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


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.

Monday, January 29, 2007

by Eileen Kramer

Well it's time for Comm 117 again and we have finally cracked one of the textbooks. Actually, I craked both textbooks. This is the week of big readnigs. This takes me back to how things were at Cornell in the early eighties. I'm only a quarter of the way through the assigned readnigs, but I've been reading through both textbooks.

Dan Gillmor, We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly, 2004

Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel. The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect. New York: Crown Publishers, 2001

From what I can tell from what I have read so far, Howard is a master of the art of covering his derriere. Kovach and Rosentiel are for the most champions of traditional journalism. Gilmour, on the other hand champions the new media. The two really need to be read together to see the contrast.

Also Kovach and Rosentiel give words to my thoughts. I enjoy the news, though I am not quite a news junky. I've never given all that much thought to news being made, but I do know that name brand news outlets have far flung foreign correspondents who actually witness events rather than just opinion writers who spout off their view of things. Kovach and Rosentiel explained about the process of verification and careful editing along with orignal reporting that makes for good quality news.

Does this process happen out in the blogosphere among citizen journalists? Gilmour thinks it does because bloggers link to one another and go over each other's stories and it is possible due to lots of communication for corrections to spread.

I think Gilmour is dead wrong. I was involved in one back and forth incident over email about a riot at Columbia University. One person, M, posted a letter with a link to the site showing the melee on stage. Of course the good guys were trying to get anti-immigrant activists off the stage at Columbia University. Moreover, there was no campus security present. I went looking for the video of the incident, made with a cell phone camera by the way. I could not get it to come up. I Googled the event and found coverage of it in the Blue and White, Columbia University's student newspaper complete with a video of their own which showed the melee. The results were inconclusive but the two videos apparently looked quite different due probably to the angles at which they were shot. Columbia's President came out with a speech denouncing the kids who'd stormed the stage. You don't shut down views that are opposite your own by heckling. My friend, M, didn't like that, but I think the President of Columbia was right. Neither of us will ever get to the bottom of what actually went on.

Another more public example of how truth gets blunted wtihout a good formal fact checking system is Wikipedia and the Steiganthaler Scandal where bogus and slanderous information on a former public official stayed on Wikipedia for nearly six months and still exists on miror sites. Wikis may be fun, but they are not good places for accurate and truthful news.

Second, whom does Gilmour mean by "people?" Ordinarily the word, &quiot;people" just means human beings, but the people to whom Gilmour refers bear little if any resemblence to most human beings whom I know. Now I am probably as close to one of Gilmour's "people" as you can get. I cut my teeth on the net and web almost the same year as he did thouigh I was a few years younger. I was able to recognize in the mailing lists he described, not Onelist or Yahoogroups or Topica, the mailing lists that most ordinary people who subscribe to listservs know, but instead he refers to elite sometimes private mailing lists hosted on university servers. Sometimes I can smell my own kind a mile away.

Gilmour does not mention that Usenet is now Google Groups which is how most netziens know them, and for him MSN Grouops does not even exist and it was as if Geocities and Homstead never existed even though both offered and still offer online editors long before Blogger was ever around.

Gilmour waxes eloquent about the virtues of RSS Feeds which can package twenty blogs in to quick headlines so that readers can pick out their favorite articles. Mmmm....who has time to read twenty-blogs? Who would even want to? I usually prefer my news under one roof, NPR or BBC. I'll sometimes read through tne New York Times as well and I visit Failed Messiah and Counterpunch, but that is four or five places. People to Gilmour must be professional journalists or perhaps political activists.

These include both the fabled "prosumers" and those who are one step below them putting together their voluminous and customized news feeds so they can bathe in current events.

I boggle at this. Most people whom I know are a lot less interested in current events than I am and read or listen to a lot less news. In addition, only a very small minority of the population is confident and educated enough to write for leisure and that is blogging. A typical MySpace page rarely shows three coherent sentences strung together. The same is true for most of the MSN Groups to which I belong. Siggies are an answer to self expression when writing is difficult.

This writer's block is the chief reason the revolution of desk top publishing never happened. I went up to Spin Cycle to do my laundry the other day. The laundromat was not filled with pamphlets and personal newspapers and newsletters. It could be. For a few dollars spent making photocopies, and a word processor, any one can publish. Of course the laundromat had not one single self-published newspaper or pamphlet.

Meanwhile, in the developed world about which many rich people care deeply, typical people lack computers, phone lines, telephones, and even electricity. Even if they are literate and ready to write, they are not the people to whom Gilmour refers.

Gilmour's people are an elite who are talking to each other and amplifying the stories they think are important and not necessarily verifying their truth. As for the rest of the population. Maybe they could participate if they wanted to. Maybe they can't participate. It doesn't matter. Gilmour calls the elite "people." Everyone else is what.... Gilmour's language reminds me of that of Bornagains who refer to their faith as Christian as if that of liberal Christians is something else entirely.

One thing that really helps in handling Comm117 is keeping an open ear for language. As often happens in the social sciences words that you think have one meaning, really have another. Such a word is "citizen journalism." In my abysmal ignorance I assumed that it meant any one who wrote nonfiction without being paid for it. This included the doctors writing in JAMA and the students who write for nearly every college paper in the country. Well, I was wrong.

According to, Sanjana Hattotuwa in his article at Madrid 1, citizen journalism is progressive writers whose words and news stir thinking, progressive people to action for peace and justice. Those who might support either side in the endless civil war in Sri Lanka engage in hate speech, drivel, and propaganda.

Now I was curious, so I paid a visit to Groundviews. I found it interesting because I was curious to learn more about the civil strife in Sri Lanka. I also wanted to know what kind of things were posted on the blog. They were mainly articles critical of the Sri Lankan government and which also consider LITE (The Tamil Tigers) a terrorist organization. The posts are newsy and low key and about what Mr. Hattotuwa promised. The question I have is: who writes these things. One post, Do Tigers Swim in the Sea, is written by an expat Tamil who lives in Delaware. The others are written mainly authors who only list their first names. I would probably win a bet that very few of the posters are from the northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka, area partially controlled by the Tamil Tigers and area that is largely Tamil. The reason one does not see such posts is that Sri Lanka is a developing country and the average Tamil villager does not have a computer andd can not go to his local public library or cyber cafe to use one. He may not even have a phone or electricity, and if he is just scraping by to make ends meet, he doesn't have time to read or write to blogs.

Right now the jargon prize goes to James Moore of Harvard University. This author of the piece on the Second Beautiful Super Power is a very wealthy business consultant. He also makes his living speaking mainly to members of the elite. I doubt that the gentleman who runs Decatur's Best Taxi Service or Fraternite Taxi or the little grocery store down by the train station in Decatur know thing one or care about business ecosystems and I bet they know their businesses have plenty of competition.

Moore is interested in all kinds of public policy. He supports what I can guess from what he wrote is some kind of single payer health reform. He spends money to help cure AIDS in Africa. He is a venture capitalist which means he is very wealthy.

His specialty is something called OPML Theory. Now alphabet soup is a tastey treat, but you can see clearly why Mr. Moore has won the jargon prize. OPML by the way is feed making software. As I mentioned above, who has time to visit twenty blogs or even scan them, even as feeds of various types. A few bookmarks suit me fine. Remember, I only go to four or five places to get my news and commentary. Professional journalists though might find OPML useful. It would be nice of Mr. Moore to include a definition link on his blog, but I guess he can't be bothered.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

by Eileen Kramer

Let's deal with the readings in Howard's course, beautiful Comm 117/217 at Stanford. Here they are...

Open It Up: New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and SanFrancisco Chronicle by Bernard Moon

Oh My News Makes Every Citizen a Reporter by Yu, Yeon-Jung

The Second Super Power Rears It's Beautiful Head by James Moore

Newscloud.com This is CommonTimes. Its name and location have changed.

I did not get to see News in 2014 because it took forever to load and I gave up on it. I've seen it before. At least one can say that Howard is presenting a kind of balanced or at least mixed bag of views.

I'll start with NewsCloud. If there were a prize for user unfriendly sites, this one would win. It is not that users can vote on their favorite stories and the votes determine placement that bothers me. I always find my way around such gee-gaws when I go looking for the news I want. At NewsCloud it takes three or four clicks to reach an article. Worse yet, that article is squeezed in to a tiny I-frame which makes it most unpleasant to read. I tried it once. That was one time too many. Maybe the site was better before it changed domains. Maybe it received an unfortunate redesign. Howard, it pays to walk through your links occasionally.

Moon's article was a puff piece. It is 2007 and CNN, MSNBC, and their ilk far outshine bloggers and "citizen journalists." Put another way, whom do I trust, a bunch of tags stuck on sites by people with no expertise and a handful of recommendations of friends or a real news source with a name I trust through years of being in the business and having a staff of real reporters all over the world? I teach students this, but half of them all ready know that authoritativeness counts and your average blogger does not have it. Those who do have a brand name, have it mainly as op-ed writers: Daily Kos, Little Green Footballs etc...

Actually, "citizen journalists" are nothing new. You can find them in the pages of JAMA. Yes, that's the Journal of the American Medical Association. Doctors, write some of the most entertaining book reviews around plus there is either a piece of poetry or an essay. All right, it is not quite journalism but ordinary, educated people can write, and what they write is exceedingly useful. JAMA is something I miss very much.

Another example of citizen journalims is any college newspaper. The Cornell Daily Sun is an especially good example. If any Comm117 students are out there watching, how about the Stanford Daily? Then we have sites such as DeadMalls.com which run on user contributions.

I also paid a visit to Oh My News! Well, it didn't live up to its billing which didn't surprise me since I was a bit sickened by all the hype. Now maybe the Korean version is different, but the English version is an odd mix of articles, mainly about Asia. Unlike a typical newspaper, there is nothing local about Oh My News! Most of your alternative papers such as Creative Loafing are very much creatures of their home towns. I really don't want to read about a museum in Chicago (unless I plan to travel there) or the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. If I want that sort of thing there are travel books. As for the big stories, they are way down the front page. These include: the war in Iraq among others.

Also most of the "citizen journalists" at the Oh My News! site are professional journalists looking for more work and a chance to add to their resumes. The doctors who appear in JAMA and the students writing for college papers are far more citizen journalists than those writing for the English language edition of On My News!

Howard, unfortunately, has a way of reusing his readings from one semester to the next. I remember the finding some very useful information on the Korean elections in the CIA Fact Book. Roh won the Korean election, but DID NOT receive a majority of the vote. He received a plurality. In the American system this would have thrown the election to the Congress to decide. Roh governed by coalition, survived an impeachment attempt and had his party fission and reemerge under another name. Is this the kind of victory we would like for any of our politicians? Hey journalism students and Howard, check your facts! I know I will.

The Moore piece is also a repeat from last fall. I don't know where to begin, but I am curious about the author. I think the piece if fast getting dated. It was written in passion and in Cambridge, MA March 31, 2003, ten days after the war in Iraq started. That war is now nearly four years old. The so-called "Second Super Power" has not gotten out our troops. If anything, Bush is going very unpopularly for a surge. Well, Moore as much as admits that the progressive activists bound together by the net are not any thing close to a majority in the United States.

I think Moore should spend a few weeks in red state America. This is where the grass roots opposition to the second beautiful super power lives. You don't find it so much in Atlanta but I remember walking back home from Democratic party headquarters in 2004 when the election looked too close to call. Georgia had all ready gone under the wire with the first votes for Bush. That is what you get for living in a red state on the East coast. Anyway, as I came up Morris Road I passed the Lighthouse Baptist Church. Their door was open and their light was on. They were watching the results. There they were, a whole bunch of "values voters."

Also, the United States is not South Africa. It is too big for international organizations to tell it what to do. We are big enough to handle sanctions and to resist the bribes to sign treaties with which we disagree. Little countries sign these treaties to get subsidies or to avoid sanctions. We are a bit like Israel which is so tough it stands up to all the world's criticism, even when sometimes that criticism is justified. In short, the second beautiful super power is going to have some tough going in the South and heartland of the You Ess of Aye. This is one very divided and polarized country.

Also the authorities have ways of dealing with even agile net powered administrators. First, they can infiltrate net groups and catch the word of planned protests and other actions. This is easy. Many blogs and email discussion groups are open and public. Activity requirements are something for MSN Groupniks, not for the political left, so it is safe to lurk, listen, and learn. Second, the pollice can turn very oppressive. No one wants their windows smashed Seattle style. I've had one run in with Atlanta's finest at a protest last fall. It wasn't pleasant. Third, private property is a protest victim's best friend. Holding meetings and speeches on PRIVATE PROPERTY makes them picket proof or nearly so, especially if the parking lot is large and/or the meeting way inside the building. All of these strategies work to thwart the second beautiful super power. They also work pretty well against smart mobs.

Finally, is the Hizbollah rabble in Beiruit a smart mob or part of the scond beautiful super power? Clearly someone on their strategy team read all the people power books and articles, and it worked until the first stones got tossed yesterday and the general strike turned very rowdy a day before. According to an article in the New York Times one protester even said that blocking streets was a democratic tactic recognized the world over. I'd like to invite that Hizbollah sympathizer to Atlanta and let he and his buddies block traffic. He'd learn how democratic we think that is. I don't think many civil liberties types would have too much sympathy with the little protester as the cops hauled him off to jail.

It looks like today was a day without either fiction or Myspace. I have a letter waiting for me on Myspace. I am still locked out of the boards until early next week. This advertising project for ZOID and other venues is going to be long range. Meanwhile, I am dealing with Ghostletters, Diamond as Brown as a Turd, and Betula Academy as my three fiction sites. I am at the point of giving up on the Invisionfree.com role plays I have joined. It is not that the people there have been inhospitable. It is just when someone doesn't pick up on your posts or you can't self tag, that you tear out your hair. Then you say, "I'm sick of waiting for other people.I just want to write."

