QC-L Version 4.0

Yes, welcome to my lair of evil thoughts and incorrect speech where I don't let go and move on and I talk about whatever I please. On a blog no one ever tells you to shut up. If you don't like what I say, just go elsewhere.

This blog now has a new background and a new theme. It is also using a remotely loaded style sheet. That is a first. It is lush, heavy, and uses a background that has a theme I have never used here before, though I have used it for pressies. Let the show go on! It always does anyway. And yes, we are powered by Blogger.

I am putting a temporary illustration here until I have a logo for this design. Watch this space.

temporary illustration

LET'S ROLL THOSE OTHER SITES

The Backfile: this blog's archives.

Ajayu, home of my story, The Sneezeweed Chronicles. Yes, I do fiction.

It will have Oneiro, my own little role play.

Unfettered Soul, my flagship site.

The Silk Purse, my play pretend Brainstorms.

Failed Messiah Religious news never sounded so good.

New York Times. Read the news and be smart.

Friday, September 29, 2006

by Eileen Kramer

Variac on the board asked me if my readings for Howard's class helped me teach ESL students basic information literacy yesterday, and my off the cuff answer was a quick and snarky "no."

Well I got home and did some thinking. My class actually looks quite interesting in the light of last week's readings. First, half the class involved teaching Ebsco Academic Search Premier. It is licensed locked and almost what Barbsi would describe as an island. Copyright is one of the major disruptions to linkage. Copyrighed/licensed databases are part of what is known as the "Dark Web." Most library databases are nestled deep inside the dark web. There are exceptions. Highwire and Biomed Central spring immediately to mind, but they are exceptions that prove the rule.

The world of biology journal publishing and biology databases has never been a monopoly. There are your tax dollars hard at work at Medline. There is Biological Abstracts, one of the first computer indexed databases, and then there is the CSA family of databases with abstracts, and let us not forget H.W. Wilson. Biology journals come from a wide variety of professional societies as well. There is no life science equivalent of the ACS. This makes biology a rife field for partially accessible full text journals and for free index access via PubMed. A little Econ 102 comes in handy some mornings.

Another way to keep a gate on information rather than have a full link is NOT offer all the information, make the final step a trip to an actual physical library. BioOne is a classic example. Any one may search the index. If you want full text, you either subscribe or visit a library that has the journals. A more broad based example of this kind of thing is Ingenta which is a poor man's substitute for DIALOG. It too is NOT full text in its free version. And let's not forget just about every library catalog out there. You can see the references from your own home, but you have to go to that library to get the book. I've been using GIL Express to find readings for this course here in Atlanta. I still have to either make a request or travel to those libraries that have the books. GIL Express can show you what it has, because it does not offer the copyrighted material iteslf.

Gates and locks are every bit as important as open networks, not just because they protect copyright but because they also keep outsiders out. Outsiders are a pain. They range from spammers, trolls, and vandals to people whom you would just like not to have reading private comments. Did I say privacy? Or you may be running a very exclusive organization.

I'd like to begin wtih Love and Honesty's guest book rant. Guestbooks provide connection between long tail personal web pages, but what good is that connection when it clogs with spam?

Then we have closed boards such as LOTH Forums. Brainstorms' web boards are yet another example and there are millions more. Why close off a board? Quite simply you don't want the "wrong people" reading your words. Think about the poor students who posted about their wild nights to Myspace.com and then did not get jobs when a routine investigatino picked up those writings. Locks and gagets are a commonplace measure where discussion material might turn sensitive or where you want a members' only environment.

The most fascinating example of a lock and gate occurs through obfuscation. Let's take a tour of this web site. What fascinates me about this site is what the authors and web master leave out. The Yom Kippur service that they advertise is NOT the main service. It is a "learner's service" in an overflow room. It is a second class service. The main service in the beautiful main sanctuary is for members only and they must buy tickets. Tickets are not even on sale to nonmembers and the main service goes unmentioned on the web site. The rabbi's blog is empty and has been for nearly six months. Clarly he is shy about publishing for the whole world to see.

The most interesting part of the web site, however, is the phone number at the bottom of the page. Today is September 29, 2006. I'm about to dial this number. You can dial it too. When I call, I receive a recording that says: "The number you have reached is not in service." This nonworking number has been on the Beth Jacob web site since before the High Holy Days. No one has bothered to fix this. Clearly the membership have a secret number for reaching the schul. Every one else is out of luck.

Gates, whether they involve withholding final data, are passworded locks, a robots.txt file, or are based on misinformation are worth a second look. When you encounter a gate, you should ask yourself why it is there and what purpose does it serve. What kind of individual or organization needs a gate or wall behind which to hide? There are legitimate purposes for walls and gates. Love and Honesty took down their guestbook because it filled with spam. Many people refuse to leave their email addresses around like bread crumbs. Many MSN groups are closed. Copyright is intellectual property and requires some locks and gates too, but there are also dirty secrets behind high walls and closed doors. Surfer and net traveler beware.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

by Eileen Kramer

OK, I want to start out with some facts about China. According to the CIA World Fact Book China has one hundred and eleven million internet users. According to Statesman's Yearbook (2006), China has 27 computers per thousand of population. The CIA World Fact Book also says that half of all Chinese (49 percent) work in agriculture. That means your typical Chinese person is a peasant without much computer access. When we talk about the internet in China it is a safe bet to say we are talking about the elite or maybe the urban middle and upper classes. You can define elite any number of ways and I'll grant you that.

Now I'd like to take all of you on a little tour, but before we go let me warn you, if you're one of Howard and Xiao's students, this is going to be terra incognita. Here in the America, as in the United States, the internet no longer belongs to the elite. True, the unemployed coal miner in Appalachia, the Indian on a reservation in the middle of nowhere, and the single mom in the slums may not have a computer at home, but the guy with a driveway paving business, the CNA at the local hospital, and those nice department secretaries all do and they are on the internet with broadband at home. Before that, they had and still have cheap untimed landline phone access.

This means the real American internet is a wonderfully lush graphic medium. Moon and Back Graphics has set the style for web sets, but if you'd like to see more here are a few others: Dmoz has them listed for you.

Now when we real ordinary American types want to get together, where do we go? MSN Groups is the classic watering hole. The boards allow not only sig files but layered html tables. Yes, we love to tinker with our code. Learning code and learning to express oneself with images is an important part of life on the net.

Of course, some of us are lazy and a lot of people use premade graphics. This runs in to copyright. I don't think a lot of people have a really good handle on intellectual property. It took my getting burned in Brainstorms (Sorry no link for you!) to become really zealous on that point. It is going to take a long time for people to realize "hands off" when it is not yours is the best policy.

Still our web is big, bold, and graphic and no a lot of people do not have a lot to say. Many people are better with their PSP (Paint Shop Pro -- Alas the GIMP has not really penetrated in to this group of users) than they are when it comes to writing a coherent essay, but how many people write regularly. If more people journaled regularly, the craft of writing would come more easily, but people need to value self expression above community, just as I do. My values came hard to me and now they are a big part of my life. I'm not sure how to teach them to others except to live them and teach them by example.

Note: I really am loathe to take apart a lot of the graphics I see. I learned when I started making my own sig-files that I seem to have a very different aesthetic sense than my new found friends. I am not sure why or that my sense is even superior. I am not even sure why I dislike drawing the human form and prefer warm and bright colors to pale and subtle ones. I think I have a bit more screen sense and am more conscious of bandwidth. I suspect a science background changes one's outlook and mathematics effects art as does a kind of reductionist approach. I joke about being a die-hard minimalist.

