Writing alone can set you free

Not long ago, I received an email from a person praising one of my writings. He wanted me to know, however, that he doesn’t take sites like mine seriously because it’s a personal web site, and therefore, not credible. Because my site lacked credibility, he didn’t feel he could share the writing with others.

I was reminded of the email when I read PZ Myer’s posting today, notifying his readers that Anjuli Pandavar is no longer part of his network. PZ Myers and the other members of the Freethought Blogs are fully within their rights to remove a writer. If the writer posts pieces that violate the premise behind the site (I’ve read a few of her works at the Wayback Machine, and they surely do), it’s a good idea to remove the person rather than muddy the waters in which all of them swim. The New York Times may choose to play the all-inclusive game, most smaller sites cannot.

Still, it is a good reminder of why I now write solely in my own sites. It may get quiet around here, my sites aren’t always the most active or my writings frequently shared, and some people may question my credibility, but no one can kick me out or tell me what to write.

There are also no expectations with sites like mine. Since 1996, I’ve written about the Loch Ness Monster, the semantic web, environmental legal cases, the HTML5 standards process, animal welfare, photography and web graphics, sexism, JavaScript/Node, and now, Trump, with his miserable excuse for a White House. Oh, and RDF (Resource Description Framework).

RDF and Trump. Probably not a combination of words you would ever expect to read in your lifetime.

My only consistency in what I write is … well, none, really.

 

 

Write! Write!

Laura Dern in Jurassic Park

There’s a scene in Jurassic Park where the character played by Laura Dern, having just escaped being raptor kibble, sees her close friend (played by Sam Neill) in the distance. She softly shouts out through gritted teeth, “Run! Run!” She’s not telling Neill to run; she’s telling herself to run.

She’s not telling Neill to run; she’s telling herself to run.

Continue reading “Write! Write!”

Learning Node, 2nd Edition is now live

Learning Node 2nd cover

Learning Node, 2nd Edition is now in production and should be hitting the streets within a few weeks. We had a bit of excitement when Node 6.0 was rolled out, just as we entered production. However, this edition of the book was specifically designed to accommodate Node’s rather energetic release schedule, and the book survived with only minimal changes.

In this edition, I focused heavily on the Node core API, rather than third-party modules. I figured the book audience either consists of front-end developers working with JavaScript in the browser, or server-side developers who have worked with other tools. In either case, the audience wants to know how to work with Node…not this module or that. Node, itself.

My one trip into the fanciful was the chapter on Node in other environments. In this chapter, I had a chance to introduce the reader to Microsoft’s new ChakraCore for Node, as well as using Node with Arduino and Raspberry Pi, and with the Internet of Things (IoT). I figured by Chapter 12, we all deserved a special treat.

The book’s Table of Contents:

Preface
1. The Node Environment
2. Node Building Blocks: the Global Objects, Events, and Node’s Asynchronous Nature
3. Basics of Node Modules and Npm
4. Interactive Node with REPL and More on the Console
5. Node and the Web
6. Node and the Local System
7. Networking, Sockets, and Security
8. Child Processes
9. Node and ES6
10. Full-stack Node Development
11. Node in Development and Production
12. Node in New Environments

A more detailed TOC is available at O’Reilly.

I had a good crew at O’Reilly on the book, and an exceptionally good tech reviewer in Ethan Brown.

Death of a Moth

Years ago I worked in a large modern building with dark grey glass doors and windows. One morning when I was out smoking, I noticed a bright spot on the wall next to the door — a white moth, with soft, furry body and silvery antennae. It was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen—delicate and fragile, highlighted by the darkness of the glass and granite building. It was held there against the wall by a grip frozen in death.

I was reminded of this moth when I read W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz with his references to moths; subtle symbols of the lead character’s search for the truth of who he is, like the moth’s obsessive desire for illumination, regardless of the cost. And in the book, memories are tipped out into words forming stories as fragile as the wings of a moth preserved in a jar:

None of the containers was more than two or three inches high, and when I opened them one by one and held them in the light of the lamp, each proved to contain the mortal remains of one of the moths which — as Austerlitz had told me — had met its end here in this house. I tipped one of them, a weightless ivory-colored creature with folded wings that might have been woven of some immaterial fabric, out of its Bakelite box onto the palm of my right hand. Its legs, which it had drawn up under its silver-scaled body as if just clearing some final obstacle, were so delicate taht I could scarely make them out, while the antannae curving high above the whole body also trembled on the edge of visibility.

