The Irregular Bureau 42 Status Report

If you\’re looking for, oh, let\’s say, news, this is so not the article you\’re looking for. If you want to see me rant a bit about the site and solicit suggestions, then by all means keep reading.

I moved the old \”Sci-Fi News\” site to this domain back in mid-October, and it\’s been a lot of fun so far. The talented and handsome (I\’m assuming) fiziko has been writing X-Files reviews and generally being incredibly cool. I\’m trying my darnedest to scour the \’net for fun and exciting news, and there\’s even the occasional exciting conversation.

Somehow, though, I don\’t think I\’m doing enough.

I\’ve only seen a couple dozen story suggestions in the queue in the past three months, and (aside from the one joker who first-posted every story in the database at the time), discussions just don\’t seem to blossom.

I\’m open to suggestions, and this seems as good a place to solicit them as any. I\’m also open to bug reports, and generally anything. I want this site to be fun for everyone; I want people to drop in and say a few choice words. What am I doing wrong? :-)

Rage away!

11 replies on “The Irregular Bureau 42 Status Report”

  1. nothing wrong
    You\’re doing nothing wrong. I like the site, and read almost every article. My personal reason for not writing posts or submitting stories is that this site has always best served me as a source for sci-fi news. I don\’t have time to search the web for interesting tidbits, so I read Bureau 42 instead.

    That being said, I\’ll throw a suggestion your way. That handy tv schedule list, parse it and make a \’whats on today/tomorrow/this week\’ page. You could even make it customized, or put a \’review this episode\’ link. That might encourage people to start reviewing other things that the xfiles.

  2. My comments
    I read this site alot, mostly because there’s a slashbox on it for slashdot. I have a ton of comments, so here they are in no particular order:

    1) Even though I never watch the X-Files since they answered all my questions 2 seasons ago, I enjoy the reviews, and I think it would be cool to see reviews of other Sci-Fi shows, particularly the less popular ones that most people don’t like, but that the average visitor here might.

    2) The stories here I see more as news and less as discussion provoking. That’s not so bad, but if you want more discussion, post some stuff up here like “Boy didn’t that last episode of Stargate SG-1 suck”, or maybe opinion pieces like “How come my roommate hates sci-fi so much?”

    3) The layout feels a little stiff and disorganized. I would remove the, Netscape thingy and thingy (or put ’em somewhere else) and move the banner ad. Also, some more color or lines or boxes to lay things out a little better would be cool. NOt sure what software you are using and if it is very flexible, but the site could look better.

    4) The other guy’s idea about “What’s on today” or whatever is pretty good. I’d be willing to hack out a perl script or something.

    Anyway, if anyone else is listening and thinks any of that is a good idea, I’d be willing to help out.

  3. Re: GusherJizmac’s comments
    At long last! Something for me to chew on!

    * I’m always soliciting new, neat stuff for the site. fiziko volunteered to write the X-Files reviews (which I’ll sorely miss, as I understand he’s planning to start doing “Lone Gunmen” reviews when that show premieres). Thing is, he volunteered after the last time I posted one of these “Please, help!” type articles, and I guess I was hoping I’d get lucky again. (I’ve already got another volunteer, though he hasn’t specified what shows he’ll be reviewing yet.)

    * News versus opinion pieces: point taken.

    * Layout: I never claimed to be a graphics or design whiz. If only Bryan (a former co-worker, and a graphical GOD) were still around… As for the banner ads and so on, I’ve only got so much flexibility there, as most of ’em contractually have to appear “above the fold,” so to speak.

    Besides, the banners actually generate just enough revenue to cover my expenses. Granted, the only real expense I have is paying for the domain name itself (about $12 a year), but that’s also about all the ads bring in.

    The “My Netscape” button is there for convenience. (I wish there were a “make this my slashbox” kinda button. :)

    * TV schedules: I’ve thought about that, time and again. It’s a tricky problem on many fronts…

    The flat-text schedules I get via email tend to be more for archival purposes (i.e. what’s been on) than for future/planning (i.e. what’ll be on next week). And the layouts are so inconsistent that trying to deal with them, even in a fun and flexible language like Perl, would be a pain. (I’m not even gonna think about server load here; the scripts would probably be crontab’d anyway.)

