Sunday, 9 December 2007

Xfce vs. GNOME (or: why can't I make the switch?!)

I usually don't have a problem switching applications when I'm not satisfied any more with the experience I've been having, even when I've been using the original app for years. I do tend to get emotionally attached to software (hey, I'm a geek), but not to the point that divorce is never an option. And I usually don't mind much switching to a solution I feel is slightly inferior, if the features I actually need are there.

To illustrate this, let me just tell you this: 5 years ago, I was reading my mail with Eudora and browsing the web with Opera, all this on Windows Millenium (OK, that part was not my choice, but at the time I was just not ready yet to switch to Linux, although it was already my goal). Today, on the very same computer (switching hardware is not that easy to do when one doesn't have money, but I did upgrade the thing a little with the years), I read my e-mail via Thunderbird and am writing this post in Firefox (well, Icedove and Iceweasel actually, but that's just Debian rebranding), all this on a Debian GNU/Linux desktop. I first switched from Eudora to Thunderbird (about the time when Thunderbird 1.5 was released), not because I felt Thunderbird was better (I still think it tried too hard to look like Outlook. I liked Eudora's MDI better), but because the latest Eudora upgrade had broken quite a few things, and I was fed up with some of the choices Qualcomm had made (HTML e-mail with no option to switch back to plain text?!). My switch from Opera to Firefox was much more recent, and I still feel uneasy about it. Sure, the portable version I used on my company laptop was getting really annoying with its constant freezes, and the Linux version just didn't play well with the rest of the desktop (firefox's GNOME integration is great!). And some Firefox extensions like FireFTP and Foxmarks are just too good to pass. And Blogger's interface does work on Firefox at least (although I'm not quite sure Opera is too blame here). But despite all that, I'm still following on Opera, to see if future versions could solve the problems that made me switch in the first place, as I feel that most of its features (its tabbed browsing, its mouse gestures, its speed dial, to name only the most obvious) are better implemented than in Firefox.

All this should make it clear that I am ready to put up with some inconvenience if I feel that my core needs are met. So why is it that I can't switch away from GNOME? I don't have any grudge again the desktop environment (otherwise I wouldn't be using it), but on my 6-year-old computer it gets slightly slower at each update. Moreover, it lacks some features that I really miss (like virtual desktop switching by mousing over the edge of the screen, or the application menu on right-click anywhere on the desktop). And finally, its trash implementation is a joke, and does not work properly with Windows partitions. The Xfce desktop corrects all the issues I have with GNOME, while adding a bunch of nice features (its simple transparency effects are great at de-cluttering my screen estate, and its bulk rename tool is great for people like me who are still not that comfortable with the command line). It's also lightweight enough that I do feel it is more responsive than GNOME (although I start Xfce with some GNOME services as I still use quite a few GNOME apps). It does have a few issues (like the impossibility to use single click to open desktop icons, or the fact that it sometimes leaves zombie processes around), but I already handled the main showstoppers (like the inability to use the reboot or shutdown buttons).

So why do I find myself switching back to GNOME after trying Xfce for a few hours? Are the features I am missing not that important to me after all? Have I become so used to the GNOME experience that I can't bear to do the switch any longer? Am I lying to myself when I say that I enjoy Xfce, or on the contrary when I switch back to GNOME? Is my GNOME experience still good enough that I can't bring myself to go through the switch? It's not even that I have to give up the applications I'm already using: they all work great on Xfce. At this point, I don't think the problem is a technical one (although the zombie processes do seem to slow down my computer. It might be worth a bug report), but I still cannot understand my own behaviour.

Where do I go from here then? Well, back to GNOME for now, while I'm trying to figure out what's wrong. I'll still try Xfce from time to time, to see whether I can get past this resistance, but at this time I've given up on doing a full switch. I wonder if that's what people mean when they talk about not being able to adapt to new interfaces, in all those discussions on Windows to Linux migration. Maybe that's the kind of resistance that has brought us all those VI-vs.-Emacs flamewars, due to people used to one and not being able to feel comfortable when trying the other, and then blaming it on that other text editor. If it is, then I really need to solve that issue: I need to stay flexible. If I'm starting to ossify myself at my age, how will I be when I grow up?

