True gifts

Years ago, as soon as Thanksgiving ended I would be scouting for the best Christmas tree, or up on the roof hanging lights, or in the kitchen making enumerable trays of cookies for friends and co-workers. I would have planned to have all my Christmas shopping done before Thanksgiving, but never did and about now I would be with the crowds going from store to store looking for the best presents.

Years ago when I had less money, I would spend more time wrapping the presents, creating cut outs and designs in the ribbons, making packages that people would open last because they were so pretty. As I became more successful I had more money to spend on nicer presents but less on cooking and wrapping and eventually I would find the professional gift wrappers and have them wrap the packages for me as I continued to shop in a mania of buying.

Then in 1997 we moved to a home on a couple of acres of land on an island in Vermont and I again had less money but more time because I was devoting myself to writing, my beloved writing, rather than working on yet another application that would be dull before the edge was finished cutting. In this old ranch house with its huge kitchen and big windows looking out on an old apple tree, I would bake little fruit tarts made of buttery pastry, candy grapefruit peel to use for baking and eating, and decorate cookie after cookie – gingerbread, sugar, date balls, oak leave cookies, or ones flavored with lemon or chocolate.

We had a tree in the foyer in front of the front door because in the country, no one comes to the front door, they always go around to the side to the mud room. We also had a huge beautiful fir tree in the middle of the field, surrounded by two feet of crystalline white snow, that we decorated with old fashioned fat bulbs that didn’t blink or play songs, but just glowed with rich colors – ruby red, sun orange, lime green, and that deep cobalt blue. We strung the same lights around the eaves, and smaller lights around the windows and that night we turned it all on and stood outside a moment looking at the home, on a snow covered hill overlooking the frozen lake, lights shining out in the dark. Then we went in and had hot mulled cider made fresh not from a mix.

We’ve not really celebrated Christmas since. Sometimes I miss it – baking cookies for friends, sharing warm times and cool egg nog with people I cherish. I also miss the scent of cranberry candles mixed with that of orange and pine, but I don’t miss the shopping and the presents. Especially the presents.

In California, I bought a poinsettia and turned on all the lava lights and lit a candle and made fudge, but that was a reaction to the loneliness not the season. It was at that time I looked around at all the expensive things that crowded my small apartment, and remembered the blur of shredded wrapping paper of the years previous, and wondered at what age did I learn that at Christmas it is excess we embrace and kiss under the mistletoe.

This year I decided to again celebrate Christmas, but there will be no tree and no lights, and definitely no gaudily wrapped presents. But there will be gifts.

Next week I go to Indiana to spend a week with my father so that my brother and his wife can have a holiday. Dad and I will share afternoon tea like we did when I was younger, and I’ll listen to stories of the War, and hear them again for the first time.

When Mike returns I’ll head home but am off almost immediately for additional travels. Contrary to my usual custom, I plan on traveling less than 10 hours a day, and taking frequent breaks. I’ll drive more slowly, and pay attention to my surroundings rather than trying to read the map while I drive.

For my Mom, I made this book of my favorite essays and photographs. Is this a childish thing to do? Possibly, but at her age and mine, shared time sparkles more brightly than another useless crystal bowl.

I have a bag of quarters and everytime I pass a red Salvation Army pail, I’ll throw some in. It might be more efficient to send a check, but if I were a bell ringer, I’d rather have the quarters.

For others, I’m going to shut up. I’m going to listen. I’m going to forgive. I’d also like to hold my hand out to the people who I’ve hurt or disappointed this year, but I hesitate because they may not reach back and then I’ll have to buy a poinsetta and make fudge again, and the lava lights are gone. So instead, I’ll just give them space, with a clear view of an open door.

No, I won’t be shopping at Wal-Mart, so that it may continue abusing its employees. And I won’t be buying another geegaw I don’t need that will only collect dust, or expensive trinket to impress friends and family. I will not begin to build a new mountain of debt, nor will I feel sadness at not getting what I secretly wished for come Christmas morning. I will stop wanting.

However, I am not completely without avarice. I might treat myself to a new music CD, and nibble a gingerbread cookie and sip a cup of hot spiced cider while I listen to it. Maybe I’ll even splurge on a candle scented with pine, and cranberry.

RDF Weblogging

The gluttony of information

There’s an elegant bit of synchronocity in play when one is inundated with emails and assorted and sundry articles on RSS on the same day one’s mouth is operated on. Where before I might blow over the discussions, I was driven in my fixated, drug-induced state to focus on everything that everyone was saying. Every little thing.

For instance, The W3C TAG team – that’s the team that’s defining the architecture of the web, not a new wrestling group – has been talking about defining a new URI scheme just for RSS, as brought up today by Tim Bray. With a new scheme, instead of accessing a feed with:

You would access the feed as:


The reason is that using existing schemes opens the feed in whatever tool you use to access the page, such as the browser. However, what you don’t want is to open the feed, but to access the URI directly for the purposes of subscribing to the feed. Using a MIME type doesn’t apply because MIME types operate on the data loaded, and the URI of the subscription isn’t necessarily part of the data.