    And I haven’t yet found any other site that exports TV schedules that I could use here, that doesn’t charge an arm and a leg (or at least more than the ten bucks a year I make from the aforementioned banner ads). Besides, they tend to display ALL the shows. If I can get something that focuses on SF and fantasy shows, and proximal fun things, that’s great. If you just want an online version of TV Guide, there’s already plenty of ’em out there.

    At any rate, I’m open to suggestions.

    * P.S. Thanks for actually responding. :)

  4. Reviews et al.
    To respond to Dave: I will be reviewing both “The Lone Gunmen” and “The X-Files” when they both have new episodes. If there is only one new episode between the two shows, there will only be one review. If there are two reruns, there will be a column aimed at building discussions based on either or both shows.

    And, about the new reviewer: I don’t know who you are yet, but perhaps we should communicate about developing a consistent “Bureau 42” style review layout, etc. I’ve been thinking about altering the structure of mine, anyway… You know where to find my e-mail address. :)

  5. More Thoughts
    Layout: I started doing a mock-up last night, but I’m

    graphically challenged and I realized that the site

    needs more graphics. I may try harder later, but I

    think a look like would be pretty cool.

    I think with some more colors and graphics the banner

    ads and other extra-curricular items won’t jump out so


    Reviews: I watch a lot of “cheesy sci-fi” shows that

    come on broadcast TV (thanks to TiVO). I’d be happy to

    write reviews of any of them, but I’m not sure which

    would be of most interest.

    Other Story Ideas/Content: If I think of anything, I’ll

    submit it.

    TV Schedule/Other neato stuff: What is this site

    running on? What’s the software that’s being used for

    this discussion? Just curious….

  6. Re: more layout issues, et cetera
    Since I’m all backwards anyway, I’ll respond to GusherJizmac’s notes first…

    * Layout: Hey, toss whatever you’ve got at me. I’m not a graphical genius, but I can hack out a few things if need be. I don’t want to go overboard, though, because there are still millions of people using 28.8k and 56k modems out there, and I’d like to keep page load times under 8-10 seconds if possible.

    * Reviews: Hey, just about anything is bound to be of interest to somebody. If you’ve got some specific notions, email ’em to me.

    * Software: It’s a bunch of custom PHP code that hasn’t so much developed as grown, over the last two years. There are still lame vestiges of the old code in there, in a few places. Anyway. PHP, talking to a MySQL database. If you want, I can email you a copy of the code, so you’ll at least know how not to write a good Web site. :)

    (Someday, I’ll clean everything up enough that I could release it in a generic form without worrying too much about the public humiliation factor.)

    The database schema is fairly generic, and most of the tables have an extra field that could be used for, well, anything else that comes to mind in the future. (i.e. the “comments” table has extra columns for threading and moderation bits, should they be needed someday)

    I’ve been thinking about adding something to the status bar (the left column that shows who you’re logged in as) to let you know if there are more comments on a story that you’ve recently commented on. Shouldn’t be too hard to implement. Good? Bad? Indifferent?

    Okay, ’nuff ranting. On to fiziko…

    * Reviews, quantity: Oh, okay, I guess I misunderstood a recent email from you. Cool. :-)

    * Reviews, format: A “standard” format might not be a bad idea, but it could also be potentially constraining. I think what we really need is a cool rating system, instead of the cliched 1-4 stars bit. My own favorites are the “Babylons” used by the Self-Made Critic over at Brunching Shuttlecocks (half of the charm is that they always end in weird fractions, like 4 1/7 Babylons), and the “Dud” system used to rate especially bad wrestling matches at IGN Wrestling (bad matches are rated from one to four five-assed monkeys).

    Just something clever to set ’em apart. I dunno what, though as always suggestions are welcome. If it’s something that’s easy to make a graphic of, that’s even better. :)

    (Don’t worry about having to embed graphics and IMG tags, reviewer-kin. I can hack up something to automatically do that with relative ease.)

    Whew. Okay, time to go to bed now. (Though the Web server doesn’t reflect it, it’s almost 11 pm where I’m at just now. Pleasant dreams!)

