blarg?

Auntie Em –

Hate you, hate Kansas, taking the dog.

- Dorothy.

Just found out that it was href="http://www.madhava.com/egotism/" target="_top">Madhava‘s birthday,
or something. No biggie – I never knew it in the first place,
and he and I aren’t blood brothers or anything. Nevertheless,
this site which
somebody apparently put together for him inspired me to put href="http://neon.polkaroo.net/~mhoye/art/BeingMadhava.jpg">this
picture together, which only took me 45 minutes or so once
the urge struck, and which I managed to do with, I think, only two
screw-ups I’m going to fix later. Spot them if you can. Hint: I’m
still terrible with names.

In other news, my classmates are terrible, horrible, maliciously
ignorant people. If any of you are reading this, and writing or
working on the multithread assignment, please don’t pound on these
feeble, shared lab machines like that. For God’s sake make sure that
you have some way of cancelling or exiting your threads before you
create something that dims the lights when you run it.

I’m going to go home and cry, and then I’m going to do this on my
own machine, away from these terrible people and their armies
of zombie processes.

UPDATE: Those of you with flash and sound need to see
target="_top">this immediately. I don’t know why it’s
so urgent, but it is.

The ongoing target="_rop">Doonesbury blog-oriented plot thread this week
became lame very quickly, but did produce href="http://www.doonesbury.com/strip/dailydose/index.cfm?uc_full_date=20021025&uc_comic=db&uc_daction=X"
target="_top">this gem. Upon seeing it, Chris was no doubt seen
to tap his fingers together in a Mr.-Burns-esque manner, and mutter
quietly
to himself
.

Well, I have turned the tables; applying my somewhat-pedestrian
graphic-design skills to the internet, I have produced
an entire line of clothing, available for easy e-purchase! The href="http://www.cafeshops.com/mhoye">Venial Sins Clothing
Company has opened its doors, enabling you to purchase
iconic and somewhat pedestrian clothing at exorbitant
prices! Garments! Undergarments! Mousepads! Other ridiculous
crap! Get yours today! Supplies, mercifully, are limited!

Overgarments and other non-garments on the way. So, as opposed to
just being a vanity site, I can now accomodate many other
sins, such as pride, envy and, if I have the energy for it,
sloth. You can get kind of worked up about the others, but I guess
I’ll get around to “sloth” later, or something. Whatever. Anyway,
I would like to assure those of you who might read this at the
office that the fireable-offense kind of sins will be, in the
unlikely event that they appear here, clearly marked as such.

“You’re aware it’s gibberish, though, right?” Heh. In other wholly
obvious
news, both Chris and Darcy are very right-minded,
conscience-oriented people, so much so that I’m now afraid to go
over to their house now in case it’s something in the tap water. In
addition to Chris seeming momentarily concerned about my reaction
to the Doonesbury-card thing, I recently received a piece of mail
from Darcy reading, in part,

“I wanted to apologize
for shouting at you during the game last night.”

See, now I feel bad for not realizing that I’d been so
viciously yelled-at. I don’t even remember it happening. If I’d
known that she was going to put that much emotional stock in it,
I would have made some kind of effort to feel berated or put-upon
or something just to keep her from feeling like it was a waste of
effort. This is, to put it mildly, atypical. I’m used to getting
mail from people like Andrew or Mehmet that says “I’m worried that
I might not have bitched you out enough during the game last night,
so if you can spare half an hour or so, I’d like to go over it
again just to be sure. If I could maybe punch you a few times,
that would be great too.”

Maybe I’ve been sysadmining for too long; it seems like it’s gotten
to the point that my coping mechanisms for dealing with kind,
reasonable people have completely atrophied.

“Mike, you need to reoptimize the href="http://www.nist.gov/dads/HTML/quicksort.html"
target="_top">quicksort algorithm to guarantee n(log(n))
worst-case run time. Mike, we have really large, cumbersome objects
here, and they’re hard to compare, and we have a lot of them,
and can you find a way to do heap-inserts in n(log(log(n)) time,
instead of n(log(n)) time? Mike, can you, pretty please, describe
precisely how employing ternary sorting techniques in an in-place
sorting method provides significant performance improvements over
standard binary methods? And could you answer a bunch of silly
true-false questions for us too?”