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Does Wehkamp know something we don't? (updated)

This is very weird. Wehkamp, the Dutch mail-order and Internet shop, still maintains that the Wii game NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams will be released on the 1st of December here in the Netherlands, while the rest of the world and its neighbour know that the game won't be released in Europe before January next year.

I would normally brush this off as a simple mistake. However, as maybe the biggest mail-order company of the Netherlands, you'd think Wehkamp would take those things seriously. Moreover, it's the only game that shows this strange release date behaviour. I've followed the release dates of quite a few games on the Wehkamp website, and they've all kept in sync with delay announcements.

So, what's going on here? Is this really just a weird error from Wehkamp? Or is SEGA organising some surprise early release? I frankly cannot believe either, but I guess we'll know within a week.

In any case, if SEGA does indeed pull up some weird trick out of its hat, I'll have the satisfaction of receiving the game early. After all, I've pre-ordered it an eternity ago (before Super Paper Mario was even released!).

Update: so it seems Wehkamp was just stalling to change the release date after all. It's now set to the 31st of January, more in line with other announcements. However, I find this rather unprofessional: not everyone is reading the specialised press, and changing the release date at the last moment when everyone else in the industry (and thus retailers as well, you'd expect) has known about it for one month shows lack of respect for the consumer. It seems to be a common trend everywhere nowadays and I don't quite like it (to say the least!). I need to keep an eye on it...

Friday, 9 November 2007


A few days ago, Giles Bowkett published a great post. I encourage everyone to read it. He usually gets things pretty right, but in this case he's hit bull's eye.

His article talks specifically about Silicon Valley software engineers and their absurd reaction to the Hollywood Writer's Guild's strike, but in my experience it's a more common and widespread phenomenon than this: engineers in general are often clueless about whatever happens that is not in their area of expertise. And the worst part is that they are often unaware of their cluelessness, and believe that everything works just as in their own knowledge area. And don't try to correct them: they know what they are doing, and anybody who disagrees just doesn't know what they are talking about. Academics often suffer from the same kind of tunnel vision.

I've observed this behaviour for years as an insider. Heck, I've been guilty of it myself! I believe it stems from at least four causes:

  • Engineers deal with exact sciences: engineering is based on physical and chemical principles. Likewise, software engineering is based on maths. In both cases, we are talking about exact sciences, which describe their subject (in the case of physics, the real world) using laws of universal value. The laws of physics don't have exception. They may be valid for only a subset of phenomena, but that only means that there is a better, more general law out there, even if it's unknown at the moment or irrelevant for the work at hand. This is not wrong, as long as one remembers that the laws are only tools to describe phenomena, not universal truths with which reality has to comply. The step is unfortunately easy to make, unconsciously, and creates people with a dogmatic attitude: if it doesn't fit with my view of the world, it's nonsense (or worse: if it doesn't fit my view of the world, it doesn't exist).
  • Engineers are terribly insular: it is natural for human beings to feel most comfortable among their own. That's the reason for the existence of clubs, associations, political parties, etc. We like to be surrounded by people who have the same opinions, experience, interests... as ours. Engineers, however, tend to take this to extremes. It's not abnormal for an engineer's social circle to consist entirely of fellow engineers. When those friends are not engineers, there's a big chance that they will be academics, which in social terms is not that different. Worse even, I've seen entire families consisting only of engineers, often working in the same area (it seems particularly true in the Oil & Gas business, but that might just be my experience). Why this is is a complex question (that I might tackle in another article), but the net result is that the social world of an engineer usually consists of people who think the same way they do. That doesn't help awareness.
  • Engineers feel they are not recognised: we have to be fair here: our world (or at least the developed, Western world) is mostly an engineered world. Many people never go to a theatre or a museum, but they couldn't live without their mobile phone, their computer, Internet, a TV set, a good car, holidays by plane, cheap food and housing... all things provided to them thanks to the work of countless engineers in many different areas. Scientists may get angry at me here, but while they are the ones who discover the principles behind the instruments of our modern life, it's the engineers who actually create the everyday applications of those principles. And it's something the layman is usually unaware of, as academics (or engineers working in universities, which for me is just another sort of academics) get the spotlight far more often. In any case, engineers feel (whether consciously or not) that they are a main driving force of our modern society, but are not recognised as such by the layman. That puts them in a defensive mode, and a tendency to glorify their way as the best way (nobody understands how important I am. Well, I'll show them!). It's not a very good way to approach and understand others.
  • Engineers are not very social: this might actually be the root cause of the previous two reasons I presented. This is a difficult topic to discuss, and causing lots of flamewars in various engineering communities (especially in software engineering). That's because the issue is tainted by the stereotyped images of the geek and the nerd, which are not things people like to be compared to. But one does not need to wear bow-ties and too short trousers to be a bit nerdy, or to have bad hygiene habits to be a bit geeky. The issue here is communication skills and nothing else. Communication skills are not a talent you're born with (well, not only). They are mostly something you learn as you grow, and not only as a child. Puberty and the beginning of adulthood are extremely important as well, the moment when people start getting specialised education for what they will become later, and often live along with people with the same education (in campuses and similar student housings). And while the communication skills engineers learn at that time are great to discuss with their peers, they are not that good when it comes to social chit-chat, or discussions with laymen (like it or not, social chit-chat requires snappy replies and quick apropos, and the ability to talk about nothing in particular. Engineers are more at home with long preparations and analysis, and a conversation must have a well defined subject both parties agree on). To talk in engineering terms, there is an impedance issue, between the way engineers and non-engineers handle communication.

