Archive for the ‘Blogging’ Category

01/11/10

Monday, January 11th, 2010

Regular blogging will have to wait until I fully recover my laptop from the malware that took it hostage last night, but I didn’t want the day to pass without honoring the palindrome—a particularly elegant palindrome if you ask me, but I’ve always admired the minimalist aesthetic (ironic, since I always surround myself with clutter).

A Virtual Holiday Food Drive

Friday, December 4th, 2009

I wrote about the increasing hunger crisis in the United States back in May, when Breadline USA came out. Difficulty putting food on the table is not a problem faced only by the poorest of the poor: many working people now rely on food stamps, food banks, soup kitchens in order to fill the gap between what they can afford and what they need. Record numbers of Americans were “food insecure” in 2008, the Department of Agriculture reported last month, and things have only become worse since then, as unemployment and underemployment levels have continued to rise. Food stamps are used by more people than at any time in history, and so on and so on.

Given this bleak reality, I am pleased to take part in a Virtual Holiday Food Drive which has been organized by other Oakland bloggers. The money raised goes directly to the Alameda County Community Food Bank, which provides enough food for 300,000 meals a week. All you need to do is click on the image below, then click the “shop” button. You will then be able to either “shop” for food items for the food bank (it gives you a sense of how far food banks are able to stretch monetary donations by buying in bulk), or simply enter a dollar amount.

Holiday Food Drive

Anything you are able to give would be much appreciated (by me, of course, but much more importantly, by the many people who are helped by the ACCFB every day). We have a goal of $2,000 by December 20th, and are already nearing the halfway point less than a week into the drive, thanks to a limited number of very generous donors. If a less limited number of similarly generous donors (even a $5 donation can be very generous, depending on one’s circumstances!) pitch in, then this goal is very doable, and the real goal, of course, is to exceed the goal by as much as possible. More information on this virtual food drive can be found here.

I know that some of my regular readers are far removed from Alameda County, and may have their own plans to volunteer or donate to food banks in their own regions. I would never suggest that you give to the ACCFB instead of helping out closer to your home, but what better way to put into practice the Buddhist virtue of expanding circles of compassion than to supplement local giving with additional help farther afield? Or if anyone was saving up to buy me a cool Festivus gift like a sailboat or an annual subscription to US Weekly, then may I suggest that the money would be better spent providing food to those who need it?

Regardless of how you choose to help the less fortunate among us during this holiday season: thank you!

The Gentleman Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks

Monday, October 19th, 2009

Phil Bronstein has a silly post on his SFGate.com blog in which he points out that the New York Times article on Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts uses the same anecdote in the lede that a San Francisco Chronicle article used two months ago, about Batts initially declining to apply for the Oakland job, then changing his mind after the four Oakland police officers were killed a few days later. Bronstein gets all huffy and suggests that the New York Times took the anecdote from the Chronicle—the headline of his post refers to the Times’s “borrowing policy” and he claims to have compared the bylines on the articles to see if they were the same:

Maybe the Times was just being economical. So I checked the names. Chronicle reporter Matthai Kuruvila wrote our story. There was another completely different name on the Times piece.

And it probably wasn’t just me. A few of the other (57 percent) of the Times readers who also get the Chronicle may have felt like they’d seen it before, too.

Here we are, always bitching about how Google or MSN or Yahoo is stealing our original content and making money from it. It doesn’t really help our case if we’re raiding closets and borrowing outfits from members of our own fraternity without at least asking.

To be fair, a reasonable amount of what was in the Times story was different than the Chronicle’s, and written well enough.

Why is this silly? For several reasons: first of all, it’s obvious from the Times article that the reporter interviewed Batts, and the exact quotations used in the anecdotes are different. So it’s pretty clear that this is one of Batts’s standard anecdotes, which he recounts whenever he talks to someone about his decision to leave Long Beach and come to Oakland.

Secondly, the Chronicle’s own article made clear that the anecdote was told by Batts at a press conference when he was introduced as Oakland’s next police chief, and in fact the Oakland Tribune also recounted the anecdote on the same day as the Chronicle, in its own article about his press conference. Does Bronstein believe that the Chronicle has exclusive rights to anecdotes told by public officials at press conferences? Or does he merely believe that once an anecdote has been used as the lede in one article, no other publications should be allowed to use that anecdote as a lede ever again? Unfortunately, Bronstein didn’t explain precisely what he thinks the Times’ crime was, because he was too busy coming up with metaphors about fraternity brothers raiding one another’s closets. (Earlier in the post, he used a metaphor about how the Times arrived in the Bay Area wearing “panties and floaties” instead of “full battle gear;” I knew Bronstein was kind of the macho type, but still….)

If Bronstein thinks it’s so terrible for a paper to use an anecdote which has already appeared in another paper, then he might be disturbed to discover that yet another version of Batts’s anecdote had appeared in the Long Beach Press-Telegram five days before it appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. Obviously this doesn’t mean that the Chronicle “borrowed” or “stole” anything from the Press-Telegram; all it means is that Batts tells this anecdote a lot, and reporters from many different papers (I think we’re up to four so far, after about 2 minutes worth of “research” on my part) find the anecdote interesting enough to feature prominently in their articles.

