Metapost: Not all it’s Cracked up to be

Seven years ago, I was a bit of a different person.

I know, it’s a bit of a shock, right? But it’s true. Back in 2007, I was a college student who had just latched onto English as “maybe the major that I’ll actually finish and graduate with.” I still lived in on-campus housing despite being in my fourth year, and I’d been drawing the comic Torio for about two years and filling it with my regrettable opinions on politics and relationships.* I’d joined the medieval club and was about to spend a few years flirting disastrously with heterosexuality.

I also wound up spending a lot of time in the computer lab in the Lee Library, sometimes to work on papers, sometimes to avoid my roommates. And somehow I wound up reading an article on Cracked.com. I don’t remember what the article was, but it was funny enough that I clicked a few of their links to other articles and the next thing I knew, it was midnight and the librarians were playing Apocalyptica over the PA system to shoo everyone out of the building.** It became a daily (or nearly so) habit pretty quickly, reading the new updates and sharing various jokes with whatever unfortunate IM contacts were online at the time. And when I started up this blog, Cracked was one of the first sites I added to my links on the sidebar.

Seven years later, well … life happened. I ended Torio when the amount of writing I had to do in preparation for graduation became too intense. I somehow earned a degree in English with a minor in editing. I stumbled through a few jobs that, in retrospect, were probably bad choices on my part. I stumbled through a couple of relationships that, in retrospect, were terrible choices on my part.*** I got in a car accident or two, spent a little time participating in the Society for Creative Anachronism, resigned myself to being attracted to men, and learned to cook an omelet recipe that even my egg-hating mother can enjoy.

And today I’m removing Cracked from my link bar.

I’d like to claim that it’s not some big statement, but if that were true, I wouldn’t be writing an essay on my defunct blog about it, would I? I just don’t know what the statement’s supposed to be saying, other than that I don’t really enjoy Cracked as much as I did seven years ago. And it’s not because of some big change or something, just a bunch of little annoyances that built up over time.

It started a few years back when someone looked at the margins on the side of the page and said, “Wouldn’t it be more effective if all that white space could be replaced with enormous advertisements? I know I love it when I absentmindedly click outside the article and open up a new tab with something I wasn’t interested in!” It’s not exactly a high honor to be known as “the site that finally convinced me to install AdBlock,” y’know?

They started inserting more “Look at this article too!” links – not just at the bottom of the article, but now in the right margin, auto-scrolling alongside you as you read. And then at the top of the article to remind you of the new articles of the day. And then inexplicably on the left of the article in a separate frame. Add in the size of the title and the opening graphic, and the average reader is lucky if even the first line of the article is visible without having to scroll down. Wait, never mind, it got pushed off the screen by the two-inch-tall hidden ad for their T-shirt shop. (I should mention that this ad loads even with AdBlock installed.)

Then there’s the link bait. It was innocuous enough at first, just an extra set of links at the bottom of every article, inviting readers to look at “popular articles from around the web.” That would be great if it were more comedy articles like the content of their weekly LinkStorm feature. But it was mostly “Look at this celebrity’s breasts!” and “This one food will melt fat off!” which isn’t so much humorous as merely laughable.

But even that didn’t seem to be getting enough eyeballs to rake in enough ad revenue. The editors started tweaking the article titles, forcibly inserting “mind-blowing” and “horrifying” where they didn’t even fit, turning other titles into inaccurate but titillating husks of their former selves.

And this isn’t even getting into the content of the articles themselves. There’s always been a certain amount of topical articles, finding the humor or brief introspection in current events, and that’s not an intrinsic flaw or anything. But when recent article topics include “We use Redditors as a legitimate example of a movement” or “Here’s your comedy article about rape I guess” . . . yeah, not exactly reassuring. Half the articles have stopped attempting humor outside of an obligatory “ha ha, penis” before spending 2,000 words condemning the human race or talking about how everyone is going to die anyway. Or in one or two cases, attempting to condense a self-help book into that amount of space. The humor articles are slowly getting choked out by the sudden move toward activism.

For whatever reason, the last straw was, of all things, a couple of photoshopping (sorry, photoplasty) contests this week. On Monday, they posted the results of a contest with the title “18 Ridiculously Sexist Modern Ad Campaigns,” full of gripes and outrage about the awful gender stereotypes still present in society. Today, they posted the results of a contest with the title “27 Dumb Things Men Suspect About Women” and gleefully reveled in those same gender stereotypes.

I dunno. There is still the occasional funny article on there, but it’s becoming less and less worth it to slog through the little annoyances to find it, and it doesn’t look like the situation’s going to improve any time soon. It’s a pity, but I guess I’m finally going to have to spackle over Cracked.