“You’ve got about an hour. No rush.”

Gee, thanks.

There are clearly many rungs to be climbed in the world of computer
science, as I suppose there are in any profession, and it is clear to
me that I’m standing on the second rung of very, very tall ladder.
It is obvious even to me, for example, that future works on the
subject of computer programming, discrete mathematics or algorithm
analysis are likely to contain something like “…as proposed
by target="_top">Don Knuth in Volume 3 of href="http://www-cs-faculty.stanford.edu/~knuth/taocp.html"
target="_top">The Art Of Computer Programming” and very,
very unlikely
to contain “… as proposed by Mike Hoye in
the middle of the panicked spaz attack he was having in the dying
minutes of his fall 2002 algorithms analysis midterm.” Nobody,
not a single person, actually finished that exam. My last four
words of insightful analysis, when asked to compare a two-pivot
quicksort to a standard quicksort and comment on its performance,
was to say “It’s way better, really.” Way to go, me. Attaboy.

Well, back to it. I lift my feet, I lift my hands.

Arlene, I have discovered, actually reads this “when there is
something about me in it”, she says. Either she’s precognitive,
psychic, I’m being informed on or she’s an actual real interested
and regular reader. That last one seems like the least likely of the
bunch. And really, if she were psychic I’d be in trouble every time
I opened my eyes instead of just every time I open my mouth. So ‘fess
up: who is it?

Chris has sent me this href="http://www.doonesbury.com/strip/dailydose/index.cfm?uc_full_date=20021021&uc_daction=X"
target="_top">Doonesbury Cartoon as a warm-fuzzy inducing
greeting card. If anybody out there is gunning for that coveted
“henchman” merit badge, you can consider yourself well on the way
if you apply your largest piece of footwear to some part of him
the next time you see him.

Two midterms yesterday, and two tomorrow. Urg.

On the upside, I’ve acquired some good headphones and an optical
mouse, finally. It’s incredible what a difference they make,
too – I’m ripping the best tracks of my CD collection right now,
and I’m going to have to do a bunch of it all over again now that
the difference between 128 and 192 kbps has become so painfully,
flagrantly obvious. Believe me, if you can’t tell the difference
between the two, you are either using an 8-bit sound card and tinny
little in-ear walkman headphones or you are functionally deaf.

My God, I’m looking forward to tomorrow night.

If anybody out there has any experience with SVGA-Text-Mode,
let me know. I have a question for you. If you don’t know what
that is you can let me know that too, but the odds that you’ll
be able to help me out seem pretty slim.

So, I’m back, and glad to be out of Belleville. This is not to
say I’m glad to be back per se; I started missing Arlene
on the bus. I don’t know what poet said “parting is such
sweet sorrow”, but whoever he was he was an idiot. It’s not a
“sweet sorrow”, you effeminate English fop. Nobody ever spent
three hours on a goddamned Greyhound coach, or whatever the
spatial/temporal equivalent was, thinking about how sweet
and yet simultaneously sorrowful those parting moments
were, unless they happen to be a self-absorbed ponce who’s just
parted company with the sound of their own voice. It’s not sweet;
it’s lonely and miserable. It’s the moment at which you go from
being in the company of the woman you love to being weeks away from
seeing them again, it’s the gleeful anticipation of carrying a bag
of laundry back to an empty room and spending another month running
up your long-distance bill. If that’s in any minuscule degree sweet
then I’m the fucking Stay-Puffed Marshmallow Man.

So anyway, let me tell you about my weekend; I have, perhaps,
misspoken.

In a previous entry, I referred to Toronto as a “blighted
wasteland”. This was, of course, sarcasm; there is certainly always
something in Toronto to do, see, hear or consume, once you’ve figured
out where to look for it. I have however, as you might have guessed
from above, just made a trip to Belleville to visit Arlene, whose
residence rotation has brought her there. My mistake, as I see it,
was in treating the term “blighted wasteland” so lightly.

