Tag Archives: New York Times

Twitter as lifesaver

Here is an instance where poking around online – by which I mean clicking on some promising links – led me back to some fairly significant writing on social media and journalism that I’d overlooked, just simply missed.  lnitially, I logged onto a website called kommons.c0m, which was launched recently by a couple of friends based in Brooklyn as a sort of online public square, “a place to ask and answer questions from anyone in the world.”  According to the site, “Right now, the only way to get an invitation to kommons is to be asked a question by another kommons user.  From there you can direct a question to any of Twitter’s 110+ million users:  anyone from @kanyewest to @cshirky.”  But hang on – can’t any Twitter user do that already, without waiting for an invitation?  Here is how Cody Brown, a co-founder of kommons, distinguishes its project.

Announcing Kommons Beta:  Last fall I wrote a long blog post about how the internet was changing journalism and announced a website that was going to address those changes. Fast forward through an insane 8 months that included 7 pivots, 2 trips to SF, thousands of lines of code written by two people with previously no CS background, and we are excited to announce today that kommons.com is live. 

After going through a number of iterations we’ve landed on a simple starting point. Kommons is a place to ask questions to public figures. The public figures, in this case, are any of Twitter’s 110+ million users.

There are already plenty of ways to ‘contact’ a public figure like Sarah Palin by tweeting at her or posting on her wall but the experience is woefully imbalanced. For all the rah rah of Twitter’s bilateral format, it’s easy for major public figures like Palin to just use social media as a bully pulpit: she can ignore individual tweets and, in the case of Facebook, outright delete wall posts that challenge her beliefs. Kommons is designed to change this dynamic and rebalance the way public figures answer to their public. 

We do this by giving those who want to contact a public figure a substantially better place to talk to each other. Forming a group is often the only way to get public figures to take notice and Kommons helps you form them on the fly by coordinating those with similar questions to build public leverage. 

I used Sarah Palin as an example because she’s our most challenging use case and someone I personally have a lot of questions for, but we aren’t designed to benefit any particular party or group. We also aren’t made to be used just for antagonistic use cases. I have questions for Sarah Palin but also questions for people I respect like danah boyd and Tim O’Reilly or even someone like a neighborhood blogger or a friend. Our goal is to apply the journalistic principle of impartiality to every level of the site’s design. A public forum to ask and answer a question from anyone in the world that is fair to everyone involved.

While I have nothing to say to Sarah Palin, interrogative or otherwise, I confess that this is a club I would consider joining even if they wanted me as a member.  This impulse was only strengthened when I clicked on the link on the kommons.com homepage that directed me to a post by Rachel Sklar for Mediaite:  “Kommons Will Sneakily Make You Blog for Free.”  [ http://www.mediaite.com/online/kommons-will-sneakily-make-you-blog-for-free/

Understandably, kommons cites Sklar’s piece as a blurb for their ambitious start-up:  “Last Wednesday, Sept. 15th, a website called Kommons went live – and is sort of brilliant.  It’s basically Formspring meets Twitter meets “Meet the Press,” or something:  A community that seeks smart, conversation-furthering answers prompted by smart, probing questions – publicly…. smart questions of smart people made in an open forum, viewable by the public and their peers.”

But the hook, for me, came in the next paragraph of Sklar’s post.  “It’s like pre-curation:  You know that what you’re going to get will be interesting and good.”  Pre-curation? (Someone intelligent and motivated has cleared a path for you?  Done at least part of the dirty work?)  You know that what you’re going to get will be interesting and good?  (That’s an insurance policy I’d be happy to sign.)  And foremost among my racing thoughts:  What a time-saver!  Maybe I could actually cook dinner once in a while instead of ordering in every night.

As I compulsively checked my Twitter timeline and watched the clock, convinced that my invitation must be in the mail, I read on in Sklar’s post, which reproduces her response to a question posed to her on the kommons site by “Kool Kid Kody”:  “What was the NYC media community like before Twitter?”  Her answer is well worth reading (and it’s free), particularly for anyone interested in Twitter’s impacts on journalists and journalism.

Here (and in an earlier post dated June 15, 2009 and published on charitini.com), Sklar alludes to an interview with Biz Stone and Evan Williams, co-founders of Twitter, conducted by Maureen Dowd, op-ed columnist for the New York Times, in April 2009.  At the time, this one passed under my radar. [ http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/22/opinion/22dowd.html ] 

If you want a taste of the arrogance and cluelessness with which certain journalists sought to dismiss Twitter’s potential to supplement journalistic practice before even attempting to understand it, click and read.  Read to the end, which I reproduce here.

[Dowd]:  I would rather be tied up to stakes in the Kalahari Desert, have honey poured over me and red ants eat out my eyes than open a Twitter account.  Is there anything you can say to change my mind?

[Biz Stone]:  Well, when you do find yourself in that position, you’re gonna want Twitter.  You might want to type out the message ‘Help.'”

(Mo, il ne faut pas exaggerer.  But to be honest, that’s exactly how I feel about Facebook.)

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Research in motion: “The ‘real-time’ Web in 100 words or less”

First off, I am perfectly aware that a strict grammarian would never write “100 words or less,” in the knowledge that “fewer” is the correct term in such a context.  But I am in fact quoting from the title of a post written by Marshall Kirkpatrick for ReadWriteWeb, a to which I subscribe via e-mail (that makes it one of a very few, fewer than 100 certainly).  In September 2009, Kirkpatrick threw down a gauntlet, challenging the blog’s readers to “explain the phenomenon of the Real-Time Web in simple terms and few words…. From Facebook to the New York Times to blogs and geeky tech infrastructure, it seems like everyone’s exploring the Real-Time Web paradigm these days.  It’s not easy to explain, though.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Having extended the challenge to his large readership, Kirkpatrick went on to “offer our working explanation of what the real-time web is and why it’s important, in exactly 100 words.”  The combination of RRW‘s collective expertise and the economy of Kirkpatrick’s formulation meets the high bar for entry into my notebook.

The Real Time Web Explained…In Exactly 100 Words

The Real-Time Web is a paradigm based on pushing information to users as soon as it’s available – instead of requiring that they or their software check a source periodically for updates.  It can be enabled in many different ways and can require a different  technical architecture.  It’s being implemented in social networking, search, news and elsewhere – making those experiences more like Instant Messaging and facilitating unpredictable innovations.  Early benefits include increased user engagement (“flow”) and decreased server loads, but these are early days.  Real-time information delivery will likely become ubiquitous, a requirement for almost any website or service.

These are indeed early days, and it is difficult to discern whether we are talking about the beginning of the end, the end of the beginning – or whether plotlines or calendars even apply.  Gloss (likely to exceed the 100 word limit) to follow in due course.

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My “epistemology of media lag argument,” part 1

This post is, among other things, an example of the intervention of serendipity into the workings of this weblog.  I had planned to take as today’s provisional point of departure a blog post from guardian.co.uk that I had archived for future reference.  Then, pretty much out of the blue, I opened my inbox last night to find an email from a dear friend, with the tantalizing subject heading “Here’s today’s version of your epistemology of media lag argument.”  I clicked on the link with the sense of opening a gift, to discover another post (this one from the New York Times “Media Decoder”) that I found even more compelling than the Guardian candidate.  I may (and I stress may) have found a way to align these two reference points, all unexpectedly, within the framework of this blog’s project (and much of the decades’ worth of research and writing that preceded it).  The effort will require, at a minimum, a short series, beginning (barring the hand of serendipity) with my next post.

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Two takes on Twitter: one thoughtful, one less so

Thanks to several links provided by folks I follow on Twitter, I’ve been able to catch up on some reading today:  two articles that take Twitter as their topic, one published on New Year’s day in the New York Times, the other on January 29 in The New Yorker.  Taken together, they provide insights into why Twitter has become a feature of so many lives, and into the resistance that others maintain in the face of its burgeoning popularity.

“Why Twitter Will Endure”:  The title of David Carr’s article for the New York Times does not pretend to disguise the author’s enthusiastic embrace of the service.  He recalls the initial roll-out of Twitter at the SXSW conference in 2007, and his initial reluctance to add “one more Web-borne intrusion into my life.”  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/03/weekinreview/03carr.html

And then there was the name.  Twitter.

In the pantheon of digital nomenclature…brands within a sector of the economy that grew so fast that all the sensible names were quickly taken – it would be hard to come up with a noun more trite than Twitter.  It impugns itself, promising something slight and inconsequential, yet another way to make hours disappear and have nothing to show for it.  And just in case the noun is not sufficiently indicting, the verb, “to tweet,” is even more embarrassing.

Beyond the dippy lingo, the idea that something intelligent, something worthy of mindshare, might occur in the space of 140 characters – Twitter’s parameters were set by what would fit in a text message on a phone – seems unlikely.

Carr then returns to the present, to ask himself whether Twitter has, over the course of the past year, turned his brain to “mush.”

No, I’m in narrative on more things in a given moment than I ever thought possible, and instead of spending a half-hour surfing in search of illumination, I get a sense of the day’s news and how people are reacting to it in the time that it takes to wait for coffee at Starbucks. [He is not ordering brewed coffee at Starbuck’s, I’m guessing, but something involving espresso and steamed milk. – Ed.]  Yes, I worry about my ability to think long thoughts – where was I, anyway? – but the tradeoff has been worth it.

Carr goes on to explain that, nearly a year after opening a Twitter account,

I’ve come to understand that the real value of the service is listening to a wired collective voice.…  At first, Twitter can be overwhelming, but think of it as a river of data rushing past that I dip a cup into every once in a while. [Does he use his Starbuck’s cup, I wonder? – Ed.]  Much of what I need to know is in that cup:  if it looks like Apple is going to demo its new tablet, or Amazon sold more Kindles than actual books at Christmas, or the final vote in the Senate gets locked in on health care, I almost always learn about it first on Twitter….

The expressive limits of a kind of narrative developed from text messages, with less space to digress or explain than this sentence, has significant upsides.  The best people on Twitter communicate with economy and precision, with each element – links, hash tags and comments – freighted with meaning.

Carr goes on to cite Clay Shirky:  “Anything that is useful to both dissidents in Iran and Martha Stewart has a lot going for it; Twitter has more raw capability for users than anything since email….It will be hard to wait out Twitter because it is lightweight, endlessly useful and gets better as more people use it.  Brands are using it, institutions are using it, and it is becoming a place where a lot of important conversations are being held.”

It may be, as Clay Shirky suggests, that it will be hard to wait out Twitter.  But George Packer, author of “Stop the World,” will be one of the hold-outs.  http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/georgepacker/2010/stop-the-world.html  [I should note at the outset that I find it passing strange that such visceral resistance to micro-blogging should come to us via a blog for newyorker.com.  Jay Rosen was on target in a tweet that pointed to an earlier piece by Packer for Mother Jones, “The Revolution Will Not Be Blogged” (2004), as a precursor to “Stop the World.”]

Packer is responding to Carr’s “Why Twitter Will Endure” at least as much as he is responding to Twitter “itself.”  His agitation – his “fear” – runs through almost every line of his post.

The truth is, I feel like yelling Stop quite a bit these days.  Every time I hear about Twitter I want to yell Stop.  The notion of sending and getting brief updates to and from dozens or thousands of people every few minutes is an image from information hell.  I’m told that Twitter is a river into which I can dip my cup whenever I want. [This unattributed partial citation from Carr precedes Packer’s direct invocation of “Why Twitter Will Endure,” which comes in the next paragraph. – Ed.]  But that supposes that we’re all kneeling on the banks.  In fact, if you’re at all like me, you’re trying to keep your footing out in midstream, with the water level always dangerously close to your nostrils.  Twitter sounds less like sipping than drowning.

The most frightening picture of the future that I’ve read thus far in the new decade has nothing to do with terrorism or banking or the world’s water reserves – it’s an article by David Carr, the Times’s media critic, published on the decade’s first day, called “Why Twitter Will Endure.”  “I’m in narrative on more things in a given moment than I ever thought possible,” Carr wrote.  And:  “Twitter becomes an always-on data stream from really bright people.”  And:  “The real value of the service is listening to a wired collective voice…the throbbing networked intelligence.”  And:  “On Twitter, you are your avatar and your avatar is you.”  And finally:  “There is always something more interesting on Twitter than whatever you happen to be working on.”

This last is what really worries me.  Who doesn’t want to be taken out of the boredom or sameness or pain of the present at any given moment?  That’s what drugs are for, and that’s why people become addicted to them.  Carr himself was once a crack addict (he wrote about it in “The Night of the Gun”).  Twitter is crack for media addicts.  It scares me, not because I’m morally superior to it, but because I don’t think I could handle it.

The analogy with addiction also figures in “The Revolution Will Not Be Blogged” (2004) which begins “First, a confession:  I hate blogs.  I’m also addicted to them.”  What is also curious about Packer’s quasi-hysterical reaction to Twitter is the complete failure to recognize that it’s called a “service” for a reason, that it is what you make it, in the very specific sense that you choose, or curate, the accounts you follow.  You have a lot to say about your incoming. The more time and thought that goes in to this process of curation, the more useful Twitter becomes.  It’s pretty simple to tailor it to one’s own purposes, whatever they may be.  And if Twitter will indeed endure, it is largely for that reason.

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Haiti earthquake coverage: NYT’s Twitter list

The following is a snapshot of the feed produced by the New York Times‘ list of Twitter sources for “Haiti earthquake” at around 11:45 a.m., Wednesday January 13, 2010.

