprising, and even impressive poetry. And if you don't read the whole thing, you have only yourself to blame.

Picking the winner was tough. At great effort and expense, I brought in the head of the science fiction line at the world's largest English-language science fiction publishing house to help me judge it, but it was still hard to narrow the choice down to a single poem. Nevertheless … (picks up envelope) … the winner is:

SpatulaLilacs @41, "Sestina of a Reluctant Copyfighter." Which, O my word, is a rigidly formal sestina that maintains both natural language and perfect iambic pentameter while developing a coherent argument about copyright issues.

That's something you don't see every day.

Sestina of a Reluctant Copyfighter

I download stuff. Not all of it is "free" --
Or meant to be, at least. But people share.
It's all right if you take what I create.
I'd never copy-shackle my own art.
I have a hankering for the obscure,
And I will stay obscure as well, by rights.

I know, of course, i haven't got the right:
no "information-wanting-to-be-free"
or any other jargon can obscure
the fact that when we, as we put it, "share,"
we replicate another person's art.
Are copies something I should not create?

But in the past, we couldn't just create;
the learnéd men who scribbled out our rights
did not foresee this replicable art,
which makes another of itself for free.
And if they did, why tell us not to share?
Conspiracy? Some purpose more obscure?

I know, the artist's needs are not "obscure."
But I don't see the people who create
receiving, from the middle-man, their share --
they've all too often signed away their rights,
and found themselves endeavoring for free
to do a deed that's less and less an art.

But certainly this isn't all of art;
just most of art that isn't so obscure.
The margins (blesséd margins!) leave you free,
uncensored and unhindered, to create.
But on the margin, who protects your rights?
Forget your rights. Embrace your fanbase. Share.

If just a thousand, seeing that you share,
decide they love you and they love your art,
then you won't need to sweat about your rights.
You can be happy, healthy, and obscure,
as long as you remember to create
at least a couple things that aren't free.

So free your mind before you grab your share.
Don't litigate, just go create some art!
And let the lawyers sort obscurer rights.

The top ten other poems from the thread, not in order of merit:

JustKristin @28, "We heard a crunch before it died." Emily Dickinson does tech support. (You should get a look at Kristin's other pastiches. She has a fine ear.)

Olof @29: Boing Boing does Jabberwock, or possibly Jabberwock does Boing Boing.

Cloudform @74, "Annabel LED." A popular favorite, and definitely one of the poems that made it hard to pick a single winner.

Madeley @80, "Web Zen." A small but very cute pantoum. (Note: Be impressed. Pantoums are hard, like villanelles only more so.)

Rachelboing @84: a sonnet on feet.

Lumi the Valiant @85, "The Charge of the Boing Boingers," with muttered apologies to Tennyson.

ELloyd74 @114 had the sleekest rhymes.

TDawwg @113 argued with me, elegantly, in "A Poetickall Epistle Direckted at Our Moderator By Way of Metrickall Clarification."

HKDailo @130 rapped, inventively.

Jfaehnle @168, "Sex-Bot Villanelle; or, VW5yZXF1aXRlZCBMb3Zl.".

Other notables achievements:

Props to David Carroll @43, for constructing a crossword puzzle (and later, posting the solution).

Props also to Shutz, at various points in the thread, for doing some real thinking about future games.

As was only appropriate for a competition that started on 11/11, we got three notable pastiches of famous war poems: Mel Rodriguez @50 did Wilfred Owens' "Dulce et Decorum Est"; Jazzbo @134 did John Gillespie Magee's "High Flier"; and TaoArt @150 did John McCrae's "In Flanders Fields."

Some of the best poems in the thread were written by first-time commenters. I don't yet have a complete list of them, so I'll put that in the comment thread.

Kieran O'Neill @142, "Your country's gender disjunction," was the best poem written as a comment in a current thread. Second place in that category goes to MXJohnson @132 for From "Your shoe is jacked into my eye" and "Call to makers: woman wants webcam to replace lost eye".

Oskar @33 is to be commended for his presentation, and his attitude. Entertaining your readers by showing off really well is at the heart of the game.

Triscuit @72 wrote the best haiku.

Foetusnail @187 wins for Most Improved. Second place for Most Improved: JanusNode @151, "Ode to Boing Boing."

Frazbin @202, for the tidiest poem on the least hygienic subject.

MinTphresh @91 and @183, for spiritual truth.

Other poems that a different judge might have scored higher:

TangoBrain @152, "Encryptus." :: Chriziem @141, Chriziem @141, "Steampunk Elegy." :: Jmanooch @167, "Carousel: On a Reading of Boing Boing." :: Aila @158, "Guerrilla Gardener." :: MFGG @48, a panegyric sonnet. :: CK @87, who is funny and accurate. :: Mr. Orion @104, who is also fun to read, and would undoubtedly have scored higher if he'd labeled his work as a haiku sequence rather than a series of one-offs. :: Deviant @107's heroic quatrains about a boy and his sexbot making a stand against the zombie apocalypse. :: Boba Fett Diop @111 doing Lucas via Homer via Richmond Lattimore. :: WillAlex @173, a zombie sonnet. :: Met Ower @131, "Lurker Lament."