In my defence, all I can say is that I had no idea.

For those of you not in the know, Belleville is the worst possible
consequence of giving white people franchise licenses and acres
of cheap real-estate. It is a strip-mall writ Leviathan large,
devouring the souls of unwary travellers who venture too near;
big-box stores, franchise eateries and garish illumination as far as
is worth the effort to look. If this sounds like a bit much to you,
consider this: people who live here, if you can call it that,
claim that there are no more than four passable restaurants in the
area. One of those is the Ramada Hotel. If you want to go
to Belleville, and may God have mercy on your soul should that be
the case, save the effort; you can efficiently achieve the same
effect by eating four Big Macs and blundering nauseously around a
Wal-Mart parking lot.

Fortunately, all is not lost. We took a tour to some surrounding
communities, specifically to Picton and Bloomfield, and that turned
out to be pretty good though also pretty clearly two months late
for tourist season. There are a number of good little cafes and
restaurants in Picton and we shopped around for a bit while we
were there. I’m hardly an expert judge of these things but “quaint”
seems to be Picton’s primary export. The fall colours surrounding
the place helped them out in that respect but it turns out late
fall is seriously off-season; most of the attractions in town
weren’t open. I found it bizzare, for example, that the town’s
tourist information center would be closed on weekends. Really,
when else do folks go to places like Picton?

And believe me, people must go to Picton, because every
second building there is a Bed And Breakfast. They’re everywhere. You
can’t swing a cat without hitting three of them, and you’d have to
hold an all-pro international cat-swinging tournament to find them
all. My theory is that this is because the merest acts of sleeping
and eating are best performed anywhere that isn’t Belleville, but
I suppose the truth is that tourist season is enough to keep that
segment of the economy flourishing.

We stopped for lunch at Bloomfield on the way back from the
disappointing-in-the-off-season Picton, and in a typical fit of
unplanned wandering found a place called the Bloomfield Brasserie,
which turned out to be an only-competent place for pubbish food. The
true highlight of the trip was just across the street at Carruthers,
billed as “Purveyors of Fine Chocolate”. They sell a variety of
condiments as well, but the chocolate was apparently made locally,
and it was indeed some fine, fine chocolate that we were purveyed. If
you happen to be in Belleville and need Fine Chocolate, this is the
place to go. Indeed if you happen to be in Belleville and just need
to get the hell out, this would be a good place to end up.

One thing I feel I should warn you about, particularly if you
happen to be Mehmet, you might pass a store in Bloomfield with
a big sign on the front that says “The Cookie Store”. It’s a
ruse
, to lure in hapless cookie-seekers. Go in, and you’ll
find tea leaves, assorted crockery and do-it-yourself Thai
food. It’s a safe bet that if you’re in the market for a big,
country-made oatmeal-and-chocolate-chunk cookie, DIY-Thai (serves
four!) is so far off the scope that the target="_top">SETI people would be lucky to filter it out of
the background noise. This is why Carruthers got some of our money,
and The Cookie Store got Arlene into a deep and cookieless funk until
I fed her one of Carruthers’ chocolate mice on the drive home.

Sunday, after a few false starts in which we carefully navigated the
fine line between “lazy” and “catatonic”, got a little bumpy when
we went looking for lunch. It turns out that precisely one of the
aforementioned “passable” restaurants is open on a Sunday. Fine,
whatever. You already know how I feel about Belleville: screw
them; if they knew any better, they’d load up their pickups and
drive their miserable cracker asses an hour down the 401 in the
direction of their choice to somewhere with decent scenery and real
food. But there is one single, precious jewel in the midst of this
desolation that, were there any justice, would be lifted intact
onto a wide-load trailer and settled gently somewhere that it would
be better appreciated; Paulo’s Trattoria, half-empty despite being
the only working kitchen for miles in any direction, turned out to
be a really good place to eat. It’s in the middle of Belleville’s
“downtown”, though it really does deserve better.