I'm not really a minimalist though. The bordered background of this blog attests to that. I want the impact without the weight. That means my style does not really have a name. I am glad though that at least I have a style. I'll be redoing two of my web pages in the next week or two if not sooner and I'll also be making at least two new web pages. You are all welcome to watch and I'll take you along on the process. These pages are mainly for me and God but there is no reason the rest of you can't enjoy the sight and see how the old fashioned graphic American internet works.

My mom asked me to write this. She wanted to know what I thought was my ideal synagogue service. The odd thing is I don't ask for much. In fact, this is going to be rather a short entry.

That is because it does not take much to make a decent Jewish religious service. Jewish services come out of a box called a siddur. If you have a siddur you can even do the whole thing at your dining room table at home. I did that sometimes when I lived in Columbus. I find it hard to do in Atlanta because it reminds me of how desperate I was in Columbus that I resorted to home worship, but solitary home worship or small groups in homes and apartments can all conduct viable services. That is how basic this all is.

So why am I writing this entry? Well a lot of things can still go wrong to mess up a good basic idea. A "perfect" Jewish religious service avoids most of these pitfalls. Now what is a "perfect" Jewish religious serivce?

  1. People show up on time. This includes males if it is a congregation where only males count toward a minyan. As a female who does not know a lick of Hebrew, I make a wretched minyan member if you count me and just a member of the audience if you don't. Either way if you care enough about your faith and fellowship, you should drag your sorry rear end to schul.

  2. The service takes as long as it has to so that congregants can actually read their way through. It makes no sense to get up early on a Saturday morning or give up one's Friday evening if one does not hear (in one's own head) and understand the words.

  3. The siddur has a good and thorough English translation for those who pray in English or whatever vernacular they speak.

  4. The chazzan (Services are not always led by a rabbi) remembers that the congregation is capable of reading and lets them read along instead of making every reading responsive. Most people do not have great talking voices and doing all responsive readings kills any opportunity for prayer and reflection.

  5. Likewise, the congregation does not forget how to read silently in English when they walk through the door. There are siddurim with good English translations. It is possible for any one from about the age of ten or eleven to follow along.

  6. There is also adult education (I'm loathe to say Learner's Service because I am not sure how many of these are overflow rooms rather than actual adult education.) to teach those who do not know the order of the service so they can follow along with a siddur. I remember a young man at Young Israel at Cornell teaching me this when I was nineteen.

  7. The service follows the complete liturgy. This is very important because it helps when there is no rabbi or chazzan. It leaves open a do-it-yourself option for the congregation or even options for home worship. Put another way, everybody knows what is supposed to be there.

    It is amazing how many services do not follow any of the above basic rules for &qout;perfection." If most services worked like this, about seventy percent of the problem of providing excellent religious services would be solved. Of course you ask me about the other thirty percent. So here it is....

  8. The rabbi is diplomatic in his sermons. No matter what he feels, he puts it in politically correct language. Jews don't schism and congregations are mixed multitudes.

  9. The rabbi does not whine. One of the rabbis in Utica (not the Orthodox ones) used to give an occasional whiney sermon about parents dropping off their kids at mandatory services (since they go to Hebrew school and have to attend!) and then going to play golf. The rabbi was right, but the whining made me wince.

  10. The rabbi does not play set up a straw man to tear down to make the congregation feel good. This teaches nothing and just encourages complacency. It can give rabbis long careers. It occasionally rubs someone in the congregation the wrong way because the occasional straw man has a real person inside it. I have a Christmas tree for example. I adore my white tree. I think it is a secular decoartion etc... Then we have the rabbi (again we know who this was...Boy I'm glad I'm not in Columbus any more...) who railed against designer dogs. Luckily for him, the congregant who owned a toy apricot poodle that she treated like her baby was not in the audience.

  11. The most productive sermon out there in Judaism (and I would bet in every other religion going) is "can you move an inch?" You pick the inch or it needs to be an easy inch. Praying in the morning is not an easy inch. People are rushed in the mornings. Having a Godlike heart is not moving an inch. We are mortals with mortal failings. Giving an hour a week to a volunteer cause of your choice is probably a good inch or including one more religious ritual is moving an inch. Asking the schul to set up washing stations at functions that serve bread is moving an inch. Almost every one can move an inch.

That is pretty much it for perfect services. They don't have to sound good, include women in the minyan, or have any particular seating arrangement as long as the women can see and hear all the action. They can be held anywhere from a garage to a classroom to a fancy synagogue.

Now there are two other issues and they don't have to do with the service itself, but do have to do with Judaism in Atlanta. First Chasdis is NOT mainstream Judaism or rather I have come to believe that it is to Judaism what Mormonism is to Christianity. This is an imperfect comparison, but Chasidis, especially Lubavitcher Chasidis brings the story of Judaism from the Near East into to Eastern Europe much as Mormonism expanded Christianity in to the New World. Chasidis also added another layer of personalities and stories.

Forget the yechi controversy in Brooklyn. They keep that one tightly under wraps in Atlanta. It is amazing what you can do if you don't ask the government to do your bidding. Most Chasidim are staunch creationists but because they don't ask to change public school curricula it is not such a big deal. It will be interesting to see them teach Genesis in a few weeks.

Chasdis brings with it a whole bunch of stories that are very different from those in the Scripture or oral tradition. Many of these stories feature and extol blind obedience to one's rebbe (teacher/guru) as a virtue. I heard one of these stories read to a group of small children by an eighteen year old schlucha in training. I wished the kids had been cheekier asking her all kinds of kid questions, but they were being good kids. I wish there had been a parent or two upstairs listening in. Chasidis may be very nice for those who choose to follow it, but this is not the Judaism most of us consider main stream. The schtetls and ghettos of Europe expletive deleted which is why our ancestors escaped them. The moral here is that parents should periodically sit in (surprise visit) on their children's religious education classes.

Second, why are the Chasids here in Atlanta able to get away with pitching their peculiar brand of Judaism and why do they do it successfully? I don't have a concrete reason because I never inquired of dues at Beth Jacob but I heard what dues at some of the conservative synagogues in Atlanta were. Beth Jacob is a big place and...Synagogue dues are a top secret issue. Some schuls have a "name your own dues" policy. Others put dues on a sliding scale and give you an extensive interview to find out your income. Some just charge.... who knows what.

Chabad schluchim are entrepeneurial. They do not run conventional synagogues staffed by a board of directors and financed by dues. This in a way keeps them less corrupt, and it also means that Chabad offers access to Jewish rites of passage and education for less money than the big name Orthodox and Conservative schuls. This is almost a win-win situation. Right now I just go to services and am not a member any where.

With the days growing shorter, it looks like that is the way it will stay. It is going to be harder to get up to the hill to Beth Jacob (I went once right before selichot and I don't regret it. The singing there is still excellent but there is more to the story than I am telling.) because their services are earlier and earlier and getting there requires two buses and a train and a two mile walk. I may be able to get out of work a half hour early. I am wondering if it is worth it. If you know the rest of the story about what happened to me up in Toco Hills, I have fresh news and it is not juicy but it is interesting. That is why I am wondering if it is worth it.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

by Eileen Kramer

I am currently caught up on the readings in Howard's course at what used to be Berkeley's library school. I sometimes think it would be interesting if any of the students were anything close to traditional library school students. There might be comments about working with teenage patrons or of using blogs in the workplace and other practical matters. Also issues of AUTHORITY as in AUTHORITATIVENESS would rear their heads. I've taught this stuff to students so much it sounds like the gospel truth which perhaps it is.