Reports from individuals, news orgs, relief agencies in Haiti  

Pooja Bhatia bhatiap  

Many HELP students (www.haitianeducation.org) are okay, student dorms solid, but the student center is kraze and four employees injured. less than 20 seconds ago from web

Pooja Bhatia bhatiap  

The huge slum in Petionville behind Rue Canape Vert– I think called Jalousie– has collapsed half a minute ago from web

Pooja Bhatia bhatiap  

Rue Freres seems okay half a minute ago from web

Multilink Haiti InternetHaiti

  RT @cybhaiti: Effondrement de la plus grande prison de Haïti. Des prisonniers se sont échappés, selon @ChrisCuomo de ABC News less than 20 seconds ago from Tweetie

Multilink Haiti InternetHaiti  

RT @cybhaiti: 32 secousses à Haïti depuis le séisme d’hier soir. less than 10 seconds ago from Tweetie

Multilink Haiti InternetHaiti

  Le président haitien craint des milliers de morts http://bit.ly/5GYI3X #Haiti #HaitiQuake #HelpHaiti half a minute ago from Tweetie

Pierre Côté pierrecote  

I WILL BE with BBC WORLD NEWS at 1:30 via Skype #realtimerealite #Haïti #socialmedia 2 minutes ago from Tweetie

Multilink Haiti InternetHaiti

  RT @cybhaiti: Le témoignage audio de notre photographe Ivanoh Demers, qui se trouve à Haiti: http://bit.ly/6a4XOK 2 minutes ago from Tweetie

Multilink Haiti InternetHaiti

  RT @ZOEmagazine Venezuela, America and Australia first to send teams of rescue workers and supplies to devastated Haiti http://bit.ly/5MGpSR 3 minutes ago from Tweetie

Multilink Haiti InternetHaiti

  RT @jonathanbenz: http://bit.ly/7lCp34 Documentation from France Agence-Presse confirming hundreds maybe dead in Hotel Montana #Haiti 3 minutes ago from Tweetie

Louis Belanger Louisoxfam

  I landed in Santo Domingo an hour ago. I’m getting updates and finding out the details of heading into Haiti. Will update shortly. 4 minutes ago from Seesmic

Multilink Haiti InternetHaiti

  Article intéressant datant de 2008: Patrick Charles annoncait qu’un séisme majeur se produirait en Haiti http://bit.ly/5R73Cg #Haiti 6 minutes ago from Tweetie

Wyclef Jean wyclef

Haiti needs your help if you r in the US text Yele to 501 501 and 5 dollars will go toward earthquake relief in Ha (cont) http://tl.gd/3hsti 6 minutes ago from UberTwitter

 Multilink Haiti InternetHaiti

En 1751 et en 1771, Port-au-Prince avait été complètement détruite par un séisme. La ville est construite sur une faille. 8 minutes ago from Tweetie

Wyclef Jean wyclef  

RT @Nosyella: @Wyclef…I just donated $5 to Haiti by texting “Yele” to 501501. I hope I helped! ❤ 9 minutes ago from UberTwitter

Wyclef Jean wyclef  

RT @Ovatyme850: RT @DJDRAMA I donated last nite…have you?? RT @Wyclef: Help Haiti Earthquake Relief Donate $5 by (cont) http://tl.gd/3hsil 9 minutes ago from UberTwitter

Wyclef Jean wyclef  

RT @IamHaitianFresh: live on 102jamz major station in florida @4pm today & @wyclef post time on @cnn soon as s (cont) http://tl.gd/3hsfo 10 minutes ago from UberTwitter

Multilink Haiti InternetHaiti  

RT @mymanhenri: Just moments ago, Obama speaks on #Haiti “This tragedy seems especially cruel & incomprehensible” http://bit.ly/6oEO2t 16 minutes ago from Tweetie

NYTimes The Lede thelede  

Latest Updates on Haiti http://bit.ly/7jKyMW 19 minutes ago from web

Pierre Côté pierrecote  

@InternetHaiti +2000 #realtimerealite 21 minutes ago from Tweetie in reply to InternetHaiti

CNN CNN  

RT @SanjayGuptaCNN: http://twitpic.com/xxc32 – no sleep in prep for #haiti. @daniellecnn & I almost there. 21 minutes ago from web

Multilink Haiti InternetHaiti

  RT @haiti: destroyed: Eglise du Sacre-Coeur, the schools, supermarket in PAP. people spending the night in the street – Mousson F (MF) 24 minutes ago from Tweetie

Pierre Côté pierrecote  

@InternetHaiti 5147027180 25 minutes ago from Tweetie in reply to InternetHaiti

Multilink Haiti InternetHaiti  

RT @MichelleBlanc: Retweeting @TitanInteractif: #Unicef – pour acheminer de l’aide d’urgence à #Haiti 1-800-567-4483 www.unicef.ca 26 minutes ago from Tweetie

 

 

 

 

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Haiti earthquake coverage: The New York Times News Blog

As I monitor media coverage of the earthquake in Haiti, I will be pasting up some of what I read on “The Lede,”  the New York Times news blog, and (in the following posts ) on Twitter, and perhaps other sources as well.  I will for the most part leave the analysis until the dust over Port-au-Prince settles.  What follows is from http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/01/12/gleaning-information-from-haiti-online 

New York Times 

Wednesday, January 13, 2010The Lede - The New York Times News Blog


January 12, 2010, 9:29 pm <!– — Updated: 10:57 am –>Gleaning Information From Haiti Online
By ROBERT MACKEY

 

An image of the destruction caused by Tuesday’s earthquake in Haiti posted on the Web site of Radio Tele Ginen in Port-au-Prince. An image of the destruction caused by Tuesday’s earthquake in Haiti posted on the Web site of Radio Tele Ginen in Port-au-Prince.

Some Haitians have turned to the Web to share information about the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck about 10 miles southwest of the capital of Port-au-Prince on Tuesday evening. Any readers who are in Haiti or in touch with people there are encouraged to use the comment thread below to share first-hand accounts with us, or to point to them on other Web sites. 

Update | 10:39 a.m. Here is a transcript of remarks by the U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, earlier on Wednesday: 

First of all, I would like to extend my heartfelt sympathies to the victims of yesterday’s catastrophic earthquake in Haiti. Je suis vraiment désolé par le désastre qui vient de toucher Haïti. C’est une tragédie pour Haïti, pour le peuple Haïtien, et pour [L’Organisation des] Nations Unies. 

Information on the full extent of the damage is still scanty. Initial reconnaissance and aerial assessments have been undertaken. It is now clear that the earthquake has had a devastating impact on the capital, Port-au-Prince. The remaining areas of Haiti appear to be largely unaffected. 

As you are aware, buildings and infrastructure were heavily damaged throughout the capital. Basic services such as water and electricity have collapsed almost entirely. 

We are yet to establish the number of dead or injured, which we fear may well be in the hundreds. Medical facilities have been inundated with injured. 

There is no doubt that we are facing a major humanitarian emergency and that a major relief effort will be required. 

I am grateful to those countries that are sending emergency relief. I urge all members of the international community to come to Haiti’s aid in this hour of need. 

Many of our UN colleagues on the ground, including my Special Representative in Haiti, Mr. [Hédi] Annabi, and his deputy, Mr. [Luiz Carlos] da Costa, are as yet unaccounted for. 

The UN Headquarters at the Christopher Hotel collapsed in the quake. Many people are still trapped inside. 

MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] troops have been working through the night to reach those trapped under the rubble. So far, several badly injured casualties have been retrieved and transported to the MINUSTAH logistics base, which thankfully remains intact. No names are available yet. 

MINUSTAH has around 3,000 troops and police in and around Port-au-Prince to help maintain order and assist in relief efforts. MINUSTAH engineers have also begun clearing some of the main roads in Port-Au-Prince which will allow assistance and rescuers to reach those in need. I will dispatch Assistant Secretary-General and former Special Representative of the Secretary-General to MINUSTAH, Edmond Mulet, to Haiti as soon as possible. 

The UN is also mobilizing an emergency response team to help coordinate humanitarian relief efforts, which will be on the ground shortly. We will immediately release $10 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF). In this regard, I am encouraged and appreciative of the willingness of the international community to extend immediate assistance and rescue missions. I am close consultation with the US Government and Haitian Government, as well as many others of the international community’s major countries. In these times of difficulties, I would appeal again to the international community for urgent further assistance and urgent further help for them. Thank you very much. 

Update | 10:23 a.m. In President Obama’s short statement on the crisis he said that Americans wishing to donate money to help the victims in Haiti, despite what he called tough times at home, can go to the White House Web site for information. A post on the White House blog says: 

You can also help immediately by donating to the Red Cross to assist the relief effort. Contribute online [to the American Red Cross], or donate $10 to be charged to your cell phone bill by texting “HAITI” to “90999.” 

Families of Americans living in Haiti are encouraged to contact the State Department at 888-407-4747. 

Update | 10:22 a.m. The White House Web site is streaming remarks by President Barack Obama on the crisis in Haiti live in this player: 

 

 

Update | 10:15 a.m. CNN’s Anderson Cooper reports that a helicopter he was flying in above Haiti’s capital on Wednesday morning just dodged a small airplane near the country’s presidential palace. Air traffic control, he says, has been badly hampered by the damage to the country’s infrastructure. 

Update | 10:02 a.m. Britain’s ITN has this video report on some of the international plans to aid the search and rescue effort in Haiti: 

Update | 9:57 a.m. The Salvation Army has passed on this note from its disaster coordinator in Haiti, Bob Poff, recounting his experiences immediately following the earthquake: 

Words cannot begin to describe the devastation that has taken place in Port au Prince, Haiti. 

I am the Director of Disaster Services for The Salvation Army in Haiti, and I am from the United States. My wife and I have been in [Port-au-Prnce] since April, and have fallen deeply in love with the country and it’s people. 

When the earthquake struck, I was driving down the mountain from Petionville. Our truck was being tossed to and fro like a toy, and when it stopped, I looked out the windows to see buildings “pancaking” down, like I have never witnessed before. Traffic, of course, came to a stand-still, while thousands of people poured out into the streets, crying, carrying bloody bodies, looking for anyone who could help them. We piled as many bodies into the back of our truck, and took them down the hill with us, hoping to find medical attention. All of them were older, scared, bleeding, and terrified. It took about 2 hours to go less than 1 mile. Traffic was horrible, devastation was everywhere, and suffering humanity was front and center. 

When we could drive no further, we left the truck parked on the side of the street, and walked the remaining 2 miles to get back to the Army compound. What I found was very sad! All of the security walls were down. The Children’s Home itself seems pretty intact, but our quarters, which is attached, are destroyed. Unliveable. The walls and ceiling are still standing – but so badly compromised that I wouldn’t even think of trying to stay there. All of the children, and hundreds of neighbors, are sleeping in our playground area tonight. Occasionally, there is another tremor – another reminder that we are not yet finished with this calamity. And when it comes, all of the people cry out and the children are terrified. 

As I am sitting outside now, with most people trying to get a little sleep, I can hear the moans and crys of the neighbors. One of our staff went to a home in the neighborhood, to try to be of assistance to the woman who lived there. But she was too late. 

The scene will be repeated over and over again. Tomorrow, we will begin the process of assessing damage, learning about casualties, and preparing for the future. 

God bless Haiti. 

Update | 9:54 a.m. This video report from Britain’s Channel 4 News includes some of the only video from Haiti to emerge in the aftermath of the earthquake — which was shot on Tuesday evening and obtained by Reuters: 

Update | 9:43 a.m. Frenchspeaking readers can consult the newspaper Le Monde, which is providing a stream of updates on the disaster on its Web site, although very little first-hand information is available at this hour in any language. Le Monde points to a Skye interview, in French, on the Web site of France 24 with a Haitian radio DJ, Carel Pedre, whose English-language account we posted in our 8:05 a.m. update. 

The BBC reported that Mr. Pedre said last night

I saw a lot of people crying for help, a lot of buildings collapsed, a lot of car damage, a lot of people without help, people bleeding. I saw a movie theater, a supermarket, a cybercafe, an apartment building which collapsed. 

Now it’s dark outside, there is no electricity, all the phone networks are down, so there’s no way that people can get in touch with their family and friends. 

There are aftershocks every 15 to 20 minutes. They last from three to five seconds. The first shock was really strong, people were falling in the streets and buildings collapsed. 

I didn’t see any emergency services, the people at the neighbourhood were trying to help each other. The streets are narrow and there is lot of traffic and everyone is trying to reach family and friends. Traffic now is really difficult. People don’t know where to go or where to start. 

Update | 9:39 a.m. Here is video from The Associated Press of some of the remarks made earlier on Wednesday by Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary general: 

Update | 9:21 a.m. On his blog about Haiti, “Dispatches from a fragile island,” Mark Turner, a former Financial Times journalist whose wife works with the U.N. mission in Haiti, writes that his family is safe (they happened to be on vacation in Miami on Tuesday) but deeply worried about the fate of people who may have been wounded or killed by the earthquake. Mr. Turner posted a rough transcript of a briefing held last in New York by U.N. officials. 

During the briefing Alain Le Roy, a U.N. official explained the size of the mission in Haiti: 

All together, we are more than 9,000 uniformed personnel, 490 international civilian personnel, and 1,200 local civilian staff, and 200 United Nations Volunteers. And I didn’t mention, among the troops are 7,000 troops and 2,000 policemen. 

He added, “As far as we know, the main building that was the headquarters building called the Hotel Christopher has collapsed.” 

The great delay in getting video or photographs from Haiti on Wednesday is clearly a sign of just how impoverished and isolated the country is at the best of times. The presence of the U.N. mission has focused more international attention on the disaster than might otherwise be the case, but according to Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary general, the damage in Port-au-Prince is so bad to basic services including water and communications infrastructure, that he remained unsure just an hour ago if his own special representative to the country was killed or not. 

Update | 9:15 a.m. The Web site of ABS-CBN News in the Philippines reports

In a phone interview with ABS-CBN News, Lt. Col. Limar Galicia, deputy commander of the peacekeeping operations center in Camp O’Donnell in Capas, Tarlac, said he was informed by the New York Permanent Mission via email that at least 23 Filipino peacekeepers were trapped inside the headquarters of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti. 

Galicia said that these Filipinos are mostly doing clerical work and are usually the last to leave the office, which explained why they were still inside the building when the quake struck Tuesday afternoon local time in Haiti. 

Update | 9:09 a.m. A report from the French news agency AFP on the Web site of Canada’s National Post newspaper says that U.N. peacekeepers are thought to be among the dead: 

Brazil said four of its members of the U.N. force were killed and that five Brazilians were wounded and an undetermined number missing in the aftermath of Tuesday’s 7.0 quake. A Filipino diplomat told a television station in his home country that rescuers had retrieved several bodies as well as injured survivors from the rubble of the U.N. headquarters. 

Update | 9:01 a.m. In an interview published on the Web site of the French radio station RTL, Bernard Kouchner, France’s foreign minister said: “Unfortunately, the U.N. building collapsed and it would appear that all those who were in the building, including my friend Hedi Annabi, the special representative of the secretary general, and all those who were with him and around him, are dead.” 

Update | 8:56 a.m. A reader points to another source of information n the Web: 

The website www.haiti.ushahidi.com is collecting and mapping crisis information in Haiti. Reports by eyewitnesses can be sent to haiti@ushahidi.com, by sending a tweet with the hashtags #haiti or #haitiquake, or through a form on their website. 

The site was set up overnight and is a joint effort between Ushahidi, UN OCHA/Colombia and the International Network of Crisis Mappers (CM*Net). 

Update | 8:46 a.m. Early on Wednesday, the medical charity Doctors Without Borders reported on its Web site

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams on the ground have witnessed significant damage to its medical facilities, injuries to patients and staff, and an influx of wounded towards these hospitals in the capital. 

MSF’s Trinite trauma center hospital, a 60-bed structure and one of the only free-of-charge surgical facilities in Port-au-Prince, was seriously damaged by the quake. Although difficult to confirm, hundreds are reported to be wounded while the Haitian capital is massively damaged. 

At the moment, MSF teams are trying to ensure the safety and continued care of patients admitted to Trinite hospital and to establish a capacity to respond to new patients. At its Maternité Solidarité hospital, a 75-bed emergency obstetrics facility also in the capital, pregnant women, new mothers, and newborn children have been evacuated from the facility due to structural damage and as a precautionary measure. MSF also operates Martissant 25, a health center in the Martissant slum and its immediate surroundings. 

Communication systems such as mobile phone networks are not working and road access is severely hampered. 

MSF is deeply concerned for the safety of our patients and staff. Additional staff will be deployed to reinforce the existing MSF staff on the ground and to assess the emerging needs from the earthquake in the coming days. 

According to a news release from the Salvation Army: 

The Salvation Army is mobilizing resources and personnel to assist with the international relief effort in Haiti following a severe earthquake Tuesday that damaged much of the country’s infrastructure, housing and commercial buildings. 

The Salvation Army has had a presence in Haiti since 1950 and currently operates schools, clinics, a hospital, feeding programs, children’s homes and church-related activities spread across two major facilities in Port au Prince, close to the epicenter of the earthquake and at other locations in the country. 