Disclaimer: I do realise that I've been painting engineers with a very wide brush. Reality is far more complicated, and there's lots of engineers with lively social lives and broad social circles consisting of non-engineers. But my own experience tells me that there's at least a plurality of engineers who fit the portrait I've been sketching, at least in part, and those engineers do have difficulties understanding the world outside of engineering, and tend to approach everything with the same method, even when it doesn't apply. They are clueless.

In any case, what I'm trying to get at is that there are as many bigots and close-minded people among engineers as among any other (professional or other) group, unlike what many engineers seem to think.

What about me then? How can I be so self-righteous about my fellow engineers? Am I so much better than them? Well... no. I can also be quite dogmatic (who said we can see that right here?), and I also lack social skills. But what I am not is insular. On the contrary, I can't say that I fit very well among engineers. I don't know whether it is because I come from a family where I'm basically the first one to ever have reached a university-degree level (my sister is the second one, but she studies Law, not Engineering), or because I am sometimes too geeky even for engineers (not many engineers in my area of work are actually interested in software itself, much less in its social implications and things like Free Software. And I haven't even mentioned my interest in linguistics yet...).

But my main advantage is that I am aware (sometimes painfully) of my limitations. I know when I am clueless. How is that possible? Quite simply really: I have someone waiting for me at home who couldn't care less about engineering, while still being the most intelligent person I've ever met. My partner keeps me firmly grounded in the world, and doesn't hesitate to point out when I become too dogmatic. And I am forced to work on my social skills on a regular basis as well. I don't always enjoy it, but in any case it ensures that I can never become a one-tracked engineering mind. My partner also encourages me to entertain more social interests, like sports and arts, to the point that I am currently directing a theatre play.

In a way, it's the age-long advice: get out, get some fresh air, do something different. If you do the same thing all the time, and only meet people who do the same thing, you'll only let your world shrink down to the size of a pebble. There's a bigger world out there, and it's not just utter nonsense. So don't ignore outside advice offhand, because you don't know what you're missing. Here's a clue: the world isn't what you think it's like; go and find that out by yourself.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Pass me the hankerchiefs, I'm watching the game's end scene

I've been very productive last weekend. Mainly, I've finished Super Paper Mario. OK, it was 2 o'clock in the morning when I stopped playing, but I just couldn't leave the game so close to the end.