Last night, I read the Small Worlds chapter of Barbasi's book and while I have no doubt the world is made up of little social clusters of people, I think his research reminded me of the way geneticists study fruit flies. Fruit flies are the chosen lab animal because they have cells with especially large chromosomes, short life spans, and are easy to keep. Are they representative of everything that has genes? No one knows.

Common sense (of which I have a small amount) tells me that mathematitians and scientists are a rarified group. They are not representatiave of the rest of us. This means that their social networks might look very different than those of folks here in the Atlanta metro area. Most people are NOT tied to those in their profession on the other side of the continent or even in the next city. Professional ties are the domain of highly educated types and those at the top of their game.

As for the rest of us, most of our ties are local. Worse still, there are a lot of people walking around with some very frayed social networks. I can't prove any of this and I haven't seen the research on it. Getting to this research which may or may not exist (I think it does) is a bear because I don't have access to all those nice databases available at Berkeley. I can get to those databases but not where I work currently.

Meanwhile, here is what I suspect and these are questions about the readings. Do most urban Americans have nice, tight, viable small worlds. Relocation, divorce, and religious conversion can all do a job on one's social network leaving it torn up at the roots. One could of course rebuild it in time, but this means there are a lot of people walking around with pretty stubby little networks and small worlds that are either too small or just not adequate to be worlds. This doesn't mean folks with networks like this are evil or inept or have done anything wrong. Americans are mobile and the wheel of fortune turns.

Actually, I think judging oneself by how one measures up socially and by how much influence one has is a bad idea, maybe because my own score is low. I've always had to rely on other adaptive strategies and speaking of those strategies, I'm sorry I was just too tired last night to work on either the J-curve Breaker or the patterage. I'll get them made as well.

I'd also like to comment on one other phenomenon. When talking with people who are way outside your or my small world, the language changes. I've been noticing this with my MSN groups. Drama means criticism and argument and it is considered to be BAD. Also MSN groups frequently use graphics and html to communicate in a bright and colorful way. The language is primarily female (gender issues any one?) and bombards the reader/viewer with a lot of stimulus. Some people say the pages are busy. I say you can use less image and get the same heavy, lush feel but that is another argument.

I figure it's time for a road trip so out we go.... Welcome to Angelika's Web Designs and More. You can find the fora, conferences, or boards under Message Board. General is where most of the action takes place. Angelika uses a variety of tools that help those in the low end of the J-curve fight back. She has a Guestbook and a Guest Map too. She is also site fighting at the Webleagues on one of my alternate personna's site fighting teams.

I've learned some of this graphic language but speak it with my own accent. I joke that I am a die-hard minimalist. I am on a dial-up connection at home so that has something to do with it, but quite frankly I think one can do more and do it more gracefully with less bandwidth. As a result, I create work such as The Silk Purse which uses a framed table rather than layers to get the bordered effect. The transparent gif gives one freedom to use a variety of shape and shape and contrast add texture and visual interest.

I am bilingual but heavily accented. I think Myspace.com which I have to get up off my rear and try and Second Life and similar venues also have their own languages. I can't be everywhere and for right now though my plate is full.

If you read this blog long enough, you quickly realize that I am content with very little. Life would be pretty boring and so would this blog if that were not true, so you are all rather lucky.

I had an interesting RoshHashannah. It was not happy, but that was fine with me. It was weird and I guess introspective holidays are going to be weird. First, I don't want to damn Chabad Intown with faint praise. They made my going to services possible. They had an open seating service at the Wyndham Hotel and that service was free. I did not have to sit in an overflow room like a second class citiizen. They had a full four hour service with the complete liturgy. They even had free food afterward if you wanted it. Also, last week when I went to selichot, late night services that kick off the High Holy Day season, I had no problem finding an open door in to the building.

All of this is important. It is more important than what I am going to write. Chabad provides services for those who would otherwise be disaffected. According to the social network folks my relationship with Chabad gives me a weak link in to another world. Chabad takes every one. Chabad teaches traditional Judaism to a point... but it is more traditional than the watered down fare you might see in a small town conservative schul. Been there and done that as they say. Therefore, I would be happy to dues to Chabad Intown. You have to pay your dues somewhere and they do a good job.

Sunday morning I had a nightmare. I dreamed I was in a Chabad community either in Lakewood, New Jersey or here in the Atlanta metro area. I was in the community but not of it. Chabad and I have some serious disagreements. I'll get to all of those. Suffice it to say, ignorance is not bliss and knowing what I know now, I'm not sure I would have taken the religious road I started out on at age nineteen, but then again what other road is there?

Well there I was living in what was like a dormitory room when the decree came down. I'm not sure if it was here or it was in Israel, but it was an evil decree and the rabbis and community leaders announced that the best response would be collective suicide via poison. It was going to be cyanide mixed with lemonade. The leaders went out to get the supplies, and I called my mother who came to stay with me. We sat in the dorm room and talked and then I went out to say goodbye to my friends and to try and disuade the children from drinking the poison. I knew the adults were a lost cause.

One of the children told me she'd see me in Hell. Another just said no. I remember giving advice for getting in touch with social services. All of my efforts in the dream felt decidedly lame. I finally ended up in the local Yeshiva's/Torah Day School's library and sat by the window. The rabbis were mixing up the lemonade and they were even serving it with cake, a huge lovely deocrated sheet cake with white icing and the air brushed image of a shofar on it.

The rabbis cut the cake and I woke up, sure the dream had been real. I felt angry and determined to prove it was not real, so instead of blowing off services for the second day of Rosh HaShannah, I got dressed as quickly as I could and just about ran to the train station and hopped MARTA to go over to the Wyndham.

What makes a nightmare like that? Well, life does not exactly imitate art. Many stories Chabad Lubavitchers like to tell feature dreams in which a pious ancestor calls a wayward secular descendent back in to the fold. I thought a lot about my grandmother, great grandmother, and mother throughout the service this weekend. Each of them walked away from traditional Judaism and my own mother walked away from belief in God itself. Each of them had their own reasons for what they did. I knew those reasons. I do not need a dream to tell me. They told me.

Great Grandma Magid (Rebeccah Magid 1886-1984) told me why she fled heredi life. Her people were probably Litwak rather than Chasidic but this does not matter. Her mother and she and perhaps the younger girls supported three older brothers and a nonworking father who were bucharim. At fourteen, Grandma Magid was sent to work in a hat factory in Warsaw. She heard from home back in Vilnius that she was going to get dragged under the chupah in an arranged marriage without even the chaperoned dating that occurs in haredi communities today. She sked her employer to cease sending home her wages. The employer complied. My dad thinks the employer sympathized with her. I think at fifteen you were considered nearly an adult and this was a fairly routine request. Kids out working on their own left home. She saved up and booked third class steamship passage and came to the United States in 1902. Grandma Magid was a legend in her lifetime.

My mother believed in strong faith and serious respect for religion but has no belief in God. This is weird, but she was an English major at Cornell. I hear my mother's voice when I read through the serivce, especially the parsha, the Biblical portion. She would understand my love for the poetic words and my anger when the rabbi stops the service for want of a minyan and then runs through the rest like a freight train making it hard to keep up and enjoy the poetry and eloquence.

It is Grandma Sennecoff (1901-2003) who would have delivered the loudest condemnation. I remember the weird and nasty things she said when I wanted to go to Chabad services or when I went to the very nice Orthodox (This was Orthodox so everyone of all stripes could go) service downstairs at her retirement community which was then in West Bloomfield, Michigan.

To her services were old fashioned and ugly. Grandma Sennecoff cared about aesthetics. She made cute needle point pillows. She learned to paint. She was an excellent cook. She stenciled her porch when she lived in Florida. She planted crotons with emerald green leaves splashed with yellow. She liked costume jewelry and colorful clothes. Her nails were always done a not quite conservative shade of pink.

