Defining fault

The focus on ‘fault’ in the last post was inspired, in part, by the first sentence I read in a weblog post recently. It said:

It’s all Burningbird’s fault.

When I first spotted it, my reaction was one of feeling flattered rather than angered. I hadn’t thought I had so much impact on the world around me, that whatever the issue is, it was all my fault.

Of course, further reading showed that the issue really was minor, and whatever ‘fault’ was mine was relatively insignificant, and I was somewhat disappointed. No change in status; in a world of shotguns, I’m still pretty much an air rifle.

outdoors Places

Fault line

I’ve walked through cracks in cliffs before, but never a crack in the ground; not with dark and hidden pockets just out of view, against a background of damp, dripping cold. I started to pass through but stopped, just after entering, and couldn’t continue. There is this little primeval monkey in the back of my mind that beats its tiny hands against my skull, screaming out in terror when faced with the unknown. Though I can usually calm the monkey without much trouble–throwing millennia of evolution at it until its cries are smothered by reason–sometimes the monkey wins.

Yesterday I decided it was time to face down the screaming monkey and walk through The Slot at Pickle Creek. The weather was going to be warm, but I left early and got there about 9, before anyone else had arrived.

I grabbed my camera and my walking stick and headed out. The way was much easier than the last time I tried the trail, when it was cold and wet and hard to walk on the slippery rocks. And when I reached The Slot, rather than be filled with mud and water running through it, it was crowned by trees with new green leaves, as sun filtered through to sprinkle the dark of the crack with light. I hesitated only a moment before entering.

The way through was very clear and easy to traverse, and all the dark nooks and crannies weren’t so deep I couldn’t see the back. I started taking pictures, feeling pretty good about quieting the primate inside, as well as silly for being nervous of a tiny crack in the ground, which is really nothing more than a natural split along an old fault. Between one step in the next, though, the sides of the The Slot deepened and darkened, and the temperature dropped at least 20 degrees, if not more. I could also hear footsteps and both the monkey and I stood perfectly still, not even breathing. Well, I wasn’t breathing–the monkey was hyperventilating.

The couple had cameras like I did, but smaller, as they snapped shot after shot of the walls of The Slot. We exchanged pleasantries and I urged them to go ahead, because I’m slow on rocks with my bad knee and ankle. I emphasized my bad knee, and alluded to a fall during another hike. They smiled, politely, completely disinterested, thanked me and moved on.

The way opened up on the left, though the cliff on the right steepened until a hill carved into rough rock and I was moving slowly — it was difficult to traverse. Not as difficult as Mina Sauk, but I had to use my stick more than once. But it was beautiful, looking into the carved rock around me, and back at The Slot–now reduced to an odd bit of rock and fern. Sadly, there goes all monsters.

The path after climbing the hill was very smooth, and the way easy though starting to get warm. It climbed until we reached the Cauliflower Rocks, though why this impressive formation of boulders is called this, beats me. Luckily, rather than have to rock climb down, Missouri has provided a nice set of stairs so even the rock challenged such as myself could traverse them. It led to the Double Arch, a beautiful formation that framed the forest and the path, forming a cat’s eye with the tree on the other side.

The original couple was there, climbing all over and taking photos. The man stood under the arch, as the woman took his photo and I had this sudden desire to yell out, “Earthquake!” though I fought the impulse down.

The path leaving the Double Arch was relatively even, with some rough spots where I had to use the stick. The next rock formation was the Keyhole and here I was stumped because I saw two trails leading off, and no idea, which path to take. One led to a narrow gap in the rocks with fairly steep steps; the other to a gentle path down to a field spotted about with delicate pink flowers–the rare wild azalea. I wish I could say I was a wild woman and took the tiny gap, but I opted for the flowers. I am so weak.

Well, the path was the wrong one, but still good and I enjoyed the flowers and a nice, easy trail. Luckily, it did connect up with the right path before too long. From there it was down to Pickle Creek, which since there had been no rain for some time, was pretty shallow, with only a faint, tiny waterfall–not much more than a big drip. By this time I was getting tired because though the way was relatively even, it had been challenging in places, and I thought the trail was only one mile. Later I was to learn that the Pickle Creek trail is one mile end to end –where it then connected with another trail to loop back to the parking lot.

