On Leatherwood updates and walkabouts

Allan Moult has just posted the newest edition of Leatherwood Online. In this edition, there’s a humorous look a the shape of Tasmania (you really must check out the underwear), and photos from a trip to Tasmania from photographer Sheila Smart. (See more of her lovely work here. ) Allan has also started a Leatherwood Online weblog using ExpressionEngine, the new software by pMachine.

In a third story, Allan includes photos from his 22 day walk around the Southwest National Park. Following tradition, I have stolen not just one but two of his photos to grace my page.

I’ve never taken a longer hike like this, over several days and requiring camping. There are overnight hikes here in Missouri, and a glorious one that cuts through the New England area, the Appalachian Trail, which I’ve always wanted to walk. I’m hesitant about hiking by myself, but people do; perhaps this would be a growth experience for me. However, I remember a story about overnight hiking when alone from a friend of mine from years ago. This story was enough to make he hesitate to camp with people, much less by myself.

Steve was the brother of the husband of a close friend of mine and I dated him off and on for a couple of years before I moved to Arizona. He was a very good person, as was his whole family. When my friend and his brother got married, Steve and I and several people spent the night downing tequila shots, until I finally passed out about 5 in the morning. I was working at the photography studio at that time, and I was on duty that Sunday, so I had to crawl out of bed at 9 to get ready to go to work. It was the one and only time that I woke just as drunk as I went to sleep. Luckily, I didn’t drive then, but I must have looked funny wobbling the two miles to work.

Anyway, back to the story. Steve decided to go on a three month hike along the Cascades–all by himself. He was a natural outdoorsman, in excellent physical shape (though shorter than me–he helped me realize that I had no problem dating men shorter than me, height being a matter of mind, and neither of us minded much). He had also been on long hikes before and he worked out a schedule of meet ups with his family, to check in and re-supply.

Well, about a month after he started the trip, he cut it short, walking over 20 hours down from the trail until he found a phone to call his brother to come get him. We were, frankly, surprised. When I saw him next, we sat long into the night over beers talking about it.

The trip was great, he said. He’d meet up with interesting people along the way, and sometimes would hike with them for a time. Mostly though he stayed by himself because he preferred to be alone on these trips. The weather was good, the hiking was good, everything was good.

Then one night, while he was in his tent, he heard a sound that woke him with a start, and set his heart to hammering. He said it was an unearthly scream–a howl that was neither human nor any beast he’d heard before. He shot up in his sleeping bag, and strained his ears to hear the sound again. Nothing. He started to lay back down, thinking it must have been some kind of owl, when at that moment, the sound happened again.

He said it sounded like a human crossed with some form of animal. He couldn’t tell if the sound was of pain, or of rage. Frankly, he didn’t want to know.

He crept out of his little pup tent–the kind of tent barely bigger than the sleeping bag–to the fire and grabbed a brand from it, holding it aloft. He hadn’t brought anything but a knife, but even then, he didn’t think to grab it. All he wanted was the light. To light the shadows in the forest around him.

The sound continued for another 15 minutes or so–close enough to terrify him, but not so close as to frighten him into fainting so that he could escape from the thrall of it. Once it stopped, he built the fire up and sat there, all night, with his back to it, just looking into the forest in the direction of the sound. At first light, he put the fire out, packed up, and headed down the mountain as fast as he could.

As he told me the story, his normally robust and jovial face became drawn and the hand holding the beer shook. Steve was not a man to lie, and neither was he a man to exaggerate. He loved the outdoors and it would take much to get him to come down from the mountain.

I lost track of all of them, Steve, his brother, my friend over time with my gypsy ways. I regret this now, but at the time I just couldn’t stay in one place long enough to send out phone numbers and address. This was pre-Net days, at least for me, so keeping in touch required a great deal of resolution–resolution I lacked in my restlessness.

But before I lost touch, I know for a fact that Steve never went into the mountains again.

I was reminded of this story when I saw Allan’s photos. Funny how a wilderness half a planet away can remind me of a friend, a quarter of a century away.


Drowning in a sea of surety

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I think that we should designate one day per week to be Humility Day. Or perhaps Day of Doubt or Insecurity Day.

Each weblog we visit, the owner–myself included–pontificates on all the wrongs and evils of the day. Expressing opinions is a good thing, but lately it seems that even the most thoughtful weblog writers are screaming their words out, pages covered with the spit of their emotional outbursts, saturated with surety.

Not just in politics: I’m finding the same level of surety in technology and tool usage, even which operating system we use. It’s as if none of us can tolerate even the slightest possibility of doubt in our choices. We can’t just talk about how nice our TiBooks are–we have to extol their virtues, defend passionately the interface, angrily denounce the competition.

And don’t even get me started on syndication formats or weblogging tools.

More than the absolutes, I find myself getting burned out by all the good people who are writing for change, as if they’re desperate for change now. Now! Now now now now now! People I admire and agree with, or not, but after a while it’s exhausting reading about one evil after another–bang bang bang–like a machine gun of outrage and despair. And anger.

