A misbegotten meme?

I was about to post a follow on from Mododrum’s latest infectious meme, but I always like to adorn my blog posts with links, especially where making any categorical statement of an even semi-official nature. For example:

“The Big Read reckons that the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books they’ve printed.”

This particular statement seems to be repeated on a number of personal blogs, all without a link to any original statement to this effect (-that I can find… if you find one, please, comment, and I will update this post). Several people attribute this to the US-government National Endowment for the Arts The Big Read program, an obvious result from a Google search for “The Big Read”.

Not only does the NEA site make no mention of this choice statistic, it also lacks the associated reading list, or any vaguely similar list of 100 books.

The BBC Big Read, on the other hand, does have a similar but not identical list.

In fact, there are some very odd things wrong with the list which accompanies this meme:

  • As Mododrum observes, the list features Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
    and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis.
  • It lists both Complete Works of Shakespeare and Hamlet – William Shakespeare.

It appears that I’m not the only person to have noticed the oddness of this meme.

In the end, while I hate to be a wet-blanket on such a fun meme, I think I will decline to post my own response to it. Sawry. 🙁

Troubled Kingdoms

Once, there were two great old kingdoms, each a great expanse of land, side by side.

Over one kingdom, ruled a paranoid old king. Over the other, a naive and petty queen.

Between these kingdoms, by their proximity and the insecurities of their respective rulers, there grew an alliance of sorts. Though each ruler filled their lands with propaganda and intrigue, they were, for the most part, competent rulers, and their alliance benefited each greatly, and so these empires each grew.

As the lands grew, new provinces sprang up at the periphery near their shared border, and the king and the queen soon fostered and trained two young lords, each to rule a burgeoning estate of their own within the greater kingdoms.

With time, the young lords grew in statecraft, and their realms flourished, despite the oddities of the king and queen, and their often destructive policies.

Then one day the bickerings and insecurities of the king and queen became too much, and all at once there was terrible and bloody war. The two kingdoms were severed, and though the king and queen sat alone in their respective towers and brooded on their hurts, outside chaos reigned. Armies and militias and roaming bands of brigands came and went, rose and fell, each wreaking terrible destruction in the want of unified authority. Though each kingdom suffered terrible damage, it was the new lands which bore the brunt of the holocaust, whole counties all but obliterated. In the end each young lord found himself ruling a miserly scrap of tattered land, inhabited by gaunt, terrified peasants, steeped in bitter poverty.

Of the two lords Jule and Alex, Alex had held power slightly longer than Jule, and as a result, his slightly more established domain weathered the destruction better than his peer. Each lord gave the other what little aid they could afford, but in the end Lord Jule was forced to seek out the aid of the monarchs, simply to survive. He was given succour first by the now-demented queen. In the years of hardship which were to come, he several times took some meager aid from the embittered old king, but that first dealing with the queen in the wake of the catastrophe dogged his every move thereafter, and although she exacted a terrible price from Jule and his people, he endured it and remained in some way more loyal to her. Indeed, through his aid, the queen’s own kingdom was eventually restored to some semblance of its former glory.

Through this time, Lord Alex strove to remain aloof from the disputes, but also cordial with both the king and queen. He avoided the aid of either monarch as much as possible, both for fear of the price they might exact, as for fear that the precarious kingdoms might topple at any moment, taking their nearest allies with them.

While Lord Jule’s fiefdom suffered steady predations from its close ties to the queen, Lord Alex achieved similar hardship through his own misrule: His fearful reaction to the atrocities of the king and queen often clouded his judgement, leading him to attempt numerous ill-fated short-cuts and seeming quick-fixes.

On the whole, however, all four domains slowly clawed their way towards a semblance of affluence, in time coming to be four independent, but fully functional kingdoms.

It came as quite a stunning blow however, some fourteen years after the great war, when messengers from the king came first to Alex, and later to Jule, gleefully bearing tidings that the Queen had made overtures to the king, seeking to reinstate the days of the great alliance.

Jule, in light of his loyalty to the queen throughout the hardship of post-war reconstruction, was openly aghast, questioning the queen’s supposedly restored sanity. His lingering hostility towards the King grew stronger, and in his displeasure he threatened eternal embargo on both kingdoms.

Alex, although equally horrified, sought refuge in the same noncommittal neutrality which had served him so well these many years. He agreed with many, possibly all, of Jule’s sentiments, but lacked the courage to speak them quite so openly to either monarch.

This soon presented Alex with a sore problem: The king himself, in his seemingly delusional raptures at the prospect of making it just like it was, in the good old days, came to visit Alex in his tower, and try as he might, Alex was at a loss to explain his alarm, his anger or his many fears at this new prospect.

In the end, could not make the king understand, but then again he didn’t really try. He didn’t want to.

Wanted: Internet Meteorology

Supposedly, this is the Internet Age. As near as I can tell, this means that a lot of people are spending an increasing fraction of their lives online, reliant on Teh Intarwebz for their virtual existence.

Today’s big thought: If people are living their lives online, the ‘conditions’ of their local part of ‘online’ (as well as the parts they’re travelling to) might be of interest. Things like:

  • How high is the general tide of traffic at the moment?
  • How much of it is encrypted?
  • What sort of breakdown of types of stuff is out there today?
  • Is it spamming today?
  • What are today’s virus warnings?
  • What ‘roads’ are closed, or expected to close, today?

You get the idea.

I’d pay handsomely for a service like this, if it were sufficiently widespread, independent and authoritative. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, especially since I so very little on the internet that’s actually sensitive to things like lag or selective shaping. I know people are interested because I see so much of this kind of stuff cropping up in the popular internet press, in a delayed, ad-hoc, patchy sort of way. What I don’t see is anyone making a serious widespread effort to synthesize it.

How would you do it? Methinks your hypothetical service would need a few bits and pieces:

  1. Deals with the relevant agencies. There are already virus-monitoring and spam-analysis groups out there making a stab at this. Their input would be vital, at least to start with.
  2. Lots of probes. Take a carefully built fast packet-sniffer/counter (careful not to breach privacy!) with open, publicly reviewed specifications. Make thousands of them, and pay every backbone operator on the planet to whack one on their main feed. These are your weather stations.
  3. Analysts, both salaried ‘editors’ and freelance ‘reporters’. The black-hat (and grey-hat) community will always know their bit of ‘net better than anyone else. Sure, you can’t use their data, or acknowledge their methods, but their tips and insights are worth money. So long as you can reliably protect their anonymity, you can be certain that those insights are for sale.
  4. Anchors and Producers. The Cory Doctorows of this world seem to have the knack of writing copy that people want to read. Google, for example, seem to have the knack of getting data to the people who want it, the way they want it. If you want your internet weather report to be read/seen/heard, you will need these things.

As usual, I hereby disavow all rights to this idea. If you want it, I will happily support your claim to have thought of it first. 🙂