* To this day I am torn between removing my old comics from the Internet to spare other people, or to leave them up as a reminder that I am an imperfect human being who has made some pretty spectacular cock-ups in his life.
** Insert joke about Mormon kids here?
*** A word of advice: Just because they claim to have the best intentions for you doesn’t mean they’re not abusing you.

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Metapost: Spammety-spam

Just a heads-up that I’ve installed WordPress’s reCaptcha software to try and stem the tide of spam comments. (Earlier plug-ins were keeping them off the page . . . but dumping them all in my e-mail asking for moderation, which does not a happy administrator make.)

I’ve also gone through the user database and deleted any of the spam bots that I could find there. I’m sure this will get me a number of complaints about being discriminatory against inorganics, but that’s currently a price I’m willing to pay.

On the plus side, though, if reCaptcha manages to keep the spam posts out, then I’ll be happy to reinstate commenting on older posts. Here’s hoping!

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Shenanigan: How not to write a food blog

Picture of food

Source: user Interna, MorgueFile.com

You should start off your food blog post with some sort of attempt at relating to the readers. After all, they don’t read your blog for the recipes, no sirrah! Perish the thought and heaven forfend! The readers want to know all about you, not about your delightful recipe for gluten-free seitan or vegan polenta with meat sauce. Just because you write a cooking blog doesn’t mean you should consider recipes as anything more than a bonus for the readers who love you for your writing style.

One of the best ways to open up to your readers is with a bit of humor. Do you know a joke about fennel? Some charming witticism involving cinnamon and garam masala? A few bons mots with regard to paprika? Of course you don’t, but never let that stop you! Every article should include an abject failure at word play or a terrible forced pun to remind the readers that in spite of your cooking prowess, you’re only human.

You might think this is a good place to share the recipe. You would be thinking wrong. You’ve wasted at least a paragraph of writing without showing them any photos of the food. The readers have probably forgotten what it looks like by now! Refresh their memories with another photo.

Photo of food

This should be a close-up detail of the food, because people sometimes forget what a lime is.

With that photo now fresh in the reader’s memory, you might think that now would be the perfect time to share the recipe with them. You should punish yourself for your impudence. If your readers wanted recipes, they wouldn’t be reading your blog now, would they? You don’t want to be like the Food Network web site, tossing around so many recipes that they even list the ingredients for Dark Chocolate as a Snack. You want to be like the Food Network hosts, regaling your rapt audience with tales of far-off lands like Switzerland, Fiji, Zimbabwe, or Ohio between bites of expensive cheese and delicate sips of the good wine.

So go ahead, spin a long and boring yarn about how you first encountered this dish while you were backpacking your way across Tokyo when suddenly you were urinated upon by a homeless man who smelled vaguely like an aged dalmatian and wouldn’t stop shouting about how the whole world was controlled by the International Dairy By-Products Council and that he and his army of Pokémon would some day rise up and liberate the unsuspecting populace and make them face the truth and by the way have you ever read The Fountainhead because it really changed the way he looked at things and he never wants to have a President who wears magic underwear and that was when your friend, whom you miss dearly (now would be the perfect time to make a private in-joke that only your most dedicated readers and that friend will understand), was finally able to drag you away to a beautiful restaurant built entirely of mud bricks and old casserole lids, situated behind the latrine of a feudal castle and just to the left of some obscure monarch’s favorite linden tree, where the servers were obsequious without being unctuous, and they brought out this dish, this amazing dish, and you were so pleased with it and you pleaded for the recipe and they told you it would cost two hundred and you thought they meant yen but they really meant dollars so as your act of revenge you are now sharing the recipe (which you had to reverse-engineer because they wouldn’t even give you the real recipe after all of that bother) with the Internet so would everyone kindly send this to everyone in their address book right away.

No one will actually read the story, but you’ll have the most wonderfully cathartic feeling at the end of it. And who is this blog for, in the end: you, or those stupid readers who won’t shut up about some recipe?

Picture of food

You should include another picture at this point. Go for a slightly different angle from the first picture, or add some mood lighting.

The readers should be on tenterhooks at this point. You’ve connected with them at a deep level with your rapier wit, and then given them a truly personal reason to want to try the dish. Now that you’ve given them the sentimental desire to eat food,  you should also remind them that it doesn’t taste like crap. After all, there are some Philistines out there who insist on food being delicious in some way if they’re going to try to make and eat it; not everyone is able to sustain themselves on the piquancy of your nostalgia. So convince the reader that this dish is able to set off a party in their mouth. One of the cool parties, with Teddy Roosevelt impersonators and glow sticks (at least I assume that’s what cool parties have). Use all of the fancy words you can, like “palate” and “aroma” or maybe even “mingled”. Try to work the word “sumptuous” into the description if you can – if your readers aren’t reminded of medieval fabric laws when they read about your food, you just aren’t trying hard enough.

