movin' on up

Some stats for firefox, whose star continues to rise.

The most popular browsers in the USA are:

1. Microsoft IE 80.73 %
2. Mozilla Firefox 14.07 %
3. Apple Safari 3.55 %
4. Netscape 0.76 %
5. Opera 0.77 %

via Digg.

I was a reluctant switcher (just ask her), but no way am I ever going back to the Internet Expirer.

shame and mercy

"Maybe I'm ashamed of the way I need you."

-Paul McCartney, "Maybe I'm Amazed"

The title of this post may seem a bit obscure and there really is no way I can explain it without writing a book. In fact I've already written that book and am trying to get it published, but I'm not going to post the whole thing here. Suffice it to say that one chapter deals explicitly with the relationship between shame and mercy. I think there is a very close kinship between the two, and it is can be positive and not instead of negative.

I'm thinking about this because of what I wrote last night in "reading is expensive." In that post I somewhat selfishly and unashamedly mentioned my desire (lust) for two books as well as the presence of a link to my amazon wishlist on this page. I'm the master of subtlety as you well know.

I wrote that post because 1.) I really did want those two books. 2.) My mom and my wife both read this blog. 3.) I didn't think anybody else would even consider getting any of the items on my wishlist for me.

So guess what? Another blogger purchased the two books I mentioned and had them sent to me.

I am grateful, extremely so. I'm also somewhat ashamed. My benefactor probably had no intention whatsoever of shaming me. I think he is simply a very kind and compassionate person and brother in Christ who wanted to give away a blessing. What he did is something we all should do lots more of: give ourselves away.

Why did I feel a twinge of shame? I'm not exactly sure. Maybe because I don't really enjoy feeling indebted to other people while at the same time I recognize that we each incur a debt to others simply by occupying space in the world. Think about it for a minute before you say that's not so. Just about anything you do in a given day takes something from the world that could be used by someone else. The world is a big place so most of these subtractions are miniscule and barely worth mentioning, but they do exist. Over the course of a lifetime, all of us make an uncountable number of withdrawals.

Or maybe I'm ashamed simply because I wrote that post and put it out there for the entire world to see when I could just as easily have reminded my wife, my mom and dad, my sister and brother that I have an amazon wishlist and they should use it before they run out of pre-Christmas shopping days.

Or maybe I'm ashamed because an almost complete stranger did something nice for me.

I know, you're thinking, "He's over-analyzing this. It was a gift!" You're probably right.

But you see... there is a relationship between shame and mercy. There is a certain type of shame that is brought about by just the right act of mercy (the Hebrew word is hesed: kindness or loving-kindness); a shame that highlights our unworthiness but doesn't prevent us from receiving a blessing; maybe it even accentuates the blessing when it comes. It is a shame that motivates us to extend the same kind of mercy we've received. We'll get the chance sooner or later. Let's call this holy shame; or if you don't like theological language, positive shame. It's not a shame we can or should inflict on someone else. All we can do is stand ready to extend mercy, hesed, loving-kindness, and then let it do its work.

To the giver: Thank you. Your kindness yielded a harvest that was disproportionate to what was sown. You can be sure that I will pass it on.

book burro: nifty firefox toy

This is cool!

It's called Book Burro and it's an extension (there's also a greasemonkey version) that activates when you hover over an item that "looks" like a book. For example, if you're on amazon.com and you go to a book's page, a book burro dialog will appear in the upper left of your browser. If you then hover over the dialog, a price comparsion chart will drop down. Extremely cool!

I found the extension at ecmanaut, a blog I discovered when John at Freshblog referred to it earlier today. Thanks, John.

You design fanatics should be interested in ecmanaut. He likes to play with ecmascript, and now I'm going to have to find out just what that is. This dude sometimes can't resist "another quick hack before going to bed." Woah.

Further info: ecmascript @ Wikipedia. That cleared things up a bit.

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reading is expensive


I'm definitely gonna go broke, first Cormac McCarthy comes out with a new book. And now this.

There's just no way around it.

Well, I'll just give it a prominent place on my amazon wishlist (the link is at the right, should your eyes happen to stray in that direction).

your average meme

Eric demonstrates a thorough knowledge of basic statistical concepts with this meme. You're right, Eric. It's mode. It could also be median, but the average person probably thinks in terms of simple frequency of occurrence when they participate in the average meme.

For the sake of simplicity...

According to this book the average Amercian...
(overstrikes mean I personally fall outside the bounds on that particular item)

  • Eats peanut butter at least once a week
  • Prefers smooth peanut butter over chunky
  • Can name all Three Stooges
  • Lives within a 20-minute drive of a Wal-Mart
  • Eats at McDonald's at least once a year
  • Takes a shower for approximately 10.4 minutes a day
  • Never sings in the shower I caught myself doing this today, actually.
  • Lives in a house, not an apartment or condominium
  • Has a home valued between $100,000 and $300,000I don't own a home.
  • Has fired a gun...and never will.
  • Is between 5 feet and 6 feet tall
  • Weighs 135 to 205 pounds
  • Is between the ages of 18 and 53
  • Believes gambling is an acceptable entertainment option)
  • Grew up within 50 miles of current home Nearly, I now live 54 miles from my childhood home.

Well, that was fun. Guess I'm not that average. Dang.

I, too, copied the non-standards compliant (whatever the heck that means) source code from him as he did from the others.

forbes goes off the deep end part iv

My last post about this, I promise. And since it is the last, I will offer, for those who are interested, my reason for taking great umbrage to the foolish Forbes article.

Here's a different view of the article (which I'm not providing any more links to, it's not worth it).

I enjoyed Dave's intro in which he quotes bloggers who, angry that they've been mistakenly referred to as a lynch mob, threaten to lynch Forbes and the the article's author. Funny.

Then he summarizes the main thurst of Attack of the Blogs with the following points,

1. You don't know who is blogging and why
2. Misinformation and lies are quickly disseminated
3. Bloggers are not subject to libel laws
4. Bloggers are not journalists,

each of which have some validity. I do not think they are completely valid as they are stated, however. Often, things people hold as facts are only partially factual. Such is the case with the list above. Nonetheless, it doesn't diminish the observation that the Forbes article wasn't totally unfounded.

Then David says this,

The important thing is to step back from the overt bias in the Forbes article and read through it a second time, asking yourself whether anything said is really false, or simply just a bit breathless and one-sided.

but that is precisely what is wrong with the Attack of the Blogs. From the first sentence to the last, the thing is breathless (much more than just a bit), one sided, and therefore just as irresponsible as those bloggers it characterizes as a lynch mob. As Freshblog's John said in a comment on a previous post,

"It sounds unhinged beyond measure!! I can't imagine what they were thinking when they decided to publish it...."

The only thing I can say in favor of the Forbes article is this: the author, Daniel Lyons, signed his name to it. That's good, but that's all that's good.

In the end, the same thing is wrong with both the Forbes article and some of the "kill, kill, kill" reactions to it: It's not enough to broadcast facts. Facts must be handled responsibly. Facts can be spun into a web of lies (the Bible depicts Satan making a career out of this very thing) or facts can be used to tell the truth.

And so bloggers and other writers: be careful, be responsible. And in the end, if you're not willing to put your name on it, perhaps you'd better think twice and then a third time.

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up pretty early

I'm sure that you, unlike me, remembered to set your clock back an hour. So you, unlike me, are probably still asleep right now.


burger delay rain king

File this in the visits-to-your-site-from-strange-search-engine-strings category.

