Saturday, 13 May 2006

Blog Publishing Services

It seems to me that in the past two years publishing one's own blog has become something of a fad. I swear that nearly everyone and their dog (and maybe their cat as well, for all I know...) has a blog these days. In the old days publishing a blog meant uploading the pages to one's ISP or to one's personal server. In other words, updating a blog was about as easy as updating any other website.

All of this changed in 1999 with the introduction of Blogger (which is, of course, the home of this blog). If not the first blog publishing service, Blogger was certainly one of the earliest and is still arguably one of the most successful. To me, at least, the appeal of Blogger is its versatility. One can publish his or her blogs on Blogger's own servers (as this blog is) or he or she can publish them on his or her own servers through FTP or SFTP. Blogger gives its users a choice of several different templates for blogs. And if one is like me and doesn't particularly care for those templates, he or she can design his own or go to a website like Eris Free Design. The template simply needs to be CSS compliant. Among other things, it includes an easy to use Post Editor--it's easier to use than some word processors. Obviously, I like Blogger a good deal or this blog wouldn't be hosted here. Indeed, Blogger is largely credited with popularising weblogs.

Of course, Blogger isn't the only blog publishing service on the block. Typepad is another such service. Typepad was based on the popular Movable Type blog publishing system, used for publishing blogs to one's own servers. I must admit that I don't know too much about Typepad, even though some of my favourite blogs are published through the service. It does seem to me that there is not the variety of blog layouts that one sees on blogs hosted on Blogger. I then have to wonder how much customisation is allowed on blogs, as it does seem to me that nearly every blog I've seen on Typepad looks somewhat the same.

While I have no real experience with Typepad, I do have some exerience with LiveJournal. I kept a LiveJournal for a year under a different nom de plume and on completely different subjects than A Shroud of Thoughts (don't bother looking for it--it's long gone...). LiveJournal is technically as much of a virtual community as it is a blog publishing service. Among the features which set it apart from other services is its "Friends" list, which allows for some social networking. Here I must point out that there has been some controversy over the use of the word "freind," as one can one can list people whom he or she doesn't even know as "friends." LiveJournal does allow for some customisation of one's blog, although it seems to me that it is much less than that seen on Blogger. Indeed, if one wants a lot of customisation where his or her blog is concerned, then one must get a paid account or at least one which is sponsored with advertising. I never cared for the small degree of customisation allowed on free LiveJournal accounts. I also must say that I never cared for LiveJournal's post editor--it always seemed to me that it was harder to use than Blogger.

Diaryland is another one of the oldest blog publishing services. Like Blogger it was founded in 1999. Diaryland describes itself as "a place where you can get your own online diary." Like Blogger and LiveJournal, there are different templates one can choose from. And one can even add a guestbook or chat to one's blog. I've never used Diaryland, so I have no idea how hard it is to use. It does seem to me that it must allow for a good deal of customisation, as I swear no two Diaryland diaries look quite alike.

Perhaps the best known blog publishing service to the general pubic is MySpace. Of course, it is arguable whether MySpace is so much a blogging service as it is a social networking website. At any rate, it has made the news quite a bit of late. Earlier this year saw several individual reports of sexual predators who used MySpace to surf for teenage victims. In Kansas teens posted plans of a Columbine style attack on their school to MySpace. Indeed, some schools have banned the use of MySpace on their premises. Many have argued that MySpace should raise its minimum age for use.

Beyond the headlines, however, I cannot say that I am impressed with MySpace as a blogging tool. Indeed, it seems to me from the few MySpace pages I have encountered that the emphasis is placed on one's profile (which contains such things as one's interests, personal details, et. al.) rather than on one's blog. From the few MySpace sites I have seen, it does seem to me that it allows for a good deal of customisation, but then it seems to me that MySpace makes no allowances for the user's lack of knowledge of CSS or proper website construction. I have encoutered MySpace sites where there is bad coding and highbandwidth objects (video and Flash and the like). I've never had a MySpace site lock up my computer or even Internet Explorer, but sometimes they can take forever to load. While MySpace may be popular, I think people might be better off using Blogger, Typepad, or even LiveJournal.

I would write about JournalSpace here, but I have only been to a few JournalSpace blogs. Worse yet, their main server crashed Friday, making it impossible to look the main site over. I really have no idea, then, of how easy it might be to use or how much customisation they allow on their blogs.

These aren't the only blog publishing services out there. There are several others which I have not mentioned. And I am guessing that with the continued popularity of blogging, there might yet be more blogging services come into being. As to which one is best, I suppose that depends upon what one looks for in a blogging service. If one wants basic blogging, then Blogger or Typepad might be the route to go. For networking, then one might try LiveJournal or MySpace. At any rate, it seems there is a blog publishing service for everyone.

Friday, 12 May 2006

Trouble

Tonight I am tired, sick, and just a bit hurt. And for whatever reason, "Trouble" by Coldplay comes to my mind. I couldn't find an audio file of it, but I can provide you with the lyrics.

"Trouble"
by Guy Berryman, Jon Buckland, Will Champion, and Chris Martin. Performed by Coldplay

Oh no, I see,
A spider web is tangled up with me,
And I lost my head,
The thought of all the stupid things I said,
Oh no what's this?
A spider web, and I'm caught in the middle,
So I turned to run,
The thought of all the stupid things I've done,

I never meant to cause you trouble,
And I never meant to do you wrong,
And I, well if I ever caused you trouble,
Oh no, I never meant to do you harm.