  7. More reviews
    I like the X-file reviews. I’d love to see reviews of some of the other shows that are out there, particularly the Sci-Fi channel series. I come here

    2-3 times a week, usually from a Slashbox.

  8. sleep? hah!
    Obviously, that sleep has yet to befall me, though (as it’s now after 5 in the morning) it should do so soon.

    Anyway. Specific questions:

    * Should I put the “post a comment” box at the bottom of the “view article” page, or somewhere else convenient? During this discussion, I’ve been constantly flipping back and forth between browser windows to read others’ comments. On a related note, what are others’ feeling on “Anonymous Coward” postings?

    * I just added a comment count to the RDF file (i.e. the stuff you see in the Slashbox, etc.) Stories will now display as something like “This is a Big Title (3)” for a story with 3 comments. Good? Bad?

    * Unrelated question: Is Harry Potter on-topic for the site? It’s arguably fantasy, though perhaps a touch mainstream (when my roomies get into it, it’s mainstream).

  9. More responses
    Some responses to what’s written above:

    – I am one of those people who still has a 28.8K modem. High speed access isn’t available where I live, and I don’t think the extra 27.2K is worth switching from a free U of A system to some other ISP.

    – Stars are cliched on the ratings system. I can churn through my texts to find some other stellar body, or we can go for something distincly science fiction, but not necessarily astronomical.

    – A consistent rating scheme may be constraining. How about deciding on a minimum amount of material to include, but not preventing the addition of other appropriate sections? For example, sections discussing the development of Doggett’s character are appropriate for the X-Files columns, but completely out of place on any show that doesn’t have Doggett. (ie All of the rest.)

    – I see no reason to prevent discussion of Harry Potter, and other fantasy. According to the site stats, the article on Buffy staying on the WB is the most viewed article so far, and I’d say Buffy is fantasy, and not sci-fi. While the Slashbox is still “Sci-Fi News,” there is nothing on the site itself that restricts us to sci-fi. Most sci-fi fans also enjoy fantasy, so I see no reason to restrict ourselves. When we mail somebody at Slashdot to change the link from technopagan to bureau42, we can probably ask them to change from Sci-Fi News to SF/Fantasy News as well, should it be appropriate. (We talk to pater about that stuff, right?)

    – If sci-fi or fantasy is mainstream, I think that is even more reason to include it. I know a few people who’d never come to any site that bills itself as a sci-fi site, but they’ll do anything to find out more about Buffy. (No, they’re not all guys, but yes, they’re all horny.)

    – Anonymous posting has positives and negatives. One of my co-workers reads the site frequently, but hasn’t posted because he hasn’t bothered to create an account yet. While anaonymous posts might lead to trolls and other abuse, they would generate a bit more useful discussion. Perhaps including the fields needed to create a new account in the comment page when you aren’t logged in could make this a bit more convenient, so anaonymous posts wouldn’t be necessary. It’s not like there’s a lot of info being requested. :)

  10. and one freebase later…
    (I’m just kidding, for those on the “drugs are bad” tip.)

    Anyway. There’s nifty little category logos now, though I stole most of ’em and they’re kinda ugly. It’s a start at least.

    (Oh yeah, authors: you have to categorize your stuff now. :-) The category selection list is a little bare, but it was enough to cover everything on the front page.)

    Lots of internal code cleanups. There are at least FOUR different ways to get a row of results out of a MySQL query, and I think I’d been using them all. Hopefully, I’m down to just two or three now.

    PHP4 adds neat stuff like include_once() but they don’t tell you about the fact that functions have their own scope and stuff that’s been include()d isn’t visible from within a function, so for me it’s kinda useless.

    I need more categories, as mentioned above. I’ve got Trek, Star Wars, X-Files (since fiziko uses it so much), and generic tv and movies categories. I know I need more, but I’m too tired to think right now.

  11. Bring On Potter
    My daughter got into this series and I picked the first one up and was absolutely blown away. I think

    it’s entirely appropriate for discussion here, especially since the book series has turned into a

    “franchise” like Star Trek, X-Files, or Star Wars.

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