Someone visited me via a google search for the following search string:

Rain Delay Burger King

I'm number two (as of now) in those search results.

UPDATE and bump: Ooooh! I'm number one! I'm number one! Oh happy day!

kinda strange, but welcome nonetheless

I get a few hits every day from people linking here via this picture. which is hosted here. I can't read German but the few english words and the site's design give the impression that it's about Native American tours or ministries or something like that.

I linked to it from a my favorite places meme and have received a steady trickle of visits through the picture ever since.


If you are one of those visitors, wilkommen, thanks for dropping by. Pull up a chair and hang out if you like.

forbes goes off the deep end part iii

This just in, now one of the quoted sources for the forbes fiasco is taking issue with the article.

Read his comments here.

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no country for old men

Cormac McCarthy's got a new book out. I'm there.

Thought you'd want to know that.

Have a pleasant evening.


My 94 year old friend "went to be with grandpop" today.

I saw her moments before she departed, stroking her hair and silently praying as I left the house. The family tells me I hadn't turned the corner in my car when she slipped away, silently and in peace. "She walked out the door with you," they said.

Lillian's great grandson (who has the same name as me), said that his vision of heaven is a place where she will walk around, even though she has wings, and where she can find a great diner.

I'll tell you, I'd be happy with that. But I do believe that there's more, much more, and better in store for Lillian.

So goodbye friend. I'll be seeing you.

forbes goes off the deep end part ii

No surprise.

Reaction to the Forbes evil blog story is, um, strong. strong. strong. Just the beginning.

Read the full post (quoted at the first link above) by Dan Gillmor at bayosphere (don't forget to read the comments and follow the trackbacks too).

My wife reads Forbes. I skim it sometimes. Always thought it was so-so. I find a lot of the blogs on my roll to be much more compelling. Perhaps you should consider cancelling your Forbes subscription and read some of the titles in the right sidebar.

Just a thought.

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masterpiece, or...

Prophecy, or famous last words?

"This is a masterpiece. I can't wait to unveil it."

--Universal Chairwoman Stacey Snider
talking about Peter Jackson's "King Kong"
which is $32million over budget.

--Peter Jackson,
talking about the same thing.

$32 million. That's walkin' around money.

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forbes goes off the deep end

Calling all my online lynch mob pals!

Please, if you don't already have a registration at Forbes, get a password from bugmenot (type in the URL for forbes magazine) and read the whole story from which I have excerpted the following quote:

"Web logs are the prized platform of an online lynch mob spouting liberty but spewing lies, libel and invective. Their potent allies in this pursuit include Google and Yahoo."

... it's a good thing newspapers and magazines never engage in that kind of stuff!

That's some incredibly responsible journalism. But hey, at least he got web logs right.


H/T: Micro Persuasion

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can you hear john lennon turning over?

IPOD is bigger than Jesus?

Silly! The Nano is so small. Jesus was a grown man.

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quote(s) of the day

"The thing that impresses me most about our editors is that they understand that it's not all about the book. It's about the money you can make from that book."

--Jennifer Bergstrom, publisher of
Simon Spotlight Entertainment,
an imprint of Simon and Schuster.

She was talking about the editors for the new imprint, who are targeting 18 to 35 year olds with a line of books that shovels on the pop culture.

I'm sure Ms. Bergstrom knows publishing, but not so much pop culture, for example, from the article:

"And Weezer is a ...?," Ms. Bergstrom asked.

"Band," the staff replied collectively, sounding as if it frequently had to finish such sentences.

Uh huh.

The article finishes up with yet a third wonderful quote from Bergstrom:

"...we usually know what we want to publish. It's then a matter of wrapping the right author and spokesperson around it."

Whatever happened to publishing books writers want to write and readers want to read?

I know, I'm an anachronism.

Flip of the page to: conversational reading

big green gets stoned

Just what the world needs. Another CD by the Rolling Stones.

And, oh the joy, they're releasing it in partnership with Big Green.

I don't know what to say. I'm so underwhelmed. All the tracks will be "rarities." What? As in "good?"

Who's next James, The Doors?


Tip of the coffee mug to: Starbucks Gossip


relationships. big surprise.

Hey, if you didn't know, it's all about relationships. I'm giving that one away for free. You can thank me later.

In a rut at work? Don't change your job. Revise your relationships.

Donna Rosato says, "read a blog."

Yep. I agree. In fact, you should read this one.

I plan on being out of my rut soon.


whisper down the [blog] lane

So David from Slimbolala is in, of all places, Fort Worth, Texas. He's wondering what there is to do in that city.

Perhaps a certain hammy resident could steer him (pun intended) in the right direction?

i guess you had to be there

What the hell...?

It's the middle of the night. Parking lot. A man stands alone. Suddenly a guy runs up to him saying "Gimme your dough" ...

"Meanwhile, a pickup truck - which police think was the robber's getaway ride - screeched up in reverse, but instead of spiriting the robber away, hit both the suspect and the victim, apparently by accident. Then the pickup bolted."

Remember. It's the middle of the night, 2:30am or something. It gets better.

A woman...

"behind the wheel of a Lexus, put the suspect in her sights. The woman rammed the robber with the front of her car. Then backed up and hit him again. And again...[then] the man reached into his pocket to pull his gun, but shot himself in the leg. That's when the woman hit the robber with her car a fourth time."


But wait, we're not done!

Police showed up, arrested the injured thief and sent him away on a stretcher but...
"they also nabbed another man, who may have had nothing to do with the melee but was spotted running from the scene."

Remind me not to move to Milwaukee. Or at least never to run down the street in the middle of the night past a woman in a Lexus repeatedly slamming a guy with a gun in a parking lot if I do.

Gentle tap with the front end to: Obscure Store


rubber re-soul

So a bunch of today's artists have remade Rubber Soul. The new disc is called This Bird Has Flown (which, for the Beatlistically challenged, is a line from and subtitle of Norweigan Wood).

This NPR story includes a few snippets of the current stuff. Let me be kind and say it's rather spotty.

I did like hearing the little audio montage featuring a couple of the artists raving about the Beatles. I always love hearing due credit given.

"Maybe it's best to treat any remake as an entirely new thing; a way for younger listeners to find their way to the Beatles..."

Or maybe it's just a way for a few new artists to capitalize on those giant shoulders they're standing on. One or the other.

Good on Yonder Mountain String Band for staying close to the original, especially the incredible harmonies, of "Think For Yourself." Dar Williams' "You Won't See Me" isn't bad either.

Oh, and Zalm... Sufjan's on it.

Anyway, here's a link to the new disc, whatever it's called. And here's a link to Rubber Soul, one of the greatest albums of all time.*

*I didn't say it, that's a direct quote from Nellie McKay. She's a smart one, that Nellie.

quite writely

This post is a test of a new web 2.0 word processing thingy called "Writely ." This program allows you to write and collaborate on documents via the web, with no web page. The word processing is fairly robust though I'd like to see better formatting options. I notice that it automatically saves the document you're working on -- it seems like this happens every thirty seconds; very nice. Writely is beta, so count on regular development. And the "insert link" feature is much better than in MS Word. It seems like a good program so far; it's certainly a great idea.

I got the hookup from Netvibes which recently announced integration with Writely.