One thing I've noticed though was how emotional I was becoming as I was getting close to the end. I didn't shed any tear, but my eyes were definitely wet. The game's story was very good, very involving, and very well told, and though the ending was not completely unexpected, it still managed to get me: I was caring.

SPOILER WARNING: the following contains spoilers from a few games.

I was caring for the characters, even Count Bleck. And seeing him and Tippi sacrificing themselves to save all the worlds was heart-breaking. Although they were finally together again, and the bucolic ending shows that they did find the place where they could live happily ever after, I was still sad that they couldn't share their renewed happiness with their new-found friends. And I was sad that my adventures with them were finished.

Few games manage to elicit this reaction from me, and each one of them ranks among my favourite games (yes, I do agree that there's a connection here). One of them is Beyond Good & Evil. I remember how I could not leave the room in the alien Moon base where Jade's uncle Pey'j was lying dead, how controlling Jade was difficult as my tears made it difficult to see things on the screen, and how my tears changed into tears of joy when Pey'j miraculously resurrected. That game was a wonderful experience of cinematographic proportions. Too bad it was so short (it won't surprise you that I am one of the many people who signed all those petitions calling for a sequel).

Another one is Chrono Trigger, on the SNES. Although I have actually never finished the game (more a lack of time than a lack of interest, to be sure. It's one of the only RPG I like. Most only manage to make me yawn), it already managed to make me cry twice (once when Robo gets beaten down by all the other robots, the other time when Crono blocks Lavos's attack and is disintegrated in order to save the other characters). I really hope it'll appear on the Wii Virtual Console, so I can play it again and hopefully finish it this time.

And of course there's the whole Legend of Zelda series, where each instalment manages without fail to transform me into a sobbing puddle of tears (except the very first Legend of Zelda for the NES, but that one didn't really have a story. I mean, it does, but the gameplay itself does not really reflect that). A Link to the Past is probably the very first game I ever played that brought tears to my eyes (proving, like Chrono Trigger, that 16-bit graphics are more than enough to depict engrossing stories. Take that graphic whores). Ocarina of Time is naturally the pinnacle, and I remember playing the last part at least three times in a row because I just didn't want it to end. Just thinking about it again is enough to move me. Majora's Mask made me care for the non-player characters like never before. The Wind Waker's big parting at the end brought a tear to my eye, as did Midna's farewell at the end of Twilight Princess (did you really have to destroy the Twilight Mirror, Midna?).

END SPOILERS: from there on the article is spoiler-free.

On the other hand, there's plenty of good games that I enjoyed playing and yet didn't elicit those emotions from me. For instance, I thoroughly enjoyed the Prince of Persia trilogy, but I didn't become attached to its characters like I am attached to the characters of Super Paper Mario. And it influences a lot the replay value for me: I have completed each of the Prince of Persia games only once, and have no wish to do it again. But I have replayed Beyond Good & Evil at least five times, despite getting 100% completion (including the Pearls) on the first try.

I guess that as much as I value a fun experience (which is why I love Wii Sports, when I normally don't care about sports games), an engrossing story with likeable characters is what really does it for me. Maybe that's why I like Nintendo games so much: they are good at combining both a fun experience and a story and characters I care for.

I wonder whether I'm not in a minority though. The majority of games released these days seem to be FPS clones with cliché stories, sports games, race games or the latest MMORPG. Those sell millions, while gems like Beyond Good & Evil end up in the bargain bin where they don't belong.

Is it so weird to wish for a game to make you care?

Friday, 19 October 2007

Copyright Notice

Even if you're one of the three people who have found my blog already (I do need to advertise it a bit more), you probably haven't seen the copyright notice at the bottom of the page. I mean, who reads copyright notices anyway?

Well, if you've clicked on the Groklaw link in my "Nice Links" list, you will realise that issues of copyright are actually important in today's world, especially on Internet, and that's why I've decided to put on a clear copyright license here, even though there's not much in terms of contents yet. And because I find strict copyright too restrictive, I've chosen to release my articles under a Creative Commons license.