One of the facilities, or compounds as it is referred to, includes a home for more than 50 children; a school with a daily attendance of 1,500 children; a medical clinic caring for 150-200 people daily; and a church that on any typical Sunday welcomes nearly 1,000 people. The facility is less than 10 minutes from the National Palace and is in an area known as St. Martin that’s home to predominantly poor living in the nation’s capital. 

According to reports from Salvation Army staff in Port au Prince, no one in the compound was injured during the earthquake, but the children’s home, the clinic and church suffered major damage. Several smaller buildings, including residences, have collapsed completely. People were sleeping in the parking lot overnight, while severe aftershocks continued to affect the country. 

Update | 8:31 a.m. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is speaking about the relief effort now — and the U.N. Web site is carrying a live video stream of his remarks and replies to questions from reporters. The U.N. has about 3,000 peacekeepers in the area of the earthquake and the secretary general said that he has asked the U.S. government to supply logistical support for the relief effort. He also said that he has spoken with former President Bill Clinton, who has been an envoy to the country, about the effort. 

The U.N. headquarters in the Haitian capital was damaged in the quake and, to give a sense of how badly communications have been affected, the secretary general said that he is not yet sure as to whether or not his special representative in the country, a Tunisian diplomat named Hédi Annabi, has survived the catastrophe. 

Update | Wednesday | 8:08 a.m. According to this list from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Web site, in the 10 hours after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck the Haiti at 4:53 p.m. local time on Tuesday, there were 32 aftershocks, ranging in magnitude from 4.5 to 5.9 — and noticeable seismic activity continued on Wednesday morning. The most recent tremor recorded by the U.S.G.S. hit within the past hour, at 7:28 a.m. 

Update | Wednesday | 8:05 a.m. On Wednesday morning, ITN, a British news broadcaster, uploaded this eyewitness account of the earthquake from Haitian radio DJ Carel Pedre: 

Update | Wednesday | 2:55 a.m. The Associated Press interviewed airline passengers in Miami who were on a plane that departed Port-au-Prince moments after the earthquake occurred. 

Update | 11:59 p.m. My colleague Jennifer Preston has compiled this Twitter list of users of the social network who are in Haiti or providing useful information on the aftermath of the earthquake there. She also points to a TwitPic account which has images of victims of the quake

Here are images of the presidential palace in Haiti before and after Tuesday’s earthquake: 

The presidential palace in 2004. Thony Belizaire/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images Haiti’s presidential palace in 2004.
Haiti’s national palace appeared to be heavily damaged.Reuters TV/Reuters The heavily damaged presidential palace on Tuesday evening.

My colleague Jeff Zeleny in Washington writes: 

The White House said Tuesday evening that the Coast Guard was mobilizing cutters and aircraft to positions near Haiti to offer humanitarian aid in the aftermath of the earthquake. The assets deployed to the area, included: 

A C-130 Hercules fixed-wing aircraft from Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, Fla. 

The Coast Guard Cutter Valiant, a 210-foot reliance class cutter from Miami. 

The Coast Guard Cutter Forward, a 270-foot medium endurance cutters from Portsmouth, Va. 

The Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma, a 270-foot medium endurance cutter from Portsmouth, N.H. 

The Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk, a 270-foot medium endurance cutter from Key West, Fla. 

Thanks to readers who have used the comment thread below this post to suggest some relief organizations that will be providing assistance to the victims of the catastrophe in Haiti. One reader draws our attention to the fact that the organization Partners in Health posted an e-mail message from one of its staff member in Haiti’s capital earlier this evening on its Web site

In an urgent email from Port-au-Prince, Louise Ivers, our clinical director in Haiti, appealed for assistance from her colleagues in the Central Plateau: “Port-au-Prince is devastated, lot of deaths. SOS. SOS… Temporary field hospital by us at UNDP needs supplies, pain meds, bandages. Please help us.” 

Update | 11:02 p.m. Tequila Minsky, a New York-based photographer who is staying at the Hotel Oloffson in Port-au-Prince — which was the model for the Haitian hotel in Graham Greene’s novel “The Comedians” — told my colleague Patrick Witty, a photo editor on the New York Times foreign desk, what she saw immediately after the earthquake. She had arrived at the hotel just two hours before the quake struck, shaking the walls of her room shook and knocking things off it. 

She immediately went out and started taking pictures on the surrounding streets. The wall at the front of the hotel had fallen down and killed someone. A number of nearby buildings had collapsed, trapping people. A woman was crying and saying, “My uncle, my uncle.” A bank building was very badly damaged in the Rue Capois which runs along the side of the hotel. People were screaming. “It was general mayhem,” she said. 

By 6:30, she said, it was dark and fires were burning downtown, near the shoreline. She spoke to The Times via Skype since no phones were working earlier this evening. 

Update | 10:47 p.m. Here is some video of the aftermath of the earthquake shot before nightfall on Tuesday in Haiti’s capital. The first clip — Reuters video via a CBS News channel on YouTube — starts with images of the collapsed presidential palace in Port-au-Prince: 

This report from Britain’s Sky News also shows the damaged capital, and includes some of the same footage: 

Update | 10:41 p.m. Troy Livesay, a Christian missionary working in Haiti’s capital wrote on Twitter earlier: 

Phones and internet are mostly out – we don’t have either at home – radio says the Palace fell down … 

most people are staying outside in our area – aftershocks are still continuing…a neighbor was in a school that collapsed 

I can’t imagine the devastation this has caused to such an overly stressed city – I think it will be suffering for quite some time. 

we can’t get through to the other orphanages/ministries here – no phones and lots of panic 

In our area mostly exterior walls fallen – people afraid to re-enter their homes… 

About two hours ago he added that someone “made it home from Carrefour,” west of Port-au-Prince, closer to the epicenter of the earthquake, and “saw many dead bodies and injured along the way – said most buildings w/more than one story are down.” 

Update | 10:29 p.m. The Haitian Twitter user Frederic Dupoux — @fredodupoux — writes that, despite what we heard via Haitian television earlier, “no phones are working,” at least where he is. He appeals to the local companies, “Digicel Voila ! restore phone service ASAP.” 

He also writes in two updates posted within the past hour: 

Just came back from Caribbean Super Market. It looks like ground zero. people are trapped it’s dark we need light and cell phone service. 

It’s really ugly, just like in a bad dream. people need help, get out and help! 

Update | 10:25 p.m. Thanks to a reader who pointed us to this partial list of Twitter users who say they are in Haiti compiled by the Los Angeles Times. 

Update | 10:00 p.m. The Web site Haitifeed.com has video and photographs of some of the damage caused by the earthquake, including a striking image of what it says is the collapsed Palais National,, Haiti’s presidential palace in the capital Port-au-Prince. Earlier, the French news agency AFP reported that Haitian television streaming online said that the country’s presidential palace and numerous other government buildings had “collapsed.” 

An image uploaded to the Web on Tuesday by a Twitter user who said it showed the collapsed presidential palace in Haiti’s capital after an earthquake struck. An image uploaded to the Web on Tuesday by a Twitter user who said it showed the collapsed presidential palace in Haiti’s capital after an earthquake struck.

Similar images have been pouring into this page on PicFog, which is a stream of photographs uploaded to the Web by Twitter users. 

More images of badly damaged buildings appeared on Facebook, including several on a page called “Together For Haiti.” 

Haiti Feed’s Twitter account — @Haitifeed — is being updated frequently as new material is added to the site. 

Update | 9:29 p.m. Among the many thousand messages about the impact of the quake on Twitter are some from users of the social network who appear to be located in Haiti and are using the service to share information about what they have observed and heard. 

The account @InternetHaiti points to this live Skype interview (in French and English) on the Web now with Paolo Chilosi, who is in Haiti. 

The person updating the same account also points out that aftershocks of more than 5.0 “are continuing.” 

The Haitian rapper Wyclef Jean is using his @wyclef Twitter account to appeal to people to donate money to help the victims of the earthquake, writing: 

Warriors Donate to Earthquake relief in Haiti text Yele to 501 501 and visit http://www.yele.org 

The singer — whose uncle Raymond Alcide Joseph, Haiti’s ambassador to the United States  spoke to Katie Couric on CBS News on Tuesday evening — also appealed to Haitian expats to call for American military aid for the nation: 

We need the U.S. military as soon as possible n Haiti. We need the 4 million Haitian that live out side of Haiti to Act now, we need da world! 

In a reply to Mr. Jean, Al Sharpton wrote on his Twitter feed, @TheRevAl

@wyclef supplies and manpower. You direct us and we will mobilize to the right place to help. The WORLD must stand with Haiti NOW! 

Also on Twitter, the @RedCross account provided these two updates on its relief efforts: 

Our support is w Haiti. We are accepting donations to our Intl Response Fund. http://bit.ly/4WodAv Follow http://newsroom.redcross.org 

American Red Cross is pledging an initial $200,000 to assist those impacted by the earthquake in Haiti. http://bit.ly/4XMCoB 

Ann Curry, an NBC News journalist, notes on her Twitter feed, @AnnCurry

State Department has a # for Americans seeking info about family in Haiti: 1-888-407-4747 

The Associated Press notes “The State Department advises that some callers may receive a recording because of heavy volume of calls.” 

In Haiti, a Twitter user filing updates as @fredodupoux wrote simply: 

if anyone in haiti is reading this, please go out and help in the streets, it’s very ugly out there if you haven’t seen it 

Another Twitter user, @Audio_Rydeout, who is in Cite Soleil, Haiti, used his feed in part to complain about what he was seeing on American television, writing that a woman on CNN “is talking bout Haiti is a ‘violent’ nation should ppl on the streets tonight worry….” 

The Web site of the Haitian television station Haitipal is streaming a live discussion, mainly in Creole, with callers who still have mobile phone service sharing information on what they have witnessed and asking for help. 

A source who speaks Creole tells The Lede that Haitipal sems to be getting calls from people with phones on a local cell network called Voila, which is owned by Trilogy International Partners, an American company that operates mobile phone networks in countries including Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic. 

A short news release posted on the Web site of Trilogy International Partners on Tuesday says: 

Our team in Haiti, which operates the wireless carrier Voila, has been working nonstop to assess the damage and impact to our network as we know the community greatly relies upon us for communication; we can confirm that the Voila network continues to be operational. 

An image of the part of Haiti affected by 7.0 magnitude earthquake from the Web site of the U.S. Geological Survey.usgs.gov An image of the part of Haiti affected by 7.0 magnitude earthquake from the Web site of the U.S. Geological Survey.

In New York, which has a large community of Haitian expatriates, Garry Pierre-Pierre wrote on the Web site of The Haitian Times in Brooklyn: 

Leaders in the Haitian community felt powerless as yet another calamity has hit their native country. With no communication to Haiti in the last three yours, people called each other to see if anyone had heard anything. The suspense is sending a chill as people try to imagine the extent of this catastrophe. 

Four hours ago, a major earthquake shook the capital city to its core and left Port-au-Prince into a smoke haze. 

At this moment, the number of death and people injured are not known. People could be heard screaming and crying. The metropolitan area is home to two million people in an area originally planned for 200,000. Houses are poorly constructed with lax codes, if any. 


38 Readers’ Comments

1

 Nick Rabinowitz

Berkeley, CA

January 12th, 2010

10:30 pm
Two excellent organizations accepting donations for response to the Haiti quake are Oxfam America (http://www.oxfamamerica.org/) and Partners in Health (http://www.pih.org/). Both have staff on the ground and solid reputations.
 
2 .
lancaster
January 12th, 2010
10:41 pm
Twitter list: Sources who say they’re in Haiti

http://twitter.com/latimes/haiti-quake 

3 .
Los Angeles, CA
January 12th, 2010
10:41 pm

Real-time from Haiti, this guy seems very calm and on top of things though certainly overwhelmed on his little personal blog streaming site. 

4 .
Bethlehem, PA
January 12th, 2010
10:42 pm
I am signed up for NY Times Breaking News Alerts via text message.

This is the message that I received at 5:08pm today: 

NYT NEWS ALERT:
Conan O’Brien Says He Won’t Do ‘Tonight Show Following Leno 

In light of the devastating humanitarian disaster in Haiti, I would have hoped the New York Times would have given appropriate priority and emphasis to this story. 

With that said, it is not easy covering Haiti and I appreciate this resourceful blog post.. 

Recommend Recommended by 11 Readers
Chicago, IL
January 12th, 2010
10:43 pm
Some friends of mine are in Jakmel right now and I was told that that part of the country was not as badly hit as Port Au Prince. Does anyone have confirmation of that?
 
wa
January 12th, 2010
10:53 pm
In reply to AlexP

That is probably true. Jacmel is in the southeast part of the country while according to the news, it is the southwest part of the island that is affected(carrefour, martissant, and croix des bouquets perhaps) 

7 .
VK NY
January 12th, 2010
11:30 pm
Isn’t the Grand Rue in Jacmel? Cause that place is totally destroyed, according to artists that live there.
 
8 .
East Hampton, NY
January 12th, 2010
11:35 pm
Let the world FINALLY turn its eyes to Haiti, where so many people have suffered so long. We in the States and in the West bear a heavy burden of shame for our history of neglect there.
 
New York, NY
January 12th, 2010
11:42 pm
For French speakers – Radio Canada seems to have more comprehensive coverage than all the English news services and Radio France combined. Check out www.radio-canada.ca/rdi/
 
10 .
New York, NY
January 12th, 2010
11:42 pm
Another excellent group accepting donations is Doctors Without Borders which runs La Trinité trauma hospital in Port-au-Prince: www.doctorswithoutborders.org
 
11 .
PA
January 12th, 2010
11:54 pm
An experienced relief organization in Haiti– AMURT

http://www.amurt.net/donations/ 

12 .
Cambridge, MA
January 13th, 2010
12:06 am
Agree with first poster on both Oxfam and Partners in Health as both great organizations to donate to, particularly with their experience in Haiti. Also, reposting Director’s statement from Partners in Health, issued tonight:

“A major earthquake centered just 10 miles from Port-au-Prince has devastated sections of the city and knocked out telephone communications throughout the country. Reached via email, Partners In Health staff at our facilities in the Central Plateau report that they experienced a strong shock but no major damage or injuries. We are still attempting to establish contact with other PIH facilities and to locate several staff members who were traveling in and around Port-au-Prince. 

In an urgent email from Port-au-Prince, Louise Ivers, our clinical director in Haiti, appealed for assistance from her colleagues in the Central Plateau: “Port-au-Prince is devastated, lot of deaths. SOS. SOS… Temporary field hospital by us at UNDP needs supplies, pain meds, bandages. Please help us.”
The earthquake has destroyed much of the already fragile and overburdened infrastructure in the most densely populated part of the country. A massive and immediate international response is needed to provide food, water, shelter, and medical supplies for tens of thousands of people. 

With our hospitals and our highly trained medical staff in place in Haiti, Partners In Health is already mobilizing resources and preparing plans to bring medical assistance and supplies to areas that have been hardest hit. 

Both our teams in Boston and Haiti are already mobilizing to deliver resources as quickly as possible to the places where they are needed most.” 

13 .
Medford, MA
January 13th, 2010
12:06 am
Your Twitter list link above http://www.twitter.com/nytimes/haiti appears to be broken.
 
14 .
Washington, DC
January 13th, 2010
12:06 am
I work for Save the Children, which has a significant presence in Haiti. Staff there and in the U.S. are working to mount a major response to the earthquake.

http://www.savethechildren.org… 

15 .
Cambridge, MA
January 13th, 2010
1:27 am
To add another name to the list of already-valuable NGOs on the ground in Haiti…I work with World Vision and was able to speak to some of our staff around 5pm ET Tuesday, just before phone lines went down completely. I’ve no doubt they – and countless others – will be working around-the-clock to help all affected. Visit http://www.worldvision.org for updates.
 