Bronstein ends his post this way:

Note to NYTimes Editor Bill Keller who, like his predecessors, still puts out a generally impressive product: The interwebs has all sorts of digital magic to check stories for prior use. Punch up the Tribune before you make your next move into Chicago.

Note to former SFChronicle Editor Phil Bronstein: The interwebs has all sorts of digital magic to check stories for prior use. Punch up the Google before you make your next indignant complaint about an oft-repeated anecdote being proprietary to the Chronicle.

Local newspaper executives have said that they are not threatened by the Times’s expansion of its Bay Area coverage, and that’s probably true in some ways—the Times is not really equipped to compete with local dailies when it comes to getting scoops or covering breaking news, and local publishers and editors certainly have bigger problems than the New York Times to worry about. Bronstein’s post suggests to me, however, that resentment about the NYT’s bigfooting on local turf, which has always existed in regional newsrooms, may have grown larger now that the Times has planted a flag more securely in Bay Area soil. And while the Times may not be able to compete journalistically with the Chronicle, it can certain compete for home delivery subscribers and web readers.

Department of Dubious Distinctions

Friday, September 18th, 2009

Is Gavin Newsom the first gubernatorial candidate in history to livetweet the birth of his child?

The suspense was killing me!

My Centenarian Blog

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

I just noticed today that this blog is 100 posts old (yesterday’s post was the 100th). I won’t do any navel-gazing the way I did last time I marked a milepost when the blog was a month old, but I do have some minor housekeeping matters to mention, and I might as well use this opportunity.

First of all, you might have noticed that I changed the “Marginalia” section of the sidebar so that it now contains mini-blogposts instead of Twitter updates. I plan to use it to post short items that don’t merit a full post, or to post links to things I find interesting or noteworthy around the web. While they act like regular blog posts in most ways, those mini-posts do not appear in the RSS feed for the main blog, so if anyone reads this blog through an RSS reader and wants to get the Marginalia posts too, then you have to subscribe to the Marginalia feed separately (I like this feature, because it allows Fragmentary Evidence’s most devoted readers to collect all the evidence that they want, while more casual readers can opt to get only the main blog feed, which will be slightly more fragmentary but still have all the substantive posts).

For now, I have both Marginalia and my Twitter feed on the sidebar. I like the somewhat minimalist aesthetic here, so I may end up losing the Twitter feed at some point, but I plan to keep them both for now and see how that works out. The main reason I changed Marginalia is that I wanted people to be able to leave comments on those items the same way they can leave comments on regular posts, without having to sign up for Twitter. Now all you have to do to comment on a Marginalia mini-post is to click on the mini-headline and enter a comment as you would on any other of my posts.

Speaking of comments, that brings me to the second item on my agenda: I love to get comments! It’s always nice to know that people are reading, and that I wrote (or photographed) something that they found interesting enough to respond to, but also, I’ve been happily surprised to see that the comment thread on a post will often be much more interesting than the post itself. I seem to have a few new readers in recent weeks thanks in large part to links from two great Oakland blogs, A Better Oakland and Living in the O, so I want to state for the record that I welcome comments, especially when people disagree with me. As an anti-spam measure, the first comment someone makes usually needs to be approved by me, but I have never yet deleted a comment from a real person (as opposed to an automated spammer), and after someone’s first comment is approved, then subsequent comments should appear instantly. Unless a comment is extremely offensive or potentially libelous, I am almost certain to allow it to stand, even if you are telling me that my post is stupid and wrong six ways to Sunday.

I know that some bloggers either don’t accept comments, or enjoy getting in flame wars with those who disagree with them. That isn’t me: I like a good debate, and I generally don’t take things personally. Indeed, I view some of my posts more as hypotheses than as declarations, and the comments I get are one way of testing a hypothesis. (Which fiction writer said something like, “I write to find out what I know?” I think that applies to blogging as well as to fiction.) So if you ever feel any inclination to leave a comment, I encourage you to do so, no matter how frivolous or argumentative or whatever. Alternatively, if you want to say something privately, I welcome messages via email or Twitter, both of which can be found in the sidebar.

And lastly, thanks for reading!

A Portrait of the Blog as a Young Child: problems and solutions

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

This blog is now a month old, and is still very much in its infancy. Like any infant, it is developing at a rapid pace, and its father (i.e., me) is still trying to figure out how to raise it. One problem I’ve encountered as I try to shape this little creature is the dilemma of how often to post, and how high to set the bar for whether a particular subject is blogworthy.

The flexibility inherent in the blog form, which allows bloggers to post as frequently or infrequently as they want, at whatever length they want, with as much or as little substance as they want, allows for a great sense of freedom and possibility. No copy editor will demand that 200 words be chopped from a post to fit the alloted space, and no email will arrive telling you that we are very sorry, but your piece is not quite right for our publication, and we wish you the best of luck finding a different outlet for it.