In college I was introduced to another story featuring a moth, Virginia Woolf’s essay, Death of a Moth. In it, Woolf writes about a moth flying about a window pane, its world constrained by the boundaries of the wood holding the glass. The moth flew from one side to the other, and then back again, as the rest of life continued ignorant of its movements. At first indifferent, Woolf was eventually moved to pity of the moth:

The possibilities of pleasure seemed that morning so enormous and so various that to have only a moth’s part in life, and a day moth’s at that, appeared a hard fate, and his zest in enjoying his meagre opportunities to the full, pathetic.

The moth settles on the window sill and Woolf forgets it until she notices it trying to move again, but this time its movements are slow and awkward. It attempts to fly but fails, and falls back down to the sill—landing on its back, tiny feet clawing at the air as it tries to right itself. The author reaches out to help when she realizes that it is dying and draws back, reluctant to interfere with this natural process. Somehow in the brightness of the day, the power of death was seeking this moth and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it.

Still, she watched the moth as it fought against the inevitable:

One could only watch the extraordinary efforts made by those tiny legs against an oncoming doom which could, had it chosen, have submerged an entire city, not merely a city, but masses of human beings; nothing, I knew, had any chance against death. Nevertheless after a pause of exhaustion the legs fluttered again. It was superb this last protest, and so frantic that he succeeded at last in righting himself. One’s sympathies, of course, were all on the side of life.

However, after the moth had righted itself, in the instant of its victory, death descended:

The moth having righted himself now lay most decently and uncomplainingly composed. O yes, he seemed to say, death is stronger than I am.

In Woolf’s essay, the battle between life and death is somehow seen as both pathetic and noble. Pathetic because death will always win regardless the desire for life; but noble in how one faces death — on our back, defeated, or on our feet and in dignity.

Another essay also called Death of a Moth by Annie Dillard is often compared to Woolf’s essay, most likely because of the similar titles and subjects. Unlike Woolf’s moth, Dillard’s meets its end much more dramatically—caught within a candle’s flame, it’s body on fire, which Dillard details in unsentimental detail:

Her moving wings ignited like tissue paper, like angels’ wings, enlarging the circle of the darkness the sudden blue sleeves of my sweater, the green leaves of jewelweed by my side, the ragged red trunk of a pine; at once the light contracted again and the moth’s wings vanished in a fine, foul smoke. At the same time, her six legs clawed, curled, blackened, and ceased, disappearing utterly. And her head jerked in spasms, making a spattering noise; her antennae crisped and burnt away and her heaving mouthparts cracked like pistol fire. When it was all over, her head was, so far as I could determine, gone, gone the long way of her wings and legs.

Compared to Woolf’s moth, with its quiet dignity and brave fight against death, Dillard’s moth was caught in a torment of fire and died violently, one could almost say grotesquely. Death isn’t veiled in the struggle; isn’t seen through the same type of grey silken glasses worn by one of Sebald’s characters to mute the landscape when he paints. Death is stripped bare, exposed in all of its hideous indifference.

Yet where Woolf’s moth leads one to accept death, to embrace the nobility of death, Dillard’s moth flares out at death, defiant, and unaccepting. Its death says to me, “I do not go willingly, I do not give up on life easily. You must rip it from me and I’ll fight to hold it.” In the end, rather than form a noble and dignified corpse, Dillard’s moth becomes a second wick, causing the candle to burn that much brighter:

She burned for two hours without changing, without swaying or kneeling-only glowing within, like a boiling fire glimpsed through silhouetted walls, like a hollow saint, like a flame-faced virgin gone to God, while I read by her light, kindled while Rimbaud in Paris burnt out his brain in a thousand poems, while night pooled wetly at my feet.