If you haven't tried Netvibes, it's worth a look. It's a build-your-own homepage a la Google Personal. There are some differences though and depending on your preferences you might like Netvibes better. The cool thing about Netvibes is they're hungry, and therefore very responsive. Last week I had a problem with my own feed's appearance on my netvibes page. I emailed them to ask if it was a generalized problem or just me. Less than 24 hours later I received this--

Hi Jim
I think i've fixed the bug regarding your feed

The bug was in fact, fixed. Google is cool, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for a response from them.

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So for all of you folks out there who disparage the EU (not that I blame you, actually) here is a story that makes the EU sound a lot like... some other country we all know and love.

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peer pressure, what peer preesure?

All day, I was telling myself I wasn't gonna do this. *sigh* I'm pathetic.

My blog is worth $15,242.58.
How much is your blog worth?

h/t: Zalm, Educat

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mojo turbo gets around

Someone named Mojo Turbo from theway[dot]blog[dot]com left a comment on my previous post. It said simply "nice site," below that there was his url.

I clicked over there and it seems like a relatively interesting place. Mojo is apparently a minister, he also composes verse and posts it at theway.

That's all good.

What's not so good is that this person seems to have clicked down my blogroll and left similarly brief comments along with his URL at lots of places. Zalm, Meg, Nicole, Educat, the McCartys, Slacktivist, Greg, and Ben, all of you have "nice site" comments or slight variations at your places now. Actually I'm not sure where it all started, perhaps I was in the middle of the onslaught, no matter.

Ummm... Mr. Mojo, bloggers often refer to such a practice as "spamming." The better way to get people to read your blog is simply to write good stuff, tag your posts, and leave thoughtful comments on blogs that you yourself read regularly. It doesn't hurt to include the blogs you think are "nice sites" on your blogroll either. I noticed that none of the sites you commented on from my blogroll are on yours. Maybe you're blogrolling them at this moment, I'll check... nope, not yet.

Thanks for the comment, really. I must confess however that it's hard to take your encouragement seriously when you leave the equivalent of "Have a nice summer, good luck in the future" at half the sites on my roll. I do hope you will read them now that you've left comments. That will be the proof that you are a man of your word.


no comment

There are days, like this one, when I wish W at Searchblog would allow comments on her posts. I understand why she doesn't, but one can wish, eh?

Today I had a conversation with a guy whose initial is also W. My W was recently in the hospital with some condition I cannot even pronounce, but which had something to do with his blood pressure. He is a much beloved small business owner here in town, the kind of person who can make a room brighter by entering it. He is masterfully quick witted, an artist in badinage.

Who knew? The man is a spiritual giant. He ministered to me from his bed of infirmity. I felt more alive than before as I left his hospital room that day after a brief visit turned into an hour of soul sharing.

I don't need to say more about the visit, but I do need to mention today's conversation. He sauntered in to the local coffee and artisan pastry shop as if he'd never been ill. It was, as they used to say in the way back, meat and drink to see him and I told him so.

He sat down and said, "I didn't realize it until after you left me that day, but during our conversation I shared a story about my past. I realized only later that I wasn't simply naming it, I was reclaiming it! Thank you!"

"You're welcome," I said, stunned. The look on my face must have said more than my words.

He said, "No really. It was a breakthrough for me. Thank you. I know it wasn't you who did it, but you were the one who was used to bring it about."

"I'm honored to have been the guy who sat with you at that moment." I said, though I believe I stuttered every word.

The last thing he said before we went on to talk about other things was, "I was pacing the room for an hour after you left thinking about it. It was a transformation."

He was suppposed to have been in the hospital for at least two more days after that, but was sent home the next day. Call it standard operational procedure for HMO's, I call it the speaking of healing words, the reclaiming of forgotten past.

That's also what W writes about today. If she allowed comments, I'd simply call her post what it is: beautiful.

I'd also comment that I love Raymond Carver's writing for the very quality of careful elision she mentions. His silences say as much as, perhaps more than, the actual words. Would that I could be so eloquent without saying anything!


sabbath rest for the people

Andrei Codrescu is not a "believer" but he is a sabbath keeper, which many believers are not.

He tells why today in an NPR commentary:

"Stay unfocused, unintentional, indeterminate."

I'd like to elaborate on what he says, but I don't think I can. I'll say only this: perhaps the people who most need to hear this commentary are Christians.


gwen macsai, droppin' that knowledge

She's right. I think. Though I'm a man. What do I know?

paul, you should have asked me!

Nigel Godrich is a lucky young man. Producer for the likes of Natalie Imbruglia, Beck, & Radiohead. He's the guy Paul McCartney brought in for his new "Chaos and Creation In the Backyard."

Asked by Steve Inskeep of NPR if he liked McCartney's recent music, Godrich said simply, "No, Not Really." In the studio, Godrich pushed for a record that he himself would buy.

You put people around him and they just wilt. What he needed was somebody to just remind him about the things that he's done; jog his memory a little bit or give him a little kick up the...

Well... I don't know. I think his stuff has had some pretty good bits in. But James Paul McCartney has definitely been spotty, for years. Oh to have been a fly on the wall in that studio.

The snippets of new stuff sound good. I'd buy it anyway, but it's nice to know there's something to look forward to, eh?


steeling myself

One simpy can't predict anything however...

I think Lillian will depart very soon.

She wanted to tell me something today but the words wouldn't come. She tried hard. After a while she looked through me.

I asked Will if he would bring her communion tonight. I was going to do it tomorrow, but that may be too late.

And so...


more larry

I just this moment finished Duane's Depressed by Larry McMurtry. I was going to do my usual and post a review in the recent reads section, but I think this one merits a bit more.

I'll not summarize the plot, it's nicely summarized by the title. The book is the third in McMurtry's Last Picture Show series. It is the final chapter in this story of Duane, his wife Karla, Sonny, and Jaycee and the other citizens of Thalia, TX. (Cybill Shepherd played Jaycee in the film adaptations of the first two books; this third installment was not filmed).

McMurtry published Duane's Depressed in the same year as his nonfiction title Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen, in which he drinks lime Dr. Pepper and talks philosophy. That book's subtitle is "Reflections At Sixty and Beyond." In 1991 McMurtry suffered a major heart attack, which was, according to Ray Isle in Stanford Magazine, followed by, "subsequent bypass surgery and a long and debilitating depression." He discusses this frankly, though in my opinion, too briefly in Benjamin.

But where the nonfiction book skims, the novel plunges in. Duane, a character McMurtry has lived with for three decades is 62 and sliding most unwittingly into depression. He parks his truck and starts walking everywhere in a pickup-driving oil patch community. He surprises himself constantly and not altogether pleasantly. There is an episode where Duane becomes enraged by the sight of trash in a creek he has crossed hundreds of times in the past. He knows not what is driving him, only that he is being driven. It is to Duane's credit, and McMurtry's as well, that he decides to go with it. Or, to misquote from Lonesome Dove, to let the warm sleep take him.

McMurtry is great at the seriocomic; at creating moments of sudden pathos in the midst of almost madcap humor and vice versa. His characters seem like real people living real lives. Not like realistically drawn fictional characters but like people you know. This is almost uniformly true in his work, though it is especially true in Duane's Depressed.

I also love the way McMurtry poeticizes the mundane. Listen:

"He watched the big trucks pour through Wichita Falls for an hour, as the traffic light blinked red and green and yellow. There was never an end to trucks. They rolled north from the Gulf Coast, from Houston and Dallas, from Mexico. To amuse himself he counted trucks for a while--one hundred passed his motel in less than fifteen minutes, huge trucks, rimmed with lights, their cabs vast as castles. There were hundreds of thousands of trucks, rambling over the prairies where the buffalo had once been."

