Weblogging Writing

The syndication feed fair warning indicator

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

This week I’ll be posting writings that violate the concept of ‘proper weblog entry’ all to heck–either by the use of fiction or the length of the writing, or both.

As happens most times I do this, one or more people access the entry expecting to find a traditional weblog entry and, instead, find writing. Good writing, bad writing, doesn’t matter. It’s the form that disturbs them.

If the work is fictional, I almost invariably get someone who writes in comments, “This is b***s**t” or a variation on, “This is stupid.” If the work is longer, some of the commenters sound a bit tired when they leave notes, as if I’ve made them run through a marathon they weren’t expecting.

Now, the longer writings will give a me a chance to test out my new Wordform Fulltext feature, but that’s not the reason for the writing. The writing is the reason for the writing.

However, in fairness to those who are expecting traditional weblog entries, otherwise known as the Slam, Bam, thank you Ma’am posts, I’m working at adding a new meta item to my syndication feeds called “The Fair Warning Indicator”. This indicator will, hopefully, get picked up in the syndication feed aggregators, letting you know whether the post is a traditional weblog entry or not. I have the meta-data part, I just have to figure out which field in the existing feed infrastructures to subjugate to my evil ways.

With the Fair Warning Indicator, when I do publish these works online, if you want forgo a ‘non-weblogging reading experience’, you can. And, hopefully, the brave and intrepid (or bored or unknowing) souls who do venture in, will then feel free to comment purely on the writing, itself–not the fact that I’m not following the Blogging rules of etiquette.

Now, for any syndicators in the audience, suggestions on what would be the best modification to the feeds to incorporate the Indicator? By feed type?


A Speck of Dirt

The road to Alley Spring Mill is full of twists and turns, and I gave up watching the speedometer about the time when I realized there was no chance I’d be going over the speed limit. Most of the trees along the way were still leafless, and twisted, white branches mixed in with the short pine, only partially obscuring views of rolling hills, stretching out as far as the eye can see.

The Ozarks are old; old, and filled with vague memories of mountains that split this land, greater than the tallest peaks of the Cascades, mightier than the Rockies. So old that time has worn them down and softened their edges; carving the rocks scattered about, great boulders that once lay at the bottom of long, gone seas.

Alley Mill

Small towns dotted the way with names like “Steelville” and “Eminence”, most still retaining both their original look and their vitality. Each was a pure slice of post-war prosperity, preserved for all time, except that Betty’s Beauty Salon is now The House of Tanning.

As the road crossed the many creeks and rivers that threaded the hills, it would shrink–at one time becoming a one lane crossing with warnings on both sides to “Yield to oncoming traffic”. I’ve wondered what would happen if two cars approached at the exact same time. Would they both slow until stopped, lost in a mix of politeness and caution? Or would the aggressive hit the pedal and the two cars collide mid-bridge? Then I thought of how little traffic I’d seen along the way and realized that the point was mute.

I had a headache when I started out on the trip. In fact, I have a headache most days, lately; and too many mornings being greeted by a face in frowns in the mirror. However, as I drove deeper into the Ozarks, the headache began to recede and I notched my speed up just a hair; just enough to add a swoop to the feel as I drove down the hills and around the corners.

I put on my own customized travel CD, the one with all the really good travel music. Listening to the mix of songs–”Born to Be Wild” between “Stop the Rock” and “Dueling Banjos”, “Gimme Some Loving” followed by “Queen of the Night” followed by “Rave On”–I edged the speed up just a tad more until I must have been going, my, close to 50. A wild woman on wheels, and mamas hide your sons! Wheee!

(Hot music is for hills. I save the soft stuff for the plains and the moody crap for the ocean.)

At the Mill I parked in the lot and grabbed my camera bag, but decided to leave my walking stick. It’s only a short walk on a path by the river to the Mill, and you can easily see its bright, red color against the dead winter grasses. However, it wasn’t until I was at the bridge over the creek to the Mill that I was able to see it’s surroundings, and I stumbled to a stop at the sight.

Alley Mill

The water that rushed past the mill filled a hollow before flowing into the stream leading away. A trick of the light and shadow painted it a bright aqua color, as it foamed in a wide circle from the falls; however, as I got close to the water, I could see it was clear. Clear enough to see the individual tiny rocks at the stream’s bottom, and the bright green plants–watercress–that floated just beneath the surface.

Alley Mill

The Mill was in a hollow, with steep limestone cliffs on the other side of the spring basin formed by the backed up water. In the cliffs, water and time had worn small pockets in the rock, forming caves just deep enough to leave the back wall in shadow.