The Chabadniks here in Atlanta have all the aesthetic sense of a sodden pee-pee sponge. Now, I'll grant them that the males enjoy singing and what the human voice can do and the young women have a thing for frou-frou but conservative dresses and skirts, but aside from that how can I even describe this? You don't know that ugliness can be an insult to God until it surrounds you. Lubavitch men where the same color shirts and suits every day. They are in charge of the kiddush and it is the same menu every week. The cholent often even lacks enough salt and has no seasonings in it. Last Saturday I learned that the rabbi had not bothered to cut up the onions. I got both of them. They were pretty good. There were no carrots, peppers, or other vegetables in the cholent. Worse yet, a prominent insider in our little congregation took the bread that others had put on the table and taken and the tam-tams poured in to bowls and taken to the tables and put them back in the common pile to be reserved on Sunday. This was not just dreary. It was unsanitary. There were no flowers on the bimah. The rabbi ran through the last part of the service like a freight train and so crushed any good that came from the poetic words.

Then we have the Chasidic stories that involve the blessing and conversion of an individual when he does something in blind obedience to his rebbe. Judaism last time I checked is not about unquestioningly obeying a guru and honoring him. Worse yet, they were telling one of these tales to the kids at the childrens' service upstairs.

No wonder I had a dream about poison. I did not stay for kiddush on Sunday. I was not eating bread other people had touched that had been put back to save waste. I was not eating food that had been crumby on Saturday and would be worse a day later. I was not sticking around for the poison. I was grateful I had no children in religious education at Chabad. I was grateful I had no children period.

Now for some more fun stuff about Chabad. Chabad schluchim or emissaries as they call them, are entrepeneurial rabbis. This means they raise their own funds and set up their own houses and become part of a group that does outreach and solicits contributions and makes money for providing various services a Jewish community needs such as religious education, cicumcision, and kosher supervision. This means they are not beholden to fat cats on a board of directors. This is a good system and it is better than the traditional way that synagogues run.

Chabadniks, however, have their own goals as well as their mission to provide outreach. Here as Rabbi Schusterman attracts more colleagues, he also creates a Chabad community. This community has no sense of aesthetics which makes being there unpleasant. The males have little or no secular education unless they entered the community as adults or teenagers (both very possible), and no value for the fruits of secular learning. I don't want to be Chabad, and any one taking advantage of Chabad's fine outreach becomes and remains an oustider unless the Chabad lifestyle attracts them. It repells me, which is odd because a lot of Orthodox Judaism is quite attractive when allowed to stand amid American culture. I know, I should go to modern Orthodox services. That is probably a better fit. New schuls though are scarey and disappointing places. Chabad takes everyone and that is reason enough to be loyal to them.


Monday, September 25, 2006

by Eileen Kramer

Wow! I can't believe I am caught up on the readings in Howard's course. Of course I have another reading I want to do on the side. I'd also like to read more chapters in both Six Degrees and Linked. Quite simply, bits and snips don't give me a lot of background and make this essay sound rather unintelligent. Of course when has being a first rate dummy ever stopped me? You all ready know the answer.

OK, here are the readings:

Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality by Clay Shirky.

Chapter 11: The Awakening Internet and Chapter 12: The Fragmented Web; The Linked by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi p143 - p178

Chapter 8: Threshholds, Cascades, and Predictability; Six Degrees by Duncan Watts, p220 - p252

This was a lot of reading, but most of it was pretty good stuff. I want to read more chapters because as I said before, bits and snips mean my knowledge is a mile wide and an inch deep.

First, sticking a link on a web page does not make me part of a community with that web page. I know it can give free advertising to sites I detest. It also can annoy those who detest me because I've linked to them and they can't do a thing about it except ask me to take the link down. Too bad. I would not call this community though.

There are also plenty of pages that I visit for which I never keep a link or bookmark. I memorize the URL. Yes, the page ends up in the browser's history and the computer's cache, but I sometimes like just a bit of superficial privacy and the illusion of covered tracks.

Also a lot of community spreads via email, including the Diamond Rio video of "In God We Still Trust." I received the address of this video via the group, secretangelfriends@yahoogroups.com I think pages passed around an email list

Second, there is way to break the tyranny of the J-curve and power law when it comes to making web pages invisible. Now, the Power Law appears like a law of nature, but we are human beings with free choice and now that we know that the Power Law is evil for most of us....What? How can a law of nature or social science be evil? Simple, if you put up an ordinary web page, you are likely to be stuck out in the invisible long tail of the Power Law curve unless you get yourself to a closed conversation community like Myspace. Hey, that is the best for which you can hope.

Well you can hope for something better. Of course you do not have the power to change the world, but you do have the power to change yourself and your behavior. Back in 1999, Candi Kilfoy founded RAOK, Random Acts of Online Kindness. The idea behind RAOK was to take five minutes a day and visit a web page, sign its guestbook or send the owner an e-card. What could be better? The owner should ideally be someone in need, and yes, one can let one's RAOKing become incestuous. RAOK always took better care of its members than outsiders and probably still will, but it is possible to RAOK pretty randomly. I did not realize until I read Barbasi, howe important randomness is.

How does one find random pages to visit. Start with Ring Surf for web rings which are lists of personal pages. Another good source is this page. It is not that up-to-date, but it gives links to lists of pages under assorted categories. Then there are the parents and families of sick children and adults who WANT their pages to be seen. You can find them at Share the Love, and let's not forget Ultimate Topsites with thousands of invisible pages waiting to be shown off, and last but not least, let me recommend The Site Fights. Just visit the teams and check their rosters. You can even vote for th esites you like as well as visit them. I bet you didn't know there were so many ways to break the Power Law curve. My Rosh HaShannah resolution is to get back to visiting sites that are invisible and supporting their creators. How about you?

Now, there is a small glitch in this. This is not a topic that has come up in Howard's course so far, but for ordinary low social capital (Brainstorms definition) folks, the net is a dirty place. Guestbooks have pop ups and sometimes opt-in by deceit. Bravenet is on my personal list of excrement. I either hold my nose or send e-cards, but even that has its perils. Due to the deluge of spam most of us face, email addresses may either be absent or nonworking. Clearly a friendly message sometimes is one of the hardest things to deliver. What happens when the lines of communication go down unless they are behind high and thick walls and gates?

I had a lot harder time with Watts than I did with Barbasi or Shirky. First, I am not just a piece of a mathematical graph influenced by my associates. In fact, I often act without asking any one's opinion. I guess I am just a self starter and I don't really care if any one follows, but then again my faith in God helps. Faith in God becomes faith in yourself. I would suggest that others work on strengthening their faith. It is not as difficult as it sounds.

I will give you some of the exercises I use to strengthen my own independent thinking and with it my faith. The first exercise is discipline. I post every day. I make the time to sit down and write. I feel I am important so I write. I also use a patterage of sorts to visit low traffic venues or to just do my writing. The patterage by the way is the one I had right after I got expelled from Brainstorms. I haven't posted a recent patterage. Patterage comes from the word patter which is the talk a DJ makes on the radio to avoid dead air. Learning to keep up a patter without reinforcement from comments or a high Google placement is a big part of learning to think and act independently.

