At the fork of an ugly road

An older woman with a cricky knee and tired faced, but with a twinkle in her eye and a sashay in her hips, was walking along a path one day when she was faced with a fork in the road.

She looked down the first path from the fork but all she could see was a pack of snarling dogs, and she grew sore afraid.

“If I go down that path,” she thought. “I’ll be torn to pieces, that’s for sure.”

She started to go down the other path when, all of a sudden she beheld a huge dragon sitting in the middle of it! It looked at her in a hungry manner, while smoke come from its nose, and fire from its mouth. She was so afraid, her knees shook. Yes, even her cricky one.

“If I go down that path,” she thought. “I’ll be burnt to a crisp, or sat on and squished.”

At that moment, a shadow fell on her and looking up, she beheld a beautiful, huge eagle circling above her. The sun reflected on its golden wings and she found comfort in its wise, dark eyes.

“If you stand over there in the clearing, my lady,” she heard the eagle say. “I’ll grab you by the shoulders and carry you to where you want to go.”

“Then you won’t be torn apart by terrible dogs.”

“Then you won’t be burnt or sat on and squished.”

The lady was thankful and hastened to the clearing. The shadow grew larger and she felt the wind from the mighty wings beating all about her. Quicker than a cat snaps the neck of a finch, she felt two clawed feet clasp her gently by the shoulders and carry her, oh so softly, aloft.

Away from the dogs.

…Away from the nasty dragon.


……………to the eagle’s nest, where she was dinner that night.

The moral of this story? At the fork of an ugly road, turn around and go home.

The. End.



Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Some discussion recently about the new backchannels that are appearing at technical conferences. If you’re not familiar with the term, in this case it means that the people in the room are communicating with each other on an IRC channel while the presentation or talk is happening.

Liz Lawley started an invitation only one at a conference she attended, and others such as Clay ShirkyDavid Weinberger (whose permalinks are broken), and Sam Ruby have all chimed in, favorably, on the concept.

I have been talking in comments about this, but wasn’t going to post until Mark Pilgrim came out with his two cents:

I can not be any clearer: I wholeheartedly support this. Despite hysterical objections from the usual suspects, I have seen the benefits of the backchannel firsthand. At ApacheCon last fall, Ken Coar announced during the initial keynote that there were IRC channels set up for the conference (one for each presentation room, and a main one for the conference in general). When I presented, I went so far as to put the address of the IRC channel on my first slide, to remind people where they could talk about me behind my back for the next 45 minutes. A friend in the audience forwarded me a copy of the channel transcript afterwards, and I discovered that several of the best questions came out of discussion in the backchannel.

I’m not going to repeat what others have said in support of this, you can read this yourself. But I am going to repeat what I said in comments.

No matter how well intentioned, an unauthorized backchannel at a conference is going to elicite reactions from the audience not synchronized with the presentation, and this is going to cause confusion and disruption. Someone quietly online reading their email, or browing the internet, is unlikely to react in such a way to disrupt the atmosphere of the room.

As for whispering and note taking at conferences, I�ve rarely seen that. The only this occurs, usually, is at interactive panels, or in larger presentation rooms. Never in the intimate presentation rooms that most presentations are given in.

Within an intimate presentation environment, a backchannel can�t help but be disruptive, unless, it was specifically designed to be part of the environment.

An unauthorized, invite only, �friends� only, backchannel in the midst of a presentation given by a person not aware this was happening strikes me as rude, and disruptive.

There has to be boundaries to social software � the use of software does not make rude behavior suddenly less so.

At Sam’s I wrote:

No matter how it’s packaged, I cannot conceive of any circumstances where it would be anything but rude to start a backchannel primarily focusing on snarky comments about the presentation currently underway.

To be honest, to start a backchannel at all, unless it is, like you say, specifically built into the presentation.

A presenter has an obligation to do the best they can on the material and try to focus it on the audience as a whole. This won’t please everyone, which is why most presenters understand when a person gets up and leaves. Particularly good speakers will know to read their audience to determine if they should spead up or slow down, or crack a joke.

However, the audience also has a responsibility to at least make a pretense of paying attention – or leave.

If I were in a room with several people participating in a backchannel, indulging in laughter on occasion inappropriate to what the presenter is saying, I would be mortified. I would probably just end my presentation, and I would leave.

Are we all ADD children that can’t sit still for ten minutes and actually listen? How much is lost of what’s being said because people are only listening with half their attention?

I’m sorry and if you want to strike this out Sam, please do – but that’s the rudest fucking thing I’ve heard of since I started weblogging, no matter whose ’social norms’ this is supposedly a part of.