I explored along the spring’s edge for a time, and then walked along the Mill back porch, right above the overflow gate. I was surprised at how fast the water was flowing and how much there was, especially this time of year.

Alley Mill

I stared, mesmerized, into the flowing water until I noticed something white and wispy in the dark blue, at the gate where the water entered. It looked like a skeleton of a fish that had become trapped and died, with the force of the water stripping most of its flesh away.

Alley Mill

A family walked by while I was lost in the waters, following a trail that cut into the cliff above the basin. I waited until the laughter and the sounds of their passing had died, and then followed. I wanted the place to myself, to savor the feel of the true Ozarks. It was a very intimate moment for me; I almost put my hand on ground, thinking I would feel the heartbeat of the mountain if I did.

The spring basin is an odd thing. According to descriptions, it’s 32 feet deep, and forms a funnel shape. It had a mirror like stillness, and the waters were clear, but you could only see so far down. A tree was growing out of the hill above the water in one spot, and underneath what looked like another tree had fallen in and become covered in green growth. It was eerie and I actually began to feel a little uncomfortable. Deep water has that effect on me.

Alley Mill

But then, so do holes in cliff walls when I cannot see the back, and the trail I needed to take led directly between the two: lake and short, steep hill on one side; tall, pocketed and carved cliffs on the other. I desperately wanted my stick on the moment and I had no idea why because the only living things around were the birds, and I imagine cousins of the fish whose skeleton now decorated the Mill.

The path was wide enough for a family to walk side by side, but I teetered along the middle, equidistant between my twin fears of shadowed water and shadowed rock. I think if I had closed my eyes, I could have walked the path safely, the fear was that tangible. I wonder if this is how soldiers during war feel–held upright and kept moving by a fear of shadows; except for them, the monsters in the dark are real. If I were one of those soldiers, I think I would go mad; at the least, I would become numb.

Alley Mill

The basin isn’t really big and the cliff mostly solid and I started to relax as I walked until I was, again, enjoying myself. I ended up stopping every few feet to take a photo of rock formations, the Mill, the stream, the Mill, and all variations of the three. The trail followed the spring as it headed to the river, with foot bridges to cross just after the basin and at the end of the park. I took the last one and then circled down by the spring, in the space between the bushes and the water.

I hadn’t heard anyone for a while, so I assumed I had the place to myself. Round a corner, though, was an old man sitting in a lawn chair by the river, ice chest by his side, sipping a coke. He wasn’t particularly remarkable looking: lined face, gray hair, and wearing a white shirt and jeans. I started to walk past, not wanting to break my need for privacy, but he called out “Nice day, isn’t it?” as I drew near, raising his can in salute.

Sighing, I stopped, and agreed that yes, the weather was nice.

“You know, you look tired and thirsty. Why don’t you stop for a moment, and have a cold coke.”

As he said this, he reached into the ice chest, pulled out a can and held it out to me. I was thirsty, and the pop did look good. I also thought it would be rude to just say, “No, thanks” and move along. Besides, I’ve found from past experience that people who sit and stare into water are usually people who have something interesting to say.

Alley Mill

As we sipped our drinks, I asked if he was from this area, and he said no, he was born in Oklahoma and moved to Missouri after he served in the war. From his age, I thought he probably meant the Korean war, but he could have meant World War II or even Vietnam. I didn’t want to pry, though.

He asked how long I’d been in Missouri, and I said only a couple of years. He nodded, and said he could see that. I thought it was an odd thing to say, and asked him about it. He replied, that I looked a person who had found home, but wasn’t used to it yet.

I could agree with him, about finding home. Every time I visit the Ozarks, I feel as if all the worries of every day life just sort of fall away, leaving only peace and contentment behind. I even remarked on it, telling him I’d seen most of the country and some beautiful places, but nothing had the pull for me that Missouri did.

He nodded his head in understanding, and said it was because I had a “…grain of Missouri dirt buried deep inside”. A grain of Missouri dirt buried deep inside? Seeing my puzzled look, he chuckled and said it was an expression he picked up from a story his Dad used to tell him when he was a kid.

According to the old man, his father used to tell him of a time, many years ago when the earth had cooled, the grasses in the plain had sprouted, and people were ready to be born. The spirits of the earth (“or angels, if you prefer”, he said) each grabbed up a handful of dirt from all around the plant and then tossed it high into the air. Higher than the mountains the dirt flew, until it was captured by the Winds that blew around the world. In the Winds the dirt became all mixed up, until a speck of Paris dirt was alongside one from Hawaii, and one from China next to one from South Africa, and so on.