It was getting warmer and I was getting tired, when I ended up on Dome Rock. I realized this was the back end of the rocks that had stopped me once before and I remembered that time that I couldn’t find an easy path, and I wasn’t sure I could slide down rocks, or return back the way I had come because what was easy to climb up, isn’t easy to climb down. The guide book had said this trail was moderate; I should have remembered from my experience with both both politics and religion, ‘moderate’ in Missouri doesn’t necessarily translate cleanly into the King’s English.

I walked towards the edge of the rocks to look over the valley and spotted an arrow pointing out the path, and a sign that read, “Rock Climbing Prohibited”. Oh. Darn. There was a nice cool breeze, and the view was good and I perked up and thought, hey, stop being a wimp, Shelley.

Walking to the other side of the domed rock, I could see the trail leading off, and the way down, though requiring a recourse to my stick more than once, traversable. I wondered how I had lost the trail last time I was out. I was about half way down, when I heard small feet running behind me and two dogs came running up, about level with my head on the rock above me, barking.

I am not comfortable meeting dogs without owners out in the forest. I yelled out, “Dogs! Are they friendly”, all the while holding out my stick. A voice yelled out, “They’re friendly, don’t worry!” and though the dogs didn’t come up to be petted, they didn’t come closer, and I realized they were more scared of me than me of them.

They belonged to a nice, if irresponsible couple who were showing their favorite walk to two relatives visiting from Scotland. These were older women, older than me, by far, and I watched with envy as they bounded past. I am not old, I think to myself — I am wounded. It’s my knee’s fault, I am not old.

We chatted for a bit, and after they left I started my slow descent and the way was not easy. At one point I had to inch down, walking sideways, sliding one foot to rest next to the other, on a ledge of dirt because I couldn’t climb up on the rock in the middle of the path. If I fell, I would only slide 8 or 9 feet, no real danger involved. It made me angry though, because I’m tired of having to hobble along with joints stiff and painful as people hopped and skipped past. A trip that would take one hour takes three, and leaves me so covered in sweat that even six bottles of water still leave me thirsty.

I made it, I didn’t fall, but I had a headache and was feeling overheated and lightheaded. And still feeling angry–why can’t the parks maintain their trails better? Why leave large rocks in the middle of the path so that people like me have to inch fearfully past?

At the bottom of the hill was a bench that faced one of the limestone canyon walls and I gratefully sunk into it, exhausted. I sat there for a while, trying to cool down, and regain my interest in my surroundings.

After a time, I began to notice the coloration of the different layers in the limestone cliff across from me. At one time the land all around had been smooth and featureless, but the pressures of a growing world had stressed the rock at faults, and cliffs formed, and valleys dropped, leaving behind one of the most unusual environments in Missouri; framed by boulders, filled with rare ferns and flowers, creeks and springs and falls formed at sharp edges–truly a lost land amidst all the constant Missouri forest.

Fault lines. Funny that a word used to describe a geological wonder is also used to assign blame, to weep and wail at fate and fact. My difficult on hills was the fault of my knee; my knee was the fault of improper walking due to in injury to my ankle and foot; my injury was due to a fall on the hill.

But why stop there? My fall on the hill was the fault of my distraction. My distraction was the fault of one worry or another. My worries were the fault of a soft job market in St. Louis. My living in St. Lous was the fault of the dot-com industry going belly up in California, while the cost of living remained the same. This state of affairs was the fault of rampant greed, shallowly based on industries with little real worth. And on and on it goes, a spiral of blame and fault finding until eventually the whole world is at fault, in one way or another.

“What did you do Saturday, Shelley?”

“Well, I sat at the bottom of a cliff surrounded by hay-smelling ferns and rare wild azaleas in the middle of a slice of the Ozarks older than sin, and sweated gallons of water while my knee throbed and old Scottish ladies pranced by like bloody young lassies, shaking my fist at the sky and cursed the world.”

“So, how about you?”