We can has games

Down in the south end of the Metal detectorist's mysterious find thread, we've been kicking around the idea of running games in the comment threads. We've even played some short games there.

This has now been declared a Good Idea, so we're starting one with this entry. The winner gets applause, glory, and a spot at center stage in which to show off really well. The same goes for everyone else who turns in a good performance. The only difference is that Everyone Else doesn't also get a Gears of War 2 Special Edition Zune 120 GB (see description).

Note: it's a freebie, nothing more. If you're really worried about Boing Boing's purity, you can help protect it by winning the game. As you know, freebies emit a faint, kryptonite-like radiation that only affects Boingers; but since the arrangements call for donor Whitney Biaggi to ship the Zune directly to the winner, and since readers are of course immune to freebie-radiation, things should work out just fine.

We're going to be running more games and contests in the near future, with prizes from other donors. If you're planning to kick up a big fuss about some imagined commercialization, please bear in mind that (1.) freebies aren't terribly memorable unless someone makes a fuss about them; and (2.) eventually even you will get bored at having to kick up a fuss whenever someone snags a prize, and the rest of us will get bored a lot sooner than that.

You're a clever bunch. Let's play games instead.

The first one's simple: write some verse about one or more recurrent Boing Boing obsessions: steampunk, the TSA, unlikely mods, papercraft, mashups, gadgets, emergent properties of the Zombie Apocalypse, DIY, FISA, comics, photographers' rights, WTF, FTW, wristwatches, skiffy history, misused tasers, making a foo out of bar, cryptozoology, Tibet, animation, copyright abuse, drives, hacks, sex, robots, robot hacks, hacking sex, sex with robots, emergent properties of sex with steampunked robots during the Zombie Apocalypse forestalled by misuse of copyright by body-modded TSA official using LEDs and a 9-volt battery, et cetera, found dead on beach in Long Island. (Not a complete list.) Best poem wins. If you turn down the prize, you get a jar of marmalade, and the runner-up gets the Zune. The moderation guidelines still apply.

All other things being equal, your poem is likelier to win if it rhymes and scans; even more so if it's formal verse. Villanelles count more than limericks. Alternately, write it as a pastiche of a recognizable work or author. Pastiches may be prose, but may not be long, and had better be good. For extra extra credit, write your piece as an on-topic comment in some other thread, then re-post it here. All other things being equal, wit, language, and happy mutancy win.

Finally, feel free to suggest other games to be played in future threads.

Addendum: Tdawwg replies:

But limericks are formal verse,
the same as villanelles; you err
thus separating the two. Worse,
although their differences are fair,
they're unremarked by you: silk purse,
sow's ear, don't make of them a pair,
two distinct objects they, diverse.

Overaggressive spam filter

A housekeeping note:

Our assistant moderator Antinous has noticed an increasing number of legit comments getting caught in the spam trap. Previously, it was only catching an innocent comment about once a month. Now he's fishing three or four comments a day out of it. We'll try to sort this out.

For now, Antinous says that having multiple links to the same domain seems to be the trigger, even if the links are to different pages in that domain. For example, a comment containing links to three different Wikipedia articles runs some risk of getting snagged. Avoiding that pattern isn't an absolute guarantee of safety, though; he's found a few comments in the spam trap where all the links were to different domains.

What we know for sure is that several commenters have complained that we unpublished their long, thoughtful, citation-filled comments, when in fact they'd been grabbed by the spam filter. If you have a comment go missing, let us know. In the meantime, Antinous will keep checking the trap.

That Violet Blue thing

Update, 07-21-2008: A related wrap-up post was published on Boing Boing on July 18: Lessons Learned.

Speaking for all the Boingers--

Boing Boing has been caught in the middle of a real internet shitstorm and pile-on over the last few days. A blogger named Violet Blue noticed that we unpublished some posts related to her. Some people wanted to know why.

Bottom line is that those posts (not "more than 100 posts," as erroneously claimed elsewhere) were removed from public view a year ago. Violet behaved in a way that made us reconsider whether we wanted to lend her any credibility or associate with her. It's our blog and so we made an editorial decision, like we do every single day. We didn't attempt to silence Violet. We unpublished our own work. There's a big difference between that and censorship.

We hope you'll respect our choice to keep the reasons behind this private. We do understand the confusion this caused for some, especially since we fight hard for openness and transparency. We were trying to do the right thing quietly and respectfully, without embarrassing the parties involved.

Clearly, that didn't work out. In attempting to defuse drama, we inadvertently ignited more. Mind you, we weren't the ones splashing gasoline around; but we did make the fire possible. We're sorry about that. In the meantime, Boing Boing's past content is indexed on the Wayback Machine, a basic Internet resource; so the material should still be available for those who would like to read it.