It sells, too. We once talked about what would it take to get more women in the top of the buzz sheets, and now we know: sex and anger. Technorati 100 is dominated by the Suicide Girls, and many of the top women, such as Michele at A Small Victory, well, they’re angry all the time. Once upon a time Michele didn’t seem so angry but I’ve been reading her these last few weeks and she’s gone after one person or another–and her rank rises with each volley of words.

Anger and sex. Anger, sex, and absolutes. Just listen to the opinions, right and left. If we lined up all the online pundits, end to end, their perceived influence would stand ten times as tall as the actuality. Not only that, but their crap would provide enough ethanol to light the planet.

It’s not that people have opinions about the US President or the election or the war in Iraq–it’s just that they’re so damn sure they’re right. We’ve been talking about how polarized the upcoming election in the States is but on a good day nowadays, I’ll take polarized over what we’ve got. Everyone is so damn angry.

Look. It made me angry.

If we could have just one day per week when we all talked softly and quietly; when we listened to others views, and actually listened, not filtered; where we didn’t shoot from the hip, bringing out the verbal axes at first word; maybe where we even acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers–I can’t help thinking that we’d all be richer for the experience.

I’m not talking about expressions of brotherly love and joy-joy talk from feel good brothers and sisters; I’m also not saying we need to agree– that’s not the point. Trying to pretend we’re all one big loving family would be just as hollow, and fake, as implying that those who disagree with us are evil.

What I’m saying is: no bad guys; no heros; no absolutes. Can’t we set aside one day per week when we’re not a hundred percent right?

Books Writing

Group editing

J.D. Lasica is doing a brave thing: he’s put his new book, Darknet: Remixing the Future of Movies, Music, and Television online at both a wiki and a weblog, and then has invited all of us to join him in editing it.

He writes:

Goal: In the spirit of open media and participatory journalism, I’d like to use this wiki to publish drafts of each chapter in the book. I hope you’ll participate in this effort by contributing feedback, edits, criticism, corrections, and additional anecdotes, either through the comments field below or by sending me email. Feel free to be as detailed as you like or to insert comments or questions. After all, you’re the editor. (And remember, this is for a book manuscript, not a finished online document.) If you make a couple of helpful edits, I’ll mention your name in the book’s Acknowledgments (and buy you a drink next time we meet up).

Request: This is an experiment in trust. Feel free to dive in and make all the changes you think are warranted. I’ve opened this up as a public wiki, rather than a private space. Feel free to link to this main page from your blog, though I’ll also ask at this early stage that people not excerpt material or dissect any of the material in detail because we’re not at the public discussion point yet.

If you’re going to allow group editing, a wiki is the way to do it–have the people merge their own efforts, rather than having to do it yourself. However, I would hesitate before I approached any form of group edit, and it was my experiences with Practical RDF that led to this.

During the review of the book, I posted my chapters online and asked for edits and suggestions from the RDF community. I did receive a great number of suggestions and corrections, for which I was and still am grateful. However, a few weeks into the effort and I began to regret taking this approach, and I won’t do this again. Why? Because people bring with them different expectations about what they want to see in a book on specific topics, and trying to merge these expectations is virtually impossible.

For instance, the semantic web folks wanted the Practical RDF book to focus more on the esoteric aspects of RDF: less on RDF/XML, more on OWL, and more on the underlying theory, and the glorious new future of semantic web goodness. In fact, some of the RDF community was distinctly unhappy at my attempts at opening the technology up for everyday use.The applied folks, though, felt that I spent too much time on the specifications, and not enough on the practical applications. Even within the sections on practical application functionality, some felt I spent too much time on language coverage of RDF and not enough on actual applications based on RDF. Or, conversely, too much on applications, and not enough on language implementations.

All of these people had good suggestions, and I appreciated the time they invested in helping me. However, there was no way to converge these different outlooks into something feasible, workable, and especially readable. All that happened is that I became overwhelmed, and quickly burned out.

There’s also the challenge of receiving critical feedback from dozens of people, all at once. Most book companies only provide feedback from a few people, and this usually gets filtered through the editor. They know that authors can become either discouraged or defensive about writing if they’re hit with too many criticisms of their work in a short period of time. Remember that most people when they review something from an editorial perspective–be it book, music, or food–tend to focus on what’s wrong in the work, rather than what’s right. It’s the nature of what we are.

Now, in some ways, J.D.’s approach works through these difficulties because rather than provide feedback, you provide direct annotation or edits on the work. In other words, you walk the talk. This has the advantage of forcing the person to come up with a solution to go with their criticism. You don’t like the way a paragraph is worded? Then re-word it.

Still, I know for myself that I have a real ownership of my writing, and it’s difficult enough for me to go through the editing process with a trusted editor, much less an unknown, but experienced, reviewer. To do so with just anyone who wants to participate, regardless of ability, judgement, experience, or level of humility–especially level of humility–strikes me as a rather scary proposition.

Regardless of my own personal foibles, I am going to be extremely curious how this works out for J.D.