What a difference from the earlier two books! This book isn't about sex, for one thing. To be fair the other two weren't about sex either, but they seemed to be. This time we walk into and through depression with Duane. Though McMurtry famously excels at getting into the heads of his female characters, and it's as true here as in his other books, this time he rigourously captures the feeling of a man's depression, ground which I know well enough and which I don't care to tread again anytime soon, God willing.

I didn't mind walking it with Duane and with Mr McMurtry, though. I didn't mind at all.

dumbass award, the revenge

I was just reading an article about the recent web 2.0 conference. John Battelle of Federated Media and Barry Diller, CEO of an obscure entertainment company were interviewed together.

Diller said...

"There is not that much talent in the world. There are very few people in very few closets in very few rooms that are really talented and can't get out."

The author of the Wired Article called Diller's remarks "clear headed." [ed. - author Ryan Singel commented on this post saying that another quote by Diller is actually the one he was referring to. Read the article to see it. Only Mr. Diller gets the award this time. Sorry, Ryan!]

...clear headed alright, as in nothing there. At least Battelle had the good sense not to get himself quoted like that.

Diller gets a dumbass award. Aren't you proud, sir?

all-time album countdowns are dumb...

...except when Abbey Road takes the top spot and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band is #2.

WXPN isn't so bad after all, I guess.

*35 years after the split The Beatles can still walk away with 5 of the top 10 album spots. Gotta go, my hand aches from filling out all those ballots.

in the modern office we are all fighter pilots

We interrupt this blog for an important announcement.

That title is a quote from Clive Thompson. A few days ago I posted about an interview with him on the topic of Interruption Science. The upcoming article I mentioned then is now available both at Thompson's blog, Collision Detection and also for free from the New York Times. The article is so packed with insight that I couldn't decide what to quote. But here's one to whet your appetite...

"It turns out that a certain amount of life-hacking is simply cultivating a monklike ability to say no."

The aritlce is very long, but also very good. Defininely worth the read, even if you have to interrupt yourself a few times before you're done.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled serotoninrain, already in progress.

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recent comments

You may have noticed the recent comments in the sidebar. Probably because it moves the blogs on the blogroll further down the page thus delaying your escape.

Anyway, blogger doesn't do recent comments, I wish they would but... Other solutions out there are either too cumbersome for a bear (or blogger) of very little brain, or they don't work for an external comment system (such as Haloscan).

I'd been wondering how to work around this and yesterday while playing with Feedburner, I noticed that they have a way of generating HTML for a feed which you can place anywhere. It's called Buzzboost, which sounds like something you'd find at a head shop. TechCrunch speaks of it.

Since Haloscon provides RSS for my comments, I decided to see if I could use that somehow. The amazing thing: it worked! Or rather, the amazing thing is that I got it to work. It involved the extremely complicated and dangerous business of actually cutting and pasting the feedburner HTML into my template. You're pretty impressed with me now, aren't you? I thought so.

So now you can see the most recent comments and click right to them*. This is probably more exciting for me than it is for you, but there you go.

*There is a delay between the leaving of a comment and its appearance in the sidebar, so don't go sending me nasty emails if your brilliant verbage doesn't show up the minute you compose it.

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inform(ed) mistake

Micropersuasion's Steve Rubel discusses a new RSS reader called inform.

Since I've been looking at various readers lately, I clicked right over. The first time you visit, there is an initial screen (which you can avoid in the future by disabling your pop up killer for inform's site.) That wrinkle, though a bit inconvenient, is not a problem.

This, however...

Note that this site is optimized for Internet Explorer 6.0 or greater. It will also work in Firefox, but you will not have the benefit of some of the unique navigational aspects.


Do I even need to ask the obvious?

i thought it was just judge judy and stuff

It was about 12:30am when I finally accepted reality: sleep would not come soon. So I came downstairs and turned on the TV. That, I suppose, is unremarkable. People turn on their TV's all the time. What is remarkable is that I watched the TV while it was on. That hardly ever happens.

I'm sure you know this already, but late night TV is way more interesting now than it was when I used to stay up all night watching Friday Night Videos (I did not remember that it was an NBC show. I was even more surprised to learn that it lasted until almost 2001. My goodness!)

Last night I discovered the late night offerings on Court TV. There was a show called the Forensic Files, and some show about a criminal profiler; I couldn't remember her name despite it being mentioned every 7.63 seconds.

All the episodes I saw featured similar situations. To begin with, someone gets killed. No one knows how. The show's main character is also stumped despite their superior insight and crime solving ability. After some period of time (I think it's typically a couple of years) there is a break in the case. This happens when either the perp drinks from a cup and leaves it lying around (forensics experts love this, it's all about the DNA), or the perp commits another crime in another place, typically involving a car (profilers love to figure out what happened in cars). Sometimes, as seems to be the case with this episode, it's a combination of these things.

The mystery is ultimately solved and the jury doesn't deliberate very long before bringing in a guilty verdict.

I know Court TV is probably old news to everybody but me, but I was fascinated. Not fascinated enough to willingly stay up and watch this stuff, but the next time I can't sleep, Court TV will be just the ticket.


our house. in the middle of our street.

David at Slimbolala published some photos of his house in New Orleans.

He says there's more to come.

As Owl said in Winnie the Pooh's Grand Adventure, "On a scale of 1 to 10, it's not good."


interruption science: now, where were we?

NPR aired this piece on Friday about "Interruption Science" with Clive Thompson, who writes the very interesting Collision Detection blog.

One of the interesting bits concerns the quality of life factor of interruptions...

"when we get interrupted, the things we're intending to do or trying to pay attention to, get partially lost but partially there and they just sort of nag at us. And So some of this is not just about making us more productive it's about making us, just, happier."

Near the end of the interview, Alex Chadwick makes the astute observation that we often choose to be distracted. Thompson responds that 40% of "interruptions" are chosen. Somebody much more obscure than Chadwick and Thompson recently noted this.

Very interesting. The article comes out in this weekend's New York Times Sunday Magazine [I couldn't find a preview to link to at their site].

So, the next time you're.... oh, sorry, I gotta take this...

Technorati tag:

since I'm here, I might as well eat

So, this guy drives into a Burger King. No, really. In-to the Burger King...

"An elderly man crashed his car into the Burger King in downtown Wausau on Friday morning.

The man smashed his car into the main entrance at about 9:30 a.m."

...and then orders breakfast.

Hey, the customer is always right.

And how 'bout those never say die Burger King workers who...

"continued to serve patrons who made their way into the restaurant."

Who says you can't get good help these days?

H/T to the inimitable Obscure Store.


you helped me

So, blog buddies. You helped me today. Bet you didn't know that.

I was visiting my friend Liz. She has MS. Her grandmother is Lillian, you may remember her from this post. Well, this week Lillian went back into the hospital. Her heart is shutting down. The doctors, in consultation with her daughters, decided that the best course would be to make her last days as peaceful as possible. This meant Hospice care, which began today as Lillian came home for the last time.

So I was sitting with Liz, who suffers some disability because of her MS, enough that she can't work anymore and some things, especially things like getting out of bed in the morning, are difficult. Liz had been the strong one in the family until she got sick. Her husband disengaged and left. She moved in with her mom and grandmother. Liz's mother suffered a major heart attack some years ago, one which almost killed her, and which seemed to render her permanantly infirm. Liz's father is long dead from liver cancer. About the only good thing arising from Liz's MS: it has brought her mother back to life, the doctor's are astounded at how well she is doing.