Arlene and I split some bruschetta that arrived oven-baked on a
homemade flatbread and was promptly enjoyed. Arlene had one of the
wide variety of pizzas that also come out of that wood oven, which
was pretty good but probably not the best possible selection. My
great delight in this was that the eggs Benedict turned out to be
the best eggs Benedict I’ve had in years; thin-sliced Black Forest
ham, french bread and homemade Hollandaise that was rich, thick
and thoroughly satisfying. A very, very heavy-duty way to
kickstart my digestive system, though; between the Hollandaise,
the Bruschetta and the salad, my meal had enough parmesan cheese
and garlic in it to give a lactose-intolerant vampire the worst
experience of their un-life. I’m going to be sweating the stuff
for at least another day, and it was totally worth it.

Arlene is, as you might have heard, angelic. She makes visiting
Belleville worthwhile, is how great she is. Some people, I hear,
like to “look around” even when they’re involved with somebody,
to see if they could “do better” than their current boy- or
girl-friend. To those people, I reveal to you the first two line
items on my Saturday morning schedule:

  1. Unconscious.
  2. Breakfast in bed.

Booya, suckers. You can’t do better, because I’ve already got
her. Boo-ya.

Peace out. This is midterm week, and I’m back to the
grind. All work and no play makes Mike want to demolish the
opposing team on Wednesday night. Wait for it.

Those of you who were at the movie Friday night will probably have
seen this coming.

For the rest of you, here goes: I went to see href="http://us.imdb.com/Title?0293662" target="_top"> The
Transporter on Friday night. I was suspicious: I suspected
that this would be a bad movie and I had promised myself that
there would be no bad-moviegoing after I saw the phenomenal
Lord of the Rings, going so far as to say that if I should see href="http://us.imdb.com/Name?Verhoeven,%20Paul" target="_top">Paul
Verhoeven or his ilk walking in the street, I’d push them into
traffic. There have been few lapses, though no shovings, in this
regard – since then, the only movie I’ve seen in theatres has been
Blade 2. Whether or not that was an infraction, I leave to you;
all I will say on this matter is that any opinion of Blade 2 will be
closely related to the viewer’s opinion on the merits of a suplex.

I’m willing to forgive a lot for a healthy bite of action/adventure
cinema; I know what I’m about. Nobody has ever paid for a ticket
to an action film expecting to walk out at the end thinking
“this is just what Citizen Kane could have been if only Orson
Welles been able to afford a dozen black European sports cars
and fifty thousand rounds of ammunition”.

Be real. I’m there to see things go fast and
blow other things up, some noble heroism and some
ass-kicking, and in the early going the Transporter had
a lot going for it. It had ludicrious action scenes, it had a href="http://us.imdb.com/EGallery?source=ss&group=0293662&photo=TP-85.jpg&path=pgallery&path_key=Shu,+Qi"
target="_top">jaw-dropping href="http://us.imdb.com/Name?Shu,%20Qi"
target="_top">female lead and a dapper and dry-witted
target="_top"> French detective, it had lots of things
that go fast and blow other things up and a slew of very, very
nice cars that periodically went fast, blew up or occasionally
both. This was enough for me to forgive the obvious lapses of
basic physics, parachuting horizontally at 120 kph to name one, that
are endemic to the genre, enough even for me to forgive a plot that
was strung tightly together by the same gossamer threads that link
a waist-height wad of spittle to the chin of a drooling idiot.

This was not, a thousand times not, enough for me to
forgive that last line of dialogue. Good God, that was bad. It put
a hollow-point bullet through the head of my moviegoing experience
that the CIA
would have admired. Had the CIA’s Chief Curator been there, they
would have sent somebody with a grim expression and plastic gloves
to fish through the remains of my moviegoing-experience’s skull,
fished out the fragments of that line and displayed them proudly
in some dimly-lit underground museum. I knew, I knew that
this was going to be a bad movie. It’s a rare day that I object
with being proven wrong but this was a horrible way to get my daily
affirmation, like spotting a Jesus fish in the twisted wreckage of
a family sedan.

target="_top">Geoff has summed up my reaction to it href="http://www.globalserve.net/~mprsc/images/hoyesp.gif">here,
and he’s spot-on. I was robbed. I knew that I would have to turn
my brain off to enjoy this movie, but I didn’t realize that I would
have to take it out behind the barn and shoot it.