An example used was the mailto: scheme, which is used to open an application and pass in the value attached to the mailto: – the email address, rather than load that data in the browser.

The response to this topic in TAG was more discussion than has occurred on many another topic lately, a behavior which tends to happen with RSS. This amazes me, when you consider that RSS, or from a generic point of view, the technique of using XML to annotate excerpts of syndicated material that’s updated on a fairly regular basis, is actually a pretty simple concept. It’s handy, true, and I’m just as taken with Bloglines as several of my compatriots – but it is still syndication.

But that’s not all. Doc also discussed RSS today, but his take was more on an advocacy of syndication. More so, he focuses on that aspect of syndication he considers most relevant – notification:

Meanwhile, it seems to me that notification is the key function provided by online syndication. And that’s the revolutionary thing. Publishing alone carries assumptions framed by the permanance of all the media that predated the Web in the world. Hence the sense of done-ness to the result. The finished work goes up, or out, and that’s it.

But the Web isn’t just writable. It’s re-writable. I’m writing this live on the Web, and I’ll probably re-write parts of it two or three more times.

Hence the need for notification.

I agree with Doc that syndication in conjuction with aggregators is pretty handy. Since I started using Bloglines, I visit my favorite weblogs much less frequently than I used to, waiting for the bold text and the count to tell me how many new posts the person has published. And I can see from my referrers others are doing the same because most of my visits now come from aggregators and bloglines or Technorati or Blogdex or some other somewhat generic resource.

Of course, I still know people are visiting…I just don’t know who, or from where. And though sometimes I may wonder, wistfully, if my old friends still visit as much as they used to, I contrast this with my being able to read that many more weblogs now. Sure, this also impacts on the conversations we used to have across our comments and across our blogs because we don’t alwasy visit to read the comments as much, or to add our own, but we’re much more connected into the stream of information than ever before.

Previously I had perhaps 20 or 30 weblogs on my blogroll I would visit a couple of times a day. Now I have over 100 that I only visit when they update, and I’m a veritable information maven neophyte compared to others. I remember in a recent comment discussion with Steve Gillmor that he mentioned he was subscribed to 3762 different feeds if I read his comment correctly.

Speaking of Steve Gillmor, his name popped up in several places today in connection with RSS. He had a conversation with Doc, who blogged some of it:

He’s advocating thinking larger than the Web as it stands. Blogs are a subset of RSS. So is sndication a subset of RSS. He says. In a time constrained universe, it’s a killer app.

It’s the platform for synergy between the stakeholders and the journalists. He says. To limit it, by implication, which you do here by focusing on syndication as being the nub of what this is about, is self limiting in terms of understanding the new economic model that’s emerging here. Among other things.

He wants to respect :the disruptive nature of RSS.

This technlogy has already supplanted email as the core of your desktop. A conditional yes. On the other hand, my email is far more searchable, and manageable, and private and personal, which makes it highly significant, though hardly disruptive and therefore kinda irrelevant to this discussion. Of course, Steve points out, this won’t be the case “when RSS scoops up 80 or 90% of that functionality too.”

Gillmor then went on to write more about RSS in an article that basically says Apple and Sun are challenging Microsoft Outlook through the use of RSS. At least I believe it says this because, for the most part, I found it to be almost incomprehensible in its blind reverence for RSS.

But a disruptive technology is emerging that could change everything. For my money, it’s RSS (known alternately as Really Simple Syndication or Resource Description Framework Site Summary). I’m not talking about the embedded Outlook plug-in of today’s PC; I’m talking about a technology that could be as disruptive to personal computing as the digital video recorder has been to television.

I read Gillmor’s article three times and still couldn’t figure out exactly what he was enthusing about other than RSS is going to change the world. But it was one paragraph that finally gave me the clue:

It’s the combination of these system services that produces the RSS information router. IM presence can be used to signal users that important RSS items are available for immediate downloading, eliminating the latency of 30-minute RSS feed polling while shifting strategic information transfer out of e-mail and into collaborative groups.

What Gillmor is talking about is being wired to your machine. With RSS, not only can we skim more and more information resources, at faster paces, but we need not even be active in this effort – we can have the information resources notify us when we need to read them.

Rather than fight information overload, give in to it. Embrace it. Accept complete saturation as nothing less than that which is to be achieved. Apply the same practices to our consumption of information as we’ve applied to food and consumer goods and foreign policy, because we can never have too much.

After all this reading about RSS today, I finally get it. I finally understand the magic:

RSS is the both the McDonald’s and Wal-Mart of data.