Lillian rested on her hospice bed in the living room while Liz and I talked in the kitchen. "I can't do much. I can't be the one who is strong anymore. About the only thing I can do is hold Nanna's hand," she said as more tears fell from eyes that have already shed so many.

When she finished speaking, I mentioned some of the things you all told me when I said something similar* just a couple of weeks ago. "If I were dying, Liz," I said, "the thing I'd want most is for someone to hold my hand." I said, "that in itself is a lot."

Liz was as encouraged by what you said as I was.

I just wanted to say thank you.

*That previous post was written on the night of the great blogger-post feeding frenzy. The comments currently visible were written after I reposted it the following, much calmer day. This means that a couple of very encouraging comments were lost, but not before I had a chance to read them. I have them still, as haloscan has retained them even though the post itself no longer exists.


don't call me jimmy

"I wish I had a million bucks. Hot Dog!"

Jimmy Stewart

You scored 21% Tough, 19% Roguish, 47% Friendly, and 14% Charming!

You are the fun and friendly boy next door, the classic nice guy who
still manages to get the girl most of the time. You're every nice
girl's dreamboat, open and kind, nutty and charming, even a little
mischievous at times, but always a real stand up guy. You're dependable
and forthright, and women are drawn to your reliability, even as
they're dazzled by your sense of adventure and fun. You try to be tough
when you need to be, and will gladly stand up for any damsel in
distress, but you'd rather catch a girl with a little bit of flair.
Your leading ladies include Jean Arthur and Donna Reed, those sweet
girl-next-door types.

Find out what kind of classic dame you'd make by taking the
Classic Dames Test.

My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 40% on Tough
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 56% on Roguish
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 78% on Friendly
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 13% on Charming

Link: The Classic Leading Man Test written by gidgetgoes on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

h/t: Educat (ex Scott)

word! of the next day

Julie, talkin' sense:


word! of the day

Heard the following phrase today in coversation with a guy who's stuck in the hospital because of a condition with a name I can't pronounce but which is essentially the result of high blood pressure...

"...the recreational destruction of people's lives."

I've been turning it over in my head ever since.

what i'm not, part ii

read part i

Ask my closest personal friends, they'll tell you. I'm not contrarian by nature. It's a discipline I've acquired by dint of effort and practice, practice, practice.

Steve Rubel at the always intriguing Micropersuasion says there is no money in blogging. He points to this post at Qumana blog which analyzes the results of a recent survey of blogs' advertising earnings. It's the post at Qumana, not Rubel's insight, that gets on my contrarian nerve.

The problems begin pretty much immediately. Notice n=26. That's the sample size on which they based their opening bar graph, the one that illustrates the actual earnings per month. That sample size just doesn't git 'er done, y'all.

Okay, let's ignore the multiple errors in their survey research methodology and look at the insights themselves. A previous post about the same survey comes up with this remarkable insight: bloggers are not participating in advertising programs.

Well, that's news! I guess that's why they could only come up with about 30 people for their sample, enough to satisfy the Central Limit Theorem but that's about it.

Qumana blog's conclusion after much twisting in the wind over this sad state of affairs is: we need to make blog advertising easier.


Easier than one click sign-up for adsense via blogger? How's that?

Okay, look. I don't want to write another too-long post, so I'll just say it: Please stop afflicting me with advertisements on your blog. I don't mind the reading lists and the CD's you're listening to. I don't even mind the paypal panhandling that some people do; it's cool. But adsense... that's ridiculous. Especially when the ads are in the middle of a post. That's a good way to lose me as a reader.

I read blogs because I like it, not because I'm into shopping. I can go to amazon for that. I'm glad there's no money in blogging, it's a relief. There's writing in blogging and good writing too, check out the blogs on my roll. They're there because they're good, not because they're financially viable. There is a difference.

The more I sense you're trying to make money from me via your blog, the more likely I am to click, not on your adsense ads, but on the little red and white 'x' at the right side of my Firefox tabs.


So, Windows Vista (the follow-up to Windows XtraPoopy) is in beta testing now and the hot buzz on this newest operating system is...

"The very first beta version of Windows vista has hit the streets... it's gorgeous it has translucence and drop shadows... much like Mac OS X... it's very elegant looking."


Eric? Your thoughts?

quill awards

Today, winners of a new book award will be announced. The Quill Awards come to you from the Quills Literary Foundation. Their website says...
The Quills is the first national book awards program in which the people, not the critics, decide who’s the best of the best.
A page at the site informs us that a nominating committee picked 5 books each from 19 categories [You can see the full list here]. Then the voting was opened to the reading public.

NPR aired a story today about the awards. As with just about everything else, there are naysayers:

"I don't think there's anything wrong with being a snob. If by being a snob you mean you are holding something to a very high standard." - Benjamin Schwartz of the Atlantic Monthly.
When did snobs corner the market on standards?

Quill Winners are announced tonight. A Quill Awards show will air on NBC on October 22.

I'm certainly intrigued by this idea. The list of nominated titles, though it includes few surprises, has some merit. I'm not sure that Deepak Chopra and Joel Osteen deserve placement in the same universe with Ann Lamott and Jim Wallis, however, but that's just me. The only thing I'm worried about is that Quill winners will sport a Q sticker, a la The-Talk-Show-Host-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named's Book Club. Ick.

Maybe I'll have more to say once the winners are announced. I know you'll be anxiously anticipating that.


dante's meme

Stephen tagged me with the following meme:

1. Go into your archives.
2. Find your 23rd post.
3. Post the fifth sentence (or closest to it).
4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.
5. Tag five other people to do the same thing.

I'm not sure why this meme. I wonder if there is some significance about 23 & 5? Who knows. It is interesting tracing it back to see the various resulting sentences. Maybe I should make a post of a few of them and see if it makes some kind of weird sense.

Or maybe not.

Anyway, here's my result (starting from the first real post in my archives, enititled "words," and counting forward to 23; the quote is linked to the actual post):

The CSM article infers (though doesn't come right out and say) that the mission is a project of the city of LA, leaving the way open for anyone to conclude that it is funded by city money.

My apologies for not tagging anyone as I tagged five peole just a few days ago and am still quite worn out.

email isn't the enemy

Do you spend hours a day reading and responding to emails?

Lots of people do, apparently. Lifehacker pointed to a research project by Mark Eisenstadt posted back in February in the Get Real section at Corante. I'm not sure why Lifehacker waited until now to post the story, but since they did, and since this blog didn't exist when the Eisenstadt article was written I guess now's as good a time as any for me to chime in.

Don't go over to Corante expecting to read the whole article. It's there alright, but if a tenth of the email Eisenstadt receives or a tenth of the responses he writes are as long-winded and convoluted as his article, it's no wonder he's distracted.

Eisenstadt's conclusion is... well, I'm not exactly sure what it is; perhaps that email is bad. And we should say "no" to it, as one of his colleagues advises and as Donald Knuth has actually done.

He does us one favor at least in pointing to this article in the NYT (published one day previous to his), which says...

"Dr. Csikszentmihalyi...believes interruptions have their place. "I shouldn't knock distraction completely, because it can be useful," he said. "It can clear the mind and give you a needed break from a very linear kind of thinking."

He continued, "E-mail could be a kind of intermittent relief from having to think about things that are not really that enjoyable, but when it becomes a habit so you can't do without it, then it becomes the tail that wags the dog, and it's a problem."

