Review: Off-Topic: The Story of an Internet Revolt

Off-Topic: The Story of an Internet RevoltOff-Topic: The Story of an Internet Revolt by G.R. Reader

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was the first one I finished on my new Kindle, a fact which, in combination with its contents, makes me feel kind of tainted, like knowingly eating dolphin meat or something; posting a sincere review of it here after reading about Goodreads and what happened a few months ago feels in turn like I’m writing about my experience of eating dolphin meat while giving it a star rating. But I’ll go through with this, because it’s not dolphin meat.

I knew that Amazon acquired Goodreads last year from the moment it happened. From the first second I knew what it would mean for Goodreads as a website, as a social network, as a resource. But I didn’t budge. I’ve seen this happen so many times before: great websites or ideas turn “evil”, my beloved CouchSurfing being the most prominent example I can think of right now; I went on, for what could I have honestly done as a single person to stop things, change things, make the guys at the head of CouchSurfing or Goodreads realise that what they had done meant turning on their community, the people they owed all their success to? Should I have changed my profile and alerted people of the fact? Shold I have jumped ship?

I’m still very far from being sure about what the best course of action should be, the perfect balance between convenienve and idealism, both in my offline and online lives. I have wanted to join BeWelcome, the best alternative to CouchSurfing, for example, but I feel as if I have invested too much time to the latter to make a change like that. At the same time, CouchSurfing has become so bad that it has naturally lost me as a user, something Goodreads hasn’t achieved -yet-, but then I’m not a social user of the site and I’ve never felt part of any community in it, unlike most of the people who contributed to this book and were alerted to and alarmed by the changes mostly because of that involvement.

I wasn’t even aware of the censorship before I stumbled upon an abandoned “beacon” profile which had most of its details replaced with anti-Goodreads messages and promotion of Off-Topic. You could say that it was an efficient strategy, because the message eventually reached me, the oblivious user – or I should say, I reached the message.

Having now read the book, I realise I’m supposed to do something with this information, right? But is there anything I can do which would mean anything? Should I make my small revolt against Goodreads, when it was on myKindle where I read this book – complete with Amazon-powered Goodreads integration that doesn’t work as I had imagined it would? Should I move my reviews to BookLikes, like some people did? Why use a social network at all, if I’m ready to give up the convenience of the site for some vague ideology? And at the very end, if to enjoy a free service online, you become the commodity, can there be any escape at all from the sudden-death ToU?

I have sadly become cynical over the years, especially about online activism. I see a lot of people being very sensitive and idealistic on the web but with a seemingly loose grasp of reality. They think that because CS or GR seem friendly and tailored to their own needs – social networks are made to give this impression, after all – that they, alone, can make a difference, just by spreading the message. Often, but not always of course – because there are some people whose character is such that they react very strongly to things like that from all sides – cyber-activists can double as happy, obedient citizens/consumers with a straight face, which boggles my mind. When people get so worked up about these changes that they actively quit sites, I don’t know what to think. On the one hand, their determination and bullheadedness is admirable – it really is. On the other hand, I don’t see what kind of alternative they’re imagining and, most important of all, how they can make sure that their alternative can remain as pure, idealistic and humble as they imagine their perfect social network to be. How they can make sure that the new place will stay better than Goodreads before the natural moral entropy of the web forces them to find their new digital Zion.

But I’m grumpy today. A storm in a teacup can bring about good things and I’m grateful that there are people out there who don’t overanalyze themselves out of any sort of action, meaningful or not.

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Civilization V Brave New World Review

If you can speak Greek (chances are, if you’re reading this, you can) you may read my original takes on Civilization V and the first expansion Gods and Kings. I reviewed them for Game 2.0 when they came out, the good people from whoever-the-distributor-of-Take-Two-in-Greece-is being kind enough to provide me with a review copy as happens of course with almost all games I write articles for. This year though, while they did send me a preview copy, they somehow neglected to allow me to play a launch version of one of the best entries in the Civ series  -at the very least as far as expansions are concerned- and so I had to wait for a Steam Sale to come to snatch it up for 10€.