I think Wikis have a lot of potential as sites for both solo and group fiction. Betual Academy is purest fantasy but it is fun. It is first person in many voices which is kind of avante garde. I want to keep it from descending in to cliche and schtick. I am not a great fiction writer, but fiction is just so much fun, it is too good to resist.

I am even embarassed to talk about writing fiction, except maybe on this blog. I did not advertise any of my current fiction endeavors on Myspace. I don't want people to think I'm an aspiring novelist. I'm just not that good.

Haldis rostered her team tonight. Half the fighters are in upper level. The Webleagues has absorbed what was left of Military Honor Salute. Remember that second beautiful super power. Well here is a piece of its counterweight.

Golden Elite dies this weekend. I did my crying over that last weekend. Thadea backed up everything. Her team no longer has any fighters and hasn't since Thanksgiving. I think the design work was good, but the design work on Haldis' team is cutting edge. There is something about looking at both teams that makes me sad, but I can't write about it on this blog.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

by Eileen Kramer

Haldis got to keep the fighter who was leaving her team. She simply asked him to stay and he stayed. I wish I could write more about this, but this is an active fighter who hopefully will stay an active fighter.

I finally conducted the site fighting census. The Site Fights currently has 129 rostered competitors. Fantasy Fights has 75. I remember when I considered a competition with fewer than two-hundred and fifty competitors too weak to recruit from. I remember back in 1999 when the site fights featured twenty teams and four hundred fighters. How the mighty have fallen.

I haven't really began Howard's readings yet for this week. I can't get the New York Times 2014 video to load. I give up waiting for it. I've seen it at least twice before. I think the idea of everyone getting news from their network and having one giant online storage facility is simply not going to happen.

First, even first year students (and why not first year students) know about authority and reputability. News from a name brand source such as the Times or CNN has more authority than whatever dreck your network filters, and even if they enjoy the stuff that ends up in the geegaws, they recognize it as something other than news.

Of course there is a way to have a "daily me," and many articles I read for two weeks ago, say that nobody ever reads all of a newspaper. Everyone has their favorite parts so why should the net be any different. Still, people don't always want the same parts and even if they care about different issues, they want their news on their favorite issues from a good source.

If people really want a filtered experience, there is a place for them, and that's over in the next column. I don't think the people who don't care about authoritative news will be spending their time with bloggers who pretend or aspire to be journalists.

On another note, are the Hizbollah rioters in Beiruit, a smart mob? Are they using cell phones to swarm. I know they have a charismatic leader and some kind of hierarchy, but out in the field, do they use nimble bottom up tactics? Does any one know and does that make what they are doing any better? Kudos and hats off to fouad Siniora for staying in power and resisting this mob and to the Lebanese armed forces for staying on their Prime Minister's side against this rabble.

So you want to know about MySpace. I have been in the belly of the beast for four days. Is it really as scandalous as outsiders and sensationalists claim? Is it totally mindless? It is none of the above.

MySpace denziens are excellent story tellers. They tell their stories with their profiles. A typical MySpace story goes like this:

Look at me! I am normal! I am attractive! I am desirable! I listen to music and make up poetry so I have soul. I have a beautiful body or cute kids. Look at the photographs.

Last night I dreamed I had returned to Neopets and was feeding my pets. Somewhere in my brain, Brainstorms, Neopets, and MySpace all run together. MySpace comes out the best of the lot, but the similarities are striking. All three are walled kingdoms. At six hundred members, Brainstorms is far and away the smallest and it is homogenious enough to claim to be a community. Neopets and MySpace on the other hand are many orders of magnitude larger and neither ever really throws somebody out. Neopets has a revolving door on it. MySpace lets just about anything happen within very broad limits. Those who join can stay forever.

Still there is a big downside to MySpace which is probably why Neopets invaded my dreams. MySpace is not portable. Friends made in MySpace often do not give each other their outside email addresses. Walk away from MySpace or lose your account and the friends vanish. This is what happened to the bulk of my Neofriends. The profile pages on MySpace are black boxes. They are probably impossible to save in their entirety though one can save the pieces one inserts. There is no where to upload graphics for use in decorating a profile either. The graphics that decorate a profile all have to be remotely loaded just as on Neopets. You can contrast this with Geocities if you like. By the way, a profile page is so complexly coded and quirky, that I doubt it would or could transfer to the outside world. Like Neopets, MySpace has the ability to make users very dependent.

What I find sad about MySpace right now is that I am learning once again that most people can't or won't (It's probably a combination of the two) write. Writing for pleasure just like leisure reading is an aquired taste and a learned art. I find countless MySpace prfiles with blank "About Me" areas that instead hold graphics or videos.

Likewise, MySpace users don't really get any opportunity to learn to code. Yes, you can use html on your profile and if you know something about style sheets you are welcome to make one, but this is not a project for beginners. Yes, I think beginners should start out with a basic tabula rasa web site. That means an About Me page, a gallery, a site map, a page of links etc... Learning to get the text to stand out and the graphics not to interfere is a big design lesson, but you need a full featured web site with a file manager for that.

Also it would be nice if they taught html and css construction in schools since so many teens are on MySpace. They might have a shot at building a static web site and linking it to their MySpace profiles with which luck, they can skin themselves with their own style sheets. This is a good kind of project for teenagers.

Real html, is elegant due to its simplicity and portability. It requires no special software and only some storage media for the finished product. With real html, one has the possibility of progressing from a hobby page to a professional site. I've seen this with site fighters turned administrators, myself included. I've seen this with vitas posted on the web. I've seen this with small business web sites or business pages within personal sites. With MySpace profiles though, there is no way to begin working with something that is at home as much at work as at play.

MySpace is heavily glyphic with its emphasis on pictures, video, and music. Reading and writing feel dwarfted yet you need both to convey and receive real and subtle information. To be a full person on the web you need to read, write, draw, and code. MySpace does a lot to thwart full personhood.

And of course you want to know about the sex. Well, the good news is I haven't run across any pornography yet or anything a child could not look at. Ladies in boustiers or camisoles are no worse than what one finds in ads in womens' magazines. The same is true for shots of guys in bathing trunks or sarongs. MySpace oozes sexuality. If you're not in the mood for it, and I'm often not, it is jarring. It is not obscene (though one could argue the point, and in a more conservative culture it would be) or pornographic, but it is in your face if you wander in to random profiles. The sexuality by the way would probably be lost on a small child. To her it would just be pictures of grownups in underware or not much clothes.

At the other end of the scale, I'm sure there are adolescent boys (and girls) masturbating to all the cheesecake one can find on MySpace. As I said, in a different culture, this would be pornography but given what one can find in advertisements in mass market magazines, it's grudgingly acceptible.

And please don't ask why MySpacers show off (or at least some of them). Remember that story "I am beautiful. I am normal. Look at me! Notice me!" Well, what is more conventionally appealing than a woman in tight jeans or short shorts and a camisole or boustier. She is beautiful but since she is covered up, she is appropriately chaste and a good girl. Sorry, I sound so jaded around this story. I gave up on being normal a long time ago or on proving it to strangers. Let others do what they like though. I hope I can post on the politics boards soon.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

by Eileen Kramer

It is very sad when a role play dies. This was an excellent story in so many ways. A couple of mmiddle schoolers had stumbled on to a classic plot line. An angel and demon twin sisters form a specialized boarding school for the magically gifted in to gangs and then the gangs do battle. The role play never got the character mass, but the hosts never posted enough or answered the last posts. Unlike other people's romances, other people's battle's when they are in close proximity are interesting.

Also the original plot line created by the hosts morphs in to four plots. The first plot is the battle between the two sisters and their allies. The second plot occurs because neither side is all that cohesive and not that monolithic. Everyone always has their own agenda. Each twin has to fight to retain leadership of her own side and alliances between those on opposite sides form. The third plot concerns the staff. Whose side are they on? Finally, there is the outside world. How do town and gown interact? You can see why this story has potential.

The problem with continuing to write on the Complete Opposites site is that I am not the owner and I'd end up having to power play the existing characters and change some of what the school looks like and basicly rewrite a fair amount of the story to bring it around to my vision which may well not be the hosts' vision. Also, the site belongs to Melodie and Heather. They deserve to stay as hosts.

Therefore, if I want to continue this story, and for some reason it does cry out to be continued, I have to find another site. I thought about putting it on YupYupYup but conventional Invisinofree role plays end up with a lot of empty spaces. Look at poor turd if you want to see a classic example, and that role play is nice and active.

I remembered Wikia from Howard's course last fall and sure enough, they had a spot for role plays though it took me a while to find it. A short while later, Betual Academy was born. I started the story from Uriel Swanson's point of view. She was my character on Complete Opposites. I renamed the angelic/demonic pair of twins. I also shifted the race classifications to a more realistic taxonomy, and put the story in the first person. I had Urielle write the introductory chapter that sets the scene and that is all I have. I actually look forward to writing more.

My MySpace profile is now up and open for business. I dumped Tom as a "friend" He offers help, but doesn't let you email him. I seem to have no access to boards in either groups or the main fora at Myspace. It may have something to do with my not being there a week. I wish the FAQ were clearer on this. I tried writing Tom. He is unreachable. I dumped him as a "friend." I don't need "friends" like that.

I also had two friendship offers from complete strangers. These came by email. I checked them out. One was selling sex toys. I was not interested in her and declined. The other is selling his moving and hauling service. I accepted him. I hoefully can meet his friends and he might want to talk even if he is in business. Both he and the sex toy merchant are based here in Atlanta. I like the capitalistic feel of MySpace.

I need to check out Bill Richardson and Barrack Obama's web pages. They are both running for President. I like Obama. What left leaning Demorcat doesn't and don't tell me about people not being electable due to their skin color. On the other hand, there is something about Bil Richardson that says "WINNER!" Something about him also reminds me of Howard Dean.

This early in a Presidential contest, the question as much as platforms matter, is not as much about stands on various issues as the health of the campaign. I suspect there will be a lot of internet campaigning this time around. That is good because I'd like to be part of what goes on with the net and then take it back to Georgia. Georgia is a Super Tuesday State so that means we have an early primary mixed up with many other early primaries. By the time the Presidential race got to New York it was three quarters over.

Joe Trippi opened up my eyes to how early most campaigns start. That means I need to get cracking.

I also need to get back to working on Howard's spring course. I had to teach today so there was a kind of one day haitus from going after the readings. I think this week's readings are all online which will make them easy to get, though to tell the truth, I could be wrong.

Haldis is losing a fighter from her team. She wrote a letter to him begging him to come back.

Haldis also learned the fate of Wyoming Kid, aka William Jay Whatley, who is like a doppleganger of my own father. I can't talk about it on this blog, because it is a private matter about a real person. Military Honor Salute, a web site competition, where none of my avatarot could ever compete, is now another casualty. It seems like the whole site fighting world is being decimated this spring.

My plans for advertising ZOID have run in to MySpace' slowness and beaurocracy so they are on hold for a few days. Maybe by this time next week, I'll feel better and be able to talk on the boards there. That would be a big help. In the end, you have to advertise yourself and build up an image as a trustworthy and likeable person. Part of selling anything is selling yourself. Maybe that is the biggest part.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

by Eileen Kramer

I want to start this out by blogging it from the beginning. This is about site fighting or web site competitons. I am writing this because site fighting is a good thing and worth perserving. What is site fighting? Site fighting is the art of placing your personal web site in a competition where others can visit it via a link and vote for it if they like it. Competitors often vote for one another's sites. They often trade votes. This makes site fighting NOT a meritocracy, but meritocracy can be cruel and needlessly judgemental. There is also more than one way that sites can be good.

After a time competitors in a site fight grow to know each other. They network and exchange votes. They cheer for their teams and donate graphics and quilt squares. They may also make other donations and participate in other group activities. In many competitions, team managers and higher ups reward fighters who participate in these activities with spirit points. They don't reward vote exchange, but trading votes is its own reward, but spirit activities and vote exchange are social networking and should have an intrinsic rward. This is what happens in a healthy competition.

Site fighting is social networking for those with a lot of creativity and independence, and not all that much social capital. No, site fighters, are not losers. They are reasonably creative people who are doing something to get to know others and who are not afraid to meet new people. Site fighters are winners.

If you want to see viable site fights, you can visit ZOID City. We may be small but we've been in business for seven years. Fantasy Fights also has pretty much stayed in business as long. The original site fight was The Site Fights.. Yes, you will notice that it is hard to find sites for which to vote They are buried back, for the most part at team pages. Sites win more visibility as they advance through the ranks. They may work their way up (Usually they don't make it) through those ranks for as long as they like. Site fighting and drumming up those votes which usually means trading for them takes work and is exhausting. People will pay very heavy price to belong. A good site fight gives them that reward, though it's a bit more complicated than that.

Where has site fighting gone wrong? The site fighting world is moribund. Logically this should not be. Millions of people have some type of personal web site, and of those millions, a substantial fracition is publicly available. Moreover, social networking is booming. Site fighting is social networking for the brave of heart because it brings together diverse people or it once did. Back in 1999, site fights included both men and women, kids and adults, those interested in fantasy, Christianity, science, sports, humor etc... Given all these potential site fighting out there, we should be living in a world where people gather around the water cooler at work or in the break room and talk about the sites they support or who they know who's competing or a great new competition that is opening up.

Alas, these days site fighting is anything but a household word. When Thadea fought, she realized there were two hundred site fighters exchanging votes and seventy doing it in a heavy duty way. That is a tiny community and it was not growing. At one point Thadea found herself on a social network called Ringo. The network she found, was made up almost entirely of the fighters with whom she exchanged votes and nobody else. Thadea also saw the site fighter demographics. They were no longer diverse.

Site fighters were grown women who seldom worked full time. Most lived in flyover country, outside major cities. Few had a college education. There is nothing wrong with a club of conservative mature women, but it is not the diverse audience that had existed two to four years before.

The numbers and demographics which Thadea discovered while fighting was the most valuable information. She also learned that it is possible to run a competition fairly and humanely, but that still didn't change the first set of facts, and this set of facts was a very big indicator or trouble.

