The Local Yarn

Long-Term Notes

I first published Taming of the Tigger on this site fourteen years ago; today, I posted the first comment on that page. It’s not the first time something like that has happened, but it’s probably the most extreme example.(1) I mention it because it offers occasion to take another stab at describing my pet alternative model for online writing and commenting.

There are a couple of other sites that use this model. The prime example is Edward Tufte’s online forum/blog, ET Notebooks. Each of the posts (check out, for example, the post about Philisophical Diamond Signs) has two essential features:

  1. The opening material illustrates a specific concept (a description rather than an argument).
  2. The additional comments, which are supplied by Tufte himself as well as his readers, further explore the concept with succinct examples and supporting evidence. Comments are cherry-picked and heavily moderated based on how well they conform to this pattern and the substance they add to the thoughts already collected.

The result looks very different from a normal blog post, and also feels a lot heftier in terms of “signal strength.” The point of this model is that, when done properly (and when the writing justifies it), it allows each page to become its own little reading room, a long-term collector of related information. The timing doesn’t matter: comments can have equal value whether they are added ten minutes or ten years after the publication date.

I took inspiration from this model when I enabled comments on The Local Yarn in 2011. I don’t have the readership needed to attract a high level of participation at this point, but that’s the beauty of the ET Notebooks model: each page(2) feels complete and self-contained whether there are fifty comments, or two, or none.

It would, I suppose, be more ideal if more of the comments were submitted by readers (as in Plans of the Psyche, which is so far the best result produced by this experiment in terms of what I envisioned for reader participation). But even when I look back on an old post like Water the Transcendent Lens, which (as of this writing) has three comments, all written by myself, I still think the model works well.

I’ll be continuing to use this model on this site, digging up years-old posts and adding notes to them as occasion warrants.

  1. Of course, part of the reason for gaps this long is that I didn’t even have comments enabled for the first eleven years (with one exception). Reason for that being, I didn’t know for sure what I wanted to use them for, and I didn’t want to do any extra design work to accomodate them.
  2. There’s just one caveat I’ve found, which is that if the writing in a post deviates from the atomic “illustration” format (feature #1 in the model above) into something more essay-like or conversational (e.g. blog-style posts like this one), you can’t really moderate comments on that post according to the “curated notes” principle (point #2 in the model) — at least, not to the same degree of purity. The more conversational the tone of the post, the more I’ve had to allow for responses to be equally conversational, otherwise I would end up rejecting too many fairly good comments.

Re: Why America Should Conquer Canada†

I perked up a bit when I read Today's Question from MPR News: Should the U.S. and Canada merge?

I probably wouldn’t write such a thing again today, even as satire. It’s not because the Canadian and US dollars have been at par for a couple of years now, nor because 32-year old me understands better than 18-year old me how a weak dollar can actually be good for an economy. And — you’ll have to trust me on this — it’s not even because I’m married to a Canadian. Even before I met my wife, in the wake of the Iraq war and having learned a little actual history, I woke up to the fact that American hegemony is too real and too stupid to make for good humor.

Besides which. My sense these days is that America is already such a thinly held-together coalition of such wildly different economies, values, and legal cultures that I’m not sure it can be governed fairly or effectively even without any additions.

Joel Dueck

If I asked you to say “Hi” to your band mates would you: do it, say you would then not, or tell me you wouldn’t?
My band and I only talk through music; it’s the only form of communication we know. But tonight I will write a guitar solo that delineates me saying hi to them from you. I will call it “me saying hi to them from you”.

“I wish it longevity so that it might find shabbiness.”
Arthur, on the occasion of Path’s launch, comparing new social networks to new museums.
( There is a note appended.)

Jillette’s Wipeout Test

“If every trace of any single religion died out and nothing were passed on, it would never be created exactly that way again. There might be some other nonsense in its place, but not that exact nonsense. If all of science were wiped out, it would still be true and someone would find a way to figure it all out again.”

We might call this the “wipeout test”. It is true that no religion would pass it, and that the laws of physical science probably would. But interestingly, this doesn’t actually say anything about a religion’s value or truth. It just reflects that a religion is more purely(2) a product of complex relationships between particular people.

I can illustrate this by applying the wipeout test to Canadian Culture, for example. If every single trace of Canadian Culture died out and nothing were passed on, it would never come back. This is because Canadian culture, like a religion, is the product of a complex history of the interaction of millions of limited human perspectives and their relationships. This says nothing about the value of Canadian culture. It doesn’t make sense to say that because of the wipeout test, Canadian Culture is somehow “false”.

Of course, many religious people would prefer to think their religion and gods are uniquely knowable apart from the people that describe them. And of course this is what Jillette is pushing back against. But I think maybe there are, or could be, things — contingent, irreproducible things — stories, cultures, even gods — that are valuable to us, and help us understand true things about ourselves, even though they would never survive Jillette’s test.

  1. Via
  2. Science, too, is, in large part, a product of complex relationships between humans.