[ed.-The article is much more interesting than Eisenstadt's project, especially for its discussion of congnitive flow.]

When it comes to distraction, email isn't the enemy, we are. As is the case with real and virtual world viruses (virii?), a lot depends on human behavior. I am as distracted as I chose to be.

We have lots of tools at our disposal to help us choose distraction and this has been the case for a long, long time. The situation will continue for a long time too, even if we all chuck our email accounts (I've got a large oil painting of that happening).

I should note that Boyd Stowe and Donald Knuth, noted by Eisenstadt for dumping email, actually did no such thing. Stowe urges migration to IM, and Knuth simply has his secretary filter his email for him. I find IM nauseatingly distracting and don't use it for that reason. I don't have the luxury of a secretary so I can't comment on the effectiveness of Knuth's method.

Instead, I have a few simple rules for email distraction-avoidance:

1. Don't give your email address to everybody and their brother.
2. Terminate with extreme prejudice (especially anything with "FWD: this is so cute" or words to that effect in the subject line).
3. By all means, don't save every email like Eisenstadt did as this will only tempt you to write a big, rambling research paper.

thanks, mom & dad

This morning's edition of This I Believe on NPR was excellent, perhaps my favorite so far. Read or listen to it here.

"My story is really my mother's story -- a woman with little formal education or worldly goods who used her position as a parent to change the lives of many people around the globe. There is no job more important than parenting. This I believe."

There's a wonderful moment in the essay when Carson shares how his mother used to assign book reports to her kids to keep them reading. She would return them, marked up... but there's a twist that I don't want to spoil. I don't know if the auio will include Jay Allison's introduction and coda to this essay but I hope so.

Keep reading kiddies. As Howard Hendricks likes to say, "Leaders are readers."


in the water, in the air

Yesterday a blogger whose posts I always look forward to wrote about depression. Specifically, this person was giving a warning about what a depressed person wants least to hear. I quote...

"I took a note my doctor had written around to each faculty member I had that semester. All were understanding but one.. He told me "I had depression too, I just made myself be active and I got over it." I had close friends say the same thing. I still get angry thinking back at what that bastard told me."

Depression is perhaps the most misunderstood ailment of modern times. I'm not surprised that this person heard such a thing. I heard it too when I was suffering a pretty major episode a few years ago.

Then, this morning, Speaking of Faith was all about depression. Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon, which I recently read, was a guest. Later, a member of my congregation, not knowing that I had heard it or read Solomon, mentioned that she heard a portion of the program and then proceeded to share about her own period of depression, years ago. Since arriving home from church I've read another blogger's casual mention of new meds, and linked back to a previous post to find out that those meds were for, you guessed it, depression.

This on top of the fact that I'm currently reading McMurtry's Duane's Depressed which contains what I know from experience is a dead on accurate depiction of a man's unknowing struggle with depression.

I don't pretend to know why we seem to walk into themes every once in a while, but I am not a big believer in coincidence, and so when convergences like these happen the very least I can do is reflect on them.

During my own depression, people were so unwilling to understand what I was going through (that's the word too, unwilling) that I chose to deny that I was depressed. Some months later, when a psychologist finally told me that I was clinically depressed and showed me the scores on an MMPI to prove it, I burst into tears of shame right there in her office. My first question, which seems infantile in retrospect was, "Can a depressed person still do ministry?"

Her answer was, "With treatment." Which was technically correct and exactly what I didn't need to hear. I wanted her to say, "Of course!" and then list some people in ministry who suffered from depression. She didn't.

But I did eventually get my list. At the office (at my former church), almost as if by magic, other staff members started coming to me to confess that they thought they might be depressed. One admitted that she had been in treatment for years but had told almost no one because the very few people she mentioned it to, long before, started avoiding her as if her depression might be catching. It was astonishing. One colleague walked right up to me and said, "I don't have any motivation for this." I asked, "For what?" and he answered, "This job."

Depression changed me, or perhaps it simply revealed a previously ignored truth about me. I'm not the same person anymore. My depression was deep but it was an episode and after a period of counseling, I was able to continue on without further treatment--for now; depression is sneaky like that. That whole period is never far from my thoughts. It's something I carry around with me like a scar. I don't like it and I don't want it, but life never asked permission.

not my survey, his.

Once upon a time I designed survey research projects, analyzed the results and presented them to clients of an international (direct response) advertising agency based in Manhattan. I kid you not.

Those days are over for me but my friend and boss, Will, seems to be starting a new career as a survey researcher. He's got a brief one about church at his blog. Head on over and answer his questions, especially if you do not currently attend a church.


a constantly dripping day

Today was supposed to bring the Harvest Moon Arts Festival to scenic downtown Pottstown.

Instead it brought the remnants of Tammy. And the demise of the arts festival, also the postponing of our church bookstore's opening. Last but certainly not least, a nice big leak right above the toilet in our upstairs bathroom.

Oh, it's just lovely.

silliness 401. advanced marco-silliness.

To cap off my fit of Fire Ant Post Appropriation Syndrome, I thought I'd go after a post that Eric actually composed for mass appropriation. That, and it's a meme.

A few people have done this over at Eric's place, and I'm not gonna tag anyone so, "If you want it here it is, come and get it." (extra points if you can name the composers and the original performers of that tune-- they're not the same).

Okay, here are Eric's instructions, direct from his own Web Blog...

The questions are simple and few:
  1. Pick one of your favorite blogs (not including your own; we'll get to that), and suggest a theme song for it. Explain.

  2. If your blog (see, I told you) had a theme song, what would it be? Explain.

  3. If your blogging career suddenly collapsed into a steaming mass of putrid refuse because of your inability to cope with its worldwide popularity, and your friends decided to try to revive your spirits by putting on a benefit concert*, which musical artist(s) would you hope that they would invite? Explain.
My answers:

1. Pick one of your favorite blogs and suggest a theme song for it: I have a few favorite blogs, and Eric himself picked the one I would have suggested for this meme. So, I have to pick another... Ramblin' Educat is subtly funny in that educator sort of way. Sophisticated yet not afraid to be goofy. Her song is "What Are Words For" by Missing Persons because... 1.) I'm sure she knows this song and can sing it by heart. 2.) She's a teacher and she lives this song every darn day, and 3.) Her blog puts words to excellent use.

2. If serotoninrain had a theme song, what would it be: I wanted to pick His Cheeseburger to stay with Eric's Veggie Tales theme but that's taking the whole appropriation thing way too far. That's almost stalker-like. I can't do that. So the theme song here will be: The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything by, um, Relient K ;-|

3. If your blogging career suddenly... friends...benefit concert... you hope they invite: What career? What friends? The one group I would want invited would have a seriously hard time making it as two of the members are dead. So... We'll skip the Beatles and go with U2, PFR, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Collective Soul (though they'd have to let Ross Childress back into the band if they wanted to play, which, I'm sure they would!) and we'd cap off the evening with Phil Keaggy, The Wrath of the Mosquito, and Political Suicide doing a combined set. For an encore we'd get all Live-Aid/8 like and have all the artists come out and sing "Be Nice to Jim" to the tune of "We Are the World."


Okay, who's next?

Note that if you don't have a blog, Megan, you can still participate. Just substitute "job" for "blog" in question 2 and leave out "blogging" in question 3. If you don't have a job or a blog, make something up.