Such freedom and flexibility is, however, a curse as well as a blessing. A form of analysis paralysis can occur, in which the large number of options actually makes it harder to choose one. Studies suggest that when people are given a limited number of choices (for example, when shopping in a supermarket for laundry detergent or orange juice), then they have an easier time making a decision and they will be more likely to be satisfied with their decision afterwards. If they are given too many choices, then they have more trouble coming to a decision, and they are less likely to be happy with their decision afterwards. This, I believe, applies to a lot of things in life; for example, it may help explain why so many people in this land of opportunity have so much trouble settling on a career path and end up dissatisfied with whatever they end up settling on. (Or maybe I’m just projecting?)

The blog form demands that bloggers make a lot of choices. First of all, how often to publish? Some blogs are updated dozens of times a day, with link after link to funny videos, indignant rants, newsworthy articles, pretty pictures, etc. Other blogs are updated once a day or even once a week, with considered, essay-like posts about a specific topic, or personal memoir serialized in blog form, etc. Neither style is better than the other per se — it all depends on the preferences of the blogger, the preferences of the particular readers that he or she is writing for, and the preferences of potential readers that he or she hopes to attract.

How often to post isn’t the only dilemma, or even the hardest one. There are many other choices to be made: what topic or set of topics should I write about, and how limited in scope should I make the topic or topics? How trivial does a particular post have to be in order to fail the Elaine Benes “blogworthiness” test? Should I write short and sweet posts that communicate my points in distilled form, or should I elaborate my thoughts in short essays? If I see a clever or wise or outrageous video on YouTube, should I share it with my audience, or should I restrict myself to (mostly) original content and leave the YouTube linking to others?

To make things more complicated, different readers will have different needs. To return to the metaphor that began this post, some people — the infant’s grandparents, say — will eagerly welcome any new information about the baby. Other people — acquaintances and neighbors, say — may roll their eyes if they are asked to look at yet another set of pictures of the baby.

You can’t aim to please everyone, of course, and the best solution to these dilemmas is probably to forget about what your audience wants, and simply post what you want to post. If you lose some readers because they don’t like the subject or style or frequency of your posts, then so be it. If new readers come to your blog because the like the subject or style or frequency of your posts, then so be that too. That’s excellent advice, but all I can say is: easier said than done — I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t hope that people would read it, so I can’t help but think about whether a post I’m writing will excite the crowd or bore them to death (including metaposts such as this one).

To a great extent, the blog form allows these issues to resolve themselves. It might annoy an acquaintance to receive 10 emails a day with updates about the baby’s latest activities. It might annoy a neighbor to be accosted on the sidewalk every day and asked to look at a new photos of the baby. One wonderful thing about the internet is that is allows readers to define their own parameters for how often they want to look at a blog, how closely they want to peruse the posts, whether or not they want to click on the links that are offered, or play a YouTube video that is displayed. The burden of decision-making falls on readers as well as blogger, so the blogger can feel some of that weight lifted from his or her own shoulders and go about his or her blogging without worrying (at least not too much) about playing to the audience.

All of this is a meandering way of explaining that this blog is still very much a work in progress, and I am groping somewhat blindly for a style that works for me, and will, I hope, work for readers as well. All of this is also a long windup for saying that I have decided to address some of these issues by adding a section to the sidebar at the left of the blog, labeled “Marginalia.” It is a kind of compromise: If I want to write something, but worry that it is not blogworthy enough to turn into a full blog post, then I might write it there. Or if I read an article, or see a video, and think that some of my readers might get something out of it, then I might put a link to it there. If I’m out and about away from my computer, but have something to say, then I can might post something there from my mobile phone. “Marginalia” is just  a Twitter stream that I have created for this purpose, so if people who read this blog through a feedreader want to see what I post under “Marginalia,” they can follow my Twitter feed or just check back here occasionally — as I write this, there is only one thing there, but “Marginalia” will show the previous five or so items in my Twitter stream. (And the single Twitter item only seems to be showing up sporadically on the blog, so I may have some technical problems to work out before this works reliably.)

Now that I’ve gotten all that metablogging out of the way, it’s onward to month two, and I promise that this blog won’t become a blog about writing a blog, which would be too recursive even for me.

Technical difficulties

Monday, January 5th, 2009

I’ve been informed by several people that the page does not fully load when they visit the blog. They see the top few inches, but then everything below that gets cut off. So far it seems to be only people who are using Internet Explorer Version 6 who are having the problems, so I’ll blame Microsoft.

Unfortunately, I have to ride my bike 8 miles to work in a drizzle right now, so I can’t look into it until tonight. I apologize if anyone is having trouble viewing the site — refreshing the page sometimes seems to solve the problem, but only sporadically. If anyone else is having any technical difficulties with the site, then it would be a great help if you could let me know by email (dmc at fragmentaryevidence dot com will work) or by leaving a comment. Technical information (browser type and version number, operating system, etc.) is always helpful. Thanks!

The More Things Change: a poem in eight syllables

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

New year.
New blog.
New me?
We’ll see.