And to think it’s being applauded. We have lost the grace of being human with each other. All it is now is screens and bits, IM and IRC and weblogs and absolutely disregarding the people at the heart of all this.

I regret now that I used the term “fucking rude” when ‘rude’ would have done as well.

Social software was developed to enable people to establish better communication via the Internet. It was never designed, or the intention of the design was never to replace courtesy, yet I am seeing this ‘backchannel’ behavior used, more and more, as an excuse to malign, ridicule, and disrupt.

If a backchannel is created as part of a session, then by all means, use it, and use it constructively. But if a channel doesn’t exist, it is rude to create one. If a speaker is boring, it is better to just get up and quietly leave.

Paying attention to a speaker isn’t submitting to authority, or giving up your rights as a participant. It is acknowledging that they spent a considerable amount of time to put the presentation together, and you are supposedly there, because they have something to say.

The thought that a group of people can’t sit still and listen for 45 minutes to one person, without having to break out their computers and start their chitchat with each other is not an effective demonstration of the benefits of social software.

If you can’t sit for 45 minutes to pay attention to a speaker, why go to the conference? If you’re only interested in chatter with other people, why attend the sessions?

I have presented at several conferences in the past, before all of this social software innovation, and from the reactions of the audience and the feedback I’ve received, I have had no problems with keeping the attention of those who attended. Additionally, I had no problems generating participation between me and the audience and between the audience members.

Would I allow something like a backchannel? No. I could not see spending a considerable amount of time carefully crafting a presentation, and then spend my money to attend a conference just to be half-listened to by a group of people who are resistent to unplugging for a brief period of time. Unless, the backchannel was part of the discussion, I wouldn’t have one.

If I were part of a panel? Then yes, I would definitely encourage the use of an official backchannel, but not an unofficial one, though there would be little we could do to stop it. As long as the unofficial backchannel members don’t disrupt, if they want to be critical or snarky of the speaker while the person is still speaking, that’s their choice. And if they have questions or concerns, I would assume they would use the official backchannel. I still think the behavior is rude, but hopefully not disruptive in these circumstances.

As for criticism of a speaker while the talk is still going on, sorry, but I don’t understand how anyone with any empathy could support this. Can you imagine how it would feel to be up on stage and have comments like ‘Wow, this is sure boring’ appear in large letters, right in front of you?

Courtesy does not change just because we’re separated from each other by a wire.


Backchannel note to Mark Pilgrim

I wasn’t going to talk about backchannels, except I wanted to address a comment directly to Mark Pilgrim. I would send him an email, but he disregards them, and he doesn’t have comments.

Mark, labeling people’s comments as hysterical because you don’t agree with them– or more likely because we’re part of a group of people who have offended you in the past–is getting tiresome.

I don’t have scores of fans who will defend me, Mark, I have to do it on my own. But each time you play this game, you have fans of yours who say some pretty hateful and very personal things about me that I’m finding harder to shake off, with each iteration.

I am not afraid to fight my own battles, but I can’t do it when the words are whispered behind hands or closed doors, I can’t block against snipes and innuendo.

If you disagree with what I wrote, then disagree with the words. Please! I welcome it! Disagree with my use of the term ‘fucking rude’? Well say so. And I’d probably agree with you – I shouldn’t have used it when ‘rude’ would do. Disagree that backdoor backchannels are rude? Then say so, and we’ll debate. Or not.

If I have been dismissive or cruel to others in the past, then point out the instances, and I’ll probably agree and offer humble apologies. I have not been above pettiness in the past. But let’s deal with this directly–no more ‘backchannel’ slaps.

When you dismissively label what I write with terms like ‘hysterical’, or make fun of me rather than address what I’m writing, all you’re doing is cutting at me, Mark, not my words. Some people might enjoy this – I’m not one of them. I like a good debate, but no one likes to be belittled.

If you can’t give me the courtesy two adults owe each other, Mark, then give me your silence, and just ignore me.


Feminism, Sexism, and Powderpuff Blogging

I once wrote about being a ‘powderpuff’ hydroplane racer a long time ago. A powderpuff race was where all the guys let us girls use their great big boats to race each other, a fun time for us, an anxious time for them. When women started racing all the time, the powderpuff races were eliminated, which was a good thing because the last race run about half the field crashed, with some serious injuries.

Now I realize what a foolish event that was. Think about putting 10 or 12 inexperienced racers together at one time on a course, most going 60MPH or faster on boats made of 1/4 inch plywood on rough waters–all competing for the same spot at the same time.