What is killing ste fighting is vote exchange in its present form. Vote exchange is not evil in itself. On an appropriate scale, which is a small and personal scale, it actually reinforces the goals and purposes of site fighting. It also in the short run acts as free advertising. Vote exchange is not cheating. Vote exchange is not dishonest. Vote exchange is a classic case of behavioral reinforcement. It is buying love and recognition one vote and one fighter at a time. Once Thadea started exchanging votes, she wanted more of them. I looked for more fighters who were interested in vote exchange. There are sites that list such fighters. She increased her base of supporters. She eventually even joined vote exchange boards which trade votes wholesale by having members agree to vote for everyone on the board in turn for having everyone vote for them. After seveal months, Thadea was casting a hundred and fifty to two hundred votes a day and getting betwen seventy-five and a hundred and twenty-five votes per day for her site.

: I don't have to say that this form of vote exchange is a time sink. It can and does burn out site fighters and good ones leaving them to crash and burn and ultimately with very little to show for their efforts.At the high end, vote exchange, can turn exploitive, but fighters ask for the pain that comes with this kind of love. What site fighting does for competitons as a whole is far more destructive. Site fighting back in 1999 depended on viral advertising. You knew a friend or family member who site fought and got involved. Vote exchangers made good viral advertisers as they brought in family and friends and got less involved fighters more involved and socialized.

By 2003 all of this had changed. First, I don't have to tell you that vote exchange on the level that Thadea practiced it, was a huge time sink. A fighter like Thadea did not have the time to recruit new fighters. Competitions were supposed to have staff to do this. The staff were often burnt out fighters who wanted to keep their hand it. Site fighting is very hard to leave. You invest so much in it at high level and put so much of your heart in to fighting, it is hard to leave. You speak fighting as a language and understand fighters. You can never go back to being an outsider. Then again, fighters also often become team managers. Some are good at it. Thadea and I are better administrators than we are fighters. Some fighters like Calumn can not administrate.

Since the best fighters are absorbed in vote exchange, they no longer have the time to recruit new fighters by exampe. The best advertisement of course is successful happy fighters. The high end vote exchangers are off on vote exchange boards with their bretheren. They have escaped the whiney outsider problem. Family and friends asked to vote for more than a week, often end up whining "how much longer are you going to do this?" Vote exchangers are fighters. They understand. Why should successful fighters go anywhere else?

This makes the world of site fighting downright incestuous. Vote exchange boards also raise the price of success at site fighting to a time committment that locks out many would be fighters. Finally, there is simply no one to advertise to nonsite fighters. Recruiting is hard work.On a good day it has a ninty percent rejection rate and the good days are long over. It takes more energy than fighting. It is not a great hobby for burnt out tired fighters who really need more TLC than pouring posts down a black hole of guestbooks gives them.

What has happened in the last year or two is that as experienced fighters burnt out, which is to some degree a natural consequence of site fighting with high levels of vote exchange, there have been few if any new replacements. As a result, competitions have shrunk.

The second factor that is killing site fighting is a crisis of imagination when it comes to advertising and recruiting. For too long it has been to easy to convince fighters to take on a second competition, rather than to look for outsiders and make them in to fighters. This cuts an existing pie in to tiny slices at a time when the pie needs to expand for there to be enough to eat. Competiton managers have not invested the money or energy in advertising in real life. Thadea and I have both suggested this. I've come close to doing it. Real life intervened in my case and Thadea got a response that dropped like a lead weight when she actually proposed it.

Advertising on the open net, signing guestbooks and sending e-cards and email, has become more difficult due to SPAM. Web site owners have taken guestbooks down to keep them from accumulating ads for Viagra, links to build up Google placement, links to pornography sites etc.... Webmasters have removed links to email so that recruiters can not reach them or even send t hem cards. Web users change addresses frequently increasing the number of dead addresses left on web sites, and have filters on their email to keep strangers, even those with good informative messages out. Getting a signal through in a world of noise is just plain not easy.

Also, site fighters have ignored the new, large, social networking communities. Some of these have private pages such as Wallop and FaceBook. Neopets forbids outside links so its pet pages can not be fought. There are also COPPA problems with Neopets, but there is Myspace, Blogspot, LiveJournal, and several other communities that offer publicly viewable personal pages and have users in the millions and a way to reach them that doesn't compete with spam.

Thadea's respnose when she suggested recruiting on Myspace was that it was full of "bad guys." Thadea's response was simply that her competiton enforce its rules for site content instead of using those rules as a political statement of what we considered good web sites to be. Thadea then got told that those on MySpace were there to "hook up." I thought this was weird as did Thadea. After all, no site fight that I know of forbids, its members from writing about romance or flirting provided it is done using reasonably polite language. In fact, there are few things in the world more normal, than a single adult seeking a partner. What the person who made the remark about "hooking up" meant was that she did not want "those people" as site fighters.

This person said a mouthful. This time around "those people" were healthy ordinary high school and college students and young single adults. Is this where site fighting has landed. I persisted and did Thadea. One of us was going to recruit on MySpace and it looks like it is going to be me since the Golden Elite is closing. I have no idea if MySpace sites, even those publicly displayed can site fight. I'm not sure about outside links in MySpace and graphic storage and a whole host of technical issues. If I can get past these, we may have a shot at bringing a lot of new blood in to ZOID. This means that we will easily double or triple in size. With its liberal admission rules and owner who works in academia (and is on a schedule more conducive to college studnerts) ZOID will probably be the best competiton to work out in MySpace. Yes, the ZOID site will very much still operate. I'll be using my MySpace site and membership to recruit.

It also means that this time around, the important thing will be to keep the fighters involved with one another and networking, not just trading votes. As I once wrote: "friends do more than scream 'vote for me! vote for me!'" I'm not going to outlaw or approve vote exchange. I'm not going to mention it. Hopefully, we can grow a new site fighting culture that bypasses the vote exchange boards, and maybe some of the traditional site fighters who are still around can bridge to some of the new blood maybe this will revitalize the whole site fighting world. I can dream. I've been dreaming for seven years.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

by Eileen Kramer

I am not ready to discuss Thadea and the Golden Elite yet. I will some time soon. I want to instead talk about site fighting in general.

What is good about site fighting and web site competitions? The stock answer used to be friendship and fun. I think the answer is nmore or less right. Site fighting provides a small amount of attention for the little personal web site owner, but more importantly it puts that owner in touch with a diverse bunch of people he or she might not otherwise meet. It is the opposite of today's insular social networking sites where you stay inside a like minded circle of friends.

I also think one can use web site comeptitions to encourage craft in web sites. This doesn't always make for the best sites, but most people who site fight do take pride in their sites. Here is an example of a site that fights at Webleagues. She used to fight for Haldis but switched teams. Her site is well cared for and visually lush. It may not be to everyone's taste and yes you can fight an openly displayed MSN Group. Html coding for MSN takes special patience because MSNGroups does not let you use style sheets. I know Angelika worked hard on her group.

I know site fighting is not always a meritocracy. I also have tasted of the evils of vote exchange both as myself and Thadea. I want to talk about that at a different time in another piece.

I guess I need to deal with more Communications 117 readings. My problem is that I lack those five socialization courses that nearly all of Howard's students have had. This makes me not know any of the language of journalism which like any field must have its own lingo.

Well here are the readings:

What is Narrative Anyway? by Chip Scanlon. Note: this was my second dead link in two weeks. Fortunately, Scroogle came to my rescue. Boy does Howard put together sloppy course pages.

All the News That's Fit to Blog by Charles Cooper

The Newspaper of the Future Timothy O'Brien

Well, Cooper believes that blogs are basicly the big competition for newspapers. I think I'm going to disagree since so many newspapers and other real news sources are on the net. CNN, MSNBC, the wire services, the New York Time and AJC, all leave blogs in the dust, and if I'm wrong, I'll be very surprised.

I liked the Newspaper of the Future article, but then again I agree with it. I think online news sources whip blogs rear ends. Most blogs just like the interactive gee-gaws at most news sites are just some informed person blowing hot air. Informed people can blow hot air. Look at me on my blog if you want proof.

That said, something about the Lawrence news operation gave me pause. True, they have government documents online and some of what they do is quite newsworthy, but when does giving the people what they want turn from journalism to entertainment. After all seeing your little leaguer son or daughter on an electronic baseball card, may give the web site hits and sell advertising revenue and make parents, friends, and junior him or herself quite happy, but it's not really news. Similarly college students washing their dirty linen in public with online diaries are a lot of fun to read, but is that real news? That said, I think people want to be entertained or television and movies would not be successful. Television (that is not news) and movies, however are not news.

This brings me to the last reading, by Chip Sanclon, in which he presents a hodgepodge of definitions of narrative. Basilcly, Chip and some of the authors he quotes feel that narrative is important to presenting the news. Narrative is a type of story telling that links together events that occur in time or a similar sequence and gives them meaning as a coherent whole. This is fairly sophisticated story telling. It is possible to tell a story with almost no narrative. I see this all the time on MSNGroups. Stop by any "Hello" or "sign-in thread" What story do these one word plus a sig-file posts tell? "I am here. I have not forgotten to show up today."

Another example of story without narrative is a stock market report or sports scores. Everyone knows the story so you don't have to use narrative to tell everyone about a basketball game or a day of trading. The numbers, stats, and graph tell the story of the day's events. I think that narrative works for large magazine and Week in Review pieces. People who read articles like those want the story behind the story and it is most likely a story that they do not know. Other people could care less about nonfiction stories. Perhaps long magazine articles are an acquired taste.

I think news is as much about information as narrative and maybe a bit more about information with a bit of explanation thrown in. Hurricane Katrina was one big storm, but only the facts told us how big and the facts about the levvy in the Lower Ninth Ward told us something of why it collapsed. All the story telling in the world does not make news without the facts and information, and even the story behind the story in a long magazine piece is also about conveying information.

I'd like to answer Howard's key questions for this week: What kinds of news forms have emerged in the digital environment? How do they shift mass journalism's relationship to its audience? How can you "tell a story" in digital media?

The digital environment is mercilessly friendly to interactive gee-gaws. Sorry, that is what I call them because most of the time, they don't interest me in the slightest. I read the news for the facts and also for the story behind the story. I want to read what expert reporters, editors, and others with knowledge have to say. If I wanted to hear the general public I'd hang out in the break room. There are also nice extras like those little league baseball cards. The New York Times even had e-cards. I liked that.

The one site where I do make use of the gee-gaws to some extent is Failed Messiah. There the gee-gaws, in this case a comment mechanism produce a story without narrative. Shmarya posts an article. His friends and detractors come by and argue about it. Their arguments are inciteful. Sometimes Shamarya joins t hem. Sometimes there is even real news in the arguments. They also mean that Shamarya is not afraid of the official views from Orthodox Judaism and lets them on his site which makes it less biased. Altnhough, I am not a big fan of gee-gaws, I think they have their place.

The gee-gaws are supposed to convince the audience is supposed to feel like they own the news site. To a smaller extent the ability to email the authors and editors and the ability to make rapid corrections also fuels this fantasy. Sorry, I build web sites and I know what I own and what I don't. Failed Messiah is Shamarya's site. Being able to comment there does not give me a feeling of ownership. Neither does writing to Shamarya. I'm glad he's out thee providing information on charedi and Orthodox Judaism and pointing me to more information, but I'm a recipient of his knowledge, not a prosumer. When I write my own pieces, I sometimes link back to other Jblogs. They have yet to link to my tales out of schul.

You tell a story in digital media primarily through print with a few illustrations thrown in. The reason for this is bandwidth. Not everyone has a broadband connection. Text reaches more people with more connections more easily. Text prints out (Yes, your design should be printer friendly). As for gee-gaws, if you have a bunch of regulars at your web site and your story is controversial and the regulars like to duke it out and sometimes even duke it out with you, put on the gee-gaws, but I still think these are secondary. Most of us out there realy can't contribute to the news. It's a nice fantasy though.

As for narrative. It works well for some pieces and not others. Sports, business, and weather are stoies we all know. We just need the news to fill in the facts. Facts and information are the backbone of news. Narrative is nice, but it is not essential except in the magazine section.

It looks like I am going to indeed going to go to MySpace to recruit for ZOID. I am not sure how I feel about this except it is going to be a long slow slog as I set up a site and learn what capabilities I have or lack. I don't want to say much more about this, but I should have done this a long time ago, so too should a lot of other site fighters. This is going to mean some changes for ZOID. I hope I don't end up stretched too thin.

On Friday afternoon, during my lunch break, I created Urit. As happens when you create a character for a role play (Yes, this is mainly teens but if you role play modern genre characters, this is what you get.) I fell in love with her and went through a long eight hour wait for her acceptance.

Now playing her won't be half as fun as creating her, but that is beside the point. Pictall High, where Urit, is a student has rules against "Mary Sue and Gary Lou" characters. Mary Sue is teenage role playing for perfect characters. Mary Sues are usually beautiful, smart, wealthy, talented and trouble free. The problem is that many high school kids who role play want to write strong, beautiful, capable, athletic, smart characters. Well, there is no reason they should not write such characts, and it is possible to put such characters together without having them be flawlesly boring.

What role players need to shoot for is called a sympathetic character. A sympathetic character is one about whom an audience can care, and an audience can care about beautiful, successful, stong characters. Famous authors have crafted exactly such characters. Let's start with Lily Barton in Edith Wharton's House of Mirth. Lily is beautiful and has an outsize sense of ethics and a determination not to compromise her virtue. Lily's problem is that she can't seem to get along on less money and her finances are a mess. She slips down the financial greasey pole, nearly compromises herself once and eventually ends up killing herself.

A very different and equally sympathetic beautiful character is Ayn Rand's, Dagny Taggart. Dagny is tall, blond, gorgeous, wealthy. She also has a degree in engineering and is the chief operating officer for Taggart Continental. "From Ocean to Ocean Forever." Keeping a railroad running when everyone wants a piece of business people and the intellectuals treat them like dirt and the government is less than sympathetic is a monumental task. Dagny succeeds only by dint of very hard work and creative thinking. Working her tail off redeems Dagny Taggart from being a Mary Sue.