*The footnote is on Eric's original post. I could have just deleted the asterisk but that would have been way too easy.


google reader: it's beta than nothin'... but not much

The Google Reader's initial incarnation is nothing if not underwhelming. I have to keep repeating to myself: "it's beta so it'll get betta,"

I certainly hope so.

I imported my bloglines subscriptions. The first problem was that I couldn't get the import to work. It worked with Pluck on the first try. Later on this evening, it did work with GReader.

Once I got them listed, GReader defaulted to giving me the most recent posts (across all feeds) first, no matter what I thought I was telling it to do. This is not what I want. I want to see which blogs have posted fresh stuff. I can't figure out how to make GReader show me a list of new posts sorted by blog in the same order as my subscription folders have them. Also, it keeps asking me what I want to do with these new subscriptions even after I click on the "click" link again and again. I guess it's the reader's way or the highway. "Well, here I am, on the road again."

Bloglines kicks all others' butts, but I still wish for more.

I'm a Google fan. I like most of their offerings but I think they're generally falling short in the blog resource department. I'm hoping they'll bring this one along pretty quickly, but for now it's just an exercise in frustration.

feed me seymour

This will mean nothing to some of you, so feel free to skip this post like you would most of the others.

Here's my conundrum. I've been trying out some free feed readers the last couple of months. I started with bloglines (the popular web based reader). I've also tried Pluck's web based version and the new, intriguing netvibes which is not strictly a reader but plays one on my screen. Google's personalized homepage is nice and along the lines of netvibes. I've tried Sage, the Firefox reader. I also found this thing called intravnews (nice name huh?) which runs as an add on to Microsoft Outlook and is now free for personal use or non-profits (I qualify as both!).

If you just want to answer my final questions, skip to the end of the post. Otherwise... I might be missing a whole bunch of stuff on some of these readers since I spent most of my time with them getting an initial set of feeds going. Lots of people seem to be wild about Pluck for example, but I'm not sure how it beats bloglines. In fact, all of the readers involve trade-offs. Here are some examples...

UPDATE: H/T to Lifehacker for this one. They must have heard me typing this post over at Google, or maybe they were monitoring my keystrokes. Google Reader was released in beta just today. I have no idea if it's any good... we shall see.
Bloglines: I think bloglines is the best overall. You've got the bookmarklet for your sidebar that allows you to subscribe with one click, and lots of options. The public subscriptions feature is great! I've discovered a couple of cool blogs sifting through other people's lists. Their editing interface stinks as far as I'm concerned. I want to drag and drop my folders into place. Plus bloglines is not very fast. If one of you fine bloggers posts something, I'm weird enough to want to know about it right then, not like three hours later. Of course, I could just click through my bookmarks and find out what's new, but the reason for using a feed reader is to avoid clicking through the whole list.

Pluck: same as bloglines, though you can import an opml file even in the web version. But their folder editing is even worse than bloglines. Their updates seem to be quicker, however.

Netvibes: This is cool and as time goes on it might get even cooler. You create a page from scratch and can easily move stuff around. Netvibes won't discover a feed for you, however. And you're limited to feeds, there's no way to create your own list of bookmarks. You can monitor your gmail inbox if you have one. Plus, there are no post summaries, just titles. Updates are immediate (as soon as you reload the page).

Google: Very cool personalization tool. This one will discover a feed if you drag a bookmark to the "create a section" box on the "add contents" dialog. Like Netvibes, you get only the post titles. Also as with Netvibes, updates are immediate upon reloading.

Sage: This was a huge disappointment for me. I found it hard to figure out and s-l-o-w. And it kept crashing while trying to read a certain feed. I uninstalled it.

Intravnews: This integrates seemlessly with MS Outlook and runs just like an Outlook inbox; this is both good news and bad news. The updates are immediate. Editing is a pain in the butt and I had trouble with the import OPML function. It also seems like moving folders around without telling intravnews what you're doing is a no-no. Once I got it running though, I added a bunch of feeds to my Outlook Today view and updates seem to happen within a minute or two of the post being published. A nice window pops up at the bottom right of the screen when a feed is updated. There are so many options to set up, however, that if you're just looking for convenience, this might not be the way to go.

So, questions for almost none of you to answer: Do you even use a reader? If so, which? Is it free or purchased? Do you know of any really great free readers that I should try?


Related: For an interesting opinion and burgeoning discussion about RSS, see Micro-Persuasion's current post on the subject. H/T to John at Freshblog for pointing out Micro Persuasion.


the rhythm of life

I feel I've been steal... appropriating too many of Eric's posts these last couple of days, but this ad from 'cross the pond is too good to pass up.

And a Guinness isn't too shabby either.

Raising of the stein to: The Fire Ant Gazette.

virus day

UPDATE: This must be touching on some cultural nerve. Right now, all three of the NPR items below are in their top 5-emailed stories. As I type, they are 2, 3, and 4 - behind Monk and Coltrane.

Today was virus day on the web.

I read two blog posts about the possibilities of an avian flu pandemic, listened to a very interesting NPR story about an epidemic in the World of Warcraft online game and what the in-game reaction said about real world sociology…

“there were also skeletons and corpses everywhere.”

“players were crying out in his virtual world and shouting for the people in charge, that is, the game’s creators, to do something.”

And I heard another NPR story about where to find concentrations of germs in a grade school…

“the cafeteria trays were very dirty we were very surprised to find … the bacteria and mold count on the water fountain spigot was almost 1,000 times higher than the count on the toilet seats.”

Yet a third story from NPR that I just heard recounts efforts to reconstruct the virus behind the 1918 flu pandemic, the same reconstruction that Eric described in his post.

As the World of Warcraft story notes, “the spread of a virus or a disease has a lot to do with human behavior.”

Be careful of water fountains this flu season, it’s no joke.


what about blogs

Eric and I are having a fascinating discussion (well, I think it's fascinating) about blogs as a form of conversation. It all started when he noticed an unfortunately chosen ad in his local paper and blogged about it. The ad carried a headline which read, "Letters to the Editor. The Original Web Blog." Now "blog" is short for "weblog" and it may be that only bloggers know that. But I felt the newspaper should have done its homework and because it didn't, the ad came across to me as sounding dismissive.

Not long ago I thought blogs were dumb. That was before I created one and found myself in actual and meaningful conversation with people across the country. It's been pretty cool, not to mention fun. And having a blog has forced me to write pretty much every day since day one, which was my principle reason for starting out.

Here's a sampling of our conversation, you can find the whole thing here.

Eric (in the original post):...the idea that printed letters to the editor "provide an ideal forum for citizens to exchange ideas and opinions" is laughable, especially in comparison to comments-enabled blogs. The editorial control over those printed letters and the absence of real-time dialog makes them far from ideal.

Me: I'm a little insulted by the "web blog" ad. The careless nature of the mistake makes it seem as if the ad was created in a spirit of dismissiveness. I believe it's a big, big mistake to dismiss the blogging phenomenon...

Eric: But, this line of discussion brings us perilously close to attributing some sort of cosmic relevance to what I write...

Me: I think there is some sort of cosmic relevance to what you (and the entire b'sphere) write(s). It's not in the content..., it's the simple fact that you are writing and others are commenting, like you mentioned in your post. You just don't get that kind of global conversation in a newspaper. Or rather, you don't get it in "real time" like you do on the web ... I think there's room for traditional and web-based print, so long as they both spend time figuring out their audience and creating for them.

