End of Days

The latest book by Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, is perfect reading for January; so big and heavy it’s best to be lying down to read it, preferably in bed. Once you start reading you’ll find it’s full of reasons never to get out again, like the fact that the Earth is overdue a cometary collision on the scale of the one that obliterated the dinosaurs with a force of a million billion zillion Hiroshima bombs (the standard ISO unit of interplanetary destruction), or that Yellowstone National Park is sitting on a lake of magma so gigantic that when it blows (which is also overdue) six Western US states will have to be renamed New Pompeii, and the rest of the world will be eating ash for a month.

Nothing you won’t already know from a regular subscription to The Watchtower, then, but there’s something about the way Bryson describes the cruel and unforgiving nature of the universe that makes the utter pointlessness of all human endeavour all the more obvious. Given that A Short History was a bestseller among people looking for heavy books to give relatives at Christmas, it’s only a matter of time before an outbreak of mass nihilism of a kind not seen since the Great, Like, Whatever of 1987.

To further remind myself that all creative effort is futile, I spent the weekend before last watching the 43-hour “No Sleep Till Mordor” edition of The Two Towers, marvelling at the scale of effort involved in its production (as outlined in documentaries 3 through 13) and at how it dwarfs the entire collected output of at least seventeen nation-states. How wonderful it would be to work on something that impressive, I thought, before remembering that I don’t work in the film industry, don’t live in New Zealand any more, and don’t speak Elvish—not to mention that production has now finished, and King Kong wrestling moas and climbing the Auckland Sky Tower isn’t nearly as tempting.

Still, there’s always the Lord of the Rings spoofs and knock-offs which will inevitably be going into production soon, with Leslie Neilsen as Gandalf and Ashton Kutcher as Frodo. A chance for a screen credit there, surely? If only I hadn’t also watched the Christmas specials of The Office on video the day before. The final episodes were as painfully, unbearably, perfectly funny as the preceding two series: so perfect they left little doubt that this was the best British sitcom since Fawlty, and have left even Ricky Gervais wondering how the hell he’s going to follow them.

It’s official, then: Art is dead; the Earth soon will be (where “soon” is measured in geological time, using a giant concrete sun-dial); and it’s finally started snowing outside, in what meteorologists predict will be a blizzard of ice age proportions (and hopefully Yellowstone will erupt too, so that we can get a nice sauna effect happening when the ice hits the lava).

Nevertheless, in an act of life-affirming optimism, I’ve redesigned my website.

I couldn’t wait until February before unveiling it, so here it is. The surface simplicity masks a swag of complicated design decisions, which involved looking at complicated designs and deciding not to. A few features will reveal themselves as time goes on, like the weekly pattern of background images (oops, what a giveaway), and as I get around to doing them, like the archives. Others are already here: Feed is now the world’s first RSS weblog with an HTML feed, instead of vice versa (verification pending from the Guinness Book of Tedious Technical Crap); and as of this entry you can leave comments by clicking on the snail trail below—I’ll be switching them off and on a bit this year, just to be perverse. As with previous redesigns, I’ve kept examples of the old one around for obsessive archival purposes: last year’s Detail index; last year’s Rory Central; the old Cartoon Lounge; and even the hiatus page from earlier this month.

My favourite feature is the complete absence of that glaring date at the beginning of each entry, taunting me with its increasing out-of-datedness every time I take a few days off. Every weblog definition I’ve seen mentions dated entries as one of the core features of the form—except mine, ha. It’s a convention, sure, but not an absolute rule. You don’t need to tell people what day it is, or what it was when you last wrote; if they visit once, they won’t care, and if they visit often, they’ll already know. A sense of change over time is enough to convey bloggishness. That said, I reserve the right not to think of this as a weblog; also, to add the date to a specific entry if it seems important; also, not to use my own voice in each and every entry from now on; and, to play around with it more. (That’ll be a bit easier now that I’ve finally started learning PHP; you can see the first fruits at the revamped Cartoon Lounge.)

Last week, of course, I wasn’t using my own voice at all; those Stephen Leacock entries were from a fading-spined hardback picked up in Oban for 75p, except for the last, which was a favourite of mine as a kid (n.b.: the management reserves the right not to be judged on the quaint attitudes towards women of pre-WW1 Canadian humorists posted on this site). If you haven’t read them yet, follow the uncomplicated navigation device back in non-existent time, and watch out for the lava.

Here’s what people said about this entry.

So much for the ice age. The snow lasted an hour, it all melted, and there's nary a sabre-tooth in sight.

Added by Rory on a Tuesday in January.

Hmm, comment preview doesn't work. Also, having the date-stamp on these comments kind of subverts the timelessness idea. Tweaking ahoy.

Added by Rory on a Tuesday in January.

Is this your take on Kottke-style weblog entry craziness? If so, me like.

Added by Ed on a Wednesday in January.

Not a take on Kottke per se, just that general trend towards blog-feature overload. Must be going through a minimalist phase.

Added by Rory on a Thursday in January.