What I enjoyed:

cultural victory is now a blast! Being “peaceful” never was so fun before, artifacts, exhibitions, tourism and all;
archaeology blew me away with its ingenuity and the feelings it gave me of being part of a real world and at the head of a truly timeless civilization;
banning and unbanning luxuries reminded me of the 1961 Single Act on Narcotic Drugs, as far as legitimacy and complete arbitrariness is concerned. Oh the ways games can show you how the real world works…

•liberating Ethiopia from the bloody hands of Carthage and then having them vote for me for World Leader, together with the -mostly bribed- loyalty of the world’s city-states, was very satisfying;
playing as Venice and Byzantium meant playing two different games and I loved that (I became stinking rich in both though because of trade routes, love them!);

What I didn’t enjoy:

haven’t tried the scenarios yet, most probably never will;
• I try to install a simple alarm clock through the mod menu and you go and disable achievements? Seriously?
feeling the urge to spend so many hours on it during a time when minutes, days and hours feel more valuable than ever;
archaeological sites spawning in ice; what the fuck’s up with that?
online multiplayer as clunky as always; still want to play;
those other civs being just a tiny bit quicker than me and completing wonders a single turn before I would
and doing that 4-5 times in a row; there’s only so much a hippie can take;
AI still a bit wonky at times, marked improvement over vanilla and expansion 1 nevertheless;
missionaries are a complete waste of time!

What I will remember:

playing together with Daphne for the first time. Doesn’t count as a comment on Brave New World in particular, but that they included the option for playing hotseat is commendable;
reloading again and again as Venice to finally get the cultural victory I wanted! All bowed to my superior Venetian works of art eventually and the victory was all the sweeter after I had chosen Autocracy as my Ideology. Strength Through Joy, the achievement read;
I was itching to try the Zulus for my hand at a Domination Victory before I started writing this and I’ve been playing Civilization on and off for most of my life; I’d do it now if I wasn’t ready to go to bed;
becoming inspired enough to draw the final maps of my two games in my notebook (also influenced by On The Map);



I would recommend it to everyone who:

doesn’t think this could be their thing. Some people believe they need to know or understand history and/or strategical thinking in order to play, but it’s remarkable how many different kinds of gamers I’ve met or read about that like Civilization but don’t necessarily enjoy other strategy games;
is looking for a way to “kill” time; just ask Daphne: when Civilization becomes a priority over even Breaking Bad, you know you’re onto something;
likes classical music; this game has a lot of it and it’s good;
thinks fantasising about artillery, battle plans, taking over cities and teaching those Swedes the lesson they deserve -while at the same time appearing/pretending to be working- sounds like a fun day.

Three “censored” TED talks

Source: High Existence

Nobody can ignore TED, a powerhouse of fast, mind-blowing and paradigm breaking talks that last around 20 minutes. Experts in diverse fields such as anthropology, entrepreneurship, cosmology or brain science deliver a presentation all under the motto of ‘Ideas Worth Sharing’. But as TED has grown over the years and the TEDx events have spread to all the outskirts of our globe it seems it has shifted its focus from controversial ideas to the goal of preserving its own brand. Is it trying to defend science or is it trying to defend the ones who use science as a political tool?

Rich People Don’t Create Jobs

Around a year ago TED banned Nick Hanauer‘s talk named ‘Rich People Don’t Create Jobs‘. The talk was deemed too ‘political’ and was never put online. However, after word got out, a large number of people signed a petition and demanded the rights to view it. TED reluctantly published Nick’s talk which you are able to view right here:

The Science of Delusion

In this fascinating talk Rupert Sheldrake in ‘The Science of Delusion‘ questions current scientific dogmas and challenges us to reconsider them. According to TED, talks like Sheldrakes ‘strays well beyond the realms of reasonable science. Yet, ironically, this philosophical talk is exactly about such opinions of what science is and is not. Watch the controversial talk here:

The War on Consciousness

The third censored talk is by Graham Hancock and called ‘The War on Consciousness‘. Graham talks about the end of his 24 year Cannabis addiction and how another ecodelic drug named Ayahuasca helped to change his consciousness for the better. He argues that we live in a culture that wages war on certain states of mind and promotes others, exactly what TED tried to do.

“If this is how science operates, by silencing those who express opposing views rather than by debating with them, then science is dead and we are in a new era of the Inquisition.”

– Graham Hancock

Do you think any of these talks should be CENSORED? Why or why not?

It’s hard to maintain the same level of radicality once you escape the grassroots. After that, the more you grow, the necessity to conform to the tastes of a forever greater number of people slowly arises as well. Since they still have the videos online they’re not really censoring them, just saying “we don’t believe these ideas are worth spreading, but if you’re seriously going to make such a fuss about it…” Come to think of it, maybe that’s the way “civilised” people censor things without looking too bad. Still an interesting development any way you look at it.