There was a crash in the bushes in the hill behind me, something much too large to be a squirrel and moving fast. I looked over in time to see a small red fox dash out about ten feet away and run, fast as it could across the path and down the hill towards the cliff. Following it, by a fairly long distance, was the darker of the two dogs I had met earlier, and behind it the other. They crashed off through the bushes until I couldn’t hear them any more.


I sat and looked after them for a time and then grabbed my stick and started up the trail. Eventually the younger dog came up behind me and trotted past, following the path up the hill.

I waited for the other one, the older one. Eventually he showed up on the trail behind me, limping a bit, and obviously tired. I called him by his name, but he wouldn’t approach me, but neither would he pass me. Figuring he was frightened of my walking stick, I started walking again and he followed.

I stopped now and again to rest my knee and look about, and as I did, the dog behind me also stopped. I walked, and he followed, and thus we made it up the hill, me first, the dog several paces back, both stopping at the same time, both footsore and panting from the heat, until we met up with his master. At that point, the dog bounded past me to a happy reunion, and the owner waved one more time at me, and yelled thanks and took off, while I made the rest of the way to the car.

When I got home, my roommate asked how my walk went.

“I saw a red fox. Not ten feet away from me, running away from a couple of dogs chasing it.”

“You saw a fox? I didn’t know there were fox in Missouri?”

“Yeah, a red fox. It was pretty cool really, but he was gone before I could get a photo.”

He shook his head, and said, “Too bad about the dogs chasing it. Stupid dogs.”

“The dogs were just doing what dogs do. It wasn’t the dogs’ fault.”

“It never is. ”


Perfect timing

After all the discussion we’ve had on blogrolls and the problems associated with “top” lists, and the headway we’re starting to make on understanding of the problems associated with links and popularity, to read about this at Dave Sifry’s is equal parts disappointment and amazement.

With the AO/Technorati Open Media 100 list, we are honoring those individuals who are driving the proliferation of Open Media and leveraging the power of community, not an individual or a corporation. The purpose of the list is to provide a framework of this emerging industry. It will include the key players who are proving the impact of Open Media and building the infrastructures to facilitate it.

What are the categories?

The Pioneers: industry luminaries who created the vision of open media and continue to shape it.

The Tool Smiths: web service entrepreneurs and companies building the open media tools (blogs, social software, wikis, RSS, analytic tools, etc.).

The Trendsetters: the influencers driving and evangelizing the adoption and applications of Open Media.

The Practitioners: the top bloggers in politics, business, technology, and media.

The Enablers: the venture capitalists and investors backing the Open Media Revolution.

Leaving aside the fact that originally, the Pioneers was labeled “The Founding Fathers” — ooops!–one can almost see the finger going down the Technorati Top 100 list and the voice echoing, “Well, we need a category for…” With some outside the list such as Wikipedia, flickr, and delicious.

Jeneane at Allied has a good post (with some nominations that made me chuckle–though I rather like Roland’s), and Dave Rogers asked some tough questions, in comments and in a related post.

And it’s not just the usual pain-in-the-butt suspects making foo-foo noises, as Mary Hoder also lists some concerns, though she did provide nominations.

By categorizing some people as the “Open Source Media 100″, spokespersons are officially created, people who can then be pointed to for outside media and commercial purposes. This effectively creates barriers against not only new participation, but participation from those outside of the select few who are brought up again. And again. And again.

The reason why ‘open source media’, if that’s the new term now, has grown as it has, is that there is no ownership of any one aspect of it. It’s a fertile field with plenty of room for old players and new. Create a list like that is the same as putting a box on it and saying, “Okay, now, these are the owners”.

Stowe Boyd writesDefinitely a sign of maturity in the marketplace I guess. A sign of maturity? Or a desperate wish to ‘legitimize’ this environment?

Technorati has good, sharp, motivated people–real innovators. With the data and resources available, the group could do much more than just ‘count’ links, and run contests. There is no innovation in “Top” lists. What a waste.

(Oh, and yes — last ‘Technorati’ and ‘link’ post for awhile. One can only go ‘tsk tsk tsk’ and shake one’s head so many times.)