Both Ayn Rand and Edith Wharton offer clues for making strong, smart, and beautiful but sympathetic characters. Here is their trick in one word: challenges. As strong and beautiful as any character is, she has something missing, something she needs. Lily Barton needed to find financial security while retaining her virtue and living among her own upper class. This by the way was an impossible task. Dagny Taggart needed to keep the railroads running, also nearly an impossible task.

If you create strong, beautiful, and/or smart characters give them a challenge. Carla Gustavus, "the girl from grand rapids" is beautiful, smart, atheltic, and she has made one horrible mistake. After having two drinks she got behind the wheel and headed down an icey road killing a woman and a baby. The judge sentenced Carla who was seventeen at the time as a juvenile and first time offender. She is now a student at Bonner State University where a band of vigilantes and sympathetic allies among the students is trying to make her life so miserable she leaves campus. Persecution makes Carla sympathetic. Her beauty and talent also make her both likeable and poignant.

Of course not all sympathetic characters have to be beauties. Urit is NOT stunningly attractive, but she is not only sharp, she is academically engaged and she is also fantasticly strong. She has not let two rotten years of middle school and a history of peer rejection force her anger inward or acquired bad habits such as smoking or self injury. The question with Urit is whether she can set her anger aside long enough to make a reasonable social success and a stunning academic one. The other question is whether a nerd like Urit can survive in a culture that values social life over academics. Urit is sympathetic because she is hard working and smart and has some adult interests. Her worst enemy is of course herself, but that is true for so many of us, that too makes Urit sympathetic.

Writing sympathetic characters is not hard. Just think strength and challenge and yes, whether your character succeeds with his/her challenge should always remain an open question when you just begin playing them on a role play.

Friday, January 19, 2007

by Eileen Kramer

All right, I've gotten through three of the readings for next Tuesday in Communication 117. Here they are

Find Your Voice: Writing for a WebZine

Amazoning the News Note: this is the correct URL. The one on Howard's site resulted in a dead link.

It Just Doesn't Matter

I'm not sure where to begin. I think Agre offers good advice to any one on a mailing list or who writes for a blog like this little one where I pour out my thoughts. I use a different strategy for encountering what he calls the paranoia and writing in to a vaccum. I remember that God is always my audience. Of course, that may yield a private rather than a public voice. Then again, I'm not writing about personal stuff.

I found myself disagreeing strongly with the article about Amazoning the News. I loathe Amazon.com and only go there to buy books or a few months ago, CDs. I buy what I want (Usually I have a title in mind), do my business, and leave. I don't pay attention to any of the gee-gaws, ratings, suggestions etc... I consider them so much hype.

The odd thing is I do hang around some sites that offer these features: The Perfect World which is a huge very open bulletin board system, and Failed Messiah which is a blog that attracts comments and sells books in the margins. I've interloaned one of the books rather than buying it and have left comments, avidly read others' comments, and have written to the owner who wrote back. Failed Messiah takes the time honored role of giving you the straight poop Jewish history lecture in the present tense. Since I deal with Lubavitchers, I find it helpful to get background from Failed Messiah. Yes, it's a bit of an opposing view. No, it's a lot of an opposing view, but it is not just rants and I need some balance. It is good when dealing with clergy who do not share your culture but do share your faith to understand something about their world that is not just hype. This makes Failed Messiah an invaluable web site. I think it would be invaluable without the gee-gaws.

One site where I do read the comments is the BBC World Service. I like thier board. I could care less how others rate stories. I usually just switch on whatever is playing, but sometimes I look for the newest News Hour and run that instead. I guess this is an example of timeliness on the net.

A think of timeliness on the net, however, as the asynchronous nature of communication. You write something and an hour or two later if you are lucky, someone comments. This is not instant, but it is a good way to communicate with people in different time zones.

Finally, I still think the net as primarily a text based medium with illustrations thrown in. Anything else prints badly, takes forever to load, and is just icing on the cake. I've built web pages and can feel how strong text is. With all that text, why can't traditional story telling survive?

As for the last article, "It Just Doesn't Matter" sounded like a pep talk for folks who work at newspapers. I liked its spirit. If editors and reporters give you fresh authoritative news, well there's a market of at least one person for that stuff. The problem with newspapers though is that they are hard to fold, get ink all over your hands, and generate piles of waste all over the dining room or wherever you stow used ones. Even if you can find a use for dead newspapers, such as bedding for sick cats, yuou always have more newspaper than you can use. I prefer my news on the net. It's cleaner that way.

I'm sorry if none of this goes in to much depth. These are very short articles and I'm tired and cold. I also know very little about the workings of real world journalism. This makes me a piss poor judge of anything.

I do have one last comment on Agre. Most people have a very hard time writing. This is not a public voice issue. They can't even get out a genuine private voice. Hitting that blank screen with serviceable sentences is like climbing Mount Everest. This is why one sees piles of counterfeit emotion in the form of glurge and canned uplift. Sig-files and other civilized images do help out with the writer's block, but only partly. All too often these are derivative. A graphic voice can be as hard to find as a written one.

I don't know what advice I have to give those who have trouble writing since I liked writing since I was about seven years old. Put a pen or keyboard in my fingers and I'm up and at 'em spilling out the words. All I have to say is that ordinary real voices and stories matter even if they are not neat and tidy. Some day I'll do my how I found God story. It's the opposite of what you hear on This American Life. My story is every bit as worthy of telling as the stories that air on that show.

OK, we're going to do the MSN Groups run tonight on this blog. First we start with a fresh browser window because the login to MSN Groups sometimes crashes IE. Yes, I use Internet Explorer. One of the very good things Bill Gates has done is standardize computer software including browsers.

Doing the daily run with my groups is important even though I actually skipped a day being busy at work. MSN Groups are the antithesis of elite fora like Brainstorms so supporting them is excellent vengance work. They also give people a way to find a small voice of their own because as I said on the left side of this blog, finding any kind of written voice is so difficult for so many.

Well my login took and I click MORE. This lands me at the "counter" for all my groups. Unfortunately, the counter has been broken since December 12, 2006. I know the Veldt has had way more than three posts this week.

I start my run from the bottom of the list. This means the smallest groups get the most attention and if I have to skip a group, it will be a big one with lots of visits.

O09 is my first stop. Yes, I use a code for group names. Think of it as names changed to protect the guilty and the innocent. I sometimes think the guilty need more protection. General is usually the most active board on most groups. O09's general board is full of hello and goodnight posts. Greeting posts are what people write or leave in the form of a small graphic when they are hurting to find a voice. There is also a thread about food asking what time it is where I am and what I am eating. I decide to answer that. I am pledged to post once a day at O09. I am in a post swapping arrangement with the manager. I compose my posts in native html which gives them a slightly different look since I use a common font but one the easy editor of MSN Groups does not list.

N05 is the next group on my list. The manager here, leaves out a variety of ice breakers including a miniblog or plans thread as well as a color and theme of the day thread where you can post small sigs. N05 is one of the better run groups. I'm a bit sick of miniblogs, so I'm going to opt for theme of the day which for Friday is flowers. I drop off a sig file that is a ball of red flowers and keep on moving.

I am going to break group order and goto U02 next. This is primarily a crafts and conversation group and it has a miniblog called (I won't say what it is called.) I stop to put a message in the miniblog, and then due to the lateness of the hour, it's on to the next group.

I'm just going to do one more and it's E01. They have a daily sign in on an extra board. This way you never have to think about having something to say. Have sig-files will travel.

And that's all I'm going to do for tonight. I want to get in to a warm bed and read a bit of one of the text's for Howard's course. Brrr...... This apartment is drafty. My feet are frozen due to the cold floor.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

by Eileen Kramer

I haven't started the readings for this week of Howard's course (Readings due 1/23 the same day I have an 8am class and I'm three hours ahead of Stanford. Yikes! Fortunately, the readings for this go round are all on line and none of them are in the text book.) I also have one of my textbooks and I intend to devour it. I figure it will teach me about what journalists are supposed to do. You know, it's funny. I admire journalists. They were my first real heroes when I was a kid after I realized that super heroes were fictional. I remember when Geraldo Rivera broke the story about conditions at Willowbrook Hospital. I was eight, and I was impressed. I had found a real hero. I was also the current events champ of any class I had all the way from second grade until middle school. My second grade teacher thought I read the newspaper. My mom told her I watched the TV news every night. Eye Witness News on channel 7 was my favorite program.

Still I don't know thing one about journalism as a profession. I don't even know thing one about it when I've helped journalists and journalism professors with their research. I just always took the news for granted and looked up to those who brought it and especially adored investigative reporters. I was a journalism spectator. Well, that's got to change.

What I have been examining have been the Web Resource posted for Howard's class. I'm not going to be kind to any of them, and here they are.

Elements of Digital Storytelling

Center for Digital Storytelling Web Site

Story Center Canada

This American Life

I gave up after about ten minutes with Elements. Getting through it with all the gizmos, bells, and whistles was like swimming through curtains of cheese. I also couldn't find very many stories.

The Digital Storytelling Web Site is a classic example of reinventing the wheel. It also does way more harm than good. People are telling their stories digitally all over the web. Come on down to The Site Fights, pick a team, and visit the sites that are competing. You will find plenty of web pages full of personal stories. Maybe the stories "conform to a formula," maybe they are cliches, maybe they are the wrong stories by the wrong people, but there they are loud and proud. I can start you off with a few story pages: Bonnie's Place. It tells the story of her relinquishing and reuniting with her daughter. Sorry, if it lacks irony and hipness. This is a memorial/bereavement site, jam packed with story and with elegant and lush imagery.

Now what do I have against digital story telling? Well as you can see above, absolutely nothing. I think everybody should do it. Go look at the front page of my site and you'll see that. The problem with Story Center is they rely heavily on expensive software and video. The message they give out inadvertantly and no doubt despite the best of intentions, is that digital story telling requires a lot of software and equipment. It is not something one can do in the privacy of one's own home. One can not pass it on to friends and teach it. If I were cynical, I would say this is a perfect way to remain in the workshop business.

Finally, we come to This American Life. Every so often they do a story that brings me to tears, but about half of what they produce are families washing their dirty linen in public. I think: "why should I be listening to this drivel? Why should these people be on the radio?" This is not news. It is not even really entertainment.

What makes matters worse is This American Life is anti-relgiious. I remember one story they had about a woman who discovered she was an atheist by reading the Bible. Another story followed bornagain Christians who were walking around Colorado Springs and praying where they felt prayers were needed as if they were freaks or cult members. To my knowledge This American Life has never put on a story about how someone found happiness by finding God. It has not put on a story about a Bal Tsuva or someone who became a seriously religious Christian.

Of course you can argue that such stories would be preaching and testimony and those who want to read such stories can seek them out. Since I like my religion loud and proud, I often read and listen to such stories by the way, but they are not on mass entertainment programs. Now, I would think there are wonderfully insightful Jews, Christians, and perhaps Moslems who would be happy to share their journey towards faith and out of secularity if there is such a word. I'd be happy to tell my story, but I don't see Ira Glass knocking on my door. By the way, Mr. Glass if you are reading this blog, I am a Jew who is more observant than her parents though not a Bal Tsuva.

There is no reason that proreligious stories have to be preaching. After all the anti-religious ones are not preaching either. It is just a matter of finding articulate individuals. The problem with This American Life and for that matter the other sites, is a tacit belief that only some stories are worthwhile or interesting. Notice on the Canadian story telling site how the author looks down on simply "presenting the facts." That is what he calls falling in to a script. A script, however, may be useful. Wouldn't the friend or the child want to know the facts rather than about how some stranger conquered her fear of flying. The fear of flying story sounds more interesting until you begin to think about the audience. Knowing who someone is, may well mean knowing the facts. The person, a stranger, a child etc... may not care about some distant relative or grandparent's inner trials, but might very well want to know that he or she had siblings, where he or she went to school etc...

I finally came to my senses about the course lab for Communications 117. I decided that my Petsallowed Wiki site was not worth a sixty dollar upgrade and I did not feel like twisting my web host provider's arm to set up a Wiki where I have style sheet access. Also I am flying solo, so I don't really need a Wiki. I use wikis for interactive fiction, but a news page is going to be a bit more structured. I have two pages that act as portals and link collectors. I am going to rework one in place of a wiki page and I am going to improve the other. I'll link the two pages together. The second page just got reworked this summer and it is all the better for it. The first page has a three year old web set that is going to go the wayof all flesh. Good riddance as they sometimes say.

This means I have a ton of reading to do tonight. I can do it under the covers in bed which is great. This apartment is drafty in the way taht many Southern apartments are. It is due to go into the twenties tonight. There has all ready been some freezing rain. They are predicting ice storms for northern Georgia. I'm glad I'm inside where things are cozy and warm.

I went grocery shopping tonight and now have plenty of fruit and ingredients to make green pea soup this weekend. I all ready have the peas. I look forward to the cooking.

I just tell myself that no matter how busy I am, I am going to keep blogging and writing and working on this course letting the world know how silly and stupid some of what Howard teaches is. It is vengance work and vengance work is always time well spent.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

by Eileen Kramer

Dealing with Howard's course, Communication 117/217, this winter is raising a fair amount of questions. As is standard operating procedure at many schools (but not at Berkeley last semester), neither my partner, Jeff, nor I have access to any of the students. Their pages and the course forum sit securely behind a locked wall. I am NOT conceited enough to believe that my informal audit of Howard's course at Berkeley last fall, made Howard lock down this course, though it is interesting to note there is a lot less of last year's version of this course that is behind a wall.