If you want to learn to make decisions independently learn to scope. Here is how it works: I am at the State Fair in Syracuse or more commonly at the Farmer's Market. There are tons of different types of fruits and vegetables for sale at the Farmer's Market and myriad food stands at the State Fair. Here is what I do. I think about what I want. My dad used to ask me: "what do you feel like eating?" I get a picture of it in my mind and then I set it aside and walk through the whole place. I look at all the greens, the cucumbers, the radishes, the squashes. I look at all the stands and see if they are clean and what kinds of interesting and unusual things they have to sell. Then I put it all together and go buy what I want. I don't have to ask for any one's input. You can use the plan and scope technique to rely more on your own thinking and less on the thinking of others. If you have an independent mind, you don't have to behave as one of the crowd.

Last but not least, creativity plays a big role in thinking independently. Learn to draw and to code html and then work on your personal web site. Remember there is always one terrific audience and we know who He is. What could be better?

OK, I would like to add a topic to the mix. Wiki is the hot web site right now. It is socially symbolic and dare I say sexy, but there are at least two other sites with volunteer input that are far more authoritative. First there is the Open Directory Project which also supplies Google's directory. Human editors screen out the junk and leave the good quality pages. This is espeically useful for students who need a list of pages on a given topic. Then we have About.com. About is unabashedly commercial. It is full of ads, but if you are not allergic to the free enterprise system, you realize the ads are necessary to maintain a free service. About.com has human Guides (editors) for each category, volunteers who are experts in their fields. You can even see their qualifications. About.com has not had the authority and vandalism scandals that have plagued Wiki. I am surprised that About.com does not receive even a mention in Howard's course.


Saturday, September 23, 2006

by Eileen Kramer

First, happy 5767 to everyone out there. It's 2am and the holiday is well underway. I'll be heading out to services in a few hours. The thought actually pleases me because right now I need a break from the readings. I am almost caught up and by next week some time, I'll be caught up. Fortunately, I can obtain all the nondownloadable readings locally right here in Atlanta. As I said searching for them was fun. It's amazing how much legal fun you can have.

I'm mainly going to comment about two readings. It is not that the others are unimportant, but I just have a lot to say about these two:

A Short History of Blogging By Dan Burstein

Yochai Benkler, 2006, The Wealth of Networks, How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, New Haven: Yale University Press, pp 1-34.

First, access costs to get on the net as a producer are still fairly steep. In theory, you can get on every day from the Public Library and have a Geocities or Blogspot account and voice away. In practice, all kinds of obstacles stand in your way. The public library back in Columbus, Georgia limited internet access to thirty minutes a day, and of course the library was only open limited hours. If you wanted to blog at 10pm Saturday night, you were out of luck.

Of course bloggers who do not have computers should have back up. Disks, and flash drives cost. Not all public computers let you make downloads. I was on a community terminal at Oglethorpe University last weekend and could not save a document I was writing to my flash drive due to security reasons. Backups are important since systems go down and blogs and web sites can get pulled and frozen.

Then there are all the human capital costs: Blogs look better when you can design their look and feel. That means you need some knowledge of graphics, style sheets, and html. It is also really necessary to have a home computer and an internet connection of some sort. You may have those all ready but you are still better off with them. That makes the capital investment about $600 initially and then $25/month thereafter, plus human capital.

Then strangely enough, you need to have to know how to write and be comfortable stringing together the written word in to empty space. The first is skill. The second of these requires a kind of faith in oneself which I derive from my faith in God. God always watches me blog and assures me of the most important audience in the universe. If you think this is weird, just remember God is omniscient so if He sees everything, my blog is no exception.

A lot of people feel very uncomfortable writing wordy essays. That is hard for graduate students and educated people to believe, but it's true. This is why so many email forwards and glurge circulate and why this site is so popular.

Second, from a technical viewpoint, blogs are not that earth shattering. Before blogs we have and still had web pages. These are not static. One can update them whenever one feels like it and providers such as Geocities offer browser based upload and browser based editing. My first reaction when I got my first blog was: "This is just like Geocities!" Haldis K. Guerrin, maintained a "pseudoblog" using Geocities. Later she chose a remotely hosted web board as a blog host. Remotely hosted web boards provide both community and a fairly good blogging platform (A blog can be a community of one). They are also easier to skin and configure than many traditional blogs if one does not want to content oneself with an out of the box design. These days the avatarim maintain a community blog of sorts at Play Pretend Unlimited.

Of course, none of the blogging articles with the exception of the one by Gill, mentioned Geocities except in passing. They also left out Homestead which at one time was a major web publisher as well, and none of them mention MSN Groups. I found this strange but not surprising. The articles, especially the piece in Wired, speak warmly about a new journalistic elite of opinion formers.

I have a long internet memory and an old phrase flashed through my head: "trailer park of the internet." That is what people called Geocities. I also remembered Danny Brooks my old boss at Rainbow Vacuum Cleaners twenty years ago. Danny was the first working class adult (as opposed to a working class student at Cornell) whom I knew well. When I expressed shock and horror at the trailers in the rural Southern Tier, he reminded me that this was the way people owned property and that trailers were a good thing. The young adult from Westchester County learned an important lesson. Later I learned another trailer park lesson when preparing a pathfinder on drinking water quality in a government documents course for Marta Dosa at Syracuse. I remember telling Marta with absolute certainty that DIALOG searching was a prohibitively expensive option for a lot of people so I was recommending the library school's own Short Search. "What about a person living in a trailer park in Candor?" I asked. Thirty-five dollars, what Short Search cost in those days, was still a lot of money but it was the cheapest mediated search going. Of course end users searching was about to change everything or did it?

The folks with Geocities web sites were and are still important just as the folks in the trailer park in Candor or West Hill are. As I mentioned above, Geocities web pages are hardly static and easily reviseable. There are also ways to link them together just as there are ways to link blogs. One of these is web rings. Ring Surf will give you lists of web rings. For interactivity, Geocities style sites have Guestbooks. Of late these have become spam targets. That is sad. With Geocities and premade web sets or pretty good html and PSP (Paint Shop Pro) knowledge, one can put together an elegant and expressive site that puts most blogs to shame.

Of course Geocities users with their guestbooks and web rings, and MSN Groups users as well are "those people." Face it, the "global poor" may be very attractive to liberal politically correct types, but like Marta Dosa, they forget all about the working class stiff in the trailer park in Candor or West Hill. Those people don't form opinion. Those people are not the new elite. Those people are often living in flyover country (Having lived in Columbus, Georgia for eight years and lived in Utica, New York for ten years before that, I can use this term without prejudice. Ithaca, New York is also flyover country though it feels urban and sophisticated.) or in "Red State America" don't hold the most liberal political views. They are overtly religious and sometimes nauseatingly patriotic in a weirdly knee-jerk way. On the other hand, they have an authentic voice and one worth a listen. They and I share a taste for colorful graphics though our subject matter differs. We also believe in defending private property. The only arguments I ever heard against using Napster to download files (which at that point I used and liked because this was before I became a staunch proponent of intellectual property rights. I have since deleted all my illegally obtained music files.) came from a woman in a ladies group with a Geocities style web site who told me flat out that I was stealing. Freedom means private property to this group and that is a great thing!

Third, I blog for me. You'll hear a lot of theological justification on this blog, but that is how it is. Most nights it is just me and God, but my faith keeps me writing. I also do my own drawing, scanning, and graphics creation. Faith in God gives one faith in oneself to produce. I think this faith is lacking in a lot of people. I wish there were a way to encourage it. I know I will never have an audience, but I don't care.