Thank you all for caring what happens on Boing Boing. And if you think there's more to say, by all means, let's talk. We're listening.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

[Xeni] Update, 07-02-08: A number of the BB team were on the phone together today (for the first time since this started) discussing the situation. Several news organizations had pinged us to discuss this, including the Los Angeles Times, so we invited them to join the call and ask a few questions. It turned out to be a good conversation, and we hope the partial transcripts posted on the LA Times contribute to the thoughtful and evolving conversation. Comments welcome; ad hominem/feminem attacks not so much.

(1) BoingBoing bloggers talk about Violet Blue controversy's implications
(2) BoingBoing's Xeni Jardin on unpublishing the Violet Blue posts
[ Los Angeles Times ]

Fixing the "Text entered was wrong" bug

We think we've fixed the problem that interferes with posting comments, and gives would-be commenters an error message that says:
Your comment submission failed for the following reasons:
Text entered was wrong. Try again.
Here's the word from tech guy Jonathan Schreiber:
I believe that we have fixed the root cause for this. BUT users could still see this problem if they have an old cookie that was set pre-fix (the fix went in [on April 15th] around noon). So my suggestion for all BB commenters is to logout (via the logout link, upper right), then log back in again.

After doing a logout/login, the cookies and session will match and they won't have an issue with the system "thinking" they're logged out any more (i.e. no more "text was entered wrong" error messages).

Go. Do. And if you still have problems posting comments, or technical problems of any kind, please let us know. If you can remember to take screenshots and give us your system info, that's good too.

See also:
Adam Rice and Phillip Lamb, on their technical problems

Good comments: Adam Rice and Phillip Lamb, on their technical problems

Adam Rice and Phillip Lamb were both unable to comment, so they sent me letters.


I hope you're the right person to contact; if not, my apologies.
We need a better way for readers to tell us about technical problems. One of our suggested mechanisms is to have a front-page link to a form for reporting glitches, much like the link for submitting suggestions for stories. Until then, we'll all keep improvising.
The last couple of times I've tried to leave a comment on Boingboing, I've gotten the following error:

Your comment submission failed for the following reasons:
Text entered was wrong. Try again.

I admit this may be true in an epistemological sense, but in a formal sense, the text I entered was entirely innocuous.

Would you believe I've occasionally been getting that one too? I don't know why that error message turns up. I wish it weren't even in the system. It keeps giving readers the idea that we use automated content-based message filtering, and that something they've written has infracted the filters' rules.

Not so. The only content-based filters on Boing Boing are the people who edit it. If you get an error message saying "Text entered was wrong," it's the error message that's in error.

Back to Adam Rice:

The other interesting thing is that the page where this appears shows me as logged out, although I am logged in from the main boingboing page, or gadgets.
I feel your pain. I had the same problem for a couple of days this week. David Harmon's reported it too.
My comments were not such pearls that the Internet cannot function without their presence, but I thought I'd bring it to your attention.
Well said, and thank you for bringing those problems to our attention.

Onward to:


Hi there - not sure if you're the right person to send this to, but I can't seem to find a tech email on BoingBoing's site. ... Hope I'm not inconveniencing you!
Not at all. We really do want to hear about technical problems.
I and other people have had trouble submitting comments lately, getting a "Text entered was wrong. Try again" error message.

It seems like the following is happening:

1. User logs in

2. User does logged-in user stuff, including commenting.

3. User goes to sleep, or hibernates, or eats a Polish Sausage or whatever.

4. User comes back to BoingBoing, bleary-eyed because it's 3am and when you gotta get your fix you gotta get your fix.

5. User's session has timed out (rut roh!) but due to either a caching bug or perhaps a session timeout bug, the comment form still shows up.

6. User submits a comment, but sadly it doesn't go through, and they see, "Text entered was wrong. Try again."

7. User wrecks their apartment with a frying pan.

8. User eventually logs back in and is able to comment normally.

We're sorry about your apartment--and, presumably, your frying pan.
This is my hypothesis, and I've tested it (somewhat) and it seems valid. Just letting ya know. I'll email this to whatever email address I can find for your admin, assuming I can find one.
Thanks! I'm pretty sure the Polish sausage is a local artifact. The rest, we'll have to have a look at.

What hardware and browser were you using? (Adam, same question.)


UPDATE: Semiotix comments:

I'm very disappointed to hear that the "Text entered was wrong" message is simply an indication of some sort of login error.

I've gotten the message several times, and, assuming that it was autogenerated in response to wrong ideas, have modified my beliefs (and comments) accordingly until I reached--so I thought--right text, and therefore right thinking.

Now you tell me that I haven't been engaged in a Socratic struggle for truth all this past week? That I changed my beliefs for no reason?! Well, thanks for nothing.

Good Comment: Mott, on child abduction and trafficking in Guatemala

Mott tells a story in the comment thread on Adoption and corruption: human trafficking busts in Guatemala.
For those of you (and I count a couple among the posters here) who appear willing to condone or turn a blind eye to human trafficking in the name of some “higher good,” allow me to share a story which, in a sense, may put the proverbial shoe on the other foot. For this could have happened to you.