16 .
Santo Domingo
January 13th, 2010
1:27 am
@LLT. This is the right URL: http://twitter.com/nytimes/#haiti
 
17 .
New York, NY
January 13th, 2010
2:12 am
Does anyone have any news on the UN staff at MINUSTAH? I hear the building was severely damaged and they have yet to hear from the SRSG
 
18 .
France
January 13th, 2010
2:12 am
What time, local time in Haiti did it start?
 
19 .
wa
January 13th, 2010
2:12 am
To VK, NY

There is a Grand Rue in Port-au-Prince. It is main artery that runs thru the capital. 

The earthquake is mainly felt in Port-au-Prince and surrounding towns (petionville, pelerin, kenscoff, delmas, carrefour, martissant, croix des bouquets, arcahaie, montrouis, croix des bouquets etc.) 

20 .
Washington, DC
January 13th, 2010
2:12 am
If I were OBAMA I’d send the closest 2 aircraft carriers in the Atlantic fleet NOW, and see if others could be redeployed. They could generate power, restore hospital services, and feed tens of thousands for weeks.
 
21 .
Port au Prince
January 13th, 2010
2:13 am
Just had another big aftershock!! This is getting scary
 
22 .
Albuquerque, NM
January 13th, 2010
2:39 am
What a brutal blow, just when things were getting somewhat better for this tormented country: economy growing, more foreign investors interested, etc.
Let us all pitch in any way we can (Doctors without Borders, Partners in Health are terrific) for these human neighbors of ours, so near us in geography and yet so far away in any kind of luck.
 
23 .
Washington DC
January 13th, 2010
4:12 am
We must prepare to donate blood for the victims in Haiti. Once the Red Cross is able to get in and assess it is certain that the need for blood donations will be great as well as the need $$$ donations.

Such a devastating blow to a country that has suffered far too much, for far too long. Perhaps now the eyes and hearts of the World will turn towards Haiti and assistance for the Haitian people will be generous and swift. 

Just heartbreaking… 

24 .
Multan, Pakistan
January 13th, 2010
4:12 am
The situation is worst. The pictures at NYTimes are really horrible. We must share the pain of humanity, help them in these moments of disaster.
 
25 .
Baltimore, MD
January 13th, 2010
7:39 am
I just noticed the US has pledged an immediate $200,000 for Haiti…….and that Obama is requesting $33 billion more for war
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fledgling’s archive, december 2009

December 2009

12/31/2009  More from Michelle Lang’s “Afghanistan Dispatches”

A few days before her own death, journalist Michelle Lang blogged about the passing of Lt. Andrew Nuttall, a fellow blogger.  Both died via IED.

“A ‘Rough’ Year in Afghanistan”

By Michelle Lang in Afghanistan Sun, Dec 27 2009

As 2009 draws to a close, Canada’s top general conceded the past 12 months were “rough.”

Speaking to reporters in Kandahar this weekend, Gen. Walter Natynczyk, the country’s chief of defence staff, said the growing danger in Afghanistan and problems with corruption in the summer presidential election made the past year a difficult one. You can read more here.

His comments follow the death last Wednesday of Lieut. Andrew Nuttall, 30, who was killed when an improvised explosive device detonated as he was leading a foot patrol in the Panjwaii district. Nuttall was, by all accounts, a well-liked young officer who was bright and athletic.

At a ramp ceremony last week, attended by thousands of NATO soldiers and civilians who work at Kandahar airfield, Padre Steve Defer said Nuttall loved the outdoors and loved to surf off the shores of Vancouver Island, where he grew up. “The waves at Tofino,” said Defer, “will never be the same.”

 

12/30/2009  RIP Michelle Lang, journalist and blogger

Canadian journalist Michelle Lang, who began reporting from Kandahar on December 20, was killed today, along with four Canadian soldiers she was accompanying on a routine patrol that ended when an IED exploded beneath their vehicle.  She wrote 7 blog posts during what was to be a two-week tour in Afghanistan.  Here is the most recent of her “Afghanistan Dispatches” for the Calgary Herald.

“Wanted:  Combat Barbers” 

By Michelle Lang in Afghanistan Tue, Dec 29 2009

On a recent trip outside of Kandahar Airfield, I started talking with a lady who had an unusual patch on her body armour. It was a skull with the words, “combat barber” underneath.

It reminded me of a story I had read several years ago about Canadian Forces’ efforts to recruit hair stylists to work in Afghanistan.

My editor had asked me to write a story about civilians who come to work in Kandahar and I thought combat barbers would make for an interesting interview.

Yesterday, I spoke with Vanessa Mead, 25, from Fredericton, N.B., who came to Afghanistan one month ago to cut hair.

You can read about her adventures in Afghanistan here.
Read more “Afghanistan Dispatches” at http://bit.ly/4xSmrL

 

12/30/2009  New Year’s Eve with Anderson Cooper (not) and Walter Benjamin

 As the year winds down, I have been thinking, in passing, about the nature of New Year’s “resolutions,” and specifically whether they are of the order of promises, which is to say, of contracts.  Does it matter whether resolutions are made public (which would imply consequences of some sort if they were not made good down the line), or can they remain vows, made and kept internally?  In any case I expect to see lots of resolutions on my Twitter feed in the next few days. 

And herewith I make good on a tacit promise made in my last post, namely to reproduce Walter Benjamin’s “The Writer’s Technique in Thirteen Theses,” which I leave to the reader to align with Stephen King’s tips for writers, addressed earlier.  Benjamin’s theses appear in One-Way Street, which is included in Volume 1 of his Selected Writings, ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings (Harvard University Press, 1996, 458-459).  I thank my dear friend Tom Levin for flipping them to me nearly instantaneously following an email query just now. 

Benjamin
 

I. Anyone intending to embark on a major work should be lenient with himself and, having completed a stint, deny himself nothing that will not prejudice the next. 

II. Talk about what you have written, by all means, but do not read from it while the work is in progress. Every gratification procured in this way will slacken your tempo. If this regime is followed, the growing desire to communicate will become in the end a motor for completion. 

III. In your working conditions avoid everyday mediocrity. Semi-relaxation, to a background of insipid sounds, is degrading. On the other hand, accompaniment by an etude or a cacophony of voices can become as significant for work as the perceptible silence of the night. If the latter sharpens the inner ear, the former acts as a touchstone for a diction ample enough to bury even the most wayward sounds. 

IV. Avoid haphazard writing materials. A pedantic adherence to certain papers, pens, inks is beneficial. No luxury, but an abundance of these utensils is indispensable.  

V. Let no thought pass incognito, and keep your notebook as strictly as the authorities keep their register of aliens. 

VI. Keep your pen aloof from inspiration, which it will then attract with magnetic power. The more circumspectly you delay writing down an idea, the more maturely developed it will be on surrendering itself. Speech conquers thought, but writing commands it. 

VII. Never stop writing because you have run out of ideas. Literary honour requires that one break off only at an appointed moment (a mealtime, a meeting) or at the end of the work. 

VIII. Fill the lacunae of inspiration by tidily copying out what is already written. Intuition will awaken in the process. 

IX. Nulla dies sine linea — but there may well be weeks. 

X. Consider no work perfect over which you have not once sat from evening to broad daylight. 

XI. Do not write the conclusion of a work in your familiar study. You would not find the necessary courage there. 

XII. Stages of composition: idea — style — writing. The value of the fair copy is that in producing it you confine attention to calligraphy. The idea kills inspiration, style fetters the idea, writing pays off style. 

XIII. The work is the death mask of its conception. 

As a holiday bonus (since so many bloggers seem to be offering them), I will append Benjamin’s theses on the critic’s techniques, which also number thirteen. 

The Critic’s Technique in Thirteen Theses 

I. The critic is the strategist in the literary battle. 

II. He who cannot take sides should keep silent. 

III. The critic has nothing in common with the interpreter of past cultural epochs. 

IV. Criticism must talk the language of artists. For the terms of the cenacle are slogans. And only in slogans is the battle-cry heard. 

V. “Objectivity” must always be sacrificed to partisanship, if the cause fought for merits this. 

VI. Criticism is a moral question. If Goethe misjudged Holderlin and Kleist, Beethoven and Jean Paul, his morality and not his artistic discernment was at fault. 

VII. For the critic his colleagues are the higher authority. Not the public. Still less posterity. 

VIII. Posterity forgets or acclaims. Only the critic judges in face of the author. 

IX. Polemics mean to destroy a book in a few of its sentences. The less it has been studies the better. Only he who can destroy can criticize. 

X. Genuine polemics approach a book as lovingly as a cannibal spices a baby. 

XI. Artistic enthusiasm is alien to the critic. In his hand the art©work is the shining sword in the battle of the minds. 

XII. The art of the critic in a nutshell: to coin slogans without betraying ideas. The slogans of an inadequate criticism peddle ideas to fashion. 

XIII. The public must always be proved wrong, yet always feel represented by the critic. 

This seems to me a fitting offering at the threshold of a new year and decade.    

Anderson-cooper 
 
 

P.S.  All the best in the New Year, Anderson. 
 
Posted at 06:01 PM in Books, Television, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Technorati Tags: Anderson Cooper, Harvard University Press, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s resolutions, One-Way Street, Stephen King, Tom Levin, Walter Benjamin

  

12/29/09  My first brush with Stephen King

Having said that (cf. my post from earlier today), I did break down and read a few of the posts in my inbox promising to make me a better blogger in 2010, and actually found a list that made some sense.  I’m pasting it below for my own reference as well as for readers who might find it of interest.  You can find it at http://www.howtomakemyblog.com/book-review-13-blogging-lessons-learned-from-stephen-kings-on-writing/ I’m thinking of revising my avoid-reading-Stephen-King-at-all-cost in light of what follows.

13 blogging lessons learned from Stephen King’s On Writing

 Stephen King’s book On Writing is a very good read. It is targeted towards writers and wanna-be writers, but it is a very inspiring book for anyone.

As bloggers are writers, this book can teach you several lessons and can inspire you in your blogging. Here are the 13 lessons I have picked up from reading Stephen King’s On Writing.

  • Just start it. Whatever you plan or wish to do, just start doing it. Take the first step. Start chasing your dream. When you’re brave enough to start, you will be able to succeed and you will make it happen.
  • Follow your passion. No matter what people say, always do what you like to do. Stephen King’s family, teachers etc all said that he was wasting his time writing, but he kept going on as he believed in it himself.
  • Do it for joy. If there is no joy in it, it’s just no good. Writing is not about making money, getting famous, or making friends. Writing blog posts should be inspired play and it should not feel like work. When you do it for joy, you can do it forever, no matter what.
  • Stick to it. Never give up on your dream. No matter how hard it seems. Good writing is the result of thousands of hours that the writer has spent composing and the tens of thousands of hours spent reading compositions of others.
  • Don’t be afraid of rejection. Is nobody reading your blog yet? If you really enjoy it, it shouldn’t matter to you. Just keep working on producing new material and work on winning blog readers one by one.
  • Find your own writing space. When writing, get rid of the whole world. Find your own writing space, close the door and concentrate. Eliminate all the distractions. Turn off the TV. It will improve the quality of your life, save you a lot of time which you can spend on working on your passion.
  • Make it unique. Blend in your own personal knowledge in your writing. What you know makes you unique. You have your own thoughts, interests and concerns. Be brave and tell people what you think and what you know.
  • Make your writing reader-friendly. Just by looking at the text you can see if it is going to be easy or hard to read it. Easy stuff contains lots of short paragraphs and a lot of white space.
  • Edit yourself. Write a first draft, get away from it for a bit and do something else. Then come back and read it over. Fix the spelling mistakes, and pick up inconsistencies. You need to revise for length. Omit needless words. Cut the bullshit, cut the fluff from your writing. 1st draft – 10% = 2nd draft.
  • You cannot please everyone. You can’t please all the readers all the time, you can’t even please some of the readers all the time, but you should always try to please some of the readers some of the time.
  • Teach yourself. Forget the classes, the lessons, the seminars… you learn your trade best by putting the effort into it and doing it. The most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.
  • Write a lot. Don’t talk about it, just do it. Your time is valuable and you need to understand that the hours you spend talking about writing is time you don’t spend actually doing it.
  • Read a lot. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time or tools to write either. Everything you read has its own lessons. Reading good stuff helps you aim higher and work harder. You see what can be done, and experience different styles. Reading bad stuff helps you recognize bad things and helps you steer clear of them in your own work.

And yes, bloggers are (for the most part) writers.  Nothing more and, importantly, nothing less.

Memo to self:  retrieve Benjamin’s tips for writers for an upcoming post. 

Posted at 09:22 PM in Books, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Technorati Tags: ” blogging, “On Writing, howtomakemyblog.com, reading, Stephen Kind, writing

 

12/28/09  Blogging in the decade to come

Over the last few weeks, my email inbox has been brimming over with posts from other bloggers proffering advice (and flogging books) on how to blog bigger and better in the new year.  The majority of these posts take the form of lists of what to do differently (which undoubtedly includes translating my sometimes cumbersome paragraphs into something more telegraphic).  I confess that, while I have deleted only a few (whose sources I don’t entirely trust), I haven’t been able to bring myself to read the ones that still await my attention.  There are a number of reasons for this, some of them obvious (celebrations, family time, year-end exhaustion).  The less obvious ones would, I think, appear on the radar of the author of a comment on an earlier post of mine, which I reproduce here in grateful acknowledgement of its thoughtfulness and timeliness.

[ ]

Adriana said:

Oh dear, sounds like you have hit on a rather formulaic view of blogging (if you substitute ‘formulaic’ with ‘wrong’ I won’t disagree much in this case). Your blog is your castle – to paraphrase the English phrase. It is your space to deliberate, write, share, rant, shout, or even offend, if you can face the fallout. Interactivity is overrated and over-used. Sharing and collaboration is often a shield used by people who have little original thought or are afraid to be alone. (This applies only to individuals, my criticism of organisations for lack of interaction, sharing and openness is known.) I think blogs like yours are what still keeps me interested in blogging (I started blogging in 2002 and have seen several waves of people arriving to the blogosphere, each bringing their own assumptions, objectives and experiences. Darren Rowse is but one of them.) I am interested in thoughtful writing, longer forms than just a few bits regurgitated by many bloggers. I like to see ideas that would not have seen the light of day, if not for the blog form and the drive of the author/blogger to capture them for their own reasons, not to please some audience. There are as many types of blogs and ways to write them as there are books and writings styles. They share one thing in common – they are expressions of individuals, not of institutions. That to me is revolutionary! They allow us to drive our ‘identity’, as defined by ourselves. This is one of the most valuable things the web has enabled. So if you decide to write only interminable screeds based on your innermost thoughts and notes, that’s fine by me! The good news is that you will get audience that will value your blog exactly for that. There is no point in writing a blog to fit an imaginary audience. Your blog is an expression of things you want to express and the rest of the world can shut up and read. Or ignore at will. Of course, there are a few things you can do to make your blog more visible and discoverable to others. For example, I found you because you linked to my blog in one of your posts and I liked it enough to explore your blog further. I might even subscribe to it. 🙂

And here is an excerpt from my reply to Adriana Lukas:

To have an indication that I can go on writing without the reader in mind, and still garner readers like you, makes a big difference.

