The Hannibal Blog’s (soon) new look

I’m driven to despair by the allegedly user-friendly advice available on WordPress about how to make sites look good (Themes, Headers, Widgets….). They should have a dictionary for Luddites, just to translate what all those words mean.

Here is what I’m trying to achieve:

At some point this summer, I’d like to change the look and feel of this site, to make it a “book site”, but with an active blog.

Aesthetically, I believe in sleek minimalism. This, in my opinion, is an unsurpassable book site.

One option is to get a web designer. But that seems over the top, given that I would want that designer to do the minimum (that’s what minimalism is, after all). And WordPress has so many themes and options available, my answer must already exist somewhere here.

If I stay with WordPress, I must choose a Theme. But the “filter” in the Themes Menu is beyond me.

Ideally, I’d get rid of all the junk on the right. As in: No side-bar at all.

So allow me to poll you:

Ideally, I’d also have no horizontal picture (apparently it’s called Header) at the top either. I’d love to have just the picture of my book jacket in the top right.

Depending on how you guys answer in the poll above, I’d especially love to banish the ugly Categories and Tags clouds to some dedicated “navigation” page. After all, who knows what Categories and Tags even are? I didn’t, when I started this blog. I wish I’d never started a single Category, and instead called them all Tags. (Changing it now, I believe, would break all incoming links.) I only use Tags as a simplified Index for myself (when, say, I want to see all the posts I’ve written about Socrates.)

Anyhoo, do weigh in, if you have opinions …

Quoth the Happiness Engineer

What sort of company has a “happiness engineer”?

Automattic does. (That’s the company that gives us WordPress, and thus this blog.)

His name is Hew, as I just discovered.

To wit: Those of you who have signed up to receive my posts by email did not, for some strange reason, receive the previous two posts. And, naturally, I had no way of even telling you.

(You didn’t miss much. At most this.)

So I asked WordPress Support. After a few days of radio silence, Hew replied:

We had a glitch in our email system for a couple of days around your posts that interfered with sending out emails. We fixed it on 9/30, so you should be good to go on your next post. 🙂

For good measure (Automattic seems to be a company that takes our happiness seriously), I also received a second, separate, reply from somebody else:

Thank you for reporting this issue. We found a small bug in our configuration that prevented the emails from going out correctly around the time you published your last post. It did not affect all blog subscriptions, but your post could have been affected. Unfortunately, those emails cannot be resent. Going forward–the problem has been fully resolved. Your posts should flow again as expected.

So there you are. As soon as I push “publish” I will find out whether this post reaches you. And then we’ll move on with regular blogging.

And those of you who have your own WordPress blogs, beware: Your posts last week might not have reached your subscribers either.

WordPress: Plato’s Academy Today

Some of you may have noticed that my thread on Socrates was going strong all through the summer and then, seemingly, stopped. Something similar, you might have thought, occurred with my thread on America.

Well, no, the two threads did not stop. They went into overdrive, albeit in a different form. Indeed, they became a story–what we call a “Christmas Special”–in the new holiday issue of The Economist.

It is called “Socrates in America: Arguing to death“. Please think and smirk as you read it (which also, of course, goes for almost anything you read on The Hannibal Blog).

(A similar, though less pronounced, process led to my other piece in that issue, a sort of polemic against direct democracy. That idea occurred to me after amusing myself, here on The Hannibal Blog, in my thread on freedom, with posts such as this one on James Madison.)

Thank you!

But what am I saying! Nonsense. It was not I, amusing myself. It was we, amusing ourselves.

And that is the point of this post. It is, first, to say Thank You to you, who come here to comment, to teach me, challenge me, tease me.

Those of you who have been readers for a while will see yourselves in my story in The Economist. Cheri will recognize, in the ninth paragraph, the gem that she herself sent to me. Jag will spot, further down, his pun on the Greek word idiotes. Mr Crotchety, who offends the gods by not having his own blog, will see his own worldview–irreverent, humorous, incisive–throughout the piece, since he trained me well in it. Phillip S Phogg, with his deep erudition, subtly worn; Solid Gold Creativity, with her sensitivity and philosophy; Thomas StazykThecriticalline and the Village Gossip, with their almost poetic thought processes;  Peter G, with his outrageous wit; Steve Block with his precision mind; Douglas with his forging inquiry; …. the list goes on and on and on.

Those of you who come sporadically, such as Vincent and Kempton; those of you have come recently, such as Man of Roma, Susan and Dafna; those of you who disappear for a while and resurface months later; and the many, many more who don’t comment at all but just read: all of you have enriched this blog and my mind and my writing.

You are all now co-authors of stories in The Economist and of a book in the making.

Academy 2.0

Which leads me to another insight: Socrates was wrong about one thing, as he himself would gladly concede if he were given a WordPress account: the written word is not inimical to good conversation; text is not necessarily dumb and dead.

What we do here is dialectic, defined as good conversations. What we have here is the Academy that Socrates’ student Plato founded in Athens. Where they ambled in circles and joked and teased and inquired and contested and thought, we do the same thing here on our blogs, minus the ambling.

And there is something new and special about these conversations. I have debated in many settings–the famous “Monday morning meetings” at The Economist in 25 St. James’s Square, London, being a notable one.

When you practice dialectic in those settings, in the flesh, you are always aware who is speaking as well as what is being said. Often this adds an impurity into the mental flow. Are we paying more attention to somebody of higher status or rank, less to somebody who is new? Are we distracted by a twitch, a snort, a sniffle? A curve, accentuated by a fabric, reminiscent of a …

Here there is none of that. With one single exception, I have met none of you in person. (And is that not amazing?) Here, the only thing that matters is what, not who.

Put differently, here in this modern and more pure academy, we all feel safe:

  • safe to contradict ourselves,
  • safe to take intellectual risks,
  • safe to fail and advance,
  • safe from embarrassment.

We exist on our blogs, between which we skip and link and flit like thoughts across neurons, through our words and associations, our minds and thoughts alone.

Here, we are each equal with Socrates.

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