Monthly Archives: January 2014

Does email even work anymore?

Does email work anymore as a way to connect people who share the same interests, in the old-school Internet sense of the community that forms around a well-managed, well-moderated mailing list? I’m starting to think after having my inbox fill up with well-intentioned communications that the era of the mailing list is over, and with it the era of any other use for email except the purely transactional.

My email messages are relatively long (compared to IMs or tweets), relatively formal, and carefully composed. A single message will sit in my inbox for more than 24 hours before I feel ready to give it its due. In a world of instant messaging that looks more and more like an anachronism, as though I were pulling out a quill pen to communicate with when everyone else was merrily texting away.

I run some long-running mailing lists, and I’ve started to itch at the limitations of Yahoo Groups for community engagement and for attracting new people who don’t really want their inboxes to fill up with chit-chat. There must be a better way.

(Ironically, I’ll probably email this post out to one of those lists, and will get more comments back from the email than I will get from this blog.)


I’ve redesigned the front page (again)

I’ve redesigned the front page (again) so that it displays 40 word excerpts from blog posts, rather than the full text of the post. A similar treatment is given to archive and category pages. The automated excerpting is a new feature of Typepad, and I figured I’d give it a go, knowing that I could always bring back the original with a few clicks.

You can see it at

So far so good, I guess. I don’t have strong preferences about it; the advantage is that more short posts fit on a page, making it easier to scroll through a lot of them. The disadvantage is that I don’t know where the 40 word mark is, and there’s no really obvious way to say “always excerpt the lead paragraph”, which is what I want.

Fiddling with your blog is the traditional way not to write. If I had to fiddle more, I’d look for a design that worked better on mobile devices like my Android phone; the current design has a weird choice of fonts for blog title that comes out too small, and my CSS-fu is not adequate to the task of debugging and fixing it.

#snowedoutatlanta – January 28, 2014 Atlanta snowstorm paralyzes city

It’s cold here in Ann Arbor, but we more or less know how to deal with it. Not so in Atlanta, where slippery roads led to gridlock on the highways and midnight traffic jams.


From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

It was a day when a 10-mile commute could take you at least six hours. For those heading from downtown to the burbs, it was even worse. The interstates were a gridlocked mess long before the snow finished falling Tuesday. And side streets? Even worse. Some people ditched their vehicles and set out on foot. Others tried to help stranded strangers. And many persevered, moving a few inches an hour toward home.

A Facebook page, SnowedOutAtlanta, was set up to help stranded motorists, and it has spawned a Stranded Driver Shelter Map, a clip of which is below.


Kroger, Walmart, and Home Depot have opened their stores as shelters, if you can get to them.

UPDATE: The Jeff Masters blog from Weather Underground has the situation in detail.

A dangerous winter storm swept through the Deep South on Tuesday, dumping 1 – 4″ of snow and 1/4″ – 1/2″ of ice on a region unused to dealing with severe winter weather. Travel chaos resulted in many cities, and at least nine people died in storm-related accidents. Officially, 2.6″ of snow fell at the Atlanta Airport from Winter Storm Leon, and snow amounts across the city ranged from 1.5″ – 3.5″. But with temperatures in the low 20s, and only 40 snow plows and 30 sand trucks to handle the snow, Atlanta streets and highways quickly turned into parking lots during the afternoon snow, as schools, businesses, and government offices all closed nearly simultaneously, sending a huge number of vehicles onto the roads. Atlanta experienced its worst traffic day of all-time, and thousands of motorists were forced to abandon their vehicles, with many spending the night sheltering in stores, stalled cars, or strangers’ homes. A Facebook group dubbed SnowedOutAtlanta, meant to connect stranded motorists with people willing to put them up for the night, had thousands of members by Tuesday night. Hundreds of children never made it home, and were forced to spend the night at their schools or at bus shelters. There were 940 confirmed traffic accidents in Atlanta, with more than 100 involving injuries, according to the Georgia public safety commissioner. It was Atlanta’s worst driving day since the infamous Snow Jam of 1982, when 6″ of snow also created traffic chaos, stranding thousands of motorists.

How to write a thank you note – Leslie Harpold, The Morning News

Condensed; the whole essay is lovely and will inspire you to find your pen and buy some notecards and put them in the mail.