This will still hold true in the decade to come.

Posted at 06:18 PM in Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Technorati Tags: Adriana Lukas, blog post, blogging, Darren Rowse, New Year

 

12/26/2009  Twitter’s ReTweet feature prompts a small insurrection

If this is off-da-hook, I’m hanging up….  But rather than resume my sporadic rant, already well-documented on Twitter, I thought it better to share a useful year-end account of the debates surrounding Twitter’s imposition (sorry, implementation) of its “Retweet” feature, and the resistance of users adhering to the consensual RT practice generated by themselves.  The latter, while requiring slightly more effort than a couple of clicks (since when did copy/paste become labour-intensive?), allowed for both off-the-cuff and more thoughtful editorializing and contributed, sometimes significantly, to the ongoing conversations facilitated by Twitter.  http://blog.sxdsalon.org/2009/12/03/rt-vs-retweet/

RT vs. Retweet

Posted on December 3, 2009 by pete

This is a post about “retweeting,” a beautifully evolved and delicate little social dance called that Twitter users invented, and Twitter’s so-called “Retweet” feature, which stomps on it.

In this post, I’ll call the original, organically evolved practice “RT” (as it is usually written in tweets), and Twitter’s confusingly named mis-feature “Retweet” (with uppercase “R”).

Social Relationship

An RT comes from somebody I follow. The reason I follow people on Twitter is because I want to know what they’re thinking and what they want to say. An RT is a way for somebody to repeat (and perhaps change, perhaps not) what somebody else has said, and give them credit for it. But it’s important to me that it’s not just a little bauble they find interesting (that’s what Favorites are for), but that they’re willing to enter it into public record as something they’re willing to repeat, in their voice.

On the other hand, a Retweet comes from somebody I’m not following. Yeah, sure it’s interesting to see new people on Twitter — but I’m deliberate about who I’m following and who I’m not. If I’m not following someone, I don’t want to see them in my timeline. Let me go see who they are and what they’re about, then maybe I’ll follow them. But please, I don’t want random people popping up in my timeline.

Darn it Twitter – “retweet” Meant Something Else!

The original RT practice evolved as a set of social gestures:

  • repeating what someone else said
  • giving someone else credit
  • sometimes giving multiple people credit, in an RT chain
  • editing original sayings to fit in 140 characters after adding the “RT” string and the @-sign attributions
  • editing original sayings to add commentary or change emphasis

Creating a good RT is an editorial, curatorial and social process. Should I give someone credit, or not? How many people should I give credit? Should I edit it to punch it up, or add emphasis?

Seeing someone else take my tweets and add and shape them makes me feel good. It’s an act of love and co-creation. The RT practice works the way people have talked and chatted with each other, about each other, since people became human and started talking.

Even seeing somebody retweet something poorly — missing an attribution, or editing badly — was a meaningful social gesture. Did they just not know the conventions? In that case, it’s a great opportunity to be social with them and help them out. Are they just mean-spirited, and they don’t really care about other people? Bad retweeters could communicate that, as well.

On the other hand, a Retweet is a simple, mechanical indication that someone liked something. It’s wonderful that social media systems like Flickr, Delicious and Facebook allow you to see what other people think is interesting, with “Like” and “Favorite” affordances — they’re great mechanisms for discovery. Slashdot and Digg are entire services built just on that concept. And of course, Twitter itself has a Favorite feature that they haven’t really exposed as well as they could have for readers.

I don’t have any problem with the Like/Favorite affordances. But @Twitter, for shame — why would you name your Like feature “Retweet,” and completely confuse the wonderful social practices that had evolved so beautifully on your service?

But I Just Want to Share Interesting Tweets Easily

It was a little bit of work to make a regular RT with the standard tools — cutting, pasting, making sure you got the attribution correctly. But third-party Twitter clients and Twitter add-ons like Greasemonkey scripts included easy single-click RT features, which went along with the original social practice, and didn’t break it like the Retweet feature did.

Ease of use doesn’t explain why the new Retweet feature breaks all the sociality of the old RT convention.

Business Model; Relevance and Ranking

I would guess that at least some of the motivation behind Twitter’s implementation of the Retweet feature is that they think it will be good for their business. When everybody is using an automated mechanism, Twitter can tell just by counting button clicks what’s being repeated most often. It automatically aggregates popularity, which of course has some relation to relevance.

I don’t have any problem with Twitter counting popularity of tweets. But again, they should use a Like function, or their Favorite function, for that, instead of bastardizing retweets.

References and Further Discussion

The discussion around the Retweet mis-feature has been ongoing for months. Here are some pointers to other voices.

#saveretweets

Some representative tweets from the last month or so that were posted under the #saveretweets hashtag.

RenVonVit – RT @RayBeckerman: I strongly urge my friends who RT NOT to use the Twitter pseudo-retweet button. #saveretweets
RickyMaveety – @RayBeckerman I saw that feedback request. I gave them feedback. They won’t like it, but I told them the truth. #saveretweets
lacouvee – @dingbatkaren nothing to YAY about!! They just don’t get it #saveretweets
TomRaftery – @franksting Well, it is by a ZenDesk webform. Tbh, I don’t care how it is received, as long as Twitter fix the RTs #saveretweets
eviltofu – RT @ctham: @GrowlyBear I’d rather it does not. I’d rather copy-n-paste entire tweets than use the new RT button. #saveretweets
erika613 – RT @queerunity RT @RayBeckerman Don’t use Twitter’s version of the “retweet” http://is.gd/59hDD #saveretweets
kootenayrev – @buzzbishop So do. Many are boycotting the new RT and just sticking to the old way of RTing. #saveretweets http://bit.ly/Bg75c
triumph68 – @LesbianDad If you want to add comment or alter orig tweet at all (+some other things), use orig “RT” format not the button. #saveretweets
pkieltyka – RT @mhp: Please #SaveReTweets and do away the unwanted implementation RT @jack: Anyone know how to turn off the auto RT function in Twe …
jimrhiz – Twitter clients should keep original retweet mechanisms as well as canned uncommentable version #SaveReTweets @echofon
JulieDeYoung – Thanks, I agree: RT @RayBeckerman What to do with Twitter’s pseudo-retweet button: ignore it http://twurl.nl/jakme5 #saveretweets
RayBeckerman – #saveretweets RT @Kcecelia Continue to:not use new RT,vocally object,provide objections to techies such as,e.g, @davewiner to note/pass on.
RayBeckerman – Twitter tip:Don’t use so-called “retweet” button on Twitter’s web site http://is.gd/4YRfB #twitterfail #saveretweets
cjoehl – RT @Strwbrry_Blonde IT HAPPENED. retweet feature pushed @michellemalkin into my feed. I AM UNFOLLOWING YOU ALL. #saveretweets #p2
CloudK9 – Agree! Using “Genuine Retweet” for this! RT @Andjelija Dear @twitter please #saveretweets. I’m not liking the new system AT ALL. Sorry ;-(
sarachapman – removing comments on twitter’s new retweet function is a joke- whole point of a RT is you’re reacting to something you’ve read #saveretweets
Nanmac3109 – AGAIN, I do not like the new retweet function. I don’t like for ppl to appear on my timeline who I do not follow. grrrrrrr #saveretweets
AmishPhoneBook – RT @NYT_JenPreston When I see all the smart things our readers say, I hope no one ever uses new RT feature. #saveretweets
JessicaPuchala – #saveretweets !!- seriously! — RT @Twitter_Tips: New Twitter RT’s Don’t Get The “Social” In “Social” Media: http://j.mp/2dMiW9
alison99 – Agree 100% RT @LisaBarone: Why Twitter’s New Retweet Feature Sucks http://tinyurl.com/ybs2mft #justsayin #saveretweets
davechapman – @Twitter_Tips I hate that you use the new-style RT so much. My feed is a mess now! I’m gonna unfollow you unless you stop #saveretweets
Makurrah – RT @kootenayrev: Thinking of un-following anyone who uses the new RT feature. A wretched feature. #saveretweets http://bit.ly/Bg75c
sookieverseblog – Hate it. Hate it. HATE. IT. #SaveReTweets
ElVeiga – RT @davechapman: @twitter @ev wanted to let you know I really don’t like the new retweet feature. please reconsider it #saveretweets
jmcesteves – Rerepeating 🙂 RT @plasticmadness I hate to repeat myself, and I hate the word hate, but I hate you damn new RT ways! Grrrr… #saveretweets
denvan – @brandexpression Re. New RT a joke. Nope: I’ve got a growing list of 10+ anti-RT blogs: http://tinyurl.com/yfkega8 #saveretweets
kootenayrev – Thinking of un-following anyone who uses the new RT feature. A wretched feature. #saveretweets http://bit.ly/Bg75c
Makurrah – @HowardKurtz #SaveReTweets and check my new blog post on ” Resistance or Collaboration: How will you ReTweet? http://bit.ly/4j76mO
Stargirlie713 – RT @Shoq: #DieProjectRetweetDie #DieProjectRetweetDie #DieProjectRetweetDie #DieProjectRetweetDie http://bit.ly/z2bYr #saveretweets
AmishPhoneBook – RT @rochtrev: RT @several_ RT @PkaPk: Me 2. RT @bytesize23b: @twitter I oppose new RT feature.I wnt 2 C names of ALL who RT. #SaveReTweets
phoenix_drums – I like MC Hammer as much as the next person, but I don’t recall following the dude. #saveretweets
AmishPhoneBook – RT @rrcarter: @TheDLC I also HATE the retweet function! It’s crappy. Go here to sign a petition against it: http://act.ly/er #SaveRetweets
snugglezz – RT @RayBeckerman: RT @mlharr i noticed w/ the RT button we cannot comment anymore 😦 #sad #twitter @ev @twitter #saveretweets #twitterfail
andrewmueller – @DenVan Worse than that they are saying “we know what is best for users” That said, it may be best for their bus model #SaveRetweets
Just_Vampires – Congrats @twitter – the dumb beta RTs ensure I shall no longer tweet via the web interface. Here’s to tweetdeck and echofon #saveretweets
mireyamayor – Isn’t the personalization what makes you stand out in social media? Why take this critical feature away? @RayBeckerman #saveretweets @ev
RayBeckerman – RT @musingvirtual: RT @GraceMcDunnough Twitter Tries To Change Retweets, Doesn’t Get The Social In Social Media #SaveRetweets
RayBeckerman – RT @MissShuganah: Too bad @ev and @twitter have no competition. Then they wouldn’t be so cavalier about community. #saveretweets Pls RT
OscarB – Ok, the new official RT system is a #BIG #FAIL #saveretweets
tamaracharmed – lLOL! RT @dbugliari: Came home to @Alyssa_milano dressed in black. Apparently, she’s mourning the loss of retweet’s integrity. #saveretweets
Latimore – RT @Jason_Pollock: #SaveRetweets: I think since Twitter is ruining RTs that many will just stop RTing as much since the new feature is s …
Stwo – RT @andrewmueller: @twitter who did U talk to when determining how2implement the new RT function,it certainly wasn’t UR users! #SaveRetweets
reeph – #SaveRetweets @Jason_Pollock I hate the new RT. I don’t like emphasis on the original poster’s handle. Plus, let me edit freely!

Posted at 09:54 AM in Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Technorati Tags: business model, Delicious, Digg, Facebook, Flickr, ranking, relevance, retweet, RT, Slashdot, sxdsalon.org, tweets, Twitter

 

12/25/2009  RIP Lt. Andrew Nuttall, soldier and blogger

Pasted below is the final post on the blog kept by Lt. Andrew Nuttall ofthe Canadian Forces, who, together with his ANA partner, lost his life to an IED a few days ago. 

Update from Afghanistan 4  December 1st, 2009 Posted in Military, Personal/Website| No Comments » (I’ve put some more pictures up on flickr!)  Hi all!  In order to be as open as I can i’m now going to post these updates on my website, although I am going to have to be a bit less specific, but i promise it won’t take away from the story. As well I’m posting some new pictures with this update so it should be a good one! The last I left you was saying I was moving to a new house with no internet. Well many things have changed, yet many things stay the same. The new place was working out excellently for us, and a platoon of ANA (afghan national army) which we started to work with very closely. We spent many long days fixing and improving our compound, as well as the typical patroling around our AO. The situation around this new home was much more tense and fragile than our last, the last time the locals saw any uniformed troops was some americans who ran through the place guns blazing. As such they were quite wary, and so were we because of the high amount of insurgent presense we were expecting. Either way though during all of the days we’ve spent there nothing kinetic (aka fighting) has gone on, and that is relatively typical of the situation here. On one side the people are frightened, impoverished, and seek nothing but safety and prosperity for their families. On the other side is a very small subset of a combination of extreme Salafist muslims (aka seeking to impose an extremist version of islam on the entire world), anti-western mercenaries, and misguided brainwashed (generally) youths that utilize cowardice hit-and-run and ied tactics in order to sway the civilain population of afghanistan and north america to pull their troops out. Then there is us in the middle, an array of nations trying to combine our traditionally conventional forces and conduct combined operations with the young but capable ANA (and young but immature Afghan National Police, ANP), in a barren country with many more needs than just militaristic. Complicated, yes, confusing, only a bit, frustrating, unfortunatly too much. But back to my situation, I spent my first bit of time there talking a lot to the locals together with the ANA. One of our biggest force multipliers is the combined arms team we’ve got working together, the CIMIC people (aka reconstruction and projects), PSYOPS (aka local messaging), engineers, armoured people, and the afghan government (ANA and ANP). Together we can really do some good, when the people are on board. Sometimes the people aren’t as what was happening with me, either their frightened or don’t realize what we can do and it takes time to convince them through actions that we are there to stay and not gone with the next change in winds. So as I was beginning to make some heady with the locals and get more information/weapon and ied caches and such, the platoon recieved another surprise. We had to move another time! Now usually moving around is no big deal, but it definetly throws a wrench into the plans (plus we’ve got to fit in our foosball table!). Either way we found ourselves moving not too far down the road, which works out well as the new place is close to the village we’re trying to improve and is more comfortable. I tried to include as many pictures of the place we’re in now, most of the troops live in the mud hut, while the hq staff is outside in the tent. The mud hut themselves are only a bit dusty (and mouse infested), but are really warm at night and cooler during the day (perfect for afghanistan weather). Plus we’re slowly building up some other nice morale boosting amenities, warm water for showers, a dvd player, a gym with actual weights (instead of sandbags), and of course we’ve got the foosball table and dart board plus many board games. The longer we stay here the better it gets.The other big event that happened was Eid. Its the muslim version of christmas, all of the locals will go home with their families and cook big meals. I had the lucky chance to be at 2 different Eid dinner celebrations with the ANA, where we butchered some local goat and sheep, boiled it in a curry like water, and had it with the best tasting basil i’ve had, of course lots of rice, and huge pomogranetes for desert. Wow it was so delicious, and so much food we all were stuffed! (Though i missed out on the heart and liver soup, and brain pate. Apperently it was delicious, i wanted to try).  After the first Eid meal there was a big dance party, the ANA put on a very scratchy speaker with the usual shrieky arab music. That is when the night started getting a bit gay, you could see that some of the ANA probably joined for the booty, luckily i had to run to attend to the radio. On the second Eid dinner afterwards we sat around and talked for almost 2 hours, it actually was fun sharing stories and jokes. Another big (ish) piece of news that some of you may know already, but my tour is being extended over here. Since canada seems determined to pull out at the end of 2011, their going to extend the last three tours, starting with mine. The effect they’ve told us is only a 3 week extension. But from what I can infer, the effect it will have on me will turn my 6 month tour into almost 8 months. Since I have to be the first one in and last one out, I’m guessing i’ll be back sometime mid June (though thats a total guess now). All of us here (including me) are not worried about this extention. We all believe in what we’re doing and an extra few weeks isn’t going to hurt anyone in the long run (as long as we maintain our vigilance of course). Plus if I end up getting home then, i’ll get to celebrate my b-day with lots of friends and family. Also loop my post-deployment leave into summer leave and get my vacation mustache growing! Heh, but that is waay far away and i’m really not thinking of that. I tend to look about 72hrs to a week out, keeps me from getting distracted.