The question is how do I deal with this situation. First, I live in the great Peach State of Georgia. At schools in the University System of Georgia, hybrid and online courses are supposed to go on WeCT / Blackboard / Vista. It has a long name these days and the situation I see in Communication 117 is the norm. It's also better for the students. I've been a student and I was always very careful not to mean your students any harm. Yes, I wrote to them at one point, but I have copies of those letters. An unhappy expsouse, a bill collector, or any other of a whole cast of less than savory characters could have wreacked a lot more havoc than I did with those poor graduate students in Berkeley. I'm glad that Howard has decided to protect his students from outsiders or I'm glad Stanford has mandated that Howard protect his students.

The lock down of Comm 117 presents me with a number of options. First, there is still a lot of the course publicly available. Nearly all the readings are out there somewhere. It was fun reading Darnton on the "bridge" at Georgia State. You would not believe how hard it is to get hold of a copy of a 1975 bound periodical. I can remember gettting hold of the original Piltdown Man paper published in 1903 from the Annex at Cornell. They let me carry that eighty year old journal around with me in my backpack too for a week. I still remember how thick and heavy it was. I had an easier time getting that Piltdown Man paper than I had getting Darnton's article, but most material in the course is fairly new and Georgia's public universities have reciporical priviledges. There's no law against reading books and articles and writing about them.

The books and articles give me plenty to work with. I figure I'll be getting about thirty percent of Howard's course. Of course, I know that readings and lectures and content don't always articulate. That is where I'm going to run in to problems. That is where I have a couple of options. The first option is to use some of the materials from last year's course and hope they are the same as this year's course. Second, there are labs I can do. They may cost me extra money and effort, but any one who chases all over the Atlanta metro area after readings, is no stranger to putting in a bit of elbow grease. The problem with the labs is they are apt to be expensive. Access to CSS on a wiki is not something that is available for free in the outside world, unless I am willing to install my own wiki which may or may not be possible. My web space is on an NT server in case you are curious. I also have to buy an I-pod and probably an external mike for making podcasts. I am looking at close to two hundred dollars investment. I think I am going to have to get a paid subscription to Wikispaces to obtain style sheet access.

Third, I can create play pretend students and converse with those. This is basicly the straw person routine though if I'm going to pay for Wikispaces, I think the play pretend students won't be human anyway. I have four virtual pets who just might enjoy taking a course at Stanford. They could talk it up and create some conversation. Of course they know no more about the missing seventy percent of the course than I do. The upside of using them is that they have a spot on a Wiki that I may be upgrading to do the labs.

Last but not least, I can turn on the meta filter and have some fun with the course that way. This means I can answer some obvious questions about the course. What kind of a course is it? Who takes it? What requirements does it fill? Now, one of the mistakes people make when they try to figure out where a course fits is look at the number. It is easy to look at that number, "117,quot; and think 100 level course, freshman elective, maybe a writing or a technology rquirement elective. I was suspicious due to the 117/217. Could there be a three and four credit version of the course? I decidd to do some digging.

This page answered a lot of my questions. Communications 117 is a communications elective for both graduate and undergraduate students. It is also not really a "100 level" course. By the way, "100 level" courses in the University System of Georgia are "1000 level" because our system uses four digit course numbers. At Cornell introductory courses can have either a 100 or a 200 number depending on their department. The biology department even had a scheme for assigning second digits in course numbers that no one else followed. You can see why I got suspicious. At Stanford all undergraduate courses above the very basic intro level have numbers in the 100's and all graduate courses have numbers in the 200's and 300's. Elite universities always do things their own way.

From what I can judge, Communications 117/217 would be a 300/500 or 400/500 level course at most Universities. In the University System of Georgia this course would have a 3000/5000 or a 4000/5000 listing. What this means is that there are no little raw freshpeople sitting in this course. Put another way, way, no one enters this course without a five course socialization. There are five introductory courses that communication majors need to take at Stanford. Beyond that there are another four courses that are mandatory. This means that the students in Howard's course are juniors and seniors well along in to their majors. This means that they have to some degree become indoctrinated and socialized. They remind me very much of students assigned to read Sociobiology. Thsee are the students one can safely expose to all kinds of controversial (in the outside world anyway) material and they will swallow it. This is the rarified world of initiates.

How do the junior and senior undergraduates feel to be in with graduate students? I'm not sure. I can remember a few graduate students in both my entomology labs and I can remember being in with both seniors and grad students there, but I was struggling so much in the lab, that I didn't care that I was in with seniors. I knew I had AP'd out of intro biology and that I was good at the nonlab end of the course which I found refreshingly easy after AP biology in high school. This kind of course has to be a different world.

Aside from that, I have no idea what these students are like. My undergraduate major was Biology and Society. Anywhere but Cornell, I would have been a general studies biology major working on the BA option. As far as I was concerned, except for a handful of liberal arts coruses that dovetailed beautifully with my sciences (That, by the way comes traight out of Carnegie Boyer, and yes I got my tuition dollars' worth because somebody put my courses together with loving care.) my major exists elsewhere. It just lives under a different name.

Science majors, even those who are BA types (BA for most institutinos. As a Cornell Artsie I was working towards a BA because that is the only degree that particular college awards.) in the life sciences are different than nonscience majors. There is some truth to the old joke about physicists surviving in the concentration camp at the end of the universe because they can retool to do French criticism, but the cultural critics dying because they can't do physics. Sciences have some objectiveness to them. They are and were also a refuge for students of more conservative ideology. This is true evne of biology where the bornagain Christians I knew avoided the organic evolution course or took it as a purely technical undertaking. In the sciences and engineering, no one ever bothered to tell conservative students they way they lived their lives was wrong or their view of the world was wrong.

Out in the humanities and social sciences (with the exception of business), there is a lot more ideology, and maybe the grading system gets less objective as well. I do know that students self select majors on ideological grounds, having seen a lot of that at Cornell. I also know that when students can't get out of courses, they do have ideological clashes. Usually these end with students dropping courses.

The students in Communication 117/217 are probably fairly well removed from having an iedological clash with their professor. They've survived those first five communication courses and if a problem like the one that plagued at least two students who shall remain nameless at an equally nameless institution cropped up, they simply would not take any more prerequisites and start preparing for a different major. Students vote with their feet.

So what is next? Well, I was able to answer a couple of more questions. Webdo is a glossy tabloid and it is written in French. I enjoyed reaidng an article about paraskiing. Apparently, the sport has claimed its first life, but the illustration was gorgeous. I did nto see that Webdo had a board. The New York Times has a board under opinions. It uses World Groups which I always found very very unstable and about which I have nothing good to say. I suppose my next question is to find out whether the Cardinal Inquirer has a web board.

By the way, Howard totally igornes web boards. I guses they are not sexy enough. I am going to try not to rehash a lot of last fall's criticism. I do see some duplicate readings and I had great fun with quite a few of them. Some of them have facts that just don't wash. That makes them the most fun of all.

Finally, one fo the things that Howard's courses teach me is to question the source of my news. I am very careful to read only authoritiative sources and not to rely heavily on blogs, wikis, or tags for news. I hope others learn to do the same.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

by Eileen Kramer

I couldn't let another semester start without me. This course begins with a question: "who is your audience?" Well, my audience here is God. He is everyone's audience. Second, my audience is myself. That is a very important audience. Just get told to shut up and play in the traffic a few times and you will positively treasure your right of self expression. It is a joy to be able to come here every day and write to my heart's content. Third there is a small circle of friends and enemies who care about what I write here. Fourth, there are all the people whom I wish would not see what I write here which is why I engage in some self censorship despite how wide open this blog seems.

This semester the audience for my discussion of the readings in Howard Rheingold's course does not include the students. Stanford practices reasonable security as regards student privacy. Somehow Howard always manages never to have to get his hands dirty wtih Blackboard/ WebCT/ Vista and other standard courseware. Maybe it is not as popular in California or maybe there are exemptions for stars.

If Howard's course used standard courseware, the students names, the syllabus, and nearly everything would not be available for me to view. I do not want to put any ideas in to Howar's head but this is standard operating procedure as well.

Now you probably want to know why I am following the readings in Communication 117/217 at Stanford. Well, back in the fall of 2003 I joined a community centered on a collection of web boards. The community which does not get the publicity of a link calls itself Brainstorms. As far as I know they are still in business. I became a fairly active member. I did not break any rules. I rubbed some senior members the wrong way because I am online under several avatars. I discussed this in a conference that dealt with life online in a thread about identity. The fire storm was hot, but Brainstorms had due process. I believed in due process and kept my cool and my manners. I was exonerated and then expelled from Brainstorms one day later. I look back on those two weeks of due process as an extremely ugly ordeal and the kind of jerking around that no one deserves.

I don't believe in letting go and moving on. I believe that grudges are one of the best forms of maintaining civility. I am doing my part. I have sworn VENGANCE against Brainstorms and all things Brainstormish. I defend intellectual property. I destroyed all my Napster files and only purchase music from sources that honor copyright. Let's hear it for CD Baby. I am Copyright Aware as they sat at MSN Groups which is about as unBrainstormish as it gets.

I also try and catch prominent Brainstormers who are members of a secret elite when they come out in public. A syllabus is a public document, and the readings are publicly available. There are lots of fine libraries in Atlanta and I've visited most of them.

Now in all fairness, Howard Rheingold, did not have squat to do with my expulsion from Brainstorms. He was out of town at the time which is about as good an alibi as any one can have. The problem is that Howard is the founder and owner of Brainstorms and he did nothing to nullify that parody of due process. Sorry, Howard, you are handy, and I'm reviewing your readings and commenting on anything I can find in your syllabus. Welcome to Communications 117.

Let's start with the readings.

Robert Darnton, "Writing news and telling stories," Daedalus 104 Spring 1975: 175-197. Thankyou Georgia State University. There are very good reasons for keeping old journals around.

Pablo Bocszowski, Digitizing the News, Chapter 1.

Bruno Giussani, "A new media tells different stories." First Monday 2.4 (1999)

There is also a web resource and I have yet to do a bit of legwork inspried by Giussani. Of all three readings Darnton's was my favorite. I liked his really smooth prose. I think I learned a lot about the way newsrooms work. Of course the article was a bit dated. Today the reporters would be both male and female and that might change some of the atmosphere. Also news rooms in smaller more conservative cities might function differently.

Even with all that Darnton said about the news being incestuous and reporters writing for each other and for their editors and their sources and conforming to old sentimental story lines, I still would rather have a real "shoe leather man" or woman gathering my news and reporting it than some blogger. Reporters are professionals. News gathering and news writing often under awful conditions is their way of life. Also big news organizations like the New York Times and the BBC send reporters to far flung foreign destinations. You can tell I like to read world news and don't read much local news.

Besides, in most businesses, people write for their colleagues. I learned this job hunting. For librarians, your potential colleagues decide whom to hire. Therefore, your resume needs to speak to them. That is why Darnton's descriptions of reporters don't surprise me.

I dont t hink Bocszowski was ever a reporter. Wading through all that jargon made me glad that taking courses for credit is largely behind me. All right, newspapers on the web grew out of newspapers in print and those where the staff of the online product have a closer relation with the print product resemble the print product. I'm not sure resembling a print newspaper on the web is such a bad thing. Newspapers for all their antiquity are not my favorite reading media. They are difficult to fold and manipulate. I can remember getting the poor Sunday New York Times all over the bathroom floor after fishing out my favorite section from the neatly folded pile perched atop the clothes hamper. Newsprint leaves your hands messy. Also you have to figurte out what to do with newspapers when you get done reading them. Few things are more depressing than a pile of read and no longer wanted newspapers accumulating in a corner of the dining room. Putting the daily rag on the web eliminates many of the problems that come with print newspapers. People also don't have to buy the paper just to get the ads. The classifieds are usually part of the web edition.

I fond Giussani's piece amusing.. I also found it scarey. If stories on the web can be re-edited, can't they also be censored and self-censored and no record left behind of the original? Also, doesn't re-editing stories that have all ready been published corrupt history? Newspaper articles available through Lexis/Nexis, are a great source of recent history. If journalism shifts to the web and stories get re-edited then you corrupt history. I did not know I was that kind of a Luddite.

Second, there is very good reason for newspapers online NOT to be interactive. As of 2007, the net is a cesspool. Spam is the major threat, but there are also trolls and vandals. If you set up a web board, someone is going to have to police it. The Atlantic and The Chronicle of Higher Education have both had trouble with their boards, and the Utne Reader dumped its board which reemerged as The New Cafe. Running boards takes a lot of work, and it is a separate job from journalism.

Now I get to take a whack at Howard's key questions for Class #1.

Who are we and why are we in this class?
I all ready answered this on the other side of the blog.

Where is "news" in the digital environment? First I take the "quotes" off of news and second I go to Yahoo.com for the wire service headline. What they lack in breadth they make up in currency. If I want all the world's news in half an hour or so, I tune in to the BBC Worldservice. For commentary I like Anti-war.com and Counterpunch. I also like to listen to Michael Savage though he's on the radio rather than the net. Notice that his web site lacks a board. I think Mike Savage is also almost a facist, but I also think he is brilliant and has a great way of thinking otuside the box. And yes, he's as unBrainstormish as you can get.

How do we characterize the present moment and the immediate future in regard to the practice of journalism?
I think a lot of people are like me. They would rather listen to the radio, watch TV, or read it on the screen or in a glossy magazine than read their news in a newspaper. Of course one of the problems with picking and choosing your media is you get only the parts you like, a kind of "Daily Me." In my case, this means almost no local news since I put on the BBC or NPR for most of my news needs.I like that the BBC has reporters all over the world. I don't like that they never mention any cities in the American South when they do their station identification. I think that different people's news is going to look very different, and diversity is not always a good thing.

What can we do at Stanford in 2007 to advance journalism in the network age?
Since you are always going to need good reporters who can get to the bottom of the story and write it up well, I would say writing for the Cardinal Inquirer is a good start.

Can we envision building a platform today for experimenting with tomorrow's journalism?
I think you have to watch bandwidth since a lot of people are using low bandwisth mobile devices. That is supposed to be the next big thing. Also there are a lot of people out there still with dialup. You want to reach as many people as possible.