Fourth, blogs simply lack authority. This essay I am spewing out in the middle of the night here in Georgia is pure anecdote and opinion. I sign my first name and last name to it so you know I am real or at least appear so, but that is not much on which to go. When I teach web page evaluation, I admonish students to stick with name brand sources and to look for author qualifications. Most blogs just do not survive this test very well which makes them ill suited as source for college level term papers. That does not stop making them good leisure reading. Most of the blog-like sources I consult, are op-ed. Actually, for news I listen to the BBC Worldservice. I think they cover more international news and they are available on demand. They have real reporters, not just talking heads, that they can send to all kinds of foreign countries and war zones, and nice long stories.

Now on to Benkler: He was a tough slog. I am not a lawyer and never had a government course. That made him hard to understand. I think he misses on nonmarket collaborative goods in at least two subtle ways. First, all those lovely free goods created in an open source way have an odd way of not penetrating where they could do some good. I adore the Gimp and prefer it to Paint Shop Pro where I continued cutting my graphic teeth. I started cutting them on Paint which came bundled with McWrite and given away free long ago in the early eighties. I don't know how many times I pulled my poor trapezius muscle learning to pixel paint. Gimp makes great small work such as charms, quilt squares, and sig-tags due to its high resolution options and for vector work (Paths), it is much easier to use than PSP. Oddly enough, the GIMP has hardly penetrated in to the sig-tag and pressie (also quilt squares and charms) creating community. I am not sure why. My hunch is those of us in the trailer park just don't get to the other side of town to see the free goods on display.

Also, what good does open source software do in the face of outsourcing? Wouldn't it be better for Microsoft to rule and reign and have engineering, computer science, and call center jobs stay in the United States? If enough tech jobs are outsourced, we will train fewer techs and our population will become more ignorant in math and science? I'm surprised Benkler did not mention one word about outsourcing.

Third, the free enterprise system, market based systems of information distribution, is the friend of the little person, the denzien of the net's trailer park, if you will. I am a member of several MSN Groups and I know that these groups give their members much of the functionality of secret elite board systems such as Brainstorms (No you don't get a link fro me!). Members of MSN groups can store images without having to remotely load them. Those without rented web space or Photoshop accounts often have difficulty remotely serving small images. They can talk on boards. The community can be screened for privacy, but one puts up with a ton of advertisements in a big stripe at the top of the page and MSN's enigmantic terms of service and unresponsive support. I know because I am a group owner myself. Then there are ad supported free web space providers like Geocities, Angelfire, and Tripod. These too give the little person a place to express him or herself.

Fourth, private and intellectual property are important and maintaining them is good for civil society. Intellectual property is a hard concept around which to get one's intellectual arms. It is easy to believe that if you have good intentions and are not making any money, you should be able to just take someone else' words or images. Even people my mother's age believe this. Well, theft is a bad thing. Theft is wrong. Theft makes people lazy and stifles creativity. That means, if you want pressies, draw them yourself either using your graphics software or scan in a drawing you make. It will be all yours that way. If you want music or a movie, pay for it and support the artist and studio that makes that creation possible. If you want software, buy a registered copy.

Why go through all the time and trouble? The reason doesn't have to do with loving big corporations though free enterprise is often the best friend of the ordinary person. The reason is that theft is corrosive to a decent and ethical society. Respect for property is the first step toward respecting persons. If you respect people (and corporations are just groups of people. They are also "imaginary persons" too) you don't take their property. If you respect people, you treat them well.

It took my misadventure with Brainstorms (No link for these guys!) to teach me this hard lesson. Many Brainstormers have a view that it is all right to take samples of others work and they should be allowed to do this. Taking samples enhances creativity. We all build from each other's work. After my misadventure with Brainstorms where I was illtreated, I did some serious thinking about property and copyright. I don't sample from others' work any more. I create everything from scratch or use public domain images only in my graphics. I am back to pixel painting again and more creative than ever. An internet world with well obeyed and strong copyright laws is a better world for all of us.

By the way, I think the solution to copyright is a moral one. I would like to see a world where people look at a tube or a snag and ask: "where did you get this? Do you have permissions? Do they transfer?" and if the tube is of unknown origins or the snag comes without a transferable permission, the people viewing it turn their noses up at it because using stolen goods is like smearing oneself with feces. Imagine how much better we would all treat each other in a world where every one had that attitude.

I want to write more on all of these subjects. If you are coming from deep in the bowels of academia, you have probably never seen a pressie or a sig-tag. These are two of mine.

open box made with GIMP     A P-38 fighter with green rudbeckia on the wings

One uses sig-tags as signatures on MSN Groups and other bulletin board systems and sometimes in email. They are a personalized coat of arms. I guess we all need to become more graphically literate. I am glad I can draw. Here is one more sig-tag.

Inca pink corn

I have a habit of making corn sig-tags in the fall and gourd based ones as well. In the spring I make tulips and crocuses. Some night I'll do a full blown essay on the role of graphics and graphic literacy.

Now, though I want to tell two stories. One is sad and the other is not so sad, yet because it does not yet have an ending. On her team at the Webleagues Haldis had a fighter who called herself Lou Kennedy. Lou was a raw site fighter. She needed to learn the craft of begging for votes, doing spirit tasks, and self voting. Web site competitions require a large dose of faith in oneself to do the self promotion necessary to wage a good campaign. That for me starts with a faith in God. God made you. You have a soul. You are important.

Lou had faith. Lou had heart. Lou waged a modest campaign and unlike Thadea, she did not burn out. Fifteen months ago, Lou quit fighting to care for her terminally ill husband. Haldis offered to keep her on the team list and offer her an extended leave of absence. I remembered caring for a terminally ill cat, Evander, and knew that being tied to an invalid means down time. If Lou's husband went in to remission or if she had the down time, site fighting might make a good relief, especially at the level where Lou practiced it.

Lou never returned to fighting. Her husband died in December of 2005 and her page vanished. I don't think her husband's illness was the direct cause of the page's demise. Lou's site was on Homestead. The elites, even those running site fights, looked down on Homestead. Homestead hosted large, free, very graphic (in fact bloated) web pages to any one willing to put up with their big stripe, and if you could do real html and use their uploader which I could, they were one of the best free web hosts around. The server designed to handle bloated heavy sites, worked like greased lightening for a smaller well coded site.

In 2002, Homestead went to paid service. This sent shockwaves through many of the internet communities where I was active. At the time, Homestead, had a small free option (three web pages only!) and the paid options was thirty dollars a year. By the time Lou's web page disappeared, Homestead cost $120 per year. Lou could no longer afford to maintain her Garden of Dreams. Any one who thinks that web access is free or cheap should think of Lou Kennedy. Haldis did offer Lou to help her get reestablished on a free provider. Lou never wrote back.

Angelika's Web Designs and More competes at the Webleagues on Haldis' team. I am also a member there under my own name. I like the group because all the sig-tags there are not cheesecake. Some day I'll give you all my female form in sig-tags rant, but not this morning.

Angelika is about to undergo a test of faith. Her tightly run moderated sig-tag group is small. Being small is hard. Most of us have been raised to be so other directed that getting used to the fact that it is you and God out there most of the time and that you are important is a hard task. I hope Angelika learns this. I post at her group as a matter of support. I also show off my new siggies there. Angelika is also turning out to be an excellent, spirited, and well socialized site fighter. The team she is on is nonvote exchange so at some point, I may lose her if she wants to run a "real campaign" or if she begins to suspect that some of the nonvote exchanging fighters are breaking the rules and the Web Leagues has no mechanism of enforcement to stop them. I hope Angelika's group is still around six to twelve months from now, but it all depends on how much faith she can muster.