There is the relevant enlighting discussion on TED’s website itself.

The Strange Politics of Decisions // Are We in Control of Our Own Disgust?

Σχετικά και με το προηγούμενο ποστίο. Thanks Άλεξ φορ λινκιν με.

Dan Carlin

I feel bad for not having posted anything about Dan Carlin earlier. I’ve been listening to his podcasts for months now. Common Sense is political commentary with an edge, keeping it very real but no less engaging and insightful, whereas Hardcore History is historical commentary and narration with an even sharper edge! He is a wise person and I enjoy his shows very much, they’re excellent food for thought and for my side whole which loves anything that gives alternative meanings and explanations to stuff we think we know. It is always a great reminder for how little there is that we know compared to what’s out out there and how distorted, biased and altered that little we know really is. It’s a reality (ironic, isn’t it) wake-up call I quite often find myself in need of. Same reason I love You Are Not So Smart. 🙂

Common Sense has plenty of episodes and is more pic’n’mix-y. Go in there, download what might look interesting to you, pop that little sumbitch in your MP3 player and enjoy — preferably going on a long walk! That’s exactly what I’m going to do tonight with the first episode after the US elections.

Hardcore History I feel is more suitable for me to suggest some episodes from:

Logical Insanity — Was dropping the atomic bombs on Japan such a despicable act, considering what else had gone on during the war as far as attrocities go? A history of strategic bombing in the first part of the 20th century.

Globalization Unto Death — The story of Magellan’s voyage and some insights I bet you’ve never heard of (at least I never had). Such as: who was really the first person to circumnavigate the globe? How did people first meeting indigenous South Americans react to them? What inspired people to become sailors in the 16th century, knowing full well that most of the exploration caravels never came back?

Ghosts of the Ostfront — A haunting journey to the oft-forgotten Eastern Front of World War II, by itself the largest military conflict of all time.

Suffer the Children — Is it possible that history as we know it is a result of all the children having been mistreated in times past, therefore, according to contemporary psychology, growing up to in turn mistreat others as a result? Listen to this if you feel you need some hope for the future.

I know that the two above episodes can’t be accessed unless you buy them. Well, if you’re reading this and would like to listen to them, I’d be glad to share them with you. You can tell how much I like this guy by the fact that I’ve bought plenty of his past work already. Dan, if you ever read this, I hope the fact might spare me from your wrath. 🙂

Review: 1984 : Ο μεγάλος αδελφός

1984 : Ο μεγάλος αδελφός
1984 : Ο μεγάλος αδελφός by George Orwell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Under the spreading chestnut tree
I sold you and you sold me
There lie they, and here lie we
Under the spreading chestnut tree

I always loved how, in the book, pop prolefeed songs are manufactured by computers; no human creativity is needed. I involuntarily recall this tidbit whenever I listen to the newest radio hit these days.

I originally read Nineteen Eighty-Four (the original title, though understandably usually shortened to 1984) in Greek a few years back. 10 days or so ago I felt a need to return to it in English and did so in audio book format, read by Simon Prebble.

They say that Brave New World describes our world much better than 1984 does, that the blissful ignorance is much more prominent in our society than 1984’s “boot stamping the human face”. I’ve always held at heart that our own dystopia in the making is the neat blend of the two: the blissfully ignorant sex, drugs and genetically determined human strata, go hand in hand with a government that is in love with power and has merely chosen this more subdued but no less effective way to prolong its ever-lasting dominion.

In this world, wars never end; the enemy is unbeatable and ever-present. Bombs go off randomly every now and again just to allow your mind to come in terms with this fact. Telescreens follow the population everywhere. Nowadays people even take little telescreens with them and have feelings of withdrawal if they are ever separated from them. Those who control the present control the past, and those who do so, do it very, very well. So well, in fact, that public opinion can be swayed one way or another in a matter of weeks or even days — so little do people actually remember, so easily do they forget. Relativism is used as the end-all be-all argument to support that might is right following sickening twists of logic: that there is no nature “out there”, thus truth is dictated by the government and the government only. A similar argument hides behind the saying “who wants to ban fascist groups is against freedom of speech and a fascist themselves!” The encouragement of doublethink, of which the above is but an example, ultimately has people holding two contradicting beliefs at the same time: “I’m not a racist, but everybody knows that our race is more advanced” or “war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength”. In a similar vain, the government body that is responsible for hitting people and quenching peaceful protests is named “Ministry of Citizen Protection” and the one which makes sure that everyone starves is called “Ministry of Development”, releasing false figures to mask the facts and manipulate the masses. They are allowed to do so; there are no real laws, since the judiciary body is also controlled by the government. What about the proles where the hope for revolution lies? They’re either too busy surviving to actually think for themselves or they’re blindly consuming the “prolefeed” the party is providing them with, including of course their own propaganda.