It is a story that my wife and I have told practically no one. At first, in the wake of the incident, because it was too horrible and unsettling to talk about, and, much later, because the horror had thankfully receded into the distant past. But it definitely happened, and it definitely colors my views today on Guatemalan adoptions.

I am an American. Back in the 1980s I worked for several years in Guatemala as a development worker with a well-known NGO with projects all over the country, though I was based in the capital city. In 1984 my Guatemalan wife and I were blessed with a beautiful baby girl (biological offspring).

Like many people in my line of work we had a paid housekeeper. One day when our little girl was maybe seven months old our housekeeper had to walk down the street about five short blocks to get some small sundry, like milk or something, at a little store there. She asked my wife for permission to take the baby with her, and my wife said of course. (You must understand that we trusted our wonderful indigenous housekeeper implicitly, and besides, Zone 10 of the city was far more tranquil back then, notwithstanding the war in the countryside.) As for me, I was at work 15 blocks away in the office.

Scarcely a block from the little store, the housekeeper carrying our daughter swaddled in a colorful peraje was accosted by a microbus which sped up to her from behind and cut her off. Inside (I am told) was a male driver and 4-5 “well-dressed women.” (Bear in mind, this is our housekeeper’s account.) Through an open window of the microbus a woman deftly squirted the contents of what looked like a large syringe into our baby daughter’s face. Not injected, but squirted through the air. And indeed, it appeared this would have been an abduction, had not something miraculous and ironic happened in that instant. An army jeep with 3-4 soldiers came around another nearby corner and stopped in front of the tienda! They did nothing, really, except that one or two of them went into the tienda to buy something -- but the mere sight of them on this very tranquil street must have spooked the people in the microbus, for they suddenly sped off as quickly as they had approached.

Our housekeeper came back home in a panic with our baby. Police were called, and about three of them showed up very quickly in a patrol car, including one female officer who took down our report. I had just arrived home from work, and was quickly apprised of the situation. Our baby, swaddled and deeply asleep in the same peraje, smelled vaguely of rotten eggs, and both the housekeeper and the police officer said that was from the liquid they had squirted in her face – evidently some sort of chemical with a tranquilizing effect. The police had evidently seen or heard of this before; in fact, they seemed unsurprised by any of the details recounted to them.

Well, the moment passed, and we eventually all returned to normalcy. We’ve been back in the States for many years now (except for the housekeeper, of course). Our little girl is fully grown, graduated from college, and on her own now working at a wonderful job in DC. But we might well have lost her forever, and there is not a shadow of doubt that our daughter might have become one more statistic in the horrible saga of human trafficking and illegal adoptions.

Folks, there is NO PRINCIPLED MORAL DISTINCTION that can be made between kidnapping for adoption or selling a child for adoption. It is human trafficking, and it is wrong. If a child is sold, it doesn't matter if you are the seller or the buyer, and if the latter, it matters not a whit whether you paid the cash yourself or paid someone else to pay the cash.

Moreover, I agree wholeheartedly with the poster here who noted that those who adopt because they want to “save” a child should really consider how many more children they could save by devoting the same resources to vitally needed community development efforts in the country where the children live.


Boing Boing's Moderation Policy (Archived)

Our moderation policy was revised in October 2009. Read the new version. This version is deprecated.
Q. Why does Boing Boing have to have a moderator?

A. First answer: Because every general-interest online forum that's worth reading has some kind of moderation system in force.

Second answer: Because four years ago, Boing Boing's first, unmoderated comment system went so septic that it had to be shut down. The Boingers want to never go through that again.

Third answer: Because Boing Boing gets enough traffic to attract non-automated scams.

Q. All the vowels have disappeared from a paragraph I wrote! What's going on?

A. We did it. Someone (a moderator, one of the Boingers) was expressing displeasure at your remarks. The technique is called disemvowelling. It deprecates but does not delete the remark. With work, the disemvowelled text should still be readable.

Q. You disemvowelled a very polite comment of mine that happened to mention a current presidential candidate. That means you're biased against that candidate, right?

A. Wrong. It means you shouldn't throw in mentions of presidential candidates unless they're mentioned in the main entry or are highly relevant to it. This rule will apply until the next president is elected.

Q. Something has happened to the link back to my website that I put at the bottom of my comment.

A. There's an answer to this problem: please don't put links in your comments that aren't relevant to the entry. We'll just have to remove them. Instead, put a link to your site in your user profile.

Q. My link-free .sig lines keep disappearing too.

A. We aren't big on .sig lines either, though they're a lesser offense. Rationale: first, your name is already there in your message header. Repeating it a few lines later is redundant.

Second, .sig lines eat up vertical space to no good purpose. The more messages you can see at one time, the easier it is to understand how they relate to each other. Pointlessly using up vertical space reduces the number of messages per screen without conveying any benefit in return.

If your .sig lines keep disappearing, it's because the moderators are removing them. Please take the hint and stop using them, because deleting them is bleeping tedious.