However, after reading a few articles from the Technology Law Culture blog (specifically this one and that one), I realised that different people might have a different interpretation of the license I chose for my blog. In order to reduce ambiguity, I decided to add an explanation of my intentions here. If you wish to use some of the work I have published on this blog, and are unsure of what you are allowed to do with it, please refer to this article. If you are still unsure, just send me a message and ask for explicit permission. I don't bite anyway!

So let's just look at the copyright notice line by line, and I will explain what I exactly mean with each line:

  • The very first line: Columns of the Christophoronomicon © Copyright 2007 Christophe Grandsire-Koevoets, is the actual copyright notice. Note that under the Berne Convention, it is unnecessary. Copyright is automatic and needn't be indicated. However, there's no harm in being precise, and it's practical to have my name on every page so people know who to attribute my articles to.
  • The second line: Comments are owned by the individual posters qualifies the first line, so that it doesn't look as if I'm claiming copyright on other people's words on this blog. It also means the following license does not apply to comments: as I don't own them, I have no right to decide how they might be distributed.
  • The third line is the meat of the notice, with a Creative Commons image (which links to the simplified text of the copyright license I chose) followed by the text: Unless otherwise specified, articles are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-commercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Netherlands License. The link goes to a page with a simple description of what the different aspects of the license mean. It's in Dutch, but you can change the language to English. Here is a run-down of what I meant when choosing this license:
    • Unless otherwise specified: this little qualifier just means that the license here applies to all articles on this blog and their contents (images, videos, etc.), unless I write otherwise in an article. So don't go assuming that absolutely all my articles are published under the same license. This is only true if I don't put a specific notice in an article (which may happen for instance if I show an image I don't own but I got permission to reproduce).
    • Creative Commons: by putting my articles under a Creative Commons license, I allow anyone to copy, distribute, display and perform what I write, as long as they agree to a few conditions.
    • Attribution: the first condition is that I receive credit for my work. In practice, that means that if you use my work, you need to refer to me by name, and add a URL to the article you used on my blog (put it in the references if you're writing a book, make the link clickable if you're on the Web).
    • Non-commercial: this is a more complex condition, as different people have different ideas of what commercial use means. My personal interpretation of it (which is the one I expect people to follow, as it is my work we are talking about) is: if you are a non-commercial entity (i.e. a private person or a a non-profit organisation) and you are not using my work with a money-making goal in mind (e.g. in a book you intend to sell with a profit, or in an advertisement campaign to sell something), the license gives you enough permission already to copy and distribute my work. Note that I don't consider using my articles on an ad-supported site to be commercial use of my work, as long as it's a personal site or the site of a non-profit organisation. In any other case (e.g. if you are a commercial entity, like a company, or an individual acting on behalf of a company, or if you want to make money using my work), the license does not automatically authorise you to copy or redistribute my work. That does not mean that I explicitly forbid it. It just means that you have to ask me for an explicit permission. You can do that via the comments, or per e-mail via my profile.
    • No Derivative Works: this condition means that you may not alter my articles without my explicit permission. You are allowed to quote them, or copy and redistribute them in full, but you may not make changes (except what is needed to reproduce them on a different medium, like a book for instance), unless you ask me first and I give you permission.
    • Netherlands: this means that my work falls under the Dutch Copyright Law regime. It has a few consequences you might want to be aware of. First, Dutch Copyright Law, like European Copyright Law in general, doesn't have a concept of fair use. Instead, it has a few additional laws that allow things like quoting (for a purpose of commentary or analysis) and back-up copies. But it's usually more restricted than the American concept of fair use. Of course, this doesn't have much influence here, as the license I chose grants you more rights than what fair use normally does anyway. Second, Dutch Copyright Law has a concept of author's moral rights. This means that if you use my work to slander me, or reproduce it in a manner that distorts its purpose or mutilates it, I may revoke the license I gave you to copy and distribute my work, even if you otherwise obeyed the conditions of this license. Of course, we are all civilised people here, so I don't think this will ever come into play.
  • The final line is just a link back to this article, so that people can always refer to my own words when looking at copying and reproducing my work.