Well, i’m off back to the command post to get back to the battle. I can’t believe that its almost December, feels like time is flying! Though its getting really cold now. The nights and morning it might even be 0 and even during the middle of the day its not super intense hot (though still those of us not on mission will try to get some rays on our pasty white farmer-tans). There’s even been a couple big rain and thunderstorms, very surprising as they came up really fast, though don’t usually last long (max an hour), and its nice to wet the ground and get the dust down. Though after we see lots of local activity as they will get out and tend to their crops because water is definetly a scarce commodity that these people are very efficient users of.

Thank you very much everyone for your emails and care packages! I will do my absolute best to answer every message, and every package recieved feels like christmas! (Actually my first happy day here was when i got a nice care package from a grandmother in greenwood, ns. A random one i definetly was not expecting, but definetly a huge lift of the spirits).  Keep sending me updates of all of the great times you will have in the winter. I hear that the west coast is getting an early snow, thats fantastic, wish i could be the for the snowboarding! Please all stay healthy and live everything to the fullest!!

Much love to all,

andrew

Posted at 04:38 PM in Current Affairs, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (2) Technorati Tags: Afghanistan, Canadian Forces, IED, Lt. Andrew Nuttall

 

12/18/2009  A question for Clay Shirky

This, as it turns out, is my first mobile posting, punched into my trusty BB as I wait in a cafe for my kid and her friend to exit the nearby cinema.
I’ve just re-read Clay Shirky’s “A Speculative Post on the Idea of Algorithmic Authority” for the fourth time – in hard copy, of course. Two colours of highlighter compete with scribbled marginalia at this point. Having already pasted up the OED definitions of “algorithm” and “authority” in an earlier post (when in doubt, adhere to etymology and historical usage), and reviewed what are in fact fairly tight arguments in what Clay terms a “placeholder” for a full-fledged formulation (would that still be speculative?), I find myself wanting to ask one question, fmi.
In what I take to be a key paragraph, Clay writes:
“There’s a spectrum of authority from ‘Good enough to settle a bar bet’ to ‘Evidence to include in a dissertation defense,’ and most uses of algorithmic authority right now cluster around the inebriated end of that spectrum, but the important thing is that it is a spectrum, that algorithmic authority is on it, and that current forces seem set to push it further up the spectrum to an increasing number and variety of groups that regard these kinds of sources as authoritative.”

So Clay, what forces do you have in mind? Some seem obvious, but others perhaps less so. And as I wrote the other day, this seems like front-burner stuff in the context of the “content farming” discussion.

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

via makurrah.posterous.com

Posted at 03:43 PM in Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) 

Technorati Tags: algorithmic authority, Blackberry, Clay Shirky, content farming, OED, posterous 

12/16/2009  “Algorithmic authority”:  Keeping up with Clay Shirky

I’m feeling an urge to contribute something by way of a gloss on or supplement to Clay Shirky’s “Speculative Post on the Idea of Algorithmic Authority” (http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/11/a-speculative-post-on-the-idea-of-algorithmic-authority.html )  I’ve been thinking about it off and on for a couple of weeks now, and more intensively since my encounter with the flurry of posts on the menace of “content farming” (cf “‘Content farms’?  Can we parse this before we start to worry?”, posted yesterday).  Clay’s “rough and ready” idea is summarized in the final words of his speculative post:  “algorithmic authority handles the ‘Garbage In, Garbage Out’ problem by accepting the garbage as an input, rather than trying to clean the data first; it provides the output to the end user without any human supervisor checking it at the penultimate step; and these processes are eroding the previous institutional monopoly on the kind of authority we are used to in a number of public spheres, including the sphere of news.”

Clay is clearly (obviously and with lucidity) working through the crux of the problematics that, to my mind, are obscured by the language of “content farming.”  In an effort to follow in his footsteps (no easy task, I recognize) and earn for myself the insights he is making available to others, I decided to resort to an established authority whose basis is not, on the face of it, algorithmic – a source I have never failed to find productive in some way.  Thankfully, one can now access the Oxford English Dictionary without having to go to the reference room of the nearest library, or to use the handy magnifying glass to read the miniscule print of the compact edition, less legible with each passing year.

With the online version it’s as simple as copy and paste.  I wanted to check the definitions of “algorithm” independently of Clay’s work in any case, since my 11-year-old daughter asked me about it a couple of weeks ago, and I wasn’t entirely confident of my reply. (They’re doing algebra in grade 6 – it’s not long now till I will  be unqualified to help with math homework.  Hallelujah.)

GeneticAlgorithmOut

Herewith the OED definitions, with my highlighting for future reference:

1. = ALGORISM 1a.

1699 Phil. Trans. XXI. 263 The Algorithm or Numeral Figures now in use. 1774 T. WARTON Hist. Eng. Poetry III. 46 The first who brought the algorithm from the Saracens. 1852 R. GRANT Hist. Phys. Astron. Introd. 9 The ingenious algorithm of the Indians.

2.Math. A process, or set of rules, usually one expressed in algebraic notation, now used esp. in computing, machine translation and linguistics.

1938 HARDY & WRIGHT Introd. Theory of Numbers x. 135 The system of equations..is known as Euclid’s algorithm. 1960 E. DELAVENAY Introd. Machine Transl. 129 Algorithm or algorism.., used by computer programmers to designate the numerical or algebraic notations which express a given sequence of computer operations, define a programme or routine conceived to solve a given type of problem. 1964 F. L. WESTWATERElectronic Computers ix. 146 An Algorithm is a set of rules for performing a calculation. 1966 OWEN & ROSS tr. Revzin’s Models of Lang. ii. 22 A..more convenient way of arranging the phonemes is suggested. It is given by an instruction (an ‘algorithm’) consisting of six points.

3. Med. A step-by-step procedure for reaching a clinical decision or diagnosis, often set out in the form of a flow chart, in which the answer to each question determines the next question to be asked.

[1968 L. B. LUSTED Introd. Med. Decision Making iii. 70 Two..[studies] show that an algorithm in terms of a computer program can be developed for a computer based medical history system.] 1970 Scottish Med. Jrnl. XV. 378 (heading) Flow charts, diagnostic keys and algorithms in the diagnosis of dysphagia. 1985 Brit. Med. Jrnl. 23 Mar. 916/1 The algorithm illustrates the steps towards establishing a functional and aetiological diagnosis.
 
 
 In the spirit of due diligence I thought I’d go ahead and check on the definitions of “authority” as well.
 

  I.Power to enforce obedience.

1. a. Power or right to enforce obedience; moral or legal supremacy; the right to command, or give an ultimate decision.

1393 GOWER Conf. I. 257 The pope..Of his papall auctorite Hath made and yove the decre. 1480 CAXTON Chron. Eng. III. (1520) 20/1 They chose another man the whiche sholde have more auctoryte..and they called hym dictator. 1590 Harl. Misc. (Malh.) II. 176 He hath aucthoritie over all kinges and princes. 1598 BARRET Theor. Warres IV. iv. 113 Their Colours..represent the authoritie Royall. 1603 SHAKES. Meas. for M. II. ii. 118 Proud man, Drest in a little briefe authoritie,..Plaies such phantastique tricks before high heauen, As makes the Angels weepe. 1665 BOYLE Occas. Refl. IV. xi. (1675) 233, I allow lawful Authority a Jurisdiction over my Actions, that I deny it over my Opinions. a1680 BUTLER Rem. (1759) I. 251 Authority is a Disease and Cure, Which Men can neither want, nor well endure. 1872 RUSKIN Eagle’s Nest §94 If ever you find yourselves set in positions of authority.

b.in authority: in a position of power; in possession of power over others.

c1460 FORTESCUE Abs. & Lim. Mon. (1714) 108 Men that were in grete Auctorite. 1551-6 ROBINSON tr. More’s Utop. 15 Nowe placed in aucthorytye and called to honoure. 1611 BIBLE Prov. xxix. 2 When the righteous are in authoritie, the people rejoyce. 1722 SEWEL tr. Hist. Quakers (1795) I. Pref. 12 Speaking to persons in authority. 1878 HOPPS Jesus x. 36 The people in authority..would try to stop him.

2. a. Derived or delegated power; conferred right or title; authorization.
  (The relation to sense 1 is seen in ‘by the (king’s) authority, by authority of the King.’)

c1375 WYCLIF Serm. Sel. Wks. 1869 I. 56 Reprovede him sharpli bi autorite of God. c1400 Apol. Loll. 8 If he pronounce wi{th}out autorite..a{ygh}ennis {th}e lordis wille. 1483 RICH. III in Ellis Orig. Lett. II. 49 I. 153 Upon auctorite or commission yeven unto him. 1535 COVERDALE Mark xi. 28 By what auctorite dost thou these things, and who gaue the this auctorite. 1790 BURKE Fr. Rev. 6 To open a formal public correspondence..without the express authority of the government under which I live. 1831 CARLYLE Sart. Res. III. vii, He carries in him an authority from God.

b. with inf. Conferred right to do something.

1535 COVERDALE Ezra vii. 24 Ye shall haue no auctorite to requyre taxinge & custome. 1559 BP. SCOT in Strype Ann. Ref. I. App. vii. 13 By commission from him, prestes hathe aucthorytie to forgyve sin. 1719 YOUNG Revenge IV. i, Am I not your wife? Have I not just authority to know That heart? 1855 PRESCOTT Philip II Pref. 8, I also obtained the authority of Prince Metternich to inspect the Archives of the Empire. 1858 LD. ST. LEONARDS Handy-bk. Prop. Law IV. 20 The authority to sell does not include a power to receive the purchase-money.

3. Those in authority; the body or persons exercising power or command. (Formerly in sing. = Government; a Local Sanitary Authority or similar body is also spoken of as ‘the authority.’)

1611 BIBLE 1 Pet. iii. 22 Angels, and authorities, and powers being made subject vnto him. 1652 NEEDHAM tr. Selden’s Mare Cl. Ep. Ded. 1 The Supreme Autoritie of the Nation, the Parlament of the Common-wealth of England. 1682 LUTTRELL Brief Rel. I. 233 Authority has thought fitt..to prosecute the offenders for the same. 1760 T. HUTCHINSON Hist. Coll. Mass. Bay iii. (1765) 395 The authority treated him kindly, and sent him home. 1833 I. TAYLOR Fanat. x. 456 The conduct of the authorities. 1859 MILL Liberty 172 It is a proper office of public authority to guard against accidents. 1865 LIVINGSTONE Zambesi xx. 403 The Mozambique authorities. 1870 Statutes V (Tramways Act) 491 Orders authorising the construction of tramways..may be obtained by (1) The local authority of such district. 1880 Sat. Rev. 25 Dec. 809 The actual authorities of the Post Office. 1909 Westm. Gaz. 8 Sept. 2/3 The Port of London Authority is a thoroughly practical body of men. 1951 Good Housek. Home Encycl. 189/2 It is usually possible to obtain the free services of one through the local Health Authority.

II. Power to influence action, opinion, belief.

4. Power to influence the conduct and actions of others; personal or practical influence.

c1410 HOCCLEVE Mother of God 92 Syn thou art of swich auctoritee Lady pitious. c1449 PECOCK Repr. V. ix. 531 Hi{ygh}e in wisdom and in auctorite and in fame. 1542 BRINKLOW Complaynt i. (1874) 7 Them which beare any auctoryte..in the cowncel or Parlament. 1673 Lady’s Call. I. i §20 Such an autority there is in vertue, that where ’tis eminent, ’tis apt to controle all loose desires. 1705 ADDISON Italy Ded., With your Lordship’s Interest and Authority in England. 1792 Anecd. W. Pitt III. xliv. 202 It is your duty, my Lords, as the grand hereditary council of the nation..to feel your own weight and authority. 1818-60 WHATELYCommonpl. Bk. (1864) 125 The person, body, or book, in favour of whose decisions there is a certain presumption, is said to have, so far, authority.

5. Power over, or title to influence, the opinions of others; authoritative opinion; weight of judgement or opinion, intellectual influence.

c1386 CHAUCER Sqr.’s T. 474 Preued..As wel by werk as by Auctoritee. 1481 CAXTON Myrr. III. xii. 160 Good clerkes..of grete auctoryte. a1677 BARROW Serm. (1683) II. viii. 119 The auctority of the ancients doth more prevail with me. 1724 A. COLLINS Gr. Chr. Relig. Pref. 18 Is there anything that..stifles the light of truth, but autority? 1794 SULLIVAN View Nat. II. 231 The proper way of reasoning from authority, that what seems true to some wise men, may upon that account be esteemed somewhat probable. 1865 MILL Liberty ii. 21/2 He is either led by authority, or adopts..the side to which he feels most inclination.

6. Power to inspire belief, title to be believed; authoritative statement; weight of testimony. Sometimes weakened to: Authorship, testimony.

1303 R. BRUNNE Handl. Synne 1239 Seynt Poule {th}at sagh Goddys pryvyte, He sey{th} yn hys autoryte A feyre wurd vs for to save. 1494 FABYAN I. i. 8 Therof is founde lytell auctoryte. 1586 THYNNE in Animadv. Introd. 73 Untill I may see good authoritie to disproove it. 1710 PRIDEAUX Orig. Tithes v. 253, I deny not Ingulph’s autority to be good, but for his Copy there is his autority only. 1875 SCRIVENER Lect. Grk. Test. 12, I have been recently informed on excellent authority. a1885 Mod. Do not accept news on the authority of the evening papers.

7. The quotation or book acknowledged, or alleged, to settle a question of opinion or give conclusive testimony.

c1230 Ancr. R. 78 {Th}en ilke autorite, {th}et..schal beon vre strenc{edh}e..a{ygh}ein {th}es deofles turnes. c1386 CHAUCER Friar’s Prol. 12 Lete auctorités, in Goddes name, To preching and to scoles of clergie. a1535 MORE Confut. Barnes VIII. Wks. 770/2 Hys fyrst authorite be these words of saynte Austyne in hys fyftieth sermon. 1608 SHAKES. Per. III. ii. 33 By turning o’er authorities. 1706 POPE Lett. Wks. 1736 V. 55 To corroborate these observations by some great authorities..in Tully and Quintilian. 1876 GREEN Short Hist. Pref. 6 Giving in detail the authorities for every statement.

8. a. The person whose opinion or testimony is accepted; the author of an accepted statement. b. One whose opinion on or upon a subject is entitled to be accepted; an expert in any question.