What are our expectations for such a platform?
See above. Also, I don't think that jorunalists should get in to the web board business, unless they are willing to pay someone to watch the board. In fact, I'd be happy to get paid to watch the board. I love giving trolls and vandals the boot.

Now I have some legwork to do before starting on the next batch of readings. First of all, I need to find out if the New York Times still has a board. I also want to look at Webo.ch. I hope it is in English, at least partially. If it is in French I can read it. I wonder if it is still in business. If it isn't. or even if it is, you'll hear about it here.

You know a day without my commenting on the degradation of MSN Groups is like a day without sunshine. Mon.itor.us has been keeping an eye on The Veldt, and here is what it found. This is how Mon.itor.us sees a downage. Those up time rates of 95.XX percent, mean that down times are good eight hundred times higher than industry norms.

And no, I have not asked for permission to take General board screen shots.

Barbassi is proving himself useful. MSN Groups may NOT be a conventional scale free network, the kind that forms a J-curve with a tall tail where most of the sites are located and a few hubs in the long tapering end which is sort of like a cat's back. MSN Groups could well resemble something called a "star topology." In such a system one node is a winner that takes all. Computer operating systems represent a star network, but web sites or boards on a single platform might also conform to this. Every MSN Group has a huge stripe at the top linking it back to "Groups Home" and "My Groups" These would be the two most common links in MSN Groups.

Also MSN Groups may still be a scale free network but one with a very high coefficient (greater than three). The coefficient determines how skinny the tall cat's tail is. The higher the coefficient, the skinnier the tail and how flat the cat's back is or how bowed in the curve is if you prefer to think of it that way. The network of MSN Groups may be scale free but with a very steep decline from the star links to those of ordinary groups.

If either of the above is the case, this makes MSN Groups very vulnerable to failure. The only question is when does technical failure become human failure. I am tempted to write to the Corporate CEO at Microsoft and give him a piece of my mind. At this rate, it can't hurt since I think the demise of MSN Groups is basicly a done deal.

by Eileen Kramer

I don't feel like writing about MSN Groups being down or partially down. I haven't been on since Friday afternoon. I have two more problem reports from Mon.itor.us in my inbox. I am hoping the managers group is up. I will screen shot the problem reports. Having external verification for what most of us can feel is a comfort if nothing else.

I'm about half way through Barbassi. He really is not much help for a small time web page creator. He makes me feel like a molecule or chemical at the whims of the laws of nature rather than a human being with free will. The fact is small time web site creators do use strategies like: participation requirements, posting and voting exchanges, RAOKing, web rings, the Rail and more.

Yes, my next job is to get the Silk Purse on to the rail and get Banging Your Heart, Free Your Thoughts, a few blogs, this blog and a couple of other entities together as a kind of Vengance Conference. I think I need to get the main page built before I contact the Rail people since I think they are pretty picky. I also want to clean up a couple of other pages at the Silk Purse.

One thing Barbassi does not discuss is what happens when networks decay and die. I realize he is a physicist. Watts was an applied physicist (T and AM at Cornell's College of Engineering. There are days when it pays to be a Cornellian) turned sociologist. This changes his writing and gives him more depth of soul than Barbassi. Also for a physicist a dying network is just growing in a negative direction, but networks do die and communities wither. What happened to all those people who grouped their web pages in to "neighborhoods" on Geocities way back when. Geocities even had community leaders. All that has gone by the boards.

What about the Homestead page owners before their service became prohibitively expensive. Many of them were site fighters. Even site fighting has started to wither. The Site Fights which once boasted twenty-four teams of fighters is down to seven.

We really do need to know what kills networks and communities. I can suspect and I'm probaby right that spam is part of it. Another factor is when a platform degrades to death as is the case with MSN Groups and which was the case with Topica. I'm not sure what happened with Geocities. I kind of walked away from them when they tried to manufacture consent for their pop-ups in 1997. I don't know what destroyed the community system at FortuneCities either. I don't know if Fortune Cities is even around any more. I wish I had been paying more attention.

The only thing I know that will work with MSN Groups is to keep records of their decline and post them publicly so the world can read and know. That is not much. That is probably way too modest a goal.

My other choice is to write the CEO and give him a piece of my mind. At least that is better than writing phantom support personnel who send identical form letters.

By the way for any one who is curious, I finally remember the day when the counter broke for MSN Groups. It was December 12, 2006. It's been frozen for over a month. I feel bad for any one who has a really active group. Of course this last is an understatement.

OK, it's Nacerima time so come on in all you Lubavitchers and have a seat in the big cyberlecture hall. No, I am not going to criticize you except exceedingly constructively. First, I'm going to pay you a few compliments. What is there about your culture and the way you run things that I like? If I didn't like a lot of what I see, I wouldn't be coming to your schul. You know it's not the food that draws me, so let's get started. I like the prayer and fellowship. I like the intimate atmosphere for prayer and fellowship. I like the emphasis on a personal relationship with God. I like the singing. I find it unusual to hear male voices lifted in song. In secular American culture, singing is usually a female pursuit. I like that there is very little classicism at the schul. I like that. Most of the sermons make sense. They teach reasonable lessons and don't tear down others to make the congregation feel good. I especially enjoyed the open seating in the main hall at the High Holy Days.

Now it's really Nacerima time. As I've written before, culturally we are very different. My educational system is one of the things that divides us. I happen to be a person who got to sample the top of the secular education pyramid. I'm Cornell Arts and Sciences 1984 and I attended an excellent public high shcool. I also have my MLS from Syracuse Unviersity's School of Information Studies. What this means for you though is that NO ONE CHOSE MY MAJOR FOR ME and I did not have to choose my major for myself until I was nineteen. I chose my major without parental input and with very little parental advice. My parents were just fine with this.

Now how does something like this happen? Well in many middle and upper middle class secular American families, there is a kind of social contract that goes like this: a kid starting in middle school and on in to high school who gets good grades or better yet excellent ones, takes a rigorous college entrance program, and stays out of trouble, can choose the school (within reason) of his or her dreams, the major of his or her dreams, and the career of his or her dreams. One of the BIG FUNCTIONS of grades seven through twelve is to "keep a student's options open." This means a wide variety of courses and a long (five years in some cases) sequence of mathematics, science, foreign language, English, and history/social studies. At the other end a student emerges with nearly a semester in college credit earned through AP courses and the reading knowledge of a modern foreign language. He or she has begun the study of calculus and has read fairly widely in English literature and knows European, American, and some nonwestern history. This student also has a fairly thorough grounding in biology, chemistry, and physics.

The purpose of all this is to give the student the basis on which to make a choice of college major that is informed. It also helps the student succeed in college so dropping out and majoring in partying really are not options. In addition, activities outside school such as jobs and extracurriculars help increase students knowledge of how the world works and thus also help with the choice making process. A student can not make an informed choice unless he or she knows his or her options.

Also there are some choices students have to make at seventeen or eighteen. More vocational fields such as engineering, allied health, and hotel management, usually require students to make their choice at the end of high school, but it's just a year or two earlier.

Now, here is where the fun begins for you. What I am describing really happens. It happened to me. I happen to be an ideal case. It also happened to my brother.and to at least one uncle of mine and also to my mother. My dad was ILR and had a lot of pressure to go that route from home so he is the exception that proves the rule. Here is the fun. What kind of a culture gives well prepared seventeen through nineteen year olds such an important choice and cuts them loose to make it?

Welcome to a culture that values independence, individuality and individual choice above nearly anything else. It is a culture that views many different majors (remember the social contract involves studying and working hard and staying out of trouble) as all pretty much equally valuable. There is no one good path, just the path the student likes best or for which he or she is best suited as an individual. If a student likes science, the outdoors, and getting his or her hands dirty, then a major in forestry at Syracuse University's College of Environmental Science and Forestry is for him or her. If a student is interested in the Middle East and good with languages, then he or she is cut out to be a Near Eastern Stuides Major at Cornell University's College of Arts and Sciences. The student with good grades, but who really enjoys his/her part time job in a restaurant more than academics is probably a future hotelie (Cornell University School of Hotel Management) in the making.

This is not just work or parnassa as contrasted with just work in one major. This is finding a course of study and career that the individual can do well and that he or she enjoys. The goal is individual fulfillment along with a pay check. By the way, my culture's system worked very well in my case. My Biology and Society major combined with an MLS made me a marketable science reference librarian, a job I enjoy and a decent livlihood. Finding one's own way has big advantages.

To see the disadvantages of this system, I'll give two examples. The first one was when a bunch of us studied for finals together at the end of my fall semester sophomore year. Unlike a yeshiva study hall, the "quiet room" as we dubbed Shirley's half abandoned dorm room was dead silent. The reason was that none of us took the same courses. There were four to six of us studying together and absolutely zero overlap. All we could give each other was the moral support of our physical presence.

The other disadvantage is that when a student breaks the social contract or makes a wrong decision the results can be disasterous. He or she can end up not finishing college, graduating late, or ending up falling in to various anti-social behaviors. Parents come down on high school kids who break the social contract like tons of bricks. Quit producing and lose your independence. This is an amazing come down. It is the stick on the other side of the carrot.

You probably want to know about sex, since the educational system in my culture is coed. I'm going to save that for another night. It is not nearly as lurid or shocking as I just wrote. Remember the age of legal adulthood is eighteen and physical and mental adulthood happen a year or two earlier. Remember that if the prime values are independence and individual choice, arranged marriages are not going to cut it.

By the way, if I were entirely satisfied with my culture's value system, I would not be coming to your schul. My culture does have a downside, but that too is for another night.

Friday, January 12, 2007

by Eileen Kramer

I don't want this blog to turn in to a chronicle of the demise of MSN Groups, but history sometimes demands to be written and it needs to be written by the victims not the victors. As events like this go, I am in a pretty good seat to be a witness. My group is on high ground. We have alternative boards for messages and I backed up all the static pages including A Diamond as Brown as a Turd, the group's little piece of fictional confection. "Turd" is my idea of intellectual junk food. I guess I really do love my junk food.

That said, MSNGroups have been slow this week to the point of timing out. This means 1/3 downages. Boards exist but posting is so difficult it drives users away. Users on the Managers Group complain constantly about posting difficulties and slowness, yet we have no external authority to back up our woes. Well, I've found one. If you are an MSN Groups owner, or even a member, you can enroll your group in this free service and Mon.itor.us will catch slow downs and even short term full downages. I got a downage alert from them yesterday afternoon for the Veldt and here is what was going on.

a slow network

This graph shows how long it takes to connect to the Veldt. It probably would have held for a lot of other MSN groups as well. Notice the sky high connection values. Higher means slower. With values this high, it was no wonder the network was timing out and making users miserable.

This illustration shows an assortment of diagnostics. You will see a lot of NOK's. These mean that Mon.itor.us encountered bad requests. This indicates a fairly extensive though short term downage for the Veldt. It could well be that these requests simply timed out.


This shows three days worth of up time and monitoring for the Veldt. Notice the one day the Veldt slipped well below the 99.XX% which stands for expected good performance. An uptime reading of 97.92% is a downtime reading of 2.08%. Standard good downtimes are around .05%. 2.08% downtime is forty times above industry standard and an order of magnitude larger than what it should be.

Numbers do not lie. MSN's management is degrading MSNGroups in to the ground. Often on the Managers Group, I hear people announce that MSNGroups will not close without an official notice. Topica and Big Mail Box never closed but no one uses them any more. Making an official closing notice makes bad publicity. If groups simply degrades to the point of unusability,then people will leave or refuse to join. Allowing groups to simply wither away, makes good public relations sense.

Ignoring the degradation makes extremely poor sense. One question that has finally reached the Managers Group is whether the degradation of MSN Groups has started to erode the social fabric within them. I think with some of the smaller groups the answer is all ready yes, but I need permission to take screen shots of the general boards where I am a member. An absence or decline in new posts is usually a good indicator that the fraying has begun. When a group manager no longer tries to stimulate posting, that too is an indication. I'll need to work on getting permissions.

By the way if any one is interested in what happened to the OpEd piece I wrote for the New York Times, the Times didn't look twice at it. The letters I wrote to the top brass (Head of Marketing and one other person) at Microsoft also vanished down black holes. At least this was better in a way than the form letter with the fictitious name of a support person that MSN Groups sends to those asking for help. These letters are such insults, I have no words for them. Wouldn't it be better for MSN Groups to simply own up and say "sorry, we are no longer providing support for MSN Groups?" How long do they think they can go on insulting people's intelligence. They don't insult mine. I know enough NOT to write support.

On to more administrivia, Haldis and I put our comps to bed last night. Haldis gave out lots of spirit points and I made two pencils. If you want to see Haldis' team, it is here. To visit ZOID CITY Community and Community Competition, please click here.

Turd is still not ready for prime time. Going from serialized fiction in an MSN Group to a more standardly formatted role play takes work. I have to write character introductions for the four main characters and possibly a fifth. Where do I find the hours in the day?

By the way, I'm not through dealing with Microsoft over what they have done to Groups. No, I can't take them to court. I can't afford the travel and the legal system is too cumbersome. They have violated a kind of social contract that exists between ad supported free services and their customers. They are the quintessentially bad and uncaring corporate citizen. Let's just say I have plans, and don't worry, it is all going to be legal.

Monday, January 08, 2007

by Eileen Kramer

Let's do the numbers. I finally got some comparative figures by which to judge MSN Group's recent partial downages. I want you, the rest of the world to see this tonight. Now here is how I calculate downage for an MSN Group. If a group's board is completely nonworking (no ability to post or reply) or it has lost its static web pages the group is half down. If it is difficult but still possible to post or reply to a group's message board, the group is one third down. A month has thirty days. One measures downages at MSN Groups in terms of days. Yes, that is an indicator of how bad things are. One multiplies the number of days down by either one half or one third. Then one divides them by thirty. This yields the percentage downtime. Subtract that from a hundred percent and you get percentage up time.

Let's take my Managers group. Their board was completely unusable for two days. Two multiplied by a half is one. One divided by thirty is about three percent. This leaves 97% up time. I know that looks fantastic, but don't think exams in school.