OK, I understand this all looks very heavy-handed, and a bit useless given what this blog has been containing so far. But I'm pretty sure it'll become handy in the future. As we say in French: Mieux vaut prévenir que guérir (I'll leave the translation to you as an exercise. Who said legal documents couldn't be educational?).

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Συγχαρητήρια στον εαυτό μου!

This is a day for celebrations! I just finished my Modern Greek online course! After 105 lessons (yes, 105!), I can read and write Modern Greek (within reasonable limits. I still need to have a dictionary or a translator handy, but that's only because my vocabulary is still limited), and I do understand a bit when people speak Greek (although they all speak soooo quickly! Μιλάτε πολύ πιο σιγά, σας παρακαλώ!). Speaking the language is still difficult, but if I can take my time I do manage correct and understandable sentences.

It has been a fun ride, and the online course was really good. The audio material is of good quality (if slightly old-fashioned: the files are recordings of a radio course from the 1970s!) and the forums are full of people ready to help you at every turn. I'm very much surprised at the level I managed to reach with a completely free web-based language course (to give you an idea of how quickly it went, I started with lesson 1 on the 13th of April. That's just over six months ago). I wish more languages had similar websites.

Now comes the difficult part: how not to forget what I learned these past few months. First, I do plan to go back to Greece. I really loved my stay in Crete last May (the level of Greek I had managed to master already did help making for an even more pleasant experience: Greek people are quite friendly already, but make an effort to speak their language and they become the warmest people I ever met), and there's plenty of places in Greece that I'd like to visit. But that won't be before next year. Luckily, I happen to have a Greek colleague at work. I'll just need to talk to her more often in her own language. I just hope she won't take it too bad if I happen to butcher it sometimes...

Now on to my next challenge: learning Japanese!

Oh, and if the title of this post is all Greek to you, it simply means: "Congratulations to myself!" What did you expect?

Monday, 3 September 2007

Musings of a Polyglot

Today, I've once again spent half an hour just helping foreign colleagues understand Dutch documents. As a language geek, I don't mind at all, on the contrary. It's not even that weird that they ask me, a French guy, what some Dutch word means, given that besides our Dutch colleague who is currently on holidays and our Dutch boss who is always away on meetings, I'm the only one in the neighbourhood with near-fluency in the Dutch language.

No, the weird thing is how difficult it is for me sometimes to answer their translation requests. It's not that I don't understand the words they're asking me to translate. It's not even that I lack the vocabulary in other languages to translate them. It's just that except for very simple everyday words, I just can't seem to be able to do literal translations at all!

It's a really weird feeling. For all intents and purposes, I am trilingual: I speak three different languages with approximately the same level of command (I wish I could say I am fluent in those three languages, but that would be a lie. Worse, since I hardly ever use my mother tongue, I am actually losing command of it! I speak it with an accent for instance). At home I speak Dutch nearly exclusively. At work I use Dutch or English depending on the situation and the people I'm talking to. Then there is my mother tongue, French, which I only speak when talking to French colleagues, or on the phone to my relatives. I'm used to mix and (mis)match languages. I can code-switch easily, or jump from language to language without a heartbeat. This goes so far that I sometimes use the wrong language without even realising it!

Being a polyglot does strange things to the mind. I understand perfectly the concept of gezelligheid. But translating it to English would require at least a paragraph, and to French I'd probably need a dissertation! In the same way, I know exactly what French people mean with a connerie. But explaining that concept to a Dutch or an English person is next to impossible (equivalents exist, but they fail to capture the images that the French word evoke. And note that if you plan to look for the meaning of that word, it belongs to a rather foul register of language. You have been warned). I may not be fan of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, but I have to admit that different languages bring about quite different views of the world.

People sometimes ask me which language I think in, or which language I dream in. These are trick questions, in that I don't have a clear answer myself. Usually I answer: "whatever language I've been speaking at the time". But reality is subtler: often my thoughts are language-less, mere concepts that agglutinate together in my mind and translate into language at the last moment, and normally in the language I am speaking at the time (short-circuits do happen sometimes, usually with hilarious results, at my expense naturally...). This means that I often have difficulties finding the right words to express myself. I have this concept in my mind which is extremely clear to me, and cannot find a good word or expression in any language to express it. Nearly everyone has times when they cannot find their words. Now imagine how it must be not to be able to find your words in three different languages!