As each person is born, a speck of this dirt falls to the earth and becomes embedded, deep inside them, at the very center of their being. This speck, this land of their soul would stay inside the person all their life. Then, when they died, at the very moment after the last breath, the spirits would gently retrieve it, and toss it back into the wind.

(“My Dad swore he saw this once, when my great aunt died, but I think he was pulling my leg. Made my mother angry, though; she thought something was wrong with me when I told her I wanted to go to the hospital and watch people die.”)

Alley Mill

Now, the speck of dirt a person gets could be from the homes of their birth, and some people live their whole lives being content to stay in one place. Most folks, though, are born with specks of dirt outside their homes, and this leaves them with both a curiosity and fascination with faraway lands.

Not all can travel, though, and those who can’t eventually grow to appreciate the land where they live, but never with that strong pull that you find between a person and the land of their soul. Even among travelers, most will never find this land, but for those who do, the attraction may defy both reason and understanding.

The land pulls them, pulls at the speck of dirt within them, trying to reclaim that bit of itself lost long ago. And if you ask the people why they love the land so much, most of the time they’ll say that they feel like they’ve come home

Over time as some of the specks are claimed and reclaimed by people who never find their lands, they change, become less defined, as if all that bouncing about brushing up against strange places rounds the edges. People who get these specks seem to be happy wherever they are, even if it’s a tar hut in North Dakota. (“And I’ve lived in a tar hut in North Dakota; you’d have to be crazy or a priest to be happy in a tar hut in North Dakota.”)

Others, though, are born without any speck at all and this is a great tragedy. It’s like a piece of their soul is gone, leaving them always hungry, always wanting and reaching for more in an effort to find what they never can. They may end up rich and powerful and even leaders of many nations–but they’ll never be happy, and they’ll never be content.

“So that’s why I said that you must have been born with a grain of Missouri dirt”, the old man finished. Enthralled I could only nod my head in agreement. Of course, makes sense. I have Missouri dirt inside. That explains why I hate Los Angeles–no affinity to my dirt.

I thought, though, on those moments of fear I felt of the shadowed caves and the deep water; of the time when I was lost in the woods; and the other time when I wouldn’t walk into the crack in the ground at Pickle Creek. I didn’t want to tell man I was afraid of a little water or a rock formation, but I did tell him I have had moments in the Ozarks when I’ve been afraid. I asked him wouldn’t the land of my soul be a place where I wouldn’t be afraid? Where there would be no fear?

“Live in a place without fear? Why would someone want to live in a place without fear,” he laughed at the idea.

“What would be the fun of that?”

I’d finished my pop and since it was getting late and I still had a four hour drive home. I thanked the old man, both for the pop and the wonderful story and headed back to my car. Once there, as I was putting my photo pack in the back seat, I noticed that I did have a bottle of water in the bottle pocket. Must be getting old, I thought, to forget I’d brought water.

I started the car and rolled the windows down because it was warm and I wanted to enjoy the smell of green in the air. As I was driving down the lot to the exit, though, I noticed that there were no other cars. I slowed down and stopped and looked carefully around, but couldn’t see any other car but mine.

It was just like that time at Elephant Rocks, when I came upon that guy who was stopped by the side of the path, gazing into the quarry pond; except that one told me the story about his dad and quarry mining. On that day, too, I remembered there was no car other than my own in the parking lot when I left.

A cool breeze blew in the open window, causing me to shiver, and I rolled the windows back up.

What would be the fun of that, indeed.

Alley Mill

Critters Plants

Baby greens

I haven’t been in much of a mood for cooking lately, usually making do with soup, eggs or rice and vegetables, and cottage cheese and fruit. Inspired by Joe’s recent writing, though, I decided that the roommate and I needed a really decent meal tonight.

At the store, sirloin steak and sour cream were on sale, so that set the main dish: beef stroganoff, with lots of sweet Vidalia onion, and mushrooms. The baby greens also looked good, and I picked up a radicchio, as well as a curly endive and Belgium endive. To complete the salad fixings, I added vine ripened tomatoes and snow peas.

I can’t do a good vinaigrette to save my life, so I also added a bottle of Newman’s Own Balsamic Vinaigrette.

At home I made a lemon cake, which seemed a nice desert on a rainy day. While it was cooling, I browned the steak and then sautéd the onions and mushrooms before adding water, dry sherry, and tomato juice. While these simmered for two hours, I crisped the greens, and frosted the cake with cream cheese frosting.

Just before dinner, I sautéed the snowpeas in olive oil and a small bit of garlic, until they were bright green and still slightly crisp. I tore the small lettuces into pieces, added the snowpeas and sliced tomatoes, some small, crusty pieces of french bread, and then tossed it with the vinaigrette.