That is it for tonight. It is twenty to four here in Georgia. I've still got other work to do. Services are at 10am. Have a blessed, sweet, and fun 5767.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

by Eileen Kramer

This one goes in the backhanded apology department. The University of California School of Information is NOT a library school. It lacks an ALA accreditation. I just looked here.


by Eileen Kramer

Tonight I'd like to comment on the following two articles:

Henry Jenkins, 2006, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, New York: NYU Press, pp 1-24.

Social Media and the Networked Public Sphere

Thsee are part of this course.

Neopets who do not get the benefit of a link, is among the MOST EVIL examples of convergence there is. There are Neopets movies, Neopets toys, Neopets web sites outside the walls dedicated to giving advice on how to play the game "successfully." Neopets is a behavioral system as well as a community and because it is a clean well lighted place and a brand catering to children that bills itself as safe and because children are individuals without a full set of rights, Neopets does a job on free expression. Unless they have access to remotely hosted images, Neopians can not create pet page that are half as good as the cookie-cutter originals given out with their pets. Web space is measured by the character not the kb. The censorship of conversation could be an essay of its own which of course it is.

This makes me sad because I am unabashedly procapitalist and Neopets is free enterprise both at its finest and worst. I did not walk away from Neopets even after having an account frozen over intellectual freedom issues, something I still consider honorable. I walked away after obtaining another account and painting a skeith named Jalepinio21 rainbow. She is a beautiful creature though quite hungry. I could go back and play her. I won't do it though.

I walked away because I realized how badly Neopets was using me. A while after I stopped playing this spring, I would see movie ads and think: "when is the trivia game coming out on Neopets?" Then I remembered I had better things to do. I made the Neopoints to buy the brush to paint my pet by playing sponsor games. No one made me play those games, but I could never have painted Jalepinio21 without them. It is scarey to think how easily a grownup can be manipulated. It is even scarier to see what greed and the search for status can do to children.

The most common reason for losing accounts on Neopets is not intellectual freedom. It is economic. A user with multiple accounts takes multiple advantage of once a day freebies or plays too many games on too many accounts etc... The weird thing about all this is that there are pages and pages devoted to tips and techniques for gaming Neopets system, obsolete junk postcard sites hidden within the game. You can send cards to yourself for a few hundred NP per day and it ads up. There was also one excellent sponsor game worth 900NP each time you played. You could play it three times per day for nearly 3000NP. I discovered the trick to milking this game for a high score. I made my contribution to gaming the system. The line between gaming the system and cheating is thin. I don't feel that kids frozen for economic reasons were cheaply had. I feel a bit sorry for them.

Of course if you have an account frozen, you can always return to Neopets and start over. Neopets/Viacom have no interest in inadvertently creating a community of disgruntled exusers. Another painful Neopian memory was watching my guild leader get her account frozen because she set up a separate store to make money for the guild. Neopets has no provision for separate bank accounts and stores for organizations. You may ask what good are organizations without currency to give away prizes or buy needed items for members etc... That is a very good question. When you are a monopoly private owner of a big public space you can do as you please and that is what Neopets does. Welcome to the world of convergent media.

Ulises Ali Mejias' article is a bit more difficult to discuss. Social media were around long before Wikipedia and I'm not even sure that Wikipedia or interconnected blogs (which are really glorified Geocities web pages for those who own their own space) are the best examples. I think web boards and mailing lists are much better, since members gather there and talk to one another rather than just hoping an audience will come along and a person here or there will link. A blog is not a failure if no one links there. It is up. It runs. It is out. Even without readers, there is always the author expressing herself and God. That is all any one needs who has faith, but that is another story.

Tonight's story is about social media in action. In this case the media was a " chat list " among site fighters which was also a vote exchange list. Before the rise of vote exchange boards back in February of 2002, such things existed for site fighters who traded votes. Any one interested in web site competitions is invited to visit The World of Web Competitions. Well, one of the fighters on Julie's chat list circulated a petition that was to go to a judge in Michigan. The fighter's son-in-law had abused his child who was also the fighter's grand child and the child died. The man was convicted in court and was serving time in prison. He felt, however, that his sentence was unjustly long and wanted a hearing to have the sentence shortened.

The fighter who had lost her grandson, was trying to get signatures to the judge to prevent the hearing on resentencing from happening. Now you may ask how I knew any of this was true. Thadea asked the same thing. She also said that this kind of thing should be left up to judges and attorneys knowledgeable about the case and learned in the law. It was really a fairly well reasoned letter she crafted. She received back copies of the article in the newspaper about the boy's death and a long testament on how awful it was to lose a child. I thought Thadea would be thrown off the list. She wasn't. The site fighters there needed her votes. Thadea wrote on her blog of the whole affair: "I have seen the greasy bottom of the human soul."

I was ready to destroy both Thadea and my second site fighting career which was about to rocket in to the upper levels at The Golden Elite. I remember looking up the county seat for the resentencing hearing and getting the phone number for the clerk of courts. Had I been allowed to make long distance phone calls from work and pay back for them or if I had owned a cell phone, this story would have ended quite differently. I would have called the Clerk of Courts, asked for the man's defense attorney, and then gotten in touch and offered my services as an expert witness on site fighting and someone who could explain the frivolous origin and possibly dubious background of the signatures on the petition gathered through a vote exchange list.

I never made it to Michigan and as I think of it now, Thadea's letter was probably enough to stop the petition drive dead in its tracks. I don't know of the child killing son-in-law had his sentence reduced. I don't even know if the original sentence was unjust. I do believe he had a right to a hearing. It was for the judge and the lawyers to decide, and not a bunch of know-nothing site fighters.

The campaign to keep John who killed his infant son, from getting a hearing to reduce his sentence is actually a pretty good example of social media in action at least according to Al Mejias. People online from all over the world united for a political purpose and acted in real life or at least tried to act.

This may not feel like a very savory example, but there is no reason that social media can not serve political causes of every stripe. Political forwards regularly find their way on to the Godsmanna at Yahoogroups and Stormsoflife at Yahoogroups mailing lists. Anti-immigrant groups often have web sites complete with fora. There is even a pro military site fight that has a quasi-political organization loosely affiliated with it. Then there are all those political and glurge forwards that circulate through millions of inboxes. You can see examples at Snopes.com. Email after all was one of the original social net media.

By the way, I am curious: did that "Wear red for Fridays" campaign ever catch on anywhere? I know it did not in Columbus, Georgia, but other parts of the country are different.

OK, it's question time...

1) What can we do to preserve intellectual property rights in an age of convergent media? What is the best way to teach adults and children that plagiarism is just plain wrong and that one should obey copyright?

2) What happens when the public square becomes privately owned? Is there a good side to this arrangement? Is there a bad side?

Well that's it for tonight.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

by Eileen Kramer

Well this blog has been quiet because VENGANCE has called me away. I met a fellow exBrainstormer who is every bit as disgruntled as I am and the result are three collaborative endeavors:

Banging Your Heart
Free Your Thoughts
the Veldt

This is a lot of work. I was doing most of my writing at Banging Your Heart. It was good to write about low social capital survival and vengance and such. Then my colleague alerted me to this....

Howard Rheingold's course at Berkeley's library school

I glanced at the syllabus and then realized that I too could read along and comment on at least some of the readings. This is published information. Hopefully students who will to some degree have to go along with their professors' points of view or who maybe don't know there is another way will see this blog and realize this.

Before we get started let me introduce myself. I need an introduction so that others do not introduce me. Most of what they tell you will be true by the way. In November of 2003, I joined Brainstorms which is a community that Howard partially owns. It is governed by a group of his close associates. I never paid all that much attention to the politics there.

On a thread where we were discussing identity in cyberspace, in a conference that dealt with life online, I confessed that I maintained three alternate personnae. Two of them are very active these days. You can even visit their web site if you like. They each have sites at that domain.

