Bit less loquacious and more to the point this month. Most of the buzz, of course, is about the hardware gremlins that decided to have a bit of fun with us.

Down but not out

As you doubtlessly noticed, we've had a lot of ups and downs, emphasis on the down, this month. Most people who want to know have already been informed about the basic nature of the problem but here it is for the permanent record:

We lost several pieces of equipment due to an overheating problem in the room in which our servers are housed at MSU. I should have expected stuff to shut down before heat damage was possible but that evidently did not happen. On the afternoon of Wednesday July 8, Kurt powered down the servers in order to replace a faulty battery unit. Two of the Really Critical servers were non-functional when they were powered up.

We do not have much in terms of spare hardware but we did have the capacity to replace one machine. We did not have the capacity to deal with a double hit on short notice (even less so now). We also do not have the staff to handle major failures swiftly. Data recovery and backup restoration tend to take a handsome amount of time to run. It tooks us about 2.5 days to borrow a pair of machines and configure them into a working setup. The loaners came with Fedora 11 installed, which is different in significant ways from our previous Debian and current Ubuntu Linux setups (and which, quite frankly, we don't like working with and some of us had successfully avoided and not touched in years). We were under orders to be non-destructive with the loaners so we had somewhat less of a choice in our installed software and it took us so much longer to come up with a quasi-stable configuration.

On the 13th we apparently lost a third machine. Its status remains unknown as of the time of this writing. Because the code and content were being sourced off that machine, this took out everything else for an hour or so. Your homenode images might have reverted to older versions. You'll understand that fixing this is not a high priority so anyone in a hurry should re-upload their homenode picture. The moral of the story is that this is not our month and Single Points of Failure don't like us.

More will doubtlessly come in this month's root log. This, too, may be delayed as it's usually Swap who writes them and he's laid up with a bum hand. He did a lot of the work on the temporary servers, working in what almost became around the clock shifts with Nate and me, and knows what was done in detail. I saw Oolong with a shovel, too, and some of the edevites provided advice and know-how from the sidelines.

The IRC channel

Since the forum was idled, we've had an IRC channel which is used mostly for tech talk and which was drafted into service during the outage. This is #everything2 on (port 7000). I've retooled the 500 and 503 error messages to include a link to Freenode's web interface so people can join using a web browser. The Word Galaxy also has a link but you should not expect to see the Word Galaxy unless the situation is really bad. The IRC channel was a success in that we finally got a working link between the tech staff and the noding public during an outage. Or at least one that's more real-time and better publicised than Livejournal. Anyone is welcome to pop in at any time but keep in mind that tech talk is at the top of the agenda.


Revoting was to be implemented this month. It will be GP-neutral but not XP-neutral. This is another thing that's taking a back seat to our hardware and stability problems.

Acting director

Quite a few admins will be unavailable for some time later this month. This includes me and two of my designated deputies. I'm moving house starting the 15th. Seeing that grundoon and The Debutante also have plans, Oolong will be in charge and flying solo for a week or so. And someone said having three people in the "line of succession" was too many.

Anyway. Peace, love, and shellfish.

Here's some stuff that's been bouncing around in my brain for a while...

On Poetry

First and foremost, poetry is not easy. Okay, sometimes a fine poem pops fully formed into someone's head... but that's not usually how it works, and I always suspect that when it does happen that way, it's usually because the poet has already consciously practised their craft enough for their subconscious to get the hang of it. In almost all cases, writing a good poem takes some application.

Imagining that poetry is easy is, I think, a common mistake. In fact I strongly suspect that it is the mistake at the root of at least half of all genuinely bad poems, as well as forming part of the reason some people dismiss poetry in general a bit too easily. I went to see Stephen Fry talk a couple of years ago, in connection with his book 'The Ode Less Travelled', and he was at pains to point out how much work a lot of poets put into what they do: Reading of other poets, really taking time to find exactly the right way to put something. It seems sort of obvious now, but I'd never really thought about that much before.

He also read a passage from a poem by one of the all-time great terrible poets, William McGonagall, about the Tay Bridge disaster, in which many people plunged to their deaths. The overwhelming impression of this poem is one of staggering bathos, a serious topic addressed with a painfully comic poem. This is almost certainly unintentional, and probably followed directly from McGonagall's mysterious belief that he was an extraordinarily gifted poet - that the Queen was most remiss in not appointing him Poet Laureate, and great poetry simply flowed from his pen. If he had questioned this and taken the time to make really sure his lines scanned, and rhymed well enough where they were supposed to, and generally didn't sound silly, he probably would not have ended up on the pages of history as the literary disaster he was.

So, poems have a hard time of it on Everything2, as in life. A lot of that is probably unavoidable, because how well they work is deeply subjective - certainly more so than most other forms of writing. Almost any given poem (perhaps especially free verse) will be greeted with bafflement and/or repulsion by some proportion of the people who read or hear it. Rejection is therefore a major part of the Everything2 experience for most who submit poems here. Many poems are deleted because they don't work with more than a smallish minority of readers, and honestly, I believe that is why the site is not packed to the rafters with awful poetry. One of the things we ask of anyone who submits writing here is that they learn how to handle rejection.

Now I'm not saying that the voting public or the editorial team are always right about poems, of course. However it is quite clearly the case that a total failure to moderate poetry submissions would lead to a much, much higher proportion of the site consisting of poetry that any given person will not like - that they could be forgiven for describing as 'bloody awful'. Perhaps you can already see this coming - I am also going to suggest that in many cases (certainly not all), poems that tank here could have gone down much better if their authors had spent some more time hammering them into just the right shape. If you want to get your poems critiqued before you post them here (or even afterwards), I understand that the e2verse usergroup exists largely for this purpose. If you are not comfortable with your work being critiqued and potentially removed from view, this is not the venue for you.

On Spoilers, Reviews and Analysis

Spoilers are another issue that comes up a lot both on Everything2 and in the wider world. Many writeups about films, TV shows, books and so on discuss their plots in more detail than you would find in any magazine. There is definitely a place for that - often people make very interesting points which can not be made without potentially spoiling the experience later for someone who isn't familiar with it. However, my feeling is that writing on Everything2 always works best when it's aimed at the widest possible audience, and usually you cut off the vast majority of your readers once you get into spoiler territory.

There is no rule that says you have to write for the widest possible audience here, of course. People write engagingly on many topics which don't make sense without a certain amount of background knowledge, and on the whole I'm glad we have a lot of writeups about (say) topics in mathematics which I can't actually get my head around because I only have a physics degree. However, I'm always a lot happier when there is at least something I can follow there, and it's just the same with reviews. It's frustrating not to be able to read a writeup about a film or whatever because it's full of spoilers right from the beginning, especially when there isn't another writeup that covers stuff like what sort of a film it is, and whether it's any good.

So this is a gentle suggestion to bear in mind how many of your potential readers won't know what you're talking about when discussing this sort of thing, and consider breaking your writeup into two parts (divided by a spoiler warning) if you want to get into things that would spoil the experience of what you're writing about for the majority of your readers. This next bit is more of an irascible demand than a gentle suggestion: Don't ever launch straight into spoilers, and don't ever fail to warn us about that stuff. That's just rude.

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