  • Greet the Giver (“Dear Drea”)
  • Express Your Gratitude (“Thanks for the hat.”)
  • Discuss Use (“It’s keeping me warm in the bitter cold.”)
  • Mention the Past (“Deb was happy to see me replace the silly hat I was wearing.”)
  • Allude to the Future (“I hope to see you soon to show it off while it’s still freezing.”)
  • Grace. (“Thanks again.”)
  • Regards (“Love Ed”)

State of the Union bingo

It’s almost time for my Twitter feed to be sportsed up with State of the Union tweets (carefully marked with the hashtag #sotu).

To prepare, here are a few State of the Union bingo cards for your watching pleasure.

Having read a passage from a book, I then …. Rereading Benedikt’s “Cyberspace”


I’m rereading some books from my bookshelf, on the theory that it’s easier to make sense of the static texts that I own than to try to dip into the infinite stream of the internet and be enlightened or entertained by it.

So far, so good; I pulled out a copy of Polya’s “How to Solve It” (1945), David Sucher’s “City Comforts” (2003), and Michael Benedikt‘s anthology “Cyberspace: First Steps” (1991/1992), and enlightened myself with each.

The challenge of books in a digital age is that they want to be a part of your every day reference use, so that you could rummage through them whenever you wanted to and have some sense of what was in them that could be used or reused. Books – unlike tweets – have gravity. They need space well beyond what the microchip could be used to store them, and they demand a certain carefulness so that you can’t simply throw a dozen of them into your book bag.

One nice thing about books is that they live on a bookshelf; and by doing so they are near their neighbors which helps you understand the next work you might want to read. Consider only one of these, Benedikt’s “Cyberspace”. It’s a wonderful book written at the very beginning of the era of the World Wide Web, yet it is completely untouched by The Web As We Know It Today. If there’s anything of common use that defines it, it’s the more fanciful and imagined virtual worlds of the MUD and MOO systems of its generation. In its uncommon manifestations its all about the otherworldly architecture of a generation of imagined but unbuilt online human-computer environments.

I read Cyberspace, and I want to put my stamp on my cyberspace to show that I have read it and to increase the chance that if I’m stumbling upon the same ideas again that I will find it again. How to do this, in a way that’s true to the work?

One simple technique is to anchor this essay with the words that will let me find it again. A Google search for “vielmetti benedikt cyberspace” should, by all expectations, find this again. That helps, but only if I remember the exact incantation.

A more elaborate technique would be to note my interest in this book in various social reading systems, like Goodreads (which helpfully saves what page you are on) and Librarything (which helpfully tags the work and suggests related). I could review it on Amazon, though Amazon is most helpful for me in noting that if I ever lose my copy, that I can have another one for a penny plus postage and handling.

For every work, there’s some chance that an echo of it will be online too; IEU in Turkey has the introduction, as a reading for a Media Culture and Technology class.

What I want to know, though, is what are the contemporaries of this work, and its descendants. What was next to it on the shelf at Borders Store #1 when I pulled it off the shelf to buy it? Who will nod knowingly when I pull it out of my bookshelf, dust it off, and flip through to find some passage that I might remember? What should go next to it on my own shelves, real or imagined?

I’ve carried around some of these texts for a long time. In some real world of the current cyberspace, I want to embed them so that I can find them again (so they can find me again) when I need them. What’s more, they are not just ever-scrolling words on the infinite Internet scroll; they are real and unique objects that take up space and weigh something and that have bookmarks and notes in the margins.

noted as well:

An interview with Benedikt in AIGA

At the same time I was also lamenting that cyberspace—that wonderful, phantasmagoric three-dimensional alternative reality imagined by William Gibson—was not actually shaping itself on-line as I and many others thought it surely would. What Mosaic, then Netscape, then Explorer delivered was mostly the content of your local drugstore newsstand, but worse: delivered more jerkily, more shallowly, and more resolutely two-dimensionally—like paper flyers blown against the back of the computer screen. (99% of it still looks that way, Flash graphics notwithstanding.) Set aside the code-writing required: by 1993 it was clear that the transmission and processing speeds required to sustain cyberspace were going to be long in coming. They are still not here. To this day, only advanced intranet gamers have a foretaste of Gibsonian cyberspace: a real-time, shared, virtual space seamlessly mixing useful data, personal presence, and real-world, real-time connection.