Eric: you raise an interesting point about bloggers "figuring out their audience and creating content for them." Do you make a conscious decision about that each time you post something? Do you know your audience well enough to fashion content you think they want to read?

Me: I don't pretend to know what you all do or don't like. I probably should have said "offer to" instead of "create for." ... In a medium like this...thoughts are organic and can be clarified or amended very quickly. It almost has the feeling of conversation. A print newspaper or magazine (or book) doesn't have that. I would probably write differently for a newspaper than I would for my blog, or for any electronic medium that allowed virtual conversation.

Eric: You can honestly say that when you post something that generates, say, a dozen or so complimentary comments, that doesn't weigh in the back of your mind the next time you consider the blogworthiness of a subject? And the reverse...if you post on a particular subject and it generates absolutely no reaction -- do you stop and think about the desirability of posting again on that subject the next time you encounter it?

Me: I most certainly am gratified by complimentary comments on stuff I write, and I'm not about to say that the total absence of comments never influences my choice of what to write, but I don't think I know enough yet about this particular medium to claim any significant knowledge about what will be appealing to those regular readers before I write a post.

I've posted this because Eric's last question, the one about the effect of comments on what I write gave me pause. I actually had never thought of that before. I spent maybe 45 minutes just thinking through his question, and going through my archives to research how my posts have changed over time. In the end I had to resond with what you read above. In other words, I said, "I dunno." So I wanted to know what you think about this issue of blogs as conversaton and the effect of comments on that conversation. I also wouldn't mind hearing what kind of expectations you have of me as a blog writer (some of you have a long personal history with me and you might want to give some thought to how that would affect your answer before commenting). Okay... you have the microphone.

By the way, Zalm at From the Salmon has also addressed the idea of blogs as conversation in a series of posts called, reasonably enough, conversational peace. which I think is worth the time it takes to persue.

And also by the way, Jimmy Patterson, whose excellent Sticky Doorknobs is on my blogroll, and who writes for the paper that ran the ad in question chimed in with a comment on Eric's post as well. He explained that the ad was part of a national campaign and that it has been pulled, though not soon enough to escape watchful Fire Ant eyes.


"I also saw my house for the first time on Wednesday. It's wretched."

David of Slimbolala is back home in New Orleans on a brief reconnaissance and repair trip. Read about what he found here.

this probably won't be pretty

I'm having trouble articulating why, but this commentary from NPR royally pissed me off.

I have no trouble owning my racism. Maybe I got mad because this guy doesn't seem to be aware of his.

I don't believe there is any denying that racism is still and always will be an issue in our culture. And that I am guilty too. I don't believe admitting these things serves an excuse for not addressing racism. Maybe I'm mad because this man so easily succumbs to his own denial (at least he admits that).

Or maybe I'm mad because he spends as much energy generalizing about "white people" as some "white people" spend generalizing about "black people." He says of whites,

"There are just too many of them. And we need them too much."

Please accept my apology for being white. Note that I'm not asking for any apology from you.

Or maybe it was just the way he said what he said. But I'm pissed because I spent this spring and summer working in concert with white and black churches in our town to preach and demonstrate community only to find that people like Bill Bennett and Kanye West and this guy still feel they need to fill the air with thoughtless, racist remarks. I'm pissed!

But I don't know. Maybe I'll feel better about it in the morning.

word! of the day

Found a great quote today, but first a bit of redirection: Meg at Bridget Jones Goes to Seminary wrote a post about domestic violence. If you're suffering in an abusive relationship or know someone who is, read what she has to say. It's a good bit of needed myth busting about an important topic.

I was impressed right from the beginning of the post and decided to quote Meg over here. Her opening bit of wisdom, while not directly related to domestic violence, nonetheless has broad implications in a world full of people with messiah complexes:

"While I would love to save the world,
I think Jesus beat me to it.
Following in His footsteps means that
I pick my battles carefully and invest deeply."

Go and do likewise. Thanks for the good word, Meg.


with ives in the school of prayer

Any writer who tries to get published winds up receiving the (ahem) occaisonal rejection. The prudent thing to do in that situation is take a look at the piece that was rejected, give it a polish if necessary and send that sucker right back out. It is with this rule in mind that I'm not going to do that at all.

Instead, I'm posting my recently rejected article on Charles Ives' music and prayer right here at serotoninrain. That's akin to publishing it I suppose. And I wouldn't really know where else to send it, the piece was written for a very specific theme in a specific publication. I've added a couple of links within the piece, and I couldn't resist the urge to change a phrase here and there. It's about Charles Ives, but it's really about.... well, go ahead and read it.

The insurance salesman and composer Charles Ives taught me some important lessons about honest prayer. I was in college when I discovered Ives’ music, or rather, his music discovered me—haunting, compelling me toward deeper appreciation of the power of a well placed, if not theoretically orthodox, tone.

Ives’ wrote complex music, liberally indulging a fascination with sonic experimentation that he inherited from his father, band leader and composer George Ives. Some of the younger Ives’ pieces include microtones, tones that come partway between one note and the next. For example, in the musical scale, ‘B’ and ‘C’ are adjacent to each other, but Ives might find a tone somewhere between ‘B’ and ‘C’, often making use of specially tuned pianos to play the results. He also used ‘tone clusters,’ a musical breakthrough he achieved by banging the piano keys with a closed fist. I remember sitting in stunned silence during ‘Religion in Music’ classes while our two professors played recordings of Ives’ music. Some in the class clearly were not impressed with these odd sounds. Yet the unfamiliar sonic landscape and the way Ives guided us into it touched some deep and unexplored place in me.

This was especially true of his The Unanswered Question. It begins quietly, somewhat ominously, with strings weaving a soft theme, the foundation of the entire piece. Soon a lone trumpet plays a halting phrase, symbolizing what Ives called "the perennial question of existence." Throughout the piece this trumpet, periodically and with increasing drama, poses its question. Each time, an answer is attempted by dissonant and ultimately frantic flutes. This discordant response, the persistent question, and ceaseless though barely audible string undertones, come to reside together, an ethereal marriage of strange harmonies.

As the piece ends, the trumpet poses its question one final time, again haltingly, but now the strings are the only response.

Listening to this piece now, it still sounds like prayer, like holy fear overwhelmed by the inner yearning for contact with God. Voices answer the yearning soul with various fix-it solutions, any one of which might make sense in and of itself. Together they become a cacophony. The seeking heart, persistent in its questioning, expresses longings in a language above and beyond words which even its owner cannot grasp. Then the final moments of quiet waiting, listening.

Not all prayer is unanswered questioning. God hears, God answers. I know this is true at some level of my being. But Ives’ music suggests that perhaps an answer to my prayer isn’t the point. Prayer is an offering, an in-quest of sorts into the mind and heart of God. As I voice my prayer and leave it before the Maker of Heaven and Earth, I await my desired answer, which may or may not be the one that comes. In the time between, the solutions of the world are logical and loud and virtually meaningless. Still I call out, “If I only touch his cloak…”, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” because what I want are not answers, I want God. In these not-yet moments, I am like Charles Ives with his ultimately honest and therefore frequently dissonant music, touching something beyond reality yet somehow real. A contradiction? Yes, it is. Is it not also a contradiction that rich beauty and heartbreak can daily coexist in this world, even in a single life?

Life, prayer, God, the longings of our hearts—all are full of odd counterpoints and inconsistencies. The dissonant music of honest prayer encourages us to live within the contradictions and to hear the ultimate silence, the peace that God is in Christ, and is there, which is our answer.