1665 GLANVILL Sceps. Sci. 77 To confront such celebrated Authorities. 1855 PRESCOTT Philip II, I. II. vi. 210 Historians in a season of faction are not the best authorities. 1860 R. WILLIAMS Ess. & Rev. 59 Egyptian authorities continue the reign of Menephthah later. 1867 A. J. ELLIS E.E. Pronunc. I. iii. 65 Wallis is the great authority for the fully developed pronunciation of the XVIIth century. 1871 BLACKIE Four Phases i. 1 A great utilitarian authority. a1885 Mod. Who, may I ask, is your authority for the statement? A. B. He is no authority!

9. Comb., as authority-maker.

1678 CUDWORTH Intell. Syst. I. v. 893 These justice-makers and authority-makers pretend to derive their factitious justice from Pacts and Covenants.
 
 
It turns out that “authority” is also a keyword in the OED’s definition of “consensus.”  More on this as time allows.
 
[cf Clay’s response to my subsequent question to him on kommons.com]
 
 
 
12/15/2009  “Content farms”? Can we parse this before we start to worry?

Yesterday I retweeted (the user-generated way, which allowed me to editorialize “Nightmarish”) the rww Sunday Editorial “Content Farms:  Why Media, Blogs & Google Should Be Worried”  (http://bit.ly/68LAmv ).  The fact that I follow Richard MacManus (author of the editorial) and Co. on Twitter demonstrates that I take them to be authorities of sorts, such that, if they are worried, perhaps I should be as well (though the last thing I need is more anxiety in my life). 

So I did a bit of homework on this pending threat to my relative tranquility as a blogger, and read a cluster of recent posts around the question of “content farming”:  Michael Arrington’s “The End of Hand Crafted Content” (http://techcrunch.com/2009/12/13/the-end-of-hand-crafted-content/ ); “Why Social Beats Search” by A VC (http://www.avc.com/a-vc/2009/12/why-social-beats-search.html.); “The Revolution Will Not Be Intermediated” on Doc Searls’ Weblog (http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/doc/2009/12/13/the-revolution-will-not-be-intermediated/ ) – all of these posted on December 13, 2009.

Along the way, I realized a couple of things.  First, my anxious response to the notion of “content farms” was based in part on some unconscious association with cruelty to animals, and especially to horses (e.g. the invidious “PMU farms” where mares are relentlessly exploited to produce estrogen-based products for women).  But more importantly, my trouble has been with the word “content” in this context, and the slippery imprecision of its usage with reference to the Web.  In rww’s editorial, for example, Richard MacManus writes that “companies like Demand Media and Answers.com…create thousands of pieces of content per day.”  I get what he’s talking about, but I also get the beginnings of a headache.

Pmu mares

And what “really scares” Michael Arrington?  “It’s the use of fast food content that will surely, over time, destroy the mom and pop operations that handcraft their content today.  It’s the rise of cheap, disposable content on a mass scale, fed to us by the portals and search engines.” I guess I resist the image of me (or any blogger I respect) with jaws wired open, ingesting whatever is coming down the pipeline.

Doc Searls’ post of 12/13 came closest to making sense on this matter.  “…I’ve been hand-crafting (actually just typing) my “content” for about twenty years now, and I haven’t been destroyed by a damn thing.  I kinda don’t think FFC is going to shut down serious writers (no matter where and how they write) any more than McDonalds killed the market for serious chefs….  Nothing with real value is dead, so long as it can be found on the Web and there are links to it.  Humans are the ones with hands.  Not intermediaries.  Not AOL, or TechCrunch, or HuffPo, or Google or the New York Freaking Times.  The Net is the means to our ends, not The Media…. The Net and the Web liberate individuals.  They welcome intermediators, but do not require them…. what matters most is what each of us as individuals bring to the Net’s table.  Not the freight system that helps us bring it there, no matter how established or disruptive that system is….  We seem to think that progress on the Net is the work of “brands” creating and disrupting and doing other cool stuff.  Those may help, but what matters most is what each of us does better than anybody or anything else.  The term “content” insults the nature of that work.  And of its sources.”  [emphasis added]

Finally, a kindred view on the debased usage of “content” in this discussion, and more broadly in relation to the Web.  I underscored above the instance where the word marks a link to a much earlier post on Searls’ blog, entitled “The personal platform” and dated January 31, 2008 (http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/doc/2008/01/31/the-personal-platform/ )  It seems that the figure or model of “content” has been troubling Searls for some time:  “Until I read this piece by Adriana Lukas this morning I hadn’t fully realized how the ubiquitous use of the word content, which I’ve griped about for years (and which Adriana quotes), frames our understanding of markets, and media, in ways that place presumed control in the hands of “providers” other than ourselves.  Even  UGC – “User Generated Content” – is not seen as ours, but as freight for media companies to forward for their own purposes.  As John Perry Barlow put it a few years back, “I didn’t start hearing about ‘content’ until the container business felt threatened.'”

He provides a link to a post by Adriana Lukas for mediainfluencer under the title “Content is for container cargo business” (http://www.mediainfluencer.net/2008/01/content-is-for-container-cargo=business/ ), which in turn begins with two citations from Doc Searls on “content.”

Doc Searls on Content in 2005:  “The word content connotes substance.  It’s a material that can be made, shaped, bought, sold, shipped, stored and combined with other material.  “Content” is less human than “information” and less technical than “data,” and more handy than either.  Like “solution” or the blank tiles in Scrabble, you can use it anywhere, though it adds no other value.

And again in 2007:  “Stop calling everything “content.”  It’s a bullshit word that the dot-commers started using back in the ’90s as a wrapper for everything that could be digitized and put online.  It’s handy, but it masks and insults the true natures of writing, journalism, photography, and the rest of what we still, blessedly (if adjectivally) call “editorial.”  Your job is journalism, not container cargo.”

As Searls belatedly notes on his own post of 2008, “But rather than gripe some more, Adriana offers a useful way of framing the full worth of individuals, the creative goods they produce, and what they bring to both social and business relationships:  the concept of the person as the platform:

Content is media industry term.  The number of people talking about content grows every day as they assume roles that before only media could perform.  With more tools and ways of distributing, photos, videos, writings, cartoons etc. are being ‘liberated’ from the channel world.  Alas, often sliding into the platform and silo world.  As far as I am concerned there are only two platforms – the individual user and the web.

Years later, in light of the purported menace of “content farms” coming soon to a search engine near you, this might ring a bit naive, or utopian.  But at least Searls and Lukas reflect upon and resist the ways in which “content” has become radically debased coinage.  With its value so diminished before the fact, it’s harder to worry about what little is left.

Posted at 12:52 PM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink
 
 
12/14/2009  Chris Brogan v Makurrah on the language of blogging, part 2
  
It occurs to me that I might borrow a technique, and the language that makes it work, from someone I just began to follow on Twitter yesterday.  @danielbachhuber sent the following tweet on December 13:  “Two pieces, loosely joined: @jayrosen_nyu’s explainthis.org and standard fare at the @guardiannews.  http://db.ly/71  The link is to a post on his blog, one that I recommend as (to quote him) “an entry point for deeper learning” about the possibilities inscribed in Jay Rosen’s conceptual framework for explainthis.org.  For now I will simply borrow the “loosely joined” structure or relationship to tie today’s post to yesterday’s, which was on Chris Brogan’s advice to bloggers to keep their words small and their language simple.

What I want to pass along today is something like the flip side of Chris’ case (or just another piece of some greater question).  My source here is an article by Erin Anderssen for the Globe and Mail, published Saturday December 12 in the F (for “Focus”) section of the paper, and online at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/technology/gr8-news-were-entering-a-new-era-of-literacy/article13977421/

Under the title “GR8 news:  We’re entering a new era of literacy,” Anderssen reports on received wisdom about the dumbing-down of the English language, but also on the research of a number of academics across several disciplines that cuts against it.  Here are some of her findings.

Ever since the send button clicked on that first sloppy e-mail, digital technology has been accused of ruining the quality of writing.  Describing the fate that awaited prose in a world overrun by texting, John Sutherland, emeritus professor of modern English literature at University College, London, made a dire pronouncement:  Texters, he wrote in a column in the Daily Mail, are the ‘Genghis Khans’ of the written word, ‘pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences; raping our vocabulary.  And they must be stopped.

Clearly, Prof. Sutherland is no fan of the shorthand texters use – GOYHH, they might snipe back at the language scholar (as in, Get Off Your High Horse) – but more than a few worried academics share his gloomy prognosis, suggesting that literature, as we know it, is doomed by pulpy Web-based pose [sic] and careless punctuation….

But take heart, dear scholars. A new study from California’s Stanford University has produced some reassuring news:  Young people may not be writing so badly after all, and, in fact, their prose is evolving in some promising new ways.  They write more on their own time, their school essays are longer, their voices are more attuned to the people who will read their words.  They know better – at least by university – than to drop text-speak into a class paper.

[Permit me to insert an image here, one that I discovered during the year I spent at Stanford on a faculty fellowship.  I do this for myself and for any readers of this post who could use a visual break.]

Stanford quake
[This is the men’s gymnasium at Stanford, photographed on April 18, 1906 after the great earthquake struck at 5:13 a.m.  I’m also fond of the image below, depicting the entrance to the university at the end of Palm Drive before and after the quake.  Perhaps it goes without saying that I had a terrible time at Stanford….but that’s for another post, probably another blog, entirely.]

Entrance_intact

Back to Erin in the Globe:

In the Stanford study, undergraduate students submitted pieces of writing over the course of five years, including everything they wrote for school.  Their contributions amounted to 15,000 samples – blog postings, journal entries, e-mails, PowerPoint presentations, honours theses, scripts and an astonishing amount of poetry.

Only 62 per cent of the writing was done for class assignments – the rest of the samples were other items the students submitted voluntarily.  On their own time, the students – half of whom were pursuing science or engineering degrees – were remarkably prolific, says Andrea Lunsford, director of Stanford’s Program in Writing and Rhetoric, who spearheaded the study.

Much of the personal work was intended to be active, to make a case or argue a point.  For this generation, she says, “writing is performative.  It gets up off the pages, walks off and does something.”

[I will keep my own sense of the performative function of language to myself at this point, in deference to the prof who actually did all this work. – Ed.]

While students at Stanford may be a select group, Prof. Lunsford has also completed a similar study by amassing a random collection of essays by first-year university students across the United States.  In a sample of more than 800 papers, there was not an LOL (or any other text lingo) to be found – though other English professors say they do crop up.

And her research showed that over the past century the length of student essays has increased dramatically – from an average of 162 words in 1917 to 422 words in 1986 and 1,038 words in 2006.

In addition, while 25 years ago, the most common assignment was a personal narrative, first-year students today are most often assigned papers requiring a thesis and sources – and consequently, Prof. Lunsford concludes, more “higher-order thinking skills and complexity”….

There is more worth reading in this thoughtful piece.  Perhaps the most interesting outcome of Lunsford’s research is her crediting the students whose work she studied with kairos, the ancient Greek term for the ability to say the right thing at the right time.  This is surely a hopeful sign.  And she is right on the mark when she argues that teaching proper punctuation and the ability to make a cohesive written argument is first of all the responsibility of educators.  “If we want students to sustain dense, richly sourced arguments then we will have to teach those skills throughout schooling,” she argues.

I expect to encounter some of those dense, richly sourced arguments in (for example) blog posts, in the near and longer term.  And I can hope, can’t I, that some of those savvy students might one day find their way to my blog, and not mind if I use words with more than two syllables to make my case?

Posted at 11:25 AM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink 

 
 
12/13/2009   Chris Brogan v Makurrah on the language of blogging, part 1

This a.m. my inbox yielded another post from the prolific Chris Brogan:  “Write Better Blog Posts Today.”  The “today” was an effective hook – of course I want to start writing better posts today, right away, right now – so I read with attention, finding myself admiring once again Chris’ willingness to share the benefit of his experience.  He offers a good deal of solid advice, succinctly put, and I would recommend the post to novice as well as more experienced bloggers.  Read it at http://www.chrisbrogan.com/write-better-blog-posts-today/

But I had to disagree on one point, which I reproduce below:

A caution about choice of words: a great piece of advice a professor once gave me was this: “tell it to me like I’m 6 years old.” Ken Hadge said that’s what he told anyone trying to sell him something the moment they used a large word. The other day, I spoke in front of a huge international audience. I used the smallest words I had, except for one: serendipity. I had never considered how hard to translate that word might be to other cultures. The definition of serendipity is: the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident. I could’ve found another way to say it, or could have bolstered up the original use of the word with a simple definition. Because I missed this, I lost some small part of my audience.

Words matter. Choose yours for an inclusive audience. Everyone knows you’re smart already. Save the big words for your crossword puzzles.

For the moment, I will simply append here the comment I left for Chris earlier today:

This is a great post, Chris – lots of wit and wisdom. I disagree, however, on one thing – I think that the professor who gave the advice about addressing him like he’s a 6-year old misses something important. One thing a dedicated blogger can give his/her readers is language, including words they might not know, but might want to know. Your example of serendipity is a great one: use the word, gloss it in another clause – you’re giving the gift of new words that others can turn around and regift. It doesn’t have to be an either-or: go ahead and use more complicated or sophisticated language (which may in fact be required to make your point precisely), but provide the meaning or sense as well. Surely we’re not under pressure to leave out the better part of our vocabulary to reach an audience.

I haven’t heard back yet, but I know from my Twitter feed that Chris is in transit and will be offline all day.  But there is more to be said about the language of blogging in what some are calling a new era of literacy.  I’ll return to this in tomorrow’s post.

 Posted at 03:10 PM in Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink

 
 
12/11/2009   Journalism: a prognosis (from the Nieman Lab)
 
A link provided by Dave Winer on protoblogger.com led me to a useful piece by C.W Anderson on the Nieman Journalism Lab’s website, entitled “Next year’s news about the news:  What we’ll be fighting about in 2010.”   http://www.niemanlab.org/2009/12/next-years-news-about-the-news-what-well-be-fighting-about-in-2010/

Prognosis 

Following a handy summary of “What we kinda-sorta know” at this stage (e.g., “‘bloggers’ versus ‘journalists’ is (really, really) over,” “Some information won’t be free, but probably not enough to save big news organizations,” “The news will increasingly be produced by smaller, de-institutionalized organizations”), Anderson tries to “pretend (just for a moment) that all those fights are settled,” in order to reflect on the possibilities for discussion and argument in the year to come.  The following are his candidates:

1. What kind of politics will be facilitated by this new world? In the old world, the relationship between journalism and politics was fairly clear, and expressed in an endless series of (occasionally meaningful) cliches. But changes on one side of the equation inevitably mean changes on the other. The most optimistic amongst usargue that we might be headed for a new era of citizen participation. Pessimists see the angry town halls unleashed this summerand lament the days when the passions of the multitude could be moderated by large informational institutions. Others, like my colleague Rasmus Kleis Nielsenat Columbia, take a more nuanced view. Whatever the eventual answer, this is a question we should be trying to articulate.

2. What kind of public policies and laws will govern this new world? Law and public policy usually move a few steps “behind” reality, often to the frustration of those on the ground floor of big, social changes. There’s a reason why people have been frustrated with the endless congressional debates over the journalism shield law,  and with the FTC hearingson journalism — we’re frustrated because, as far as we’re concerned (and as I noted above), we think we have it all figured out. But our government and legal system don’t work that way. Instead, they act as “consolidating institutions,” institutions that both ratify a social consensus that’s already been achieved and also tilt the playing field in one direction or another — towards incumbent newspapers, for example. So the FTC, the FCC, the Congress, the Supreme Court — all these bodies will eventually be weighing in on what they want this new journalistic world to look like. We should be paying attention to that conversation.