I confessed because I was doing a lot of art work for the pages. They were at the time the best pages I had. I also confessed because it was on topic and I could provide insight in to deception, its causes, and its reasons. I also confessed because I did not want to be blackmailed later and because Brainstorms was NOT SPIDERED and confidential.

I ultimately paid for my confession with my membership, but it was worth it to be who I am and say what I said. I value self expression above community. I think others should value it too. Hopefully this blog should serve as an example of what a person with low social capital (Brainstorms definition) can do.

Now I commented about what my avatars were doing from time to time, always in the Life Online conference and in the identity thread. By the spring of 2004, I found myself part of a meta conference thread which is a kind of due process that Brainstorms gives to wayward members. In late April after two weeks of watching the back and forth on this thread, I found myself exonerated and then two days later I got kicked out anyway. Go figure.

I was no longer a newbie. I had a large investment in Brainstorms, and they had jerked me around as no one deserves to be jerked around. I was and still am very angry. I chose to express my anger by playing pretend. Note this is not my original play pretend board. My server space switched machines and ate all my Vestris boards including the original Third Rail. So it goes. My avatars also use PPU to talk among themselves. Sometimes I just like having a place to play them that does not belong to any one else. I believe in self expression and refuse to give up or shut up.

I also outed myself on my blog as far as the avatars were concerned. I figured if the bastards who kicked me out of Brainstorms wanted to shame me, I would respond to that shame and silencing by refusing to shut up and by talking it up. I would also use my blog to tell the whole world what a rotten place Brainstorms was. I still do that. I do not believe in letting go or moving on. My blog is my place where I can write what I want and no one tells me to shut up.

Now to set the record straight: Howard Rheingold had very little if anything to do with my expulsion. The reason for this was that he was out of town at the time I was going through due process in the meta conference. Those left in charge made the decision, not him.

Brainstorms, however, is Howard's community. He is the founder. Howard, also holds himself up as an authority on virtual communities. Well I am a disgruntled member of one of Howard's virtual communities and this is my blog. Now let's get on with the critiques and commentary.

2 Fred Turner, "Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy: the WELL and the Origins of Virtual Community," Technology and Culture, vol 46 no 3, July 2005, 485-512. (Reader) This article really made me glad. It made me glad I was born in 1962, almost too late to be a boomer and certainly too late to be a hippy. It also made me glad I never shelled out the money required to join the Well. I remember telling a nice lady on the phone back in 1992, that I wanted to cancel my Prodigy subscription and that was it for paid organizations until I rejoined theAtlantic Monthly's board, but they at least give you a magazine subscription.

I think that virtual communities have roots in many places. Most of the newer communities, your typical MSN Group, for example are made up of people who never even heard of the Well and who wanted nothing to do with the Counter Culture. I've read Wired, but other than my unfortunate foray in to Brainstorms, I've never had much to do with the people who founded the Well or their disciples. I'm glad of that now. Why would I want anything to do with people who think it is good to addle your brains with drugs? True, I did get drunk in college and I won't tell you the rest since this blog is public but everyone I knew (including myself) knew that recreational chemicals were a vice not a way to a new plane of consciousness or any other such rot. No one I knew wanted to go live on a farm in the boonies and become psychologically naked in front of any one else. We wanted privacy and rooms of our own. Space inside our own minds was what we took for granted. We also faced the recession of 1982 which meant jobs were not something we could take for granted. Making money in the capitalist world was important to us.

The people who got me on to the net and the pioneering users I remember were the folks who hung out on Bitnet Relay Chat. CornellC was the node. CornellA and later SUnrise (when I was in graduate school in Syracuse) was where I had my account. Yes, this was all on a big mainframe (fancy that!) and yes, it was my tuition dollars hard at work. Relay was command driven and so very different from today's internet. It also was a much smaller net. You were there with whoever was on and that was part of the charm of the thing. If you wanted to talk with students in Europe, you signed on early in the morning before Cornell closed its gate at 9am. Syracuse had relay all day and all night. I remember staying up until 3am in an untended corner of Link Hall, long after the last bus to South Campus had left, chatting away.

Relay had marginal networking benefits. I had one relay friend whom I met in real life when I visited Syracuse in the spring of 1986. Also when relayers changed schools, they announced their new addresses. These were email addresses but this far back in time, no one we knew except other relayers had email. I also made a relay friend who helped get me access to STN when I was in library school. I shared his searches with a fellow student, Yi Peng. Yi got his citation searches (since citation searches were rare these were prizes or so I thought) and I got the Chem Abs (STN ones.) Chem Abs was unavailable through any of the student accounts the library school had for practice searching. The STN I used came through the chemistry department.

The most beneficial thing that relayers did for one another was announce when there was thunder. This was the job of relayers at Cornell beacause the node was CornellC which lived in Langmuir lab out by the airport in Cayuga Heights. A single bolt of lightening aimed at the transformer on the roof of Langmuir killed the internet in Central New York for several hours. An Ithacan would announce: "I hear thunder." Being a Cornell alum, I would then ask: "What building are you in?" This is somethign Cornellians always ask each other because the campus is huge. Then we'd wait for the net to crash.

Most relayers were students. Most were male. Most were science or engineering majors. That was the world of relay. I found my way to relay because I played Dungeons and Dragons with computer science students and engineers. There were no hippies. The moderators were in charge. Place and time mattered. The university (especially Cornell) ran their mainframe with an iron fist and decided when, where, and how we'd have access to relay. For me, this was the origin of the net.

Second, I don't know what the Well is like today. I think you can join for free, but there are so many other places, and given its roots and my more traditionalist leanings, I doubt I'd be interested. I do think that today's Well does not resemble the nearly utopian but expensive bulletin board described in Turner's article. For one thing, the old Well never threw any one out. A community that did not throw "members" out, could not function today. The Well got its start long before spammers became a problem. Along with spammers come trolls and vandals. None of these are any fun and it takes a good, strong, hierarchical leadership to protect a community from such obvious threats. The early Well led a charmed life.

Third, Howard and others "giving without expectation of reward" in a "gift economy" were only fooling themselves. They received a big fat reward for their services. They were in with the "right people." Back in the early to mid 1980's most people did not have computers at home. The Well's membership was by its very definition, elite. One did not have to worry about "those people" being there.

"Those people" are the ones with whom you don't want to associate, whose views are too different. You can say they're boring. You can say they're dumb. You can just plain say you don't want to or have to like or be with every body. Unless a community is going to pride itself on its tolerance, a good community screens out "those people". I don't know much about the early Well, but I don't think a truck driver, civil servant, suit and tie corporation man, or Baptist preacher would feel particularly welcome on the Well. However, given how few people had computers, one would be unlikely to see such people on the Well to begin with and if they were uncomfortable there or just bored, they were free to drift away and cancel their subscriptions.

Most good virtual communities of which I am a member run with written rules and fairly rigid hierarchies. One knows who is in charge and that person (or persons) exercises power. MSN groups work like this. If the manager says to hide your email address (a real power play since this prevents back channel outside the group communication between members) you hide it or they kick you out. If there is an activity requirement (Yes there really are such things), you post every ten days or out you go. I don't mind this arrangement one bit, because I know where I stand as do most of the members. It also has nothing in common with those crazy hippies who founded the Well.

OK, let's have some questions....

  1. How tolerant of diversity should a virtual community be? At what point do "those people" form a risk to the community's survival?

  2. Most virtual communities are started with far less technical expertise than the founders of the Well. As a result they are on remotely hosted commercial supported media? Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

That's all for tonight. I'll write more when I can.