Q. Are you changing people's comments in any other ways?

A. Not really. We'll occasionally fix HTML errors or zap duplicate comments, if we feel like doing it and have the time. Once in a while we'll remove excess line returns in order to conserve vertical space.

Q. There's an old comment of mine I want you to delete.

A. Drop us a note, if it's really important; but the default answer is "no."

Q. One of my comments has disappeared!

A. There are several possibilities. One is that we may be having technical problems. It never hurts to write and ask. Another possibility is that someone thought your comment would be better gone.

Q. I can't believe that Boing Boing, of all places, would be using censorship. What happened to freedom of speech?

A. Boing Boing is steadfast in its support of your freedom of speech. We believe that you, O Reader, should be able to have (or refuse to have) anything you want on your own website, as long as it doesn't deprive others of their rights. Yay, freedom of speech!

By that same token, freedom of speech also means that the people who write and edit Boing Boing have the right to have (or refuse to have) anything they want on their own website. If one of the things they don't want is a comment that you have posted, they aren't depriving you of your freedom of speech. You're free to put that comment up on your own webpage.

Q. Why can't you just tell everyone to ignore the trolls?

A. Because they can't. Everyone automatically reads the text that's there. If it's nasty or unpleasant, they get a dose of that. If there's too much of it, they stop participating. There's far more internet discourse lost to trollage and casual rudeness than is ever lost to moderators.

Q. Isn't the moderator just enforcing compliance with her own political views?

A. Not at all. You couldn't reconstruct her personal views from a list of the times she's intervened in a discussion. The time she invented disemvowelling, it was so she could deal with a flaming leftist.

Q. Isn't the moderator just enforcing compliance with the Boing Boing party line?

A. There is no Boing Boing party line. The Boingers have varied political opinions.

Q. What's with all the [steampunk, outsider art, papercraft, other Boing Boing obsessions]?

A. One or more of the Boingers likes it.

Q. Aiiiiiiieeeeeeeeee! Boing Boing has advertising! Doesn't that mean you've become hopelessly corrupt?

A. You mean, unduly influenced by whatever advertisers are the source of the site's revenue? Don't worry about it. Boing Boing's editorial content is unaffected by its ads.

Q. But--but--those people are giving them money! How can they not be affected?

A. (The moderator speaks solo: "In order for the Boingers to be unduly influenced by who advertises on their site, they'd first have to reliably remember who those advertisers are. Trust me: this is not an issue.")

Q. But you take ads from Microsoft!!! Aren't they the root of all evil?

A. This is rank Manichaeanism. Go lie down with a cool wet cloth on your forehead until you feel better.

Q. The moderator disemvowelled one of my comments, supposedly because I had violated some rule of debate. Doesn't that just mean she doesn't agree with me?

A. No. Online discussions are not formal debates, but the usual rules for what constitutes valid argument and legitimate rebuttal, and who's responsible for proving what, still apply. They are independent of content.

Q. I thought I was being reasonably polite when I got into an argument with Bonzo, but two of my comments got removed entirely, and he just had a couple of paragraphs disemvowelled. Why me? Why not him?

A. There are many possibilities. The biggest one is that you were insufficiently polite. In the heat of an argument, your own remarks are going to seem more justifiable, and Bonzo's arguments are going to seem shabbier and more malicious. This temporary distortion is best addressed by being more polite than you think should be necessary.

Another possibility is that Bonzo has an established history of posting clear, well-informed, apposite, and entertaining comments, whereas you're posting for the first time. Or you're posting for the third time, but the first two times you did it, you posted snarky and unilluminating remarks. Or Bonzo posts under his real name,* but you don't. Under those circumstances, Bonzo is going to have more credibility with the moderators and editors.

Life is an unending series of auditions. Get used to it.

A possible explanation that's guaranteed to be wrong: we're not going to delete or disemvowel your comments because we simply can't deal with the vast swoop and majesty of your hard-hitting opinions. If we tell you it was due to your behavior, believe us.

Q. One of the people in our comment thread is behaving abominably. Does Boing Boing flame trolls, or just ignore them?

A. Neither. See the little one-eyed icon in the top right-hand corner of messages? That's the lookitthat button. Clicking on it tells the moderator that she should come look at that particular message. Be sure to explain what it was about the message that prompted your action. If you include your name, you may get a thank-you note. You can also use the lookitthat button to point out comments you think are particularly good.

Please don't use the lookitthat button to post comments. The moderator's the only one who'll see them.

Q. It's obvious that you won't tolerate anything but supportive comments from brown-nosers and yes-men--right?

A. I'll venture a guess that you responded to a new entry on Boing Boing by announcing that it was hopelessly lame and boring, and then came back later to discover that your comment had disappeared.

Q. Yes! Why did you remove it?

A. This is another one of those questions that has multiple answers.

First: you didn't explain why it bored you. Without an explanation, announcing that you're bored is neither useful or entertaining. Also, it's a real bringdown for readers who lack confidence in their own opinions.

Second: because frequently the "I'm so bored" thing is just attitudinizing. There's a whole big internet out there, and it's full of people who, if they don't like what they're currently reading, move on and read something else. They don't post about how bored they are just to have something to say.