Actually that might explain why I have so much difficulty doing literal translations. Going from word to concept in my mind is an easy thing, and it goes directly without translation, whatever language it is. However, the other way round is more difficult, especially when I still have that original word in my head restricting me to a particular facet of the concept it represents. Words in different languages never represent exactly the same thing, unless they refer to a specific concrete or abstract item. I'm extremely envious of all those simultaneous translators out there. I wish I had the same abilities (although I must say it's relatively easier to translate full sentences than single words. I'm relatively good at non-literal translation. But I cannot do it as fast as all those interpreters).

What's the point of this post? Oh, I have the exact concept in my head, but I just cannot find the right word to represent it :-) . In any case, I'm curious how other bilingual or multilingual people experience it. Do you have difficulties translating from one language to the other, or is it second nature? Do you think in a particular language, or are your thoughts more visual, or even without real form at all?

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Oh No! Not Another One!

Welcome everyone!

This is my first (non-filler) post to my blog, so please excuse the awkwardness. I'm like a small bird learning to fly (and hoping not to ram his head into the ground).

When I first thought of starting my own weblog, I kept having the same thoughts: why should I start a blog now? In a world where everyone and their grandmother is already blogging, why should I expect anyone to be interested in whatever I wanted to talk about?

These worries haven't left my mind I must say. However, the reasons why a blog might actually be something worth starting became clearer with time, and eventually overruled my original thoughts. So I signed up, chose a title, a URL, a template... and found myself in the dreaded situation of the First Post.

I quickly made a small filler post, just to give myself some thinking time. But writer's block was already creeping in. What should my first article look like? Should I start with a presentation of myself? But readers would get just as much information by clicking on my profile, and I would probably look like an egocentric know-it-all (I'm not saying I'm not an egocentric know-it-all, I'm just saying I'd rather have you discover that later on). Should I just start directly with an article on some meaningful matter? But that feels so impersonal. One just can't start a meeting without a bit of informal chit-chat first.

And then it hit me: I should introduce the blog itself, and explain why I decided to start one in the first place. It'd serve as a nice formal introduction, and would help me jump over that first-post block. And who knows, you might even find this interesting.

So here they are, in full glory and in no particular order, the reasons why I started a blog:

  • I already have a website. However, it's in dire need of a revamp, both of the contents and the presentation (which is why I don't link to it. It's just too shameful. To give you an idea, think pre-2000 presentation, backgrounds making the text unreadable, the worst presentational HTML you could ever find on Internet, and more than half the site in perpetual "under construction" state). I've been meaning to redesign it from scratch, now that I've learned things like XHTML and CSS, as well as good web practices, but I never managed to actually start the work. I hope to use this blog as a platform to bootstrap this redesign work. That's also why I chose Blogger to host it. Having the code of the templates available for tinkering is a great way to actually practice webdesign, without having to start from scratch (so expect the site to change shape quite often in the next months).
  • A side-effect of my website's status-quo is that I haven't updated it since 2005. It's just too painful. But things have changed a lot in my life, and the information available on the site is now extremely outdated. Moreover, I know quite a few people who are interested in what I had been writing, and I've been neglecting them for far too long. This blog will give new breath to my online life.
  • I actually was once a journalist... OK, that's exaggerated, I've just been editor-in-chief and article writer of the university newspaper. But it felt like journalism, people seemed to appreciate my work (even when they disagreed with my editorials), and more importantly: I liked doing it. And I've been missing an outlet to write my thoughts and comments. Forums and comment areas on other blogs can only get you so far. I just needed my own place.

So now that things are set, let's get started! I hope you'll enjoy the ride!

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

First Post

This is a filler for now. I have just created this blog and haven't had time to make a meaningful post. Please come back later.

Thanks for your understanding.