I was reminded of this recently when it was suggested that a certain weblogging conference feature a session about women and weblogging, and used a lot of terms that pushed some deeply internal buttons. I would link to the event and provide a description of the terms, but the event has been cancelled, supposedly because of the negative feedback. Along with this was the originator’s quickly pulled declaration to never discuss this topic again.

What were the flashpoints for me? That we keep returning to the buzzsheets as the ultimate measure of our worth; that women were referred to as “chicks” and the meeting described using terms such as “pajama party”; that I was originally mentioned in context of this same meeting, making me wonder if the people who mentioned my name have even read me to even remotely consider that I would view a meeting of this nature and with these terms with anything other than chagrin.

Ultimately, though, the strongest flashpoint for me was that we keep boxing women, and by association, men for that matter, into these categories –women only write about personal stuff, men write about politics or technology. I hear sweeping statements made about how personal women are in our writings, how focused on family and friends, and poetry, and maybe even an occasional photo, or two. I hear, again and again, about how warm and nurturing women are, and the reason why we’re not higher up in the buzzsheets is not only because of what we write, but how we write. It’s said that we women aren’t aggressive enough: not only in our writing, but in our intereactions with each other.

However, this annoyance was a turn around for me, because I was one of those that used to talk about ‘women in blogging’ and bringing up the inherent sexist nature of the buzzsheets. How much did I talk about it? You only have to search my previous entries on feminism or sexism and you’ll see plenty of results, many of them related to weblogging.

I don’t regret writing on feminism or rights for women, but I do regret that I differentiated the women webloggers from the men, or women techs from men, because it served no useful purpose other than to classify women as a separate category – creating what was, to all intents and purposes, a powderpuff weblogging class. And just like that race long ago, doing this separation and categorization fosters an atmosphere of competition among the women, while the men sit back and laugh at the cat fights.

If we say that 50 spots on Technorati 100 have to be reserved for women, would all women then race for those spots and crash into each other in the process? What’s the fun of that? I’d rather loose every reader I have, or every weblogger I call friend, than to compete for any of them. There’s not a one that I will compete for–not a one–because I still remember what it felt like getting hit by a boat going 60MPH and having my hip crushed; I have no interest in replicating the event, virtually.

A nice thing about doing a retrospective of your past writing, is recognizing when you were wrong about something, while you still have a chance to rectify some of the damage. I did more harm than good by putting boxes around women webloggers, especially those in the technical field. I remember once, probably close to two years ago, when I pointed out photos showing little beyond white males and pointed out we should actively seek to include both women and men in gatherings of this nature. I was surprised when I had both female and black friends gently push back at my statement, and I couldn’t understand then why they did, but I do now.

By highlighting either a sex or a race, I wasn’t opening doorways to participation – I was highlighting the perceptions of differences.

Women write about personal things and men write about politics. Women are warm and nurturing, while men are more objective. Women communicate differently than men. These stereotypes are bullshit.

The men I read can be objective, political, and delightfully obnoxious, but they can also be sensitive and sensuous, or warm and nurturing when it comes to that. They don’t back down when something matters, and can hold their own. The thing is, the women I read are the same–or I don’t read them.

I’ve never seen Michele from a A Small Victory or Meryl Yourish shrink from a challenge, and Feministe is unflinching in her support for rights for women, world wide–and she gets some pretty nasty comments at time, but she doesn’t stop.

I remember Teresa Nielsen Hayden taking her fine editorial blue pencil to an email that chastized her for being critical of a writer. To his comment that most of the positive responses she gets are from people sucking up to her in her position as editor at Tor, she responded with:

I thought everybody knew by now that sucking up to editors isn�t cost-effective behavior. We can like you perfectly well, indeed love you dearly, without feeling the least obligation to buy your work; and then we�ll turn around and buy a book from a complete stranger, for no better reason than that we loved his book and didn�t love yours. Jim Frenkel was once approached at a convention by an attractive young lady, who said, approximately:

�Golly, Mr. Frenkel, I�d do anything to be a published author.�



�Then write me a good book.�

I loved her response, and I don’t write the type of books Tor publishes, so I’m not sucking up. Honest.

All of these women webloggers write about home and family, but they also write about work and politics and how life sucks at times. They can be warm and nurturing, but they can also blast the top layer of your skin off if you catch them on a bad day with a condescending attitutude.

They aren’t women weblogers. They’re just webloggers – no different than any of the dude webloggers out there, and for me to differentiate as I did in the past was just plain wrong.