Third: maybe that entry just isn't your thing. It could be someone else's. Why drag down their conversation?

Q. So we're not allowed to say something's boring?

A. Of course you're allowed. You just have to explain why.

Q. How come the moderator nailed me for a comment that didn't contain any swearing or personal attacks?

A. It's remarkable how many people believe that "you're good as long as you don't swear or launch personal attacks" is a universal rule. We'll actually tolerate both those things -- but only if you do them perfectly. Few people can manage that, so it's best not to try.

Note that there are three words you can't say on Boing Boing. I'd rather you followed that link and read the full explanation, but if you just want the rule, it goes like this:

ROT13 is a simple method for encoding text to make it unreadable. This is a ROT13 conversion utility. Use it to read what I'm about to say. The three words you can't say on Boing Boing are avttre, snttbg, and phag.

There are only two exceptions to the rule. First exception: you can use one of those words if you're a Boinger. It's their weblog. Second exception: you may use one of those words if you're quoting something genuinely worth quoting that needs to be said, and that's also appropriate to the thread.

If you go out of your way to find occasions to do that, we'll notice.

The rule on other crude language and obscenities is that they're only permitted if you can use them as well as Joel Johnson does.

Q. What's likely to land me in your bad graces?

A. Since you've asked, here's a nowhere-near-exhaustive list:

1. Spamming. Linkwhoring. Re-posting text you've already posted on a dozen other sites.

2. Making supercilious and unpleasant remarks in a civil liberties thread about how the victim had it coming. This is not to say that victims never have it coming; but there's a species of internet demi-troll that appears to specialize in posting such comments. Try not to look like you're one of them.

3. Making snide comments and insinuations about the editors. That's right out. You don't like one of the editors? Take it up with them in e-mail. If you're going to comment on an entry, talk about the entry.

4. Being nasty to no purpose. (This is the catch-all.)

5. Using unnecessarily exciting language. Making an argument is fine. Making your argument in language guaranteed to make your hearers see red? Bad idea. It practically guarantees that you're going to have a dumb (and therefore boring) argument. And if the argument's not going to be interesting, we don't see the point.

6. Jeering, sneering, condescending, or one-upping when there's been no provocation. Telling people they're naive idiots for caring about whatever-it-is. Like the "I'm bored" pose, it's empty attitudinizing, and it's remarkably unpleasant.

7. Failing to notice that there are other people in the conversation. Posting a remark that's already been made five times and answered six. Coming back and re-posting essentially the same material after a twenty-message thread has discussed your previous comment. Trying to forcibly wrench the conversation onto one of your own pet topics. Posting a stale, canned rant you've posted a dozen times before at other sites. Not coming back to see how others have responded to you.

Why post comments at all, unless you expect to be read? And if you expect to be read, you must know you're part of a conversation. Therefore, you should act like it. Engage with what the other commenters are saying. Read the thread before you add to it.

8. Posting a snotty but otherwise worthless anonymous comment. It's a lot easier to get away with snotty comments if you're a registered user.

9. Dragging in one of those topics that's guaranteed to generate a huge thrash that goes nowhere, like gun control, abortion, or Mac vs. PC vs. Linux. You're only allowed to discuss those if (a.) they're relevant to the entry; and (b.) everyone in the discussion is doing their level best to say something new.

10. This list will undoubtedly get longer.

Q. It's not fair! You've misunderstood me and disemvowelled or removed me because you mis-read what I posted. Can't we talk about this?

A. Sure. If one of your comments is disemvowelled or removed from its thread, you're welcome to write to the moderator.

Q. I can't register or post a comment. Does this mean I've been banned?

A. If you didn't get into some kind of fracas, it's highly unlikely that you've been banned. It's moderately unlikely even if you did. We're probably just having technical problems again. Drop us a note describing what happened.

Q. I was told my comment posting privileges were suspended for a week, but they never came back on. Am I permanently banned?

A. Probably not. If you were given a specific period and it's expired, drop us a note.

Q. What happens if I re-register and come back under another name while I'm suspended?

A. If we catch you, all the comments made by that false identity will be unpublished, and your suspension period will be re-started from the point at which the false identity was caught. It's okay to change your username when you aren't suspended, though we'll look askance at you if you do it too often.

Q. Is it okay for me to have more than one userid at a time?

A. No.

Q. What happens if I use someone else's userid?

A. You mean you use their identity without their say-so in Boing Boing's forums? We throw the book at you.


08 May 2008:

There's a new rule about not mentioning presidential candidates unless the main entry mentions them first. That rule will remain in effect until the next president is elected.

08 May 2008:

We believe in community-based moderation. In theory, anyone can momentarily act as a moderator, as long as their action is warranted and they get it right.

However, Boing Boing also has Assistant Moderators. It's like having a deputy sheriff's badge. Currently, the Assistant Moderators are AVRAM, as in Avram Grumer, and ANTINOUS.