Much relief this morning.

target="_top">Larry Wall, the creator of href="http://www.perl.com/pub/au/Wall_Larry">Perl, once said
that “People understand instinctively that the best way for computer
programs to communicate with each other is for each of the them to
be strict in what they emit, and liberal in what they accept. The
odd thing is that people themselves are not willing to be strict
in how they speak, and liberal in how they listen. You’d think
that would also be obvious.”

This comes up in the context of my User Interfaces course, which
involves a group of five guys having to compile a document about
the preliminary draft of our interface, who we talked to about it,
what we talked about and so forth; basically a primitive design
and feedback about that design. It turns out that computer users’
opinions apparently matter. Who knew?

I’ll add in right here that this course seems like a dreamland
in which undiluted idealism is successfully forged into working
code. I’d love to see a world where user experience was
actually relevant to a designer, as in “got that designer to
produce a useful UI” rather than the more common “you’ll take
what we give you, and you’ll like it! Shut up and get back in
your cage!” that seems to pervade the industry. I guess you’d have
to be careful whose opinions you sought out, though; the users I
run into as a sysadmin are sheep-like drones, willing to get href="http://www.penny-arcade.com/view.php3?date=2001-06-18&res=l"
target="_top">kicked in the beanbag four times a day as long
as they can have cute mouse pointers or a picture of a kitten
on their desktop. Ask people like that what they want and it’s
pretty much inevitable that they’ll get it, which might be why href="http://www.microsoft.com" target="_top">major corporations
will be happy to provide the world with interfaces that are as href="http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/default.asp" target="_top">
pleasant to work with as a syphilitic coprophiliac.

Before I wander off on that tangent let me say that there are
basically two different kinds of computer user. The first, and by
far the most common, are the people who turn on their computers,
sit down and work at them doing whatever they do one thing at a
time, and then turn them off and leave. The second, a rarity even
among programmers, is the person who has their computer doing work
for them when they’re not around. Work is being done, but
the work that does not need immediate and non-automated attention
is handled by the machine, freeing up the user for things that do.

I have been proud indeed of my status as User Type 2 for the last
few months, but I was unceremoniously dragged downward from that
enlightened, script-employing, automated-system-using second level
to the absolute doldrums of the first this week when I agreed to
compile and purtify that document, a task that the French refer to
as “ooon bee-yotch ay-norm”. This, I was thinking, is why Superman
works alone. The lesson here, dragging this back to Wall’s line, is
that when you ask for a group to contribute some part of a project
you’d better lay out exactly what you want, and how you want it,
or you’ll get to do what I spent the last many hours doing and
swimming in a cesspool of Word-XP formatting, that
contains tricks and traps aplenty to thwart the unwary. Yes
indeed, target="_top">Clippy, when I hit the delete key once that means
I want to change three quarters of my text back to ten-point Times
New Roman and remove half my painstakingly-inserted tab stops. Way
to go.

I kept waiting for that irritating cartoon to pop up and say
something helpful like “It looks like you’re trying to write
a suicide note! Would you like help (A) picking a method? (B)
looking up a lethal dosage?, or (C) to check your spelling? Click
here to start the Blame Wizard!”

Boy, I hate group work. A good, fluid team can be a great thing
to be a part of, but sometimes I think that “Democracy” is what
happens when nobody can come up a compelling idea.

Mercifully that part is done. I look forward to Ultimate tonight,
and await with gleeful anticipation my part in a ceremony
we like to call “The Smacking Of The Chumps”.

UPDATE: The Smacking Of The Chumps took place on schedule but,
to paraphrase
Pogo
, we have met the chumps, and the were us. I had a great
game, and it was a pile of fun, but our team needs a second cut
and some flow with the disc in the worst possible way.

I’ll settle for World Peace, I guess, but that second cut would
really make my day.