Google doesn’t REST

Thanks to Sam Ruby for a heads up on a potentially nasty problem with Google’s new Web Accelerator, and badly designed REST applications. He linked to two sites that go into the details. The short version is that users of a specific web service were finding that they were losing data and after investigation, the service discovered that the Web Accelerator was the culprit.

The Web Accelerator is one of Google’s newest releases, and supposedly will help with the server-side backlogs that can occur when you’re accessing a site with a faster DSL or cable connection. How it works is that when you navigate to a site it ‘pre-fetches’ information by clicking on all the various links and, it would seem, caching the results.

All dandy (if confusing — we asked for this?) except for one thing: since this little deskside bot operates on a page under your name and authority at whatever site you’re at, if you’re at a web application that has links that do things such as ‘delete’ a web page or make some other form of update, the bot is just as happy clicking those links as not. Even if there is a Javascript alerts that should say, “Are you really sure you want to do that?”, it manages these behind the scene. Before you even know what’s happened, your data is gone.

Leaving aside that perhaps this won’t rival Google Maps for being handy, this bot does prove out a problem that people like Sam have been pointing out for some time — we’re using REST incorrectly, and because of this, we’re going to get bit in the butt some day.

Well, there’s a rottweiler hanging off some asses now, and it has “Google” on its name tag. (Uh, no metaformat pun intended.)

REST is an extremely simple web application protocol, and is what I’m using for my metadata layer in Wordform. Before I started implementing it, I researched around at what is needed for an application to be RESTful and the primary constraints are knowing when to use GET and when not to use GET. Really, really knowing when not to use GET.

You’re familiar with GET operations. In simplest form, when you search in a search engine, or access a weblog entry and there’s a URL with a bunch of parameters attached, that’s a GET request being made to the server. In this case, the parameters are passed as part of the URL.

Lots of applications have been using GET, not only to fetch information, but also to create or remove resources or make updates. However, what they should be doing is using methods other than GET, because this HTTP request type is only supposed to be used for operations that don’t have side effects. In other words: you can invoke the same service again and again and nothing will happen to the data with each iteration. Because of this, it’s also an operation that usually isn’t overly protected, other than perhaps a login being required to access the page or service. To the non-tech, it’s a link.

For operations that change data, we should be using POST, PUT, and DELETE. These requests are different in that all three have side effects. A POST is used to create a resource; PUT to update it; and DELETE to remove it.

These types of operations are associated with a certain sequence of events–you click some kind of Submit button and usually another page or alert box opens up that perhaps asks if you’re really sure you want to do this; you don’t see the parameters, and you don’t even necessarily see the service the request went to before a response page is shown. They are not links, and they don’t have the same global accessibility that a link has.

More importantly, potentially destructive agents such as Google’s Web Accelerator can’t do damage when you use the four REST commands correctly.

Today I tried to run my metadata flickr update application on my new weblog post and the flickr API is not responding. Since flickr is not using REST correctly –it’s using GET operations for events that have side effects–I am assuming that the web service is offline while the folks work on this. I haven’t been able to find an update anywhere on this, though, so this is my assumption only. Since I’m only using flickr for fetches, hopefully this won’t result in me having to change my code.

As for my metadata layer–it’s not as open as some of the applications that have used all GETs, but it isn’t fully RESTful either, which is why it won’t be released until it is–not when Google releases such a potentially harmful application. To be honest, though, my own pride should demand that if I’m going to use a specific protocol, I use it correctly.

Bottom line: Do not use Google Web Accelerator unless you know all web service applications you use are fully RESTful. If you do, you’ll most likely be unhappy as you watch your data disappear.

Two excellent articles on how REST works: Joe Gregorio’s How to Create a REST Protocol and Dare Obasanjo’s Misunderstanding REST: A look at the Bloglines, and Flickr APIs.

Oh, and don’t miss Phil’s Launch the Nuclear Weapon.