3. What kind of networks will emerge in this new media ecosystem? It’s a strong tenet amongst most journalism futurists that “the future of news is networked,” that the new media ecosystem will be the kind of collaborative, do-what-you-do-best-and-link-to-the-rest model most recently analyzed by the CUNY “New Business Models” project. But what if the future of news lies in networks of a different kind? What if the news networks we’re starting to see emerge are basically the surviving media companies (or big portals) diversifying and branding themselves locally? This is already going on with the Huffington Post local initiative, and we can see national newspapers like The New York Times trying out variations of this local strategy. A series of “local networks,” ultimately accountable to larger, centralized, branded organizations may not be what “networked news” theorists have in mind when they talk about networks, but it seems just as likely to happen as more “ecosystem-esque” approach.

4. What’s the future of journalism school? This one’s fairly self-explanatory. But as the profession it serves mutates, what’s in store for the venerable institution of j-school? Dave Winer thinks we might see the emergence of journalism school for all; Cody Brown thinks j-school might someday look like the MIT Center For Collective Intelligence. Either way, though, j-school probably won’t look like it does now. Even more profoundly, perhaps, the question of j-school’s future is inseparable from questions about the future of the university in general, which, much like the news and music industries, might be on the verge of its own massive shake-up.

5. Human beings, data, and “the algorithm.” This one fascinates me, and it seems more important every day. In a world of Demand Media, computational journalism, and AOL’s news production strategy, questions about the lines between quantitative, qualitative, and human journalism seem ever more pressing. If we are moving towards some kind of semantic web, what does that mean for the future of news? What role are programmers and developers playing? How will they interact with journalists? Is journalism about data, about narrative, or both? Is journalism moving from a liberal art to an information science? And so on.

These, as Anderson attests, are “big, big questions.”  But we’ve been preparing ourselves to tackle them for a while now.  There are more than a handful of folks I trust to share this daunting task – in fact, some of them are well underway already.

 

12/10/2009   The self-flagellator’s monthly report

 With no expectation that this post will garner many page views, I am nonetheless pleased to announce that I have finally completed the masochistic task I set myself, namely a re-reading of all the posts published on fledgling during the month of November, in hard copy and with red pen in hand.  And while during much of the time that I was conducting this review I felt like I’d rather be reading someone else’s blog (I wonder what Dave Winer is up to?), it was an enlightening exercise nonetheless. 

Cat_o_seven 

As I began this accounting, I kept the language of my TypePad profile as a frame of reference, and specifically its enumeration of my “interests”:  “Blogging in all its manifestations, including Twitter; journalism; historiography; literary and cultural theory; history of aesthetics.”  If this is the equivalent of an ad for my blog, I wanted to see (for one thing) whether the product was delivering on its promise. 

In brief, then:  The total number of posts for November is 25.  An analysis of their predominant themes yielded the following: 

Blogging (8 posts) 

Twitter (7 posts) 

Blogging and Twitter (2 posts) 

Social media in general (1 post) 

Breaking news/current events (3) 

Print journalism (1) 

Other (3) 

For the most part, then, the content is in line with the terms of my profile.  What the numbers alone don’t convey is that, as the month unfolded, more and more of the posts were devoted to blogging, even at the expense of micro-blogging.  This was unanticipated, since Twitter was my focus when I began the project.

The other matter that does not register in this number-crunch, but that has had an irrevocable impact on fledgling, is my signing on to posterous in late November, to embark on a companion blog, makurrah’s posterous.  My hopes for that site are bound up with my hopes for this one, and I have already begun utilizing it as (among other things) a gloss or set of marginalia on this, the “macro” effort. 

Posted at 01:43 PM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink

 

12/09/2009   A quick-compose update:

 I’m still re-reading the hard copy of my November posts from “fledgling,” doing informal accounting and scribbling marginalia. Reading my way back from the latest post (11/30/2009), I’m struck by the extent to which this blog is more about blogging than anything else. I’m wading back into the #SaveReTweets imbroglio – will have a fuller report shortly.
 
Marginalia

 

12/07/2009   A downer (guest post) from ProBlogger

 In my continuing effort to seek out good advice on blogging, and more importantly good examples of engaging and purposeful writing in this medium, I signed onto ProBlogger the other day and read a guest post by Nathan Hangen entitled “10 Things I Wish I Knew when I Started.”   http://www.problogger.net/archives/2009/12/05/problogging-10-things-i-wish-i-knew-when-i-started/ 

By this point, having run across a quantity of conventional wisdom in list format, I wasn’t particularly optimistic going in.  But Nathan’s post not only made sense; it provided examples from his own history of blogging that resonated in a meaningful way, and had me making changes almost immediately.  I revamped the design of fledgling (I’d been equivocating) in response to his emphasis on the importance of making one’s blog stand out, visually, from the crowd.  Moreover, I promptly subscribed to ten additional blogs in and around my “niche,” with an eye to leaving comments and adding to the conversation (taking the “social” in “social media” more seriously, in effect).  One of those new subscriptions was to beginnerblogger.com, whose author got back to me straightaway, thanking me for the follow and offering a suggestion on my blog’s design. 

I was feeling on the right track, and grateful for the pragmatic assistance available in the blogosphere.  But when I opened the email containing today’s ProBlogger offering, the title of the post raised not only doubts, but hackles.  This too was a guest post, written by Rob Sutton from “Ramped Reviews” and entitled “How Getting An F On Your School Paper Makes You A Better Blogger.”  You can read it at  http://www.problogger.net/archives/2009/12/07/how-getting-an-f-on-your-school-paper-makes-you-a-better-blogger/  

Knownothing
 

Could there possibly be more bad faith inscribed in the title of a blog proffering advice about blogging?  It’s tantamount to saying, go ahead and fail at school, it won’t keep you from being a popular blogger and making tons of money by selling ads on your site.  In the very first line of his post, the author confesses (or perhaps brags) “This comes to be a surprise to many, but I hate writing.”  He then goes on to boast about “throw[ing] over 2,000 words a day on a screen for others to read and why is everyone I know surprised that my words now turn into dollars?” [I’m keeping my virtual red pen firmly in check – it would be too easy to demonstrate ignorance here.] 

This guy obviously had some inept teachers during his school days (I’ve never been one to blame the student when learning goes awry).  And of course it’s very easy to make an argument that lively and persuasive writing works better on a blog (or anywhere else for that matter) than text that is grammatical but uninspired.  Who doesn’t know that?  I would simply say, without reservation, that if someone hates to write, then they are involved in blogging for reasons that have nothing to do with writing.  And they are in no position to give advice to bloggers who know that if you hate writing, you are seriously compromised as a reader as well as a writer.  As to what kind of blogger that makes you…. 

Let’s leave it there for now. This may be a case where the less said, the better. 
 

Posted at 12:19 PM in Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink

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12/04/2009   A question via Quick Compose 

Does anyone else find it challenging to read their blog archive in full on the screen?  I’m finding that reading it in hard copy is a very different experience.
 

12/03/2009   The self-flagellator

For the past several days I have been feeling (and resisting) an urge to push pause on the blogging and tweeting, in order to take stock of what, thus far, my efforts in this sphere might amount to.  Perhaps it has to do with the fact that this is exam season on the campus where I work – some reserve of empathy with the anxious and exhausted students around me driving me to punish myself (by way of a crude mimesis) by reviewing my own output since roughly mid-September, perhaps?  But it’s not that simple, or virtuous, alas.  For the impulse derives, I’m afraid, not from the example of youth dedicated to learning (or at least graduating with some prospect of employment), but from one of those dead white guys some of them are made to read.  Yes, my friends, I mean Kant. 

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If you are still reading at this stage, you may be one of the few to recall my post of 10/20/09, “Kant weighs in on Twitter” (a lame placeholder for a proper title).  In that text I cite a long passage from Paul de Man’s essay “Phenomenality and Materiality in Kant,” the crux of which I reproduce here. 

In order to make the sublime appear in space we need, says Kant, two acts of the imagination:  apprehension (apprehensio) and comprehension or summation (comprehensio aesthetica), Auffassung and Zusammenfassung.  Apprehension proceeds successively, as a syntagmatic, consecutive motion along an axis, and it can proceed ad infinitum without difficulty.  Comprehension, however, which is a paradigmatic totalization of the apprehended trajectory, grows increasingly difficult as the space covered by apprehension grows larger.  The model reminds one of a simple phenomenology of reading, in which one has to make constant syntheses to comprehend the successive unfolding of the text:  the eye moves horizontally in succession whereas the mind has to combine vertically the cumulative understanding of what has been apprehended.  The comprehension will soon reach a point at which it is saturated and will no longer be able to take in additional apprehensions:  it cannot progress beyond a certain magnitude which marks the limit of the imagination. 

Right.  To make a long story short, I have given myself a masochist’s assignment:  to begin to try to comprehend (understand as a whole, or cumulatively, to the extent possible) what has to now been a matter of apprehending the ephemeral components of this project as they appear, fleetingly, only to disappear again according to the strict laws of reverse chronology. 

Reverse chronology is of course at its cruelest and most unforgiving on Twitter, with which I’ve begun this attempt at comprehension.  I have printed all of my tweets from the month of November and begun to analyze them.  I can already share a couple of things, for those who might be interested, about the translation from virtual to material.  When you print your Twitter feed, the tweets are numbered, with the most recent appearing as #1.  My November tweets run to 148.  What is slightly unsettling about this accounting is that tweet #1 has long since been displaced as such, though it’s only December 3.  So the numbers in front of me are not current, stable, or reliable, but rather traces of a time now past. 

As a somewhat reluctant student of Scobleizer’s “pimp my blog” school of tweeting (whose obverse is the “pimp my tweets” school of blogging), I was curious to see just how many of my tweets would turn out to be serving this purpose (I had no clue going in).  Of the 148 in total, 57 tweets had links to posts on fledgling – around 20%. 

The predominant thematics running through the November tweets appear to be 1)Twitter’s introduction of its Retweet feature (of which I am highly critical, though I try to maintain a sense of humour about it) and 2) “meso-blogging,” to which I came fairly late in the month in the form of posterous and my new blog on their site.  The possibilities afforded by a blog neither micro (Twitter) nor macro (fledgling), but dedicated to negotiating the space between the two, animate a number of the tweets posted in late November. 

Then there are the one-offs (on Molly Ringwald playing the MOM in the tween soap The Secret Life of an American Teenager, or news that Al-Jazeera English got CRTC approval, which means they will be broadcasting in Canada soon, or reports that Springsteen won’t be performing with the E Street Band ever again), @replies, RTs (all and only the copy/paste way.  #SaveReTweets). 

More results as they emerge.  Once I get a handle on the months’s Twitter output, I will turn to November’s posts on fledgling and makurrah’s posterous.  I may or may not pull an all-nighter. 

Posted at 03:03 PM in Television, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink 

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12/02/2009   The gift of reader engagement

  
 
As I embark on today’s post, I’m feeling as though my identity as a blogger is undergoing a small crisis (Do I term it “small” because my average daily readership is, perhaps thankfully, paltry?  I’m not sure.).  Just last night I was confidently converting my Twitter avatar from the one I’d adopted for World AIDS Day – not back to my former little green bird, a small commemoration of #IranElection, but “forward” to the one I use for this blog as well as makurrah’s posterous:  a fledgling bluebird in the wild.  With my avatars aligned, I was ready to move ahead with what I’ve come to think of as my blogging trinity. 

But this morning I opened an email containing a recent post by Darren Rowse of ProBlogger, to which I subscribed about a month back in the spirit of consulting more experienced bloggers across a range of disciplines and practices.  I have to admit that its content threw a wrench, at least provisionally, in the works. 

Readers of fledgling will know that this is my “macro” blog, which it to say the place where I entrust pages of various notebooks of my own, and reproduce or at least flag material I run across that informs my project as it unfolds.  It is, in other words, a locus of writing as well as curating texts, with a view to future work (whatever its eventual form) that the blog will (I hope) make possible.  The experience of writing it is, for the most part, solitary – a solitude with which I’ve made peace over the course of my working life as a writer.  The readers, should they materialize, will be welcome as a kind of bonus, or gift – that’s primarily how I’ve conceived of the reception of my written work, including the blogs. 

But ProBlogger, or at least Darren Rowse, works on a very different model, one predicated on interactivity.  In the video component of his post “7 Questions to Ask On Your Blog to Get More Reader Engagement,” he comes across as a thoughtful and likeable guy, who recounts an experience of meeting someone at a party, asking the person some polite introductory questions (“What do you do?”, “What are you working on?”, that sort of thing), and then being “talked at” for half an hour rather than treated with reciprocal consideration and given an opportunity to tell his own story.  This experience is utterly familiar, and his appeal to it in the framework of blogging etiquette is fairly persuasive. 

See for yourself at http://www.problogger.net/archives/2009/12/02/7-questions-to-ask-on-your-blog-to-get-more-reader-engagement.html 

For Rowse, just as “it doesn’t feel good to have someone talk AT you” in a “real life conversation,” it is also the case that “Blogs can be like that and in this post we explore the power of asking questions on your blog.”  He goes on to “share 7 types of questions you can ask to increase reader engagement.” 

Here are Rowse’s 7 questions (or “types of questions”): 

– What Do you Think?  [Not clear on the use of upper case here, but never mind. – ed] 

– How Do you Feel? 

– What Will You Do? 

– What is Your Opinion? 

– What is Your Story? 

– What is Your Experience or Example? 

– What Have you Been Working On? 

His sign-off is in keeping with his message, on the video as well as in the written post:  “Of course there are plenty of other types of questions – what type do you ask and how do you find people respond?” 

A quick scroll down the page showed that, in the brief hours since its publication, the post had garnered loads of comments, most of them of the order of “Great advice, thanks Darren.” 

So what is my problem? (Yes, that is a real, not a rhetorical question, so please feel free to respond.)  Maybe the better question is, what are my problems?  (There are a few people who would have a lot to say on that matter – come to think of it, some of them read this blog.)  There are several aspects of the kind of “interactivity” advocated by Rowse that provoke resistance on my part.  For starters: 

– To be perfectly frank, I’m not even sure I want people to be reading my notebooks.  This is partly residual, I suppose, from twenty-odd years as an academic who only made things public when they were finished, polished, ready (in my judgment) for prime time. 

– Rowse’s schema reminds me of the helpful response of a member of my family who is reading the blog with some regularity, and making suggestions to boost its page views.  Things like “more pictures would be good” and “if you use difficult words, can you link to an online dictionary?”  He’s undoubtedly right (and I have tried to grab more images.  Have you noticed?).  But can’t I expect my readers to do a bit of the work themselves? 

– I do not conceive of my role here as that of a teacher, imparting a body of knowledge.  Been there, done that, in spades.  I figure any reader who wants to engage as a peer (or a mentor) knows to hit the comment button without my having to ask “What is your opinion?” 

– There are some traits that all blogs share, and it would be useful at some stage to enumerate them.  But all blogs aren’t the same.  They are not created equal.  They have different raisons d’etre, different objectives, different temporalities and life spans.  So how can they all be expected to engage readers in the same ways? 

I’ll return to these and related questions shortly.  Oh, and I nearly forgot to ask:  What have you been working on? 

Posted at 11:36 AM in Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink

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