University Regionals. Wow, where to begin?

Let me say first off that it was a humbling experience, partly
because hey, I’m Representing My School at an Event, but mostly
because I realized that making the Carleton team wasn’t all that
big a deal. I’ll even go further, and suggest that next year we
should consider basing some part of the team-selection process
around people’s ability to catch the god damned disc.

Saturday we went 1-2, which was kind of OK, I guess. It was cold
and it was very windy, but in all honestly a competent league
team could have done a better job on the whole thing. This whole
“fronting” thing was a non-starter, and though it might have seemed
like a good idea our innovative “Jog And Clog” offensive plan did
not get anywhere near as much traction as we might have liked. We
had tried to play zone for a while, a zone whose fearsome odour
could be detected several fields distant. The plan, you see, was
3-2-1 with a taxi on the dump. We got this idea from the team that
beat us in the first game, McMaster I think.

The real problem, as I see it now, is that when your team captain
asks you if everybody knows how to play a zone it’s very important
that you not lie to him. I played the taxi most of the day, and
it turns out that there’s not a hell of a lot for somebody in
that position to do when the far side of the cup gives a handler
a clear throw either straight to the swing or right through the
cup. It didn’t help that our mids were busy founding an entire new
religious sect based around the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle,
and didn’t know where they should be or what they should be doing
at the same moment.

Having finished third in our pool, we then had to show up early
Sunday to play Laval for a berth in the top eight. This is where
things really started to go south. You see, half our team didn’t
show up. One guy didn’t even show up until the next game. Laval
was there an hour early, warming up and doing drills. They brought
about 20 guys, and they were pumped. We brought five. It was 9:15
before we actually had enough people to field a line. They
were about to start counting points.

While we’re on the subject of counting points, let me tell you
how much effort went into counting our score that game. It was
an important mathematical milestone, so much so that ancient
Greek and Roman civilizations didn’t even have a word for
this number. In fact, if it hadn’t been for some insightful Arab
scholar, possibly that Al-Jabbr fellow, we might not have been
able to write it down that zero at all. We didn’t score a single
point. Not one. Sure, we got to the endzone line a few times,
and threw it away at least that many times. Woo. Christ,
it was an embarassment. I’m not a big Alma Mater junkie, but we’re
out there presumably representing our school at a regional event,
and we couldn’t even field one competent line.

I can’t believe I crawled out of bed for that.

So, that put us decisively in the consolation pool. We beat the
first team that we played, a team that had lost their previous
three games 15-1, 15-0 and 15-1, and allowed them to more than
double their scoring output before closing them out. Our team was
so thoroughly demoralized by the craptacular ultimate we’d been
playing, and the fact that we’d have to play Waterloo (our one win
on Saturday, against the brilliantly-named “Big In Japan”) again,
that we agreed to draw for ninth and played MTA for a little while
before heading back to Ottawa.

What an embittering debacle.

As usual, the bright spot in my otherwise dismal weekend was Arlene,
whose company always lifts my spirits. We didn’t see each other,
typically, anywhere near as much as I’d like but we did get to
spend some time wandering about in a Chinese mall looking at shiny
things, and had some great Chinese (and sushi!) buffet at a place
called Star Walk a few blocks east of the well-known Pacific Mall. It
was All-You-Can-Eat, and while I didn’t have all I could
eat, I nevertheless had all that it was probably safe for me to
eat given my plans for the next day. Which, I repeat, were not
originally written down as “Get Shellacked By Laval”.

Dammit.

UPDATE: DAMMIT!

My first version of that update was just a stream of profanity, but
my day has done a complete turnaround; I had breakfast with Antoine
and Alethea this morning, and I got a chance to see some of their

wedding photos
, the ones taken by an actual professional,
and they are incredible. They are literally beyond credulity. Even
holding them in your hands and looking at them with your own eyes,
your belief in the firm underpinnings of the material plane becomes
weak-kneed and quavery. I’m not just talking about basking in awe,
here; there’s enough awe there to wallow around in. That’s how
good these pictures are. They’re like the exact opposite of being
target="_top">eaten by Cthulhu.