Missouri honeysuckle

I am working on a programming project for a friend, and also writing another longish “Missouri Tale”, but in honor of Mother’s Day I thought I’d share photos I took yesterday of a very rare plant: the wild azalea. The plant is also known locally as a “honeysuckle” and considering that Japanese honeysuckle is an invasive species that the conservationists are working, hard, to remove here in the Missouri, the local name does sometimes lead to confusion.

The Missouri honeysuckle is native to this area, but only exists in three tiny locations in the entire state; Pickle Creek area, where I hiked yesterday, is one of them. It’ s an amazingly delicate and lovely flower, and I was able to spot it primarily because I took a wrong fork at one point and ended up taking a longer way around. A way which just so happened to have several of the plants along the path.

The trip yesterday was tiring, but very calming, which was to the good. Something else that is calming, or I should say calming down is the ‘blogroll’ debate, which is also to the good. Lauren has a new post on the recent events, which captures the essence of some of the concerns on all sides in typically comprehensive and thoughtful Feministe manner. Hopefully, others will follow suit.

Since pink is supposed to help calm emotions, another photo of the wild azalea to speed this positive discourse on its way. (Notice how nicely it clashes with the strong colors of my site? I am always so glad when I can introduce these moments of exquisite pain, naturally.)

What I found interesting about the whole experience is that when I first published the post that triggered much of the recent anger or dismay, there was a great deal of defense of blogrolls but not much in the way of animosity in the responses. However, most of the people who responded then, over a month ago, were those who have read other of my posts, and were, more or less, familiar with my writing.

In this new discussion, the post was the first time that many of the people directed to my site had ever read me and they took what I was saying as a demand that people drop their blogrolls, that blogrolls are evil, and so on. Chris said that what I wrote was good except for the one statement about “…those with blogrolls, you are hurting us”. He said that was hyperbole and I agreed — of course it’s hyperbole. The very fact that I borrowed the phrase from Jon Stewart’s Crossfire appearance, and said so in the post. should have provided a strong hint of the nature of the statements that followed.

Stewart’s statement was also hyperbole. It was reducing all the sophisticated rhetoric attached to the media’s role with its public into simple, primitive, emotional terms and baldly thrown into the faces of the Crossfire journalists, leaving them absolutely no where to go, but inward. It not only pushed the journalists down the slippery slope — it iced it so they couldn’t climb out.

At the time I despised the phrase, but after watching many more of Stewart’s taped shows, I began to see how brilliant his approach was. Unfortunately, though, I may lack his deft touch with hyperbole, though I think I’m getting a handle on his use of satire.

My biggest mistake was I didn’t take into account when I wrote the statement that someone reading that post without having any history of my writing, thought processes, or even my reasons for using the Stewart phrase, is going to interpret what I was saying differently from a ‘regular’ reader. This was an eye opener. A rather contentious, somewhat fractious eye opener true; but an eye opener nonetheless.

Becoming aware of this as an issue, however, does not necessarily mean I will be viewing all this as an impetus to change. I will continue to use metaphor, hyperbole, and litotes (I am just so clever), indulge in satire and acrimony, revel in passion, gloat with anger, and even, or especially, insert my unique brand of “Tales of the Ozark” whenever it suits me when I write–but I may spare a few more minutes of time to consider the innocent who stumbles on to my page through a link or through some search engine. I may not write any differently but I will spare that time; as momentary penance for my act, if for no other reason.

Reflect. Reflect. Moving on…

But oo la that’s not the way to end a Mother’s Day post, which is supposed to have pink, diamond like stuff and be filled with fussy figurines and rosebud teacups — mothers immediately losing any and all interest in ’sleek’ and ‘edgy’ and ‘minimalistic’, as soon as they behold their offspring for the first time. So I’ll end with another photo of the wild azalea, even though it is neither fussy or a rosebud, but it is a lovely, delicate pink.

I also want to point out a site that I stumbled upon when I was reading some of the posts related to the blogroll thing: Illustration Friday. It is a site that lists a word each week, and people supply illustrations based on this word, using whatever medium they prefer. It is a fascinating mix of art ranging from the too cute to the frankly powerful and disturbing, and a rare good find. My thanks to MizzKitty–who wrote another very thoughtful post on the blogroll issue–for the find.