I was more moved by Woolf’s moth, but Dillard’s moth is the one most vivid in my mind and in my memory.

Blogging as Journalism and other modern myths

I’m not sure if webloggers buy into the whole “weblogging as a new and better form of Journalism” because they truly see themselves in this light, or because they seek some form of justification for all the time they spend weblogging.

People can call themselves whatever they want in their weblogs; their space, their place. However, when they start taking themselves seriously, think of themselves as pioneering personal Journalists in a brave new World Media, then I beg leave to differ. Weblogging is not a replacement for mainstream media. Weblogging is not a replacement for traditional news sources. Weblogging is not capital ‘J’ Journalism.

While its true that webloggers can be first at a story, being first doesn’t make a person a Journalist; it just makes them lucky. In some cases, it makes them unlucky.

Webloggers can also provide a personal perspective of an event, background color if you will; supplying nuances the dry recital of fact doesn’t provide. But webloggers don’t have access to the resources that make up a story, that form what we call “news”.

Ultimately the difference between webloggers and Journalists is that Journalists have an obligation to provide the facts, all the facts. To assist them in their effort, they’re given access to resources and information most of us do not have. And with this access comes a responsibility.

In our weblogs, we hold to our own moral code of what we consider responsible writing; we can say what we think and feel, issuing compliment or slander with impunity and disregard for consequences.

The Journalist, though, is held not only to their own code, but to their editor’s, their publication’s, their peers’, the code of the law, and, ultimately, their readers’ codes. And if they slander without fact, they risk loss of respect, at best, and a lawsuit at worst. If they tell only half the story, they are condemned and censured when the full truth is told.

Tuesday, in an article titled Blogosphere: the emerging Media Ecosystem, John Hiler wrote:

Because of these limited resources, many have charged Traditional Media with a consistent bias that fails to reflect the diversity of opinions and ideas. About half the email I get on this subject claims that bias is a Liberal one, while the other half claims it’s a decidedly Conservative one. Either way, there is a strong sense from some readers that Media organizations have a mixed record when it comes to accurately and fairly reporting the News.

Many people are looking to weblogs to help address this media bias.

Using weblogging to address media bias. I almost fell over laughing when I read this. But I sobered as Hiler entered into a discussion about the impact webloggers such as Glenn Reynolds and Meryl Yourish had on the recent clash between pro-Palestian/pro-Israel protestors at SFSU (summarized at another weblog).

Hiler congratulates Reynolds and Meryl and others for bringing this breaking news to the attention of the mainstream media, to Journalism:

As Meryl and others broke the story, other mainstream outlets followed the story across the Breaking News – Analysis – Op-Ed continuum.

Hiler also quotes Reynolds:

As Glenn explained, “Sometimes a story will streak across the Blogosphere like a praerie fire. Weblogs can be the dry grass, helping to spread the story.” But interestingly, some stories don’t make the leap from weblogs to mass media articles precisely because they’ve been so widely blogged. As he put it, “Journalists will sometimes drop a story idea because they’ve already been so well covered in weblogs.”

Weblogging: a thousand points of news.

If the concept of noble weblogger as Journalist is true, then I’m curious as to why isn’t there weblogger follow-up to the SFSU story? For instance, why is there no weblogger coverage of the fact that the college referred students to the DA for prosecution for hate crimes? After all, this is news, too.

In fact, Big Media – that same biased Big Media – printed the story, as seen in:

SF Gate

The PIXPage

A SFSU news release

Mercury News

The Examiner

SFSU’s web site created to address the issue, including a summary of the events

However, when I looked for this story in weblogs such as Meryl’s and Glenn Reynold,s I didn’t find one mention of this information. Why was this?

Is it because recent facts have emerged, such as the fact that both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli students have been referred to the DA for hate crimes? Is it because of the fact that there were pro-Palestinian people working to control members of their protest, trying to keep the demonstration peaceful?

Is it because in this fight, no one was entirely on the side of angels, and no one was entirely dancing with the devil?

Weblogger as Journalist. Yeah. Right.

It’s time we put the story of Weblogger as Journalist on the shelf next to stories of Bigfoot and Ogopogo and the other great myths of our time.