Now let's compare this 97% up time wtih figures for Readyhosting.com. This site rates Readyhosting.com's up time as 99.95%. I know, you are still thinking school exams, but flip both these figures around and let's look at down time. Down time for Readyhosting.com is .05% while downtime for MSN Groups, at least some groups, is a whopping 3%. That means that MSNGroups is down sixty times more often than Readyhosting.com and other standardly reliable servers. The numbers do not lie. Microsoft is allowing MSN Grouops to degrade to death.

The only question is what to do and right now backups on to other vendors are the best solution and the best hope for a smooth transition. Outright migration will scatter the community. Backups might make for a smoother transition and give us time to find a way to stay in touch as if we were all on one platform.

The problem with saving MSN Groups and their culture is that the people there are not ready to admit the ship is leaking even if she is not sinking yet. She is not seaworthy and it is time to ready the life boats and blow up the inflatable rafts, to mix metaphors if I haven't done so all ready. It is hard to convince people that this is going to take time and effort and that the time and effort will be well spent. It is hard to convince people they have a real problem. It is hard to convince people that they can solve their problem through technical means. I'm stymied and saddened tonight. The next step is to back up all the static web work for the Veldt. Of course, I have said that for several nights and probably since before Christmas.

Real life and other online commmittments and the fact that there is just not that much static web work at the Veldt that is worth saving have all slowed this process way down. If I had a larger group site, I'd feel and act differently. I'll practice what I preach eventually. I did link the alternate boards to my group and for the Veldt that is more important.

By the way, tonight was the night I took down my Christmas tree. Much to my surprise, it took only an hour. I even swept up what turned out to be a terrificly large pile of white fiber glass needles. Even lovely white trees, especially old ones, shed. At least they do not dry out and become fire hazards. I'm a bit scaird of fire to tell you the truth, which is why my tree had no lights.

OK, I want to talk about role play. I'm on a role play with a lot of possibilities. It's a variant of a fairly vicious blackboard jungle chock full of witches, wearwolves (but no other kind of shapeshifter), demons, and angels and combinations of the above. In the universe of Complete Opposites, angels and demons can reproduce. As an adult, this is a nice rich heady brew with both sides fighting among themselves as well as fighting each other and the staff perhaps complicit or scaird or corrupted. I don't know what the kids running this role play see. I don't even want to think about it.

Meanwhile, I have resurrected one of my older creations. It's a town, a history, a high school, and also a fantasy with time travelers living in the center of a planned community in the high desert of Nevada. Besides the fun of relearning the story so I could pick up where I left off, it surprised me to learn how much sex was a part of the Twystaboo role play. I created Tywstaboo as a reaction to a role play that gets no advertising here called Twisted Cliques and also in reaction to the somewhat infamous Piece of Me Role Play. Job hunting first nourished and then killed Twystaboo.

By the way, Twystaboo's juvenile characters are uniformly fourteen but they still have a fair amount of sex. Nearly all of it is fantasy, masturbation, and nocturnal emissions but the feelings and the passion are there. That's what counts. I don't think Twystaboo would work without the sex, the domination, attraction, repulsion, desire and all the social approval for having the right partner in a relationship need sex as the glue that holds them together. This makes for some very explicit writing. I thought I did not write erotica. I guess I do.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

by Eileen Kramer

On the Listowners' support forum for L-Soft Ease, members are complaining about "a AOL HVUB1 error" You can learn about this kind of error here. By the way, any email sent to an AOL address that contains mention of the address "ehkuhall7@tacheiru.every1.net" also gets an AOL HVUB1 error. Apparently there are a lot of AOL pariahs out there and it just takes one of them on a mailing list run by someone other than Yahoo to swamp the list with errors as it AOL rejects email list messages for hundreds if not thousands of subscribers. I realize that email lists are passe and blogs are in and sexy, but if people can't communicate, what does that say about the net being networked.

Barbassi was writing in 2001 and 2002 before things on the net got as filthy as they are now. I seem to encounter at least one Vundo Trojan daily. This is a virus that my Norton catches and kills, but it means a lengthy reboot of my machine. My email which is an old address and one left all over the net like Hansel's bread crumb trail, gathers a hundred spam messages a day. Forced downloads, malware, parasites etc... are all making venturing on to the open net dirty and risky. Walled gardens such as Myspace or Wallop offer safe alternatives, but they make for incestuous small worlds that may not be well networked to elsewhere.

Of course if the net becomes too filthy to use for communication, we'll be left with ecommerce and after a few good hacks, maybe not even that. This will leave both Barbassi and Trippi with their thumbs up their respective posteriors. I won't be happy.

You can see the signs of a filthy net as well as exhaustion by team managers at The Site Fights. When I joined the Site Fights in 1999, it had nineteen or twenty teams. I think it added one while I was there. By the spring of 2000 it was up to twenty-four teams. Then the schism took place and Site Fights dropped to fifteen teams. Now it is down to seven. I have not yet taken a fighter census. When I fought at Site Fights it had a population of four hundred fighters. I don't think many competitions come in at over 200 these days.

What has happened is the dirty open net has taken its toll. Also people who want social networking get social networking rather than static html pages or they have blogs which kind of puts them outside the web site competition community, though there is no reason you can't fight a blog. The problem is, or at least one big problem is, site fighting relies on a clear and usable open net. At one point Fantasy Fights, another competition even demanded that fighters have guestbooks that accepted graphic gifts. This meant dealing with third party providers who also inserted ads in to the guestbooks and sometimes resorted to opt in by deceit. Of late, most guestbooks, even those that don't allow html, are often over run by spam.

I watched about a year ago as the Site Fights vote exchange board which functioned much like a guestbook degenerated in to a spam pit. I don't know what has happened to Hey You Sir's vote exchange board. I do know most vote exchange comes through closed clubs. This makes it harder for new fighters to advance and makes site fighting less appealing. In addition, individual vote exchange (Most fighters have to trade to get votes. People do not walk in off the streets and vote at web site competitions. Sorry....) requires sending reminders which can mean a Yahoogroup but getting that reminder through an inbox that is choked with spam is not easy. Also team managers have to make their way through spam choked inboxes to communicate with their fighters. Is this getting tiresome yet?

RAOK is also the victim of a dirty net. No, this is not any one's fault, especially not the RAOKsters, but when guestbooks are spam pits and may include opt-in by deceit and sites are full of pop-ups, RAOKing is just nto attractive or safe. RAOKing is leaving a kind message in a guestbook. The alternative, sending an e-card, may be unavailable because the web site owner does not make her email available for fear of being spammed. Does this sound familiar? RAOK too is a hybrid group that needs a clean net.

Last but not least, MSN Groups' degradation has all ready cost me one group. Moonlight Designs sits abandoned. I still post there. I know the owner has a new baby and school work, but repeated downages have not helped or motivated her to post once a day to a group. Remember this is not much of a commitment. Sorry for such a down post tonight, but a dirty web should vastly change the image of everyone networked via the internet.

I guess I get to talk schul tonight. No, I'm mot going to criticize any one except very constructively. If you are one of the rabbis from Chabad Intown, I'm talking about you and to you, so listen up. This won't hurt. We share a faith. We do not completely share a creed, but we more or less share a faith. I am not a creationist or a Biblical literalist but I believe in God and the importance of Torah and mitzvot. That puts us in the same camp on good days.

What we DO NOT share is a culture or history. In fact, I have ancestors who ran away from charedi life and who rebelled against it. Most of these were women. This was not just assimilation. Rebeccah Magid, my great grand mother came to this country to avoid an arranged marriage. Grandma Senecoff (That's the bat Sibyl) wanted to wear comfortable bathings suits and bob her hair. She came of age in the roaring twenties and lived to be a hundred and two.

I have a secular education of which I am excedingly proud. I also feel that the secular education helps me connect to Judaism and spirituality. It also gives Judaism and Torah a place on a big intellectual map I carry somewhere. Religion and Judaism is one of the humanities, but an especially useful branch of the humanities. The other very useful branch is learning a foreign language. I come from the outside world. I'm not going to lose my interest or place in the outside world for spirituality.

I can see how spirituality connects to the outside world not only because it has a home on my intellectual map (Yes, it has to share the table with literature and mythology and a lot of other related pursuits, but it always has a seat.) but because I connect to spirituality through aesthetics. Remember that question I asked about wearing the same color shirt every day. You can read my griping about the schul food. I'm always hungry at noon, so I eat it. God is visible through beauty and variety. When you become aesthetically dull and boring, you shut out God.

Now just because I have something down pat that men (I don't know about the women. I have suspicions, but don't want to write them tonight) in your culture find a struggle, does not mean I find other aspects of living my faith easy. I may in fact find something difficult that you find a cakewalk.

I'm returning to observant Judaism from a two to four generation continuity break. My culture is American. That means it is individualistic. That also means I have family issues, issues about being a good member of a group, and issues about dealing with and eliminating anomie. What can you offer someone with my issues? Well, right now the last thing I need or want is a shidduch. Not every one wants or needs to be married. What I do need is a way to belong as a single middle aged female adult. Two words spring to mind: community service. Also voluntarism is another good word. Being useful makes me part of a group. If I am part of a group, I am on the way to learning group loyalty, something that is difficult for rugged individualist American types.

I'd really like a whack at your kitchen, but that one is in my dreams. I also suspect a large proportion of super tasters among born and bred Chabadniks. I'm not a super taster. I'd also need a lot of guidance to make sure I adhered to your stringent code.

What you'd get back is seeing the city of Atlanta through my eyes as a place of fatness and joy rather than exile. I'm an expert at living off the land and in Atlanta there is so much land off which to live it is not funny. You might also learn how to work with others who are living on the other side of continunity breaks and returning to observance from a secular background. I am not talking balae tsuvah. I'm not sorry for my background nor will I give up my culture. I am observant though and a believer. If you want to help other Jews raised secular become more observant, understanding their culture and their needs is going to be a big help. I'm happy to volunteer as your guinea pig. Put me to work. I'm ready to serve.

You didn't expect a third article did you. Well, this came from a message from a role play board owner who was down about her scribes' levels of literacy. The problem besides the fact that snarking on scribs is generally bad practice (It is like being a bad sport), is that the scribes on this particular role play were and are literate. They have no problem stringing together sentences of understandable English. The characters conduct easy to follow dialog. The problem is character formation and story telling all leave something to be desired.

The reason for this is simple. One of the HARDEST things any body can do on a role play is play a character whom one does not fully understand or who is older. This is exactly what happens when middle school students try to play high school or college students. High school students are adults. They are very raw and young adults, but they can do adult level work, hold down jobs for which the employer is required to withhold taxes and pay a minimum wage, earn national recognition, perform publicly in front of adults who go to see them not because they are the students' parents etc.... Much of what motivates a high school student, motivates an adult. Typically it is a triad of three things: money, success, and freedom. Nearly everything in a high school student's life relates to obtaining these three goals. Romance is a combination of success and freedom. Dating the person of your dreams is clearly success. Being able to go out requires freedom, and probably also money even if you go Dutch. Academics are success and translate in to one of the most important numbers you'll ever earn, a class rank. The higher your GPA, the lower your rank. The person who ranks first in a high school class is the valedictorian and the person who ranks number two is the saluditorian and they both get to give speeches at graduation. Aside from that a low class rank helps you get in to the college of your choice.

Where high school students differ from college students and older adults is that they DO NOT yet have to pay bills. A few may have to pay for gas and car insurance, but the car can always go up on blocks in the back yard or an impoverished teen can hand the keys back to the parent. This is not the same as having the power turned off or facing an eviction. Most college students at least pay a phone bill. Also college is career oriented. It is a closing off of options when one chooses a major, that makes college education different from high school. Also some college programs resemble apprenticeships, most notably the allied health and engineering fields. I had one college student role play character who ended up keeping bees to help pay her way thruogh school. She arrived with her hives in a trailer and found a place to set them up on campus. She was an entomology major. College (residential college) is also all about meeting people very different from onesself and losing one's provincial identity.

Mature adults have two additional tasks besides the money-success-freedom triad. The first is taking rseponsibility for others. For a lot of adults, this means raising children. It can also mean traning junior colleagues or taking care of aging parents though. Yes, younger people can do this but this is one where the opportunity usually arises later rather than sooner. Mature adults are also scarred by loss which they have endured and survived. Yes, this is what it sounds like, but one can also lose employment (and have to find another job.), lose a parent or contemporary, or get divorced. Yes, teens and young adults can suffer bereavement, but the older you are, the more likely it is to happen. I lost three contemporaries, one when I was nine, one when I was twelve, and one when I was eighteen. The last of the three committed suicide. I am an exception that proves this rule.

Don't ask me about retired adults. That is the next stage. It might be fun to see me flounder trying to write a retiree. I did it a couple of times on the Neopets boards. I'm up for the challenge. I'd like to write an idealized version of my mother, the one I wish I had. That might be fun, but I'd do it in a role play or story that is very Jewish since I am itching to write such a thing.

Now what can we do about the literate middle schoolers who can express themselves, but seem to lack story telling skills. The answer is easy: give them a chance to create characterse that don't require guesswork. This means a middle school role play. Also each middle schooler would get an ATM card with 2,500 dollars on it and a bus pass. The middle school characters would have the freedom to act out the full wallet fantasy, something I remember from my days in sixth grade. I always wanted a custom decorated room.

By the way, playing a middle schooler as an adult is probably as big a challenge as playing a retiree. The reason is that middle schoolers have a very muted version of the money-success-freedom triad. No one really cares if they are successful unless they are going to take a New York State Math 1 Regents or learn a foreign language or maybe if they are athletic stars, and it is a fat chance they have any real freedom. What is good plot traction for older characters becomes pure fantasy for middle schoolers.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

by Eileen Kramer

I haven't read much Barbassi, but let me state that six degrees of separation is a cliche and it is also bunk. How do I know? Well, Watts and even Barbassi himself mention that only 42 of Milgram's 160 letters ever found their recipient. What this means is that there may be six degrees of separation or less between some people, but social networking is a notoriously poor way to pass and distribute information. The network has gaps and blockages and holes in it.