I served the stroganoff over egg noodles, with the salad on the side, cake for desert. I think my roommate liked it, if him going back for thirds is any indication. I had more restraint–I only went back for thirds on the salad. Zoë, however, was a real pig and had four helpings of the baby greens.


Just don’t call me Honey

Contrary to rumor no, I did not get married recently and/or change my last name to Harrison. Besides, I wouldn’t change my last name if I were to get married — and didn’t change it when I was married. I was born Shelley Powers (well, Michelle Powers) and that’s how I’ll go to my ashes.

However, Tim Bray did get my first name right, and I’m thankful for that, considering that the use of the second, and admittedly extraneous, ‘e’, causes confusion and most folk just drop it. But I like my ‘e’. As I’ve said before, without the second ‘e’ the name falls over.

Names aside, when reading Tim’s examination of the issue of women in weblogging and technology, I found statements I agree with and statements I didn’t. For instance, I disagree with Tim’s too easy acceptance that some fields will ‘always’ be dominated by one sex or another; while I agree that regardless, this is no excuse to make those who cross the ‘gender divide’ feel like a freak of nature:

I personally suspect that engineering will remain male-dominated and early childhood education female-dominated no matter how hard we try to be inclusive. And that’s probably OK. What’s not OK is if the engineers are trying to keep out the women who do want in, or the elementary teachers are trying to keep out the men.

Whatever his view on professions and gender identity, Tim doesn’t believe that weblogging should be imbalanced between the sexes, and in this we’re in complete agreement:

I think the griping about the big-name-blogger imbalance is justified and there is a problem here. Shelley Harrison hasn’t quite convinced me that dropping blogrolls and top-100 lists would help that much, but it’s an interesting direction and worth thinking some more about. I’m pretty sure, though, that a little bit of affirmative action in choosing who to link to is likely to be helpful, moral, and smart.

Tim also brings up the classic bathroom issue, where planners provide equal bathroom facilities for men and women, and women end up waiting in line. I don’t think any of us doubt that women and men are built physically different, and there are times to keep this in mind. But until such time that someone can prove to me that there’s a weblogging gene and it’s sex related, I’ll assume other factors are in play when it comes to issues of sex disparity.

Tim sums up his personal view of the situation with the following (and I know I’ve stolen his punchline, but I love it to pieces):

I ain’t in this for Justice or Fair Play or any of that stuff, but rather because I find it viscerally irritating to spend so much time in physical and virtual rooms full of middle-aged white guys. I don’t know why it’s so irritating and I don’t care that much; it’s broken and it needs fixing.

Amen! And Tim, you can make a start by recommending a woman as the third presenter at this event; because from what I can see, the Speaker List is broken, and needs fixing.


Social Media

Google and bad banning

I dislike banning. I dislike blacklists based on proxy, domain, IP address, and keyword. No matter how sophisticated the applications that support blacklisting and no matter how good intentioned the sites doing the banning, someone innocent always gets hurt.

My favorite banning story so far is from Jonas Luster’s weblog where he talks about showing some law enforcement people WordPress, only to discover that the San Diego Police Department was on the Real-Time Spam Blacklist. My less than favorite banning story was when the dedicated server I was leasing ended up on SPEWS–another blacklist.

A current favorite now is to ban comments or trackbacks that come in through open proxies, since comment spammers use these to post comments. Unfortunately, open proxies can be found at libraries and schools, and have even been used to route around censorship in countries like China.

I wouldn’t be as critical of blacklisting if it weren’t for one thing: once you’re listed, it can become almost impossible to get de-listed. Most of the blacklisting organizations assume you’re guilty until proven innocent, and you almost have to have an act of Congress to be proven innocent. Well, since our sites aren’t hooked up to a feeding tube, the latter is unlikely to happen. Then you go through weeks, months, even years, trying to get your site cleared so you can send email or post comments.

It would seem that Google also fits in the guilty until proved innocent camp. Karl Martino from paradox1x wrote the following last week:

Help me please – PhillyFuture was probably banned from Google

I’ve had the domain back for one year. Googlebot has not come to index the site. After exhausting all other reasons I suspect that Google banned from it’s index. Remember – the preceeding year a porn company had it and was using it for redirection.

If anyone out there can help me – please – please do.

(Philly Future is Karl’s excellent community weblog and site for Philadelpha weblogs.)

Come on Google, a whole year to fix a problem? What do we have to do, use comment spam to get it listed?

(Thanks to Rogi for pointing this out, which also reminded me to update my subscription at Bloglines to the correct feed at Karl’s. Oh, and I did the background graphics, and thanks for the compliment, Rogi!)