So now you know. If one of them should suggest an alteration in your behavior, or ask what you're hoping to accomplish with your current behavior, you'll no longer need to ask who the bleep they think they are. You'll know who they are: they're the Assistant Moderators.

14 May 2008: The rule on obscene language has been modified. Crude language and obscenities are now permitted only if you can use them as well as Joel Johnson does.

24 June 2008: Added to the list of circumstances that can increase a commenter's credibility: using one's real name.

Also added an explanation of the local prejudice against .sig lines and excess line returns.

20 November 2008: Rewrote the section about Words You Can't Use on Boing Boing to make it clearer and more specific. Redirected the explanatory link in it to a longer and more coherent explanation of the reason for the rule.

15 January 2009: Takuan, Xopher and arkizzle are Adjunct Moderators. Please see the May 8, 2008 update above regarding moderators.

Our moderation policy was revised in October 2009. Read the new version. This version is deprecated.

Good comment thread: What's happened to the U.S. economy?

There's a good discussion revving up in the comment thread of Mark Frauenfelder's entry, Documentary examines possibility of US dollar collapse. The first major salvo came from Cowicide, twenty comments in, responding to arguments that the problem isn't that serious:
Not sure Operation Three Trillion Dollar War is helping too much, either...
* Link to video, transcripts of video, audio, etc.

BTW, this isn't some wackos... it's Nobel laureate and former chief World Bank economist, Joseph Stiglitz, and Linda Bilmes (Professor of public finance at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government).

While we are at it:

Robert Kuttner on the “Most Serious Financial Crisis Since the Great Depression"
* Link to video, transcripts of video, audio, etc.

How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (And Stick You with the Bill)”
* Link to video, transcripts of video, audio, etc.

Subprime Mortgage Crisis Causing African Americans to Experience Greatest Loss of Wealth in Modern U.S. History.
* Link to video, transcripts of video, audio, etc.

Yah, yep... I smell trouble... yep, I smell it.

Been smellin' it for quite a while, but it's getting stinkier and stinkier. Haven't even passed the dead skunk on the highway yet...

ConsideredOpinion came in with a balanced and knowledgeable analysis:
... Secondly - the impact of realignments will be felt unevenly across the economy. The super-rich will, by in large, remain insulated from these changes. The highly-educated (with marketable skills) will remain the most globally competitive, and barring labor movement restrictions should compete evenly against the best anywhere in the world for any currency. If the realignments can be 'dialed in' slowly enough, skilled industrial laborers should do better in the US ... but I don't care to think what this will mean for unions and the ILO. ...
Then Zuzu weighed in, and became the most prominent commenter in that thread. He's something of a monetarist, which is okay; monetarists are good on the consequences of grossly inflating the currency.
it's like nobody has ever been through a recession before... All this fear mongering is getting a little out of control.
I know people love their anecdotal evidence, especially in an economic discussion. But the concern here is pretty straightforward. From about 2001 - current the United States has funded a comprehensive restructuring of domestic government agencies (i.e. Homeland Security) with new and far-reaching "anti-terrorism" programs (e.g. Federal subsidy of enlarged state and local police, USVISIT, etc.), funded an invasion and ongoing active occupation of Iraq (at a cost of about $1 billion per month), while at the same time cutting taxes, and in September 2007 Congress raised the debt ceiling $9.815 trillion. The U.S. Government went from an ostensibly balanced budget in 1999, to a mind-boggling increase in spending, while at the same time collecting less revenue (i.e. taxes). How do they afford it? They increase the supply of money and credit through the Federal Reserve. This is a stealth tax. By debasing the fiat currency of the dollar, they spend the new dollars on the military-industrial complex to "keep us safe"*, which dilutes the value of the dollars we save in our bank accounts (or that we negotiated with our employers to earn in our paychecks), but all of the other goods and services are still just as scarce, so more dollars are needed for the same value to exchange for them, which is inflation.

(*Recently "keep us safe" has been extended to including bailing out financiers such as Bear Stearns and soon Lehman Brothers.)

The "Three Trillion Dollar War" or whatever you want to call it was all paid with inflation, which explains why the price of gold went over $1000/oz, why oil and food prices are up, but people are still generally acting as if dollars are worth what they used to be worth before the new money was created. (Arguably his is also why the Federal Reserve ceased publishing M3 data in March of 2006, and why the Department of Labor and Statistics has redefined the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to exclude energy (i.e. oil) and agriculture from its "basket of goods" estimation of dollar purchasing power.)

The economic crisis the United States can no longer ignore is the unwinding of this inflation. However, economists who speak on television or for politicians will tie themselves in knots and circular logic to avoid ever saying the word "inflation" -- it's like a taboo. So first they pitched this problem as a "sub-prime mortgage crisis", until now the problem is obviously not contained to just that market sector. Recently I've heard people start saying "contagion" like when the Asian Tigers melted down from their inflationary bubble in the 1990s.