Oh no I see,
A spider web and it's me in the middle,
So I twist and turn,
But here I am in my little bubble,

Singing, I never meant to cause you trouble,
I never meant to do you wrong,
And I, well if I ever caused you trouble,
Oh no, I never meant to do you harm.

They spun a web for me,
They spun a web for me,
They spun a web for me.

Wednesday, 10 May 2006

Dark Age of Camelot

I recently installed the 14 day trial for Dark Age of Camelot on my PC. I have not gotten to play it a lot and I am still very low in level, but I must say that I have liked what I have seen so far.

For those of you who have never heard of Dark Age of Camelot, it is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) or a multiplayer computer game in which hundreds of players can play in a virtual world. In the case of Dark Age of Camelot, it is set after the death of King Arthur, at a time when Britain is in utter chaos and the world is in a state of war. There are three realms in the game: Albion (equivalent to Britain in the real world, the home of Arthur), Hibernia (Ireland in the real world), and Midgard (equivalent to Viking Age Scandinavia in the real world). These realms are at war with each other.

It is apparent that a good deal of work went into this game. Each realm has its own distinctive look (Midgard, where my Viking character comes from, is rough and often snow covered). Each realm also has its own character classes, races,monsters, and even quests peculiar to that realm. In the case of Midgard, one can choose to play a Viking, a Berserker, a Runemaster, and so on. As to races, in Midgard one can play a Dwarf, Frostalf, Norseman, and so on.

The graphics on Dark Age of Camelot are nothing remarkable, although the animation seems to be smooth for the most part. One thing I do like is that the player can change his or her view (or "camera angle," if you prefer), giving the game more of a realistic feel. As to the commands in the game, there are several and they can be executed in one of two ways. One is through hot keys, while the other is through slash commands (as in /shout). The commands do take a while to master, but they are not exceedingly difficult to remember

Over all I have enjoyed what little I have played Dark Age of Camelot. It is a fun game and one that seems decidely different from other MMORPGs (not that I have much experience with MMORPGS, mind you). Indeed, I must say that the Arthurian setting does set it apart from the generic fantasy settings of many other MMORPGs.

Tuesday, 9 May 2006

She Walks In Beauty

I don't have much time to make a blog post today, so I thought I would post one of my favourite poems. I sometimes feel guilty that I haven't written more about Byron (George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, to be precise) in this blog. For those of you who don't know, A Shroud of Thoughts takes its title from a line in one of his poems, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage canto iii stanza 113. Regardless, he has always been one of my favourite poets and "She Walks in Beauty" has always been one of my favourite poems.

Bryon is said to have written "She Walks in Beauty" after encountering his cousin, Lady Anne Wilmot Horton, while she was in mourning. The appearance of his cousin in dark clothes combined with her pale skin reminded him of the night sky. The poem resembles those from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period in that it extols the lady's outer beauty as a sign of her purity and inner beauty. Anyhow, here it is...

"She Walks in Beauty"
by Lord Byron

SHE walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that 's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

Sunday, 7 May 2006

Sunday Drive

A long time ago, when I was born, I understand that gasoline costs all of 30 cents a gallon. In those days of ridiculously low gas prices, one could fill his or her car for a mere $5.00. The impact of cheap fuel on American culture can't be underestimated. Entire industries arose due to the cheapness of gasoline in those days--drive in restaurants, drive in theatres, and so on. In those days a family was often more likely to drive to their vacation destination than to fly to it. As entertainment on a Saturday night, teenagers might well "cruise" the "strip." Back then, Americans could be said to live in their cars.

Sadly, with the energy crisis of the Seventies gas prices began to rise. This was partly the cause of the demise of many drive in theatres and restaurants. Families started to look to alternatives to driving as a means of reaching their vacation spots. Teenagers would even eventually give up cruising. Among the things that were lost with rising gas prices was the custom known as the "Sunday drive."

Like many families in those days, my own family would often go for a drive on Sunday afternoons. And like many families who went on Sunday drives, we had no particular destination in mind. We would simply travel across the countryside, letting the road take us where it would. Quite simply, when it comes to Sunday drives, the journey is indeed more important than the destination.

That is not to say that we would not stop at various places. Often we would swing by one of the drive in restaurants (usually Dog 'n' Suds or A & W) and get some root beer and maybe some hot dogs. Sometimes we would go to an ice cream parlour for ice cream cones. It was not unusal for us to stop by a roadside park (another result of America's love affair with the car) for a rest. One place we would often drive by was Shepherd Farms, where they raised buffalo even then.

Here I have spoken of the Sunday drive as an American custom, although it is found elsewhere as well. Indeed, the concept of the Sunday drive may well be as much a part of English culture as it is American culture. The term "Sunday driver" appears in The Beatles song "Day Tripper," while The Kinks' song "Drivin'" is an outright ode to the custom of the Sunday drive. I don't know if the rising price of petrol has curtailed Sunday drives in England the way it has here in the States, but I would rather think it has.

The last time I looked at gas prices around here, they were about $2.70 a gallon. I realise compared to some areas of the country that might seem low, but it is still enough to dissuade most families to consider driving as a Sunday recreational activity. I find that sad, as I enjoyed the Sunday drives of my childhood. It was not simply an excuse to get out of the house. It was not even an excuse to peruse the countryside or to swing by a drive in or ice cream parlour. At least for my family, the Sunday drive was a form of bonding. It was an activity in which the entire family could take part, which the whole family could enjoy. In many respects, then, I think we lost something very important when gas prices curtailed the practice of the Sunday drive. We lost another activity which allowed families to be together.