Scans will be available for all at the exact instant that I have
them to share.

A picture, the expression goes, is worth a thousand words. Ideas
are a kind of currency, though, and like most currencies they
don’t come at a fixed exchange rate. A good metaphor or well-turned
phrase can convey an image in a dozen words that no mere diagram
could clarify. Conversely, people who insist on spattering their
writings with abhorrent smileys should be given a box of crayons
and a pad of paper at the earliest possible opportunity, because
no amount of their prose will ever amount to much of anything.

I’ve had a couple of conversations lately about the proliferation of
smileys, and apparently not everybody shares my convictions. This
comes as no surprise, I hear you cry, because nobody in their
right mind would claim to hold the same opinions as you do;
the whole idea of right-mindedness doesn’t even apply. It’s not
even an apples-and-oranges thing. Mike and right-mindedness? It’s
like comparing apples to radium. That said, and this might be
symptomatic of something, I don’t think I’m being wildly unreasonable
when I say that smileys are a blight on the written word, degrading
and repugnant from every possible perspective.

The most common justification that I’ve heard for the use of smileys
is also the most ridiculous, the limp excuse that the written medium,
typically e-mail, “loses something” as compared to face-to-face
conversation and that smileys somehow rectify that problem. I can’t
begin to express my disdain for this line of reasoning, my foremost
objection being the simultaneous expression of narrative incompetence
and contempt for one’s audience that leaps off the screen when a
smiley is dropped into a text. That smiley is the canned laughter
that’s dubbed overtop of a show that wasn’t recorded live. It’s the
neon sign over the audience that says “applause”: a label to inform
the reader that “This is how I feel”, or worse yet, “This is how
you should feel right now, reading this” in the most simplistic,
idiotic terms possible. That smiley says one of two things: either
your words are inadequate to convey what you intend, or you believe
your audience needs their hand held while they’re reading them.

Or, quite probably, both.

Consider, and thanks to Met for this example, the October 2nd
cover of the Globe And Mail. The cover picture, showing Chretien
and Kissinger, simply reads

“Jean Chretien accepts a statesman-of-the-year award
from Henry Kissinger in New York last night. The trophy is a globe
in an eagle’s talons.”

There it is, in plain sight. No smileys, no wink-and-nudge and gosh,
aren’t I a clever caption-writer? No hints; you are expected
to get it.
The writer has carefully chosen the words on that
page for an audience he expects can think for themselves. Imagine
how diminished, how spineless and patronizing that caption would
become with a semicolon, a hyphen and a right parenthesis tagged
onto the end.

Thinking back over the number of books that I’ve read that have
made me laugh out loud, brood or just think hard about something,
that have aroused in me a swath of emotions from bleak despair to
ecstatic through ambivalent middle grounds too varied to name, not
one employed an “emoticon”. Not once. There is no suggestion in
Mark Antony’s speech to the citizens of Rome, that Caesar’s killers
are honorable men, that he is speaking anything other than perfect
gravitas. Swift’s Modest Proposal does not contain a disclaimer,
and in the midst of the wonderful imagery that that Pope uses to
convey the simple bliss of seeing his lover in the morning sun
there is not a smiley in sight.

And there’s a reason for that.

I’ll be the first to admit that finding the Mot Juste,
the exact phrase or sentence that conveys just the right image
to your audience, is goddamned hard. This is not to say,
though, that it can’t be done, and definitely not to say that you
shouldn’t target="_top">at least try. It’s hard work, and it takes a lot
more effort to hammer out the qualifiers and ambiguities involved,
to admit, maybe, that there are a few things going well and a few
things that aren’t, and to just generally try to express what
you’re actually thinking
than it does to create this fraudulent
little three-byte snapshot of a cartoonish, inhuman face but the
effort is, I believe, worth it. Pack up those smileys. At the very
least people will know that you take the time to think about what
you’re going to say before you say it.

And really, if you aren’t willing to put out that effort, it
would probably be better for everybody if you just shut the hell
up anyway.