But the crisis is simply that the Bush-Cheney administration has spent more money than God by borrowing and printing it (i.e. creating inflation), which in the central banking system of fractional reserve multiplies several times over into even more inflation. This creates an enormous market bubble -- that so-called "economic recovery" Bush has claimed in his speeches of yore. So this bubble didn't even feel like a bubble so much because the "improvement" was marginal over the pre-existing recession from the previous dot-com bubble and housing "foam" created by Alan Greenspan. But soon all of that inflation is about to collapse.

Think of inflation like those Warner Bros. cartoons where Wile E. Coyte runs off the edge of a cliff, and he can keep running and running on the air as long as he doesn't look down and realize that there's no more dirt beneath him. But eventually he looks down and plummets until he hits real dirt. That's what a correction for inflation is like.

And we've had this inflation/recession building up for approximately a decade now. It could take at least that long to get back out of it. So I would not chalk this up to "fear mongering". Fear mongering of the phantom menace called "terrorism" is what got us into this hole.

I'm reminded of an episode of Duckman (1994):

Once again, the U.S. is spending millions to oust a puppet they spent millions to get into office. They'll spend more millions on the coverup to hide having spent those millions and even more millions to discredit members of the media who report otherwise. It's a good thing they print their own money.
Other major comments by Zuzu:
* Inflation vs. deflation.

* Inflation, deflation, and the government's manipulation of the currency.

* A long, interesting quote on People & Power, rigged markets, the Plunge Protection Team, central planning, and the command monetary system (as opposed to planned economy).

Partway through that sequence, Fran Six popped in with a link to a set of charts she's constructed:
* A long-term chart depicting a deflationary boom since the Nasdaq crash in 2000 with its incipient manias in prices.

* The $US gold price divided by the $C with an overlay of a junior precious metal stock.

* The inverse of the gold/silver ratio.

* A very large chart depicting the silver/gold ratio with the added Wilder's ADX. Note the extreme position of the ADX indicator.

* A picture of insider buying for GBN.V in the last year.

* Oil price projection using fibonacci overlay.

* Dow Jones Industrial Crash, Oct. 1987.

* Nasdaq Crash, Apr. 2000.

There's one brief additional comment from Fran Six. She should feel encouraged to come back and explain more about those charts.

Near the end of the discussion's current endpoint, Spinobobot entered the conversation with a couple of comments (first, second) I'd quote at greater length, if this entry weren't already too long. He's in favor of welcoming our new robot overlords. Mostly, he talks about things monetarism doesn't:

In seriousness, I simply don't understand why some people trust "the market" to solve all of our problems. This quote particularly got me:
"You can't expect bureaucrats to know better than the market itself."
This market fundamentalism in which any economic woes are blamed on attempts to regulate and interfere with the economy is as unfalsifiable a position as the that of Marxists who maintained that the Soviet Union and other Communist nations weren't really Communist, because a true Communist nation would be successful. As though we didn't already see the fallout of total laissez-faire in the 19th Century.

I take your point about the problems of bureaucracy and I definitely think that market processes which are response to things like supply and demand have their benefits. I don't want to see the elimination of markets by any means.

But we need to put constraints on markets, establish certain kinds of incentives that exercise a general direction for how things will go. What I really don't like about unchecked markets is the way that they destroy common goods. Self-interest is not the only viable human motive.

The conversation's not over.


Good comment: Pipenta, on artists and drugs

Note: From time to time we're going to be promoting especially wonderful comments (for all values of "wonderful") to the front page. This is Pipenta in "The science fiction book art of Richard Powers" thread, writing in response to someone who looked at Powers' art and said he must have been on drugs.
These look so dang familiar. I read a lot of science fiction back in the sixties and seventies. I picked up a lot of it secondhand. I know I've had books with this cover art. I wish there were examples of what they looked like as finished book designs. I'd love to see the titles.

@ #2 About drug addicts...

Jeff, I think you are huffing something.

Having attended a couple of big-name art schools back in the day (and by back in the day, I mean in the late 70's when drug use was common and open) and having visited and met artists from a number of other art schools during that time, I can assure you that there really is no noticeable difference between artwork made by drug users and artwork made by non-drug users.

We could fill a gallery the size of Grand Central Station with art, half by people who never touched drugs and the other half by people who "inhaled". You would not have any clue. You'd have no way of telling which was which.

I'm not saying that substances get mixed up with chemistry don't effect art output. I'm saying you could not tell. There is no consistent style, or technique, no way you could tell. No more than you could tell from reading a passage of text if the writer had been drinking.

Being an artist, doing art, involves operating at many levels. There's a cocktail of components such as learned skills, physical dexterity, life experience, personality, perceptual ability and more. Those are just off the top of my head. Someone who does a lot of their art, be it visual or musical, dance or theater or the written word, has a lot going on when they do it. Some processes are very much the active here and now, some are happening at a deeper intuitive level. The latter are where your history and training and experience come in to play.

Some folks, folks who either cannot or will not do art, see artists as savant, mystical or idiot. It isn't magic. It isn't one process happening. Art is not the same combination of processes for everyone.

And stoners don't necessarily make paintings like these.