This is something I kind of knew intuitively. First, web sites come in different styles which means that different graphic conventions and notions of aesthetics rule in different parts of the net. Something like this site which I found via social networking prove the point. This style of heavy layered graphic and lush look is considered aesthetically gauche in many quarters of the net, yet the style persists.

Moreover, I only found this site because I knew where to go. I have been involved with site fighting for many years and know that sites done in this style are often put in competitions. Therefore, I headed to The Cherub Forest (formerly the Cherub Champions) to look for a candidate site. The catch here is that there are only about five or six hundred people who have recent and fairly good site fighting knowledge. If you are not one of them and Myspaces is your beat or you hang out in The Perfect World or other elite fora, you are very unlikely to find your way to Gingerbread Lane unless you use a search engine to look for it by name.

Then there are places where the network is either blocked or broken. Copyright is a classic force behind the crreation of the "dark web." If you want an article from last year's Newsweek, you had better have access to Ebscohost's or possibly Wilson's database. These are licensed and require that you either walk in to a library or be a currently enrolled student somewhere, usually a college or university.

Then we have privacy concerns. I don't know much about Myspace, but I hear they are including privacy controls so that only friends can see some web pages. This is all to the good considering the sensitive personal things on some of these pages. An example with which I am more familiar is Caring Bridge.org. These sites can not be reached via search engines. They also default as being accessible only to family and friends. Someone has to give you the URL. Of course some of the people with Caringbridge sites, have wanted to make them more public and list them at Sharethelove, but if a Caring Bridge site is unlisted and you need to find it, don't expect to see a link from anywhere. The walls and gates are up.

So how might this work in real life and does the situation on the net mimic real life? Well, let's say you wanted to pat a shtreiml, a big fluffy sable hat some very Orthodox or charedi men wear. Well, whom would you ask? I'm Jewish and I used to go to services at Beth Jacob. That is up in Toco Hills where a lot of Orthodox Jews live and it is an Orthodox schul. OK, ask me. I will in turn ask the Fleishmans, the Ganns, the Rosenblatts, and my friend Mordecai (Note all names changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty). Beyond that, what happens in any one's guess. I was part of the Home Hospitality program at Beth Jacob. That was the synagogue's outreach to ordinary Jews like me. Did the charedi whom I saw across the mechitza at services have anything to do with those who participated at outreach or did they only go to services and otherwise form a community unto themselves? That is the sixty-four thousand dollar question. There is a very good probability that if you wanted to pet a shtreiml, you would not even get to a polite or not-so-polite "no" because you would never get to a shtreiml wearer in the first place.

I found out that one of the role plays to which I have been invited is "slash." This is teen slang for exploring homosexuality and surrounding issues. Big fat hairy deal right? Well of course. It is perfectly legal for teens to write about this stuff as uncomfortable as it might make adults. Chances are very good that what the teens write is not obscene because homoxexuality and its acceptance are political and social problems and usually there is very little description of intimate acts on such blogs. This means what the teens write has redeeming characteristics by the truck load.

OK, now that this is out of the way, one thing about being around "slash" role plays is that they make me feel inadequate. I am straight. I learned I was straight when I was fifteen. Before that I had my doubts, but I definitely do prefer the opposite sex. That is why I can role play straight male characters. They are my brother, boyfriends, father etc...

Besides feeling inadequate, "slash" role play also makes me very sensitive to straight priviledge. Now there is a word I though I would never use. I have a lot of trouble talking about white priviledge quite frankly because I don't believe it is an all the time everywhere thing. I think there are times when I definitely do have the advantage being white, but I also think the advantage comes from having a big brown pony tail, standing only five foot three, and liking to wear skirts. There is chivalry in the South. I also think there are places I can go where I am one of the few white faces and my white priviledge dries up. Culturally, I am the odd woman out and boy do I feel it. I'm also Jewish which while that is white is also a minority. You can see why white priviledge gets complicated.

Straight priviledge is another matter. Quite simply, I can talk about human relations and the social part of sexuality without having to worry or feel weird. I am a member of the majority club. No wonder I felt relieved at fifteen. The kids writing "slash" are in a completely different boat and they are paddling up stream. I honestly can't figure them out. I'm not sure if gay love is different from straight love, not better or worse, just different? I'm not sure how much of that difference is intrinsic and how much is caused by society? I never had to worry about this. I dated. My parents knew about it. I dated in college. I have a boyfriend. I never got married, but could have done so. It was all OK. What if it weren't? I guess that is straight priviledge in a nut shell.

There has been a long battle among adults to get "slash" fiction in to libraries so that young people who are questioning their sexuality and who don't get the comforting answer I got at age fifteen can read about others like themselves and even role models who made it through to adult hood and who were gay like them. Here is one site that lists such books, and Here is another list of similar titles, and the books here appear to be mainly nonfiction.

I think books like these ought to be available and I am all for teens playing "slash" and adults playing it too for that matter. I learn something new every day.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

by Eileen Kramer

I have to tell myself that taking care of business is not a vengance defeat. I am back at work without a lot of time to read. Also after Watts, I am having a hard time getting in to Barbassi.

I guess I have a vengance related New Year's resolution. I need to find a use for all that Tupperware I bought. The containers are an odd size. I guess you get used to a certain size container. I guess you can get used to new container sizes. Only if I can use this Tupperware, can I buy more and Tupperware is anti-Brainstormish. To this day I am not sure why.

Direct sales are hierarchical, but not nearly as hierarchical as a widget factory or a big corporate office. After all Tupperware sellers are independent contractors. They have a franchise of sorts. While it's not exactly bottom up, it seems pretty wide open and enterpreneurial.

Oh well, I used to think that hierarchy was the only way to get clear rules. I still think that if one must live under a hierarchical system to have clear rules than so be it. The small hierarchies one finds on MSN Groups are a classic example of that.

And speaking of my MSN Groups resolution, I want to throw it out the window. It is not that the resolution I made yesterday is a bad idea. I think it is a fantastic idea, or rather would be, if MSN's server or software or whatever were functioning in a way that at least resembled normal. How can any one encourage participation and invite others to join a group that might be frozen for three or four days next week. How can any one ask members to read rules, if the rules page has vanished in the way that MSN frequently swallows pages. Put another way, why encourage participation on a sinking ship? Rats and even crew members evacuate a sinking ship.

That said, I put the sister fora on the Veldt's two front pages. This makes the Veldt pretty much downage proof. Meanwhile, one of my groups went down for three days over New Year's. Another of my groups sits abandoned. The owner is a graduate student with an infant daughter, but the downages surely didn't help keep her group going.

I've decided MSN Group downages are not a vengance defeat. I also need to find another place to which to mail my Op-Ed article since the Times did not print it. I knew the chances were slim when I sent it. People have to know what is going on with MSN Groups even if we can do nothing and the service degrades to death, at least there will be a record of what was there and it will be known that we spoke up and fought or at least I did.

I had a pleasantly secret elitish food shopping experience tonight. I bought capers and roast peppers at Krogers. I also bought cat food and Gold Medal's 100 percent whole wheat bread. Then I high tailed it to the DeKalb Farmer's Market and bought fancy Staymen apples and fancy blue cheese, and yes, short grain brown rice, among more plebean fare. I'm not sure what the secret elite really all eat. I know some of the fancy prepared things they serve at parties, but I think this varies by region and city and of course ethnicity as much as it does by one's eliteness if there is such a word.

In the role playing world. Two Invisionfree.com boards, Barnes Academy and Long Beach High have turned active and I found myself invited to join Past Lives. How does all this happen? I dont' have much faith in MSN Groups and Ghostletters was slow. Now I'm in over my head. I'm not sure I like Barnes Academy. The one active role play just leaves me feeling cold because it doesn't feel very real. Also, I keep asking: "where is the magic?" If you put magic in a story, put it for a reason.

Angels and demons are extreme types. They don't play kid games or quickly tire of them and go on to bigger games. Yes, I'm glad to see there are new characters on Complete Opposites too. Now ask me how many role plays for which I signed up? The answer is about half a dozen. The one role play that won't give me the time of day is City Liights. Yes, that is the way it is spelled. It's a bit clever if you ask me and I hope it was intentional. The person who runs it has yet to approve my character and I have yet to go back and see if she approved any one else' character. I'm kind of glad this role play is inactive or not accepting me because the owner has succeeded in turning New York City in to a small town. I'm from the New York metro area and it just feels sad to see all the top down planning that has butchered a fairly good real world setting.

I've done nothing with Fellis School today. Work is a four letter word. I'm even behind on Ghostletters which now has new blog just for scribes.

I think in a week or so, the role plays will sort themselves out. I don't want to lose Ghostletters. I guess that is priority number one. I may have another go at Barnes Academy as well.

Past Lives presents a conundrum. Amber, the manager, said they needed adult characters. I don't think she was thinking middle age. I think she was thinking eighteen or nineteen. If I create an adult, he will be sui generis. With whom will he speak? What will he do for a living? Will be be stuck blogging in the first person? I'll get all this figured out...soon.

by Eileen Kramer

This is a test post to make sure my blog works in the New Blogger. I hope that Blogger did not mangle this blog which has a lot of custom formatting on it.

Monday, January 01, 2007

by Eileen Kramer

Here is a good MSN Groups related New Years resolution. Try and figure out ways to stimulate more activity and posting. This is not easy since most people who are not secret elite (and there are always exceptions to this so if you are one, pat yourself on the back) are not comfortable with a kind of confident expressive writing and argument that is common on academic style and snob fora. This creates no-crit environments, even when there is no need for it.

It also leads to the posting of forwards. A classic example of these is the forward about dirty purses. In a group of more confident writers someone might answer it by saying: "I don't think we live in a germ free bubble so why should I be afraid of a dirty purse or lunch box. Every surface is contaminated. The air is full of contagion. Being exposed to routine grime which yes, includes unmentinoables, is part of life. It builds the immune system against real enemies and may prevent autoimmune disease. Asthma which is an autoimmune disease is at record levels. So too are food allergies. If children are exposed to real pathogens than their bodies learn to fight them and not fight the wrong thing etc...." or "With all the problems we have in the world, you bring up this. We never bothered with this before. Occasionally someone would get sick, but it would either pass or we'd get them medicine from the doctor. Big fat hairy deal." Both of these are legitimate responses but one never hears them. There are times when the silence can be deafening.

How in such an environment does one get posters to carry on something resembling a discussion (not necessarily a discussion by the way) or start threads of their own that are not forwards. Responding to forwards has its fans but they are over at the Glurge Gallery at Snopes. Forwards are a dead end in a community that is drifting to no-crit.

This leaves several other options: First there are the punitive options, participation requirements. These can work by lifting the minimum number of posts. The theory behind these is that once people post daily they'll post more. They also can if enforced raise participation somewhat across a group.

Second trade and exchange between active group members. People join each other's groups and pledge to post weekly or daily. The problem is it changes group culture. Also does the weekly or daily poster post more than the minimum? I would like to say I do, but I don't. Also trade and exchange resembles vote exchange for site fighters. It creates an insular world of high end posters and does not spread posting to less active members.

Gerald M. Phillips (1927-1995) suggested that all email lists should have an instigator. This means someone gets conversation going in some way. Now Dr. Phillips was talking about academic style mailing lists where the posters were confident and sharp with their words. Instigation also is not a black and white process. If the wrong person instigates as I tried to do on IPCTL in 1996, you get heckled to death. Meanwhile, on an MSN Group instigation needs to take on a whole new form but putting up posts that stimulate conversation and getting a conversation going instead of just raising the counter, is a good idea. The big question here is "how."

Last but not least we have Roy Winkler of Netdynam@listserv.icors.orgs' Big Six for stimulating response. I'm not sure how these would work in an MSN Group.

In many MSN Groups by the way, ice breakers, cut and paste games, questions of the day, or a simple miniblog or question about the weather can stimulate and instigate. It would be good to have a list of what techniques work and which don't in particular groups. Oh well, I wonder how we can share this knowledge.

This New Year's Day we have two cyberculture related articles. Yes, what did you do to deserve this? I just have a lot about which to write. That is all. As I join new role play boards, I find I am again playing defensively. I set up Fellis School on Yupyupyup to give a place for one potentially rejected and two characters on a barely active board to play freely. This is back up to take care of the characters. This is playing defensively.

I learned to play defensively online long before I arrived at Brainstorms. I unfortunately, learned it at RAOK. RAOK had trouble remotely serving guestbook pressies and I had web space. It also took an inordinately long time for gifts to make it to the galleries. I did not make a fuss. I no longer trusted the RAOK server or those handling the technical end of things at RAOK. I did not suspect malice. There was none. I started gallerying my own pressies and hosting them from my own site.

I don't know why I did not trust Brainstorms. I think this blog was just there first so I published my life story entries there and then back at Braisntorms, thus creating a backup. Creating a backup is classic defensiveness.

The new role play boards play slowly and who knows if the owners want an adult member or her characters. I want to preserve my work and play the characters. You are always safer when you own the pass key. I wish I did not have to play defensively, but that is how the online world works.

On another subject, I'd like to discuss global warming. It is really happening in Atlanta this mainly warm winter. It was fifty-eight Farenheit when the peach dropped in Five Points. Daffodils taht don't bloom until February are blooming, forced by the warm soil. I even saw a cherry tree blossoming. Nature feels very out of whack. This is quite different from neraly two dollar a pound red peppers in the Farmer's Market or fifty-nine cent a pound white cabbage a couple of years ago or the apple disaster before that. What happens when it is wheat, corn, or soybeans that is effected. We live in such a land of plenty that none of us can imagine famine, but the harbingers are there. I should get a disposible camera or an electronic and take pictures. If global warming is this far along, what can any of us do to stop it, and that opportunist Al Gore has to use it as a political platform for a propaganda movie. Whatever happens next with Global Warming can not be good.