Of course, with published hindsight also comes the inevitable responsiblity of admitting error, and I owe, among others, Meg Hourihan an apology for disregarding what she has been saying about women in technology. I can’t remember where she wrote the comment, but she once wrote that she helps women in technology by attending and speaking at technology conferences. I was on a full rant at the time, and blew it off. I can see now that I was wrong, and I owe Meg an apology because I was out of line.

(Lest Meg think I’ve been taken over by the pod people, note that I still disagree with her on many things.)

That’s the key: not only being seen, but being heard. In the upcoming blogging conference, women shouldn’t split off a separate session to talk about women in blogging. They should attend all of the sessions, sit up front, and make themselves heard. That’s worth ten times what we’ve done for women in weblogging with all our writing on the subject.

Julia Lerman has done more by talking about .NET technologies, and Gina and Meg did more by developing Kinja, and Dori Smith does more, and the list goes on, including my own efforts with RSS and Atom, RDF, and weblogging software.

Women webloggers are no different than men webloggers. We don’t need to be treated special; we’re not going to break apart if what we say is criticized, and we give back as good as we get. I don’t have weblog sisters unless I also have weblog brothers and I’m not related to any of you other than through admiration and respect (or acrimony and loathing because I do speak my mind, and note to the acrimonious: get over it).

If women want to differentiate themselves, more power to them. They can call themselves bitch, mother, crone, or babe , and it has nothing to do with the rest of us. Guys have been calling themselves bastards, stud, or grumpy old men for years and we don’t take this as a classification of the gender as a whole.

Time to kill the myth of the powderpuff webloggers–we’re all in the same race, now.


The place where I live

here was a meme floating around recently about taking photos of where you weblog. Where I weblog is where I write and where I live, other than when running around on errands, traveling, or hiking.

My office is in my bedroom, and on the second floor of a townhouse in a nice multi-dwelling complex in St. Louis. My desk is really a long table, and it contains my printer, answering machine, phone, Windows laptop, several computer disks, slide light box, slide scanner, Ben Franklin table lamp, binoculars (for looking at the birds), and various mugs holding pens and other things. Behind the desk is a double window, the left side’s blinds always closed, the right always open so that I can look out at the people walking about or playing, or watch the birds in the tree across the way. Our street is a good street for window watching–with kids playing, young men tossing a football to each other, and neighbors saying, “Hi”, as they walk their dogs.

I can see all the seasons from my window, and all aspects of the day: sunrise, sunset, bright midday light, and dark night. Just in case I forget.

The surface of my desk is covered with odds and ends, though I have the best intentions of keeping it uncluttered. Everything is usually dusty, too, because I like to live the window open a crack, unless it’s too hot or cold. The table is too low so I’ve raised my laptop by using two Photoshop manuals placed side by side with a small checkbox size gap between. On top of them are the double volume set of Tale of the Genji, which I’m using primarily because they’re the perfect height, and they match. On top of those is a B & H catalog, and then my laptop. The arrangement works well, and even preserves a gap for my checkbook and passport.

The left side of my desk is a large bookshelf, that’s filled with all the books I have, cartons of the books I’ve written on top waiting to be given out. There’s a brass floor lamp between–I have a lot of lamps in my room. Behind me there are two tables pushed into the corner holding my TV and stereo system, wireless router, cable box, more lamps, film waiting to be developed, and all the books from the library. I’ll watch a movie at night sometimes while I work at my computer.

Along the walls are some photos and three framed posters: one of Albert Einstein, and two of Pre-Raphaelite paintings–The Lady of Shalott by Waterhouse and Ophelia by Millais–I hand carried in a tube when I returned from my only trip to London.

On the other side of the desk is a large Rubbermaid cooler, which I use for my papers; on top are two beautiful hand-made baskets my sister-in-law made me, back when I still had a brother, and my brother still had a sister. I use these baskets to hold bills to be paid, slides I’m working on, travel maps, and anything else that’s too loose for my tabletop.

Next to my chair is the end of my bed, and there I set up my TiBook, and any photos or books I’m working on. I try to make the bed in the morning, before I start setting things up for the day, but sometimes when I wake, I want to write now, and the most I’ll do is pull the cover back. It sounds unworkable, but it’s not. Not really.

My cat has a corner of my desk by the window for sleeping, but it’s filled now with blank CDs I’m burning, as I offload photos from both computers. The CDs are multi-colored, bright blue and green, red, orange, and purple, adding a bit of color to the rather muted surroudings. The floor underneath my feet is filled with so many cords, I have to move carefully, or I’ll get tangled up in them and fall.

I try to keep things straight, but the place where I live is a mess.