Picture of food

Use at least one photo of the food from an “artsy” angle to show how freewheeling you are. Just like Zooey Deschanel!

Your readers are probably ready to garrote you with a long strip of organic cotton cheesecloth right about now, yammering on and on about some recipe you promised them or something. You might as well give the ignorant masses what they ask for, or they might not come back to read more about your later escapades.

Picture of food

But not without one more bewildering close-up of the dish.

Fennel-Rampion Biscuits with Burgundy Beef Chutney on Saffron Rice à la Prager Fenstersturtz

The recipe itself should punish the readers for thinking they could try to cook with impunity. Insist on specialized ingredients that can only be found in tiny specialty shops in your metropolitan area. Any substitutions of common ingredients should utterly ruin the dish and make the reader cry. If you can, make sure that a few ingredients are in fact separate dishes on other pages of your blog, in order to increase traffic and draw new readers into yet another long-winded story with the promise of a recipe at the end.

Leave out a crucial step or two. They’re absolutely integral to the making of the dish, but you’re so familiar with it that everyone else should already know it, so why bother telling your readers? Most of those rubes will just blame themselves if something goes wrong anyway.

End with some commentary about how delightful the dish is, how many it should serve, how it’s so simple that only the most useless dregs of society wouldn’t make it perfectly the first time. Bon appétit!

Picture of food

Is this the same photo as the first one, or a slightly different one? The readers will never know.

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Shenanigan: Of Corpse

I used to like having an October birthday. Not so much these days, though.

Back when I was a kid, October was the month when school finally hit its rhythm (and not just the marching band), when the weather was taking a proper turn for the pleasantly chilly, when you could wear sweatshirts and start drinking hot cocoa or herb tea without getting too warm — and, of course, the month ended with wearing costumes and getting candy. So having a birthday in the middle of all that was, if you’ll pardon the pun, the icing on the cake.

Nowadays, well. It’s zombies. Nothing but freaking zombies.

Vampires, of course, have been romanticized to (another?) death, werewolves and black cats are cursed with the lingering stench of furry, witches sued for protection under Title IX, and I guess no one has yet seen fit to gin up popularity for the calavera doll or the Headless Horseman. So for lack of alternatives (or imagination) it’s zombie this, zombie that, zombie-themed haunted houses, zombie-themed billboards, zombie-themed 5K charity runs, promotional stunts for BuyZombie.com* . . .

In short, the world is lousy with zombie paraphernalia**, and I’m stuck approaching my 27th birthday surrounded by depictions of rotting, mutilated corpses. What a delightful memento mori! I think I’ll forgo the raspberry filling in the cake this year.

*It’s an actual site, if you’re curious. Someone I know works there, unfortunately, so I even wind up with zombie-themed Facebook updates.
** And has been since mid-August. Eugh.

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Shenanigan: Beastliness

Those of you masochists who have read through the archives of this neglected little blog may have stumbled upon a little essay about movies in 3D. So of course, when my friends invited me to go see Disney’s 3D edition of Beauty and the Beast, I had my qualms. After all, special editions of movies (especially to shoehorn in some new special effect) are in danger of falling into what I call “the Lucas Pitfall.” Given that Belle is my favorite of the Disney princesses,* I was reasonably leery of, say, a plot rewrite in which Cogsworth is actually a Prussian spy or something.

Luckily, things weren’t as bad as I’d feared: it was the first 3D movie that I could sit all the way through without getting a motion-sick headache and having to take the glasses off. And the animators did a sort of pop-up storybook effect in the opening that I thought was rather neat.

And I wound up writing extra lyrics to the Gaston song**, to be sung after he goes toppling off of the castle:

No . . . one . . .
Falls like Gaston!
No one splocks like Gaston!
No one gets impaled on jagged rocks like Gaston!
See the life from his body is separating!
My, what a stiff, that Gaston!

“When I was alive I’d eat five dozen eggs,
So I’d grow up horrendously vast . . .
But now that I’m dead I eat NO dozen eggs,
Since a ghost doesn’t need a repast!”

No one lies like Gaston!
No one dies like Gaston!
No one’s corpse attracts hundreds of flies like Gaston!
We can set him in poses humiliating:
Go for spread-eagle Gaston!

* It’s true. I mean, Belle is intelligent, clever, and curious; she has a good relationship with her father; she’s pretty without being overwhelmingly glamorous; and when she gets cornered by wolves, she doesn’t just wail helplessly until the Beast saves her—she picks up a stick and wails on them.
** With apologies to Alan Mencken.

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