…oh, sorry about that. I got carried away there and started describing our own living, breathing 2012.

This is definitely one of the masterpieces of the 20th century and is one of absolute favourites. It stands as a beaming symbol of the totalitarian societies of the past and of political oppression, violence, propaganda, hunger for power etc. Orwell’s vision was so ironically vivid, realistic and reverberated with so many that his name has even come through this book to stand for a whole arrangement of things that smack of real-world totalitarianism. Even if he did write it for a different world than what exists more than half a century later, it’s evident that when it comes to human societies, old loves die hard; whether it is totalitarian socialism/communism or hardcore neo-liberal capitalism, it makes little difference. The essence, displays Orwell masterfully, remains the same. Reading 1984, especially for a second time, I got the same feeling Winston, the protagonist, gets from reading a certain book in the book itself: that he had always known about these things and that he was grateful that he had found someone who could articulate them for him.

Parts of 1984 are extreme, I’ll admit. Part Three is a punch in the gut every time. I just wanted to lie in a fetal position in the corner of my room after first reading it. It is that hopeless, that horrible. I can’t believe that states like Oceania et al. could be set up and maintain themselves on force, pain and hatred alone; call it conscience, call it a belief that people are basically good, I just can’t see such a place existing. It’s too evil to exist! That said, I can’t think of a way that such a regime, if already having been set up properly, could fall, either. Not to mention that in many ways, our own world and reality is full of unnecessary evil. Who’s to say if it’s within the bounds of possibility for the next logical step in this progression of evil and imbalance to be taken?

This nightmarish inevitability hidden within, the terror of the idea that if someone really wanted to create IngSoc and Oceania, they could, is what plays with my mind and I believe with every reader’s mind. We might, like Winston, think that such a world is just a work of dystopian fantasy; if we look around us carefully, we just might realise that the absoluteness of the pain, the torture and the future being described as “a boot stamping on a human face forever” might not be such absurd ideas after all.

The owner of the boot is creating his shoelaces made of hatred and fear as we speak. What if we could create our own artificial shortage of shoelaces?

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Some Chumbawamba

Haven’t ever posted enough of this fantastic band…

And I wonder what the papers are going to say, another actress, another war, another day
But everything’s changed, the world woke up today, and I wanted to be with you

We know every word to the song, but we don’t want to sing along…

I don’t want to sing about rights and wrongs, I don’t want to sing the same old songs, but I’ll sing them and sing them till there’s no need to sing them, and then I can sing about love, then I can sing about love…

There’s stuff dressed up as truth and there’s stuff dressed up as lies, and it all ends up as stuff that you can buy, on eBay, from Babylon back to Babylon…

I had this song on mySpace. Ah, mySpace… *same look people have when they’re being nostalgic of DDR — no, not the game, I mean East Germany*

I’ve added Paris and Britney and you and Tom, I’d like to find your address so I could visit you at home, I don’t like people but I like to pretend, would you like to add me as a friend. Add me, add me, me mother says she wished she’d never ‘ad me…

…when fine society sits down to dine, remember that someone is pissing in the wine, pissing in the wine, pissing in the wine…

Quotes ~ Αποφθέγματα XV // George Bernard Shaw

Seriously, this guy must have been constantly just speaking in quote-worthy nuggets. No lame jokes, banal sayings or uninspired, trivial chit-chat; just heavy-weight yet silky smooth truisms that are just a tiny little bit truer than all others. It is one of those cases where the variation is subtle but the difference is indeed disproportionately, or should we say, very well proportionedly disproportionately, large.


“Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it.”


“When a thing is funny, search it carefully for a hidden truth.”


“Animals are my friends…and I don’t eat my friends.”


“You see things; you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?”


“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” (a personal classic with a story of its own, one of his saying I have known the longest and argued over the hardest)


“My way of joking is to tell the truth. It’s the funniest joke in the world.”


“I often quote myself. It adds spice to my conversation.”


“Whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so sure of themselves, and wiser people are full of doubts.”


“Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.”


“You are going to let the fear of poverty govern your life and your reward will be that you will eat, but you will not live.”

Where I picked them from, a more complete list.