Your spam filter may need recalibrating when…

July 4, 2014 @ 7:01 am | Filed under: Bloggity

…your friend Monica’s comment gets held up in pending but Mr. Convert Flash Video sails right on through.

P.S. Since my comment notifications didn’t seem to be working for everyone (were they working for anyone?), I’ve switched to threaded comments as an experiment. I don’t love threaded comments myself—too hard to see what’s new in a discussion—but I’m curious to know if the reply notifications work any better this way. If you comment and don’t get an email notification, let me know?

Look what Scott just did to me

July 3, 2014 @ 3:03 pm | Filed under: Photos

He sent me this picture. Rilla, circa 2007.

rilla2007

There oughta be a law.

Sensible

July 2, 2014 @ 5:19 pm | Filed under: These People Crack Me Up

Huck proudly displaying his Tinkertoy windmill: “I followed the constructions.”

And yet not a single photo of the mulberry faces

July 1, 2014 @ 6:32 pm | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry

First: thanks to all who have chimed in on the Facebook/blogging/commenting/internet communities discussion. Your comments have kept my brain whirring all day. I could talk about this subject for ages.

***

Second: As I said in the comments a little while ago, one of my takeaways from this conversation is a more-enthusiastic-than-ever commitment to blogging, and an ensuing curiosity about what you would like to see in this space. I’ve written about how it serves as a valuable chronicle for my family (the older kids like to trawl the archives for stories about the hilarious things they said when they were younger), and I’d be lost without this site as a think-aloud journal for my reading and my enthusiasms both sudden and enduring.

I’ve had high and low tides of writing more outwardly focused kinds of posts. I think of the foreign language resource posts I’ve been writing lately as the outwardly focused kind: sharing something cool we’ve learned or experienced with the rest of the world, in hopes the information may be useful. That kind of blogging takes a bit more focus, a bit more time, but I really enjoy it and feel like it’s a way of giving back to the readers who are kind enough to make time for visiting here. If there are topics or resources you’d like my take on, please don’t hesitate to ask.

There’s another kind of post, the “let’s chat about this” kind—like the Facebugged one, actually. Sarah E., I haven’t forgotten my promise to try a book discussion post for We Were Liars. I used to do open threads for books quite often and I’m not sure why I stopped! (Or when, for that matter.)

***

Third: Daily notes for the aforementioned chronicle. Went geocaching with friends at a park today and found a cache that had eluded us twice before. Flushed with success! Also picked and ate delectable mulberries right off an accommodating tree in the nature trails. Blue blanket, blue sky, green grass, purple mouths. Welcome, July.

 

In case you read via feed reader

June 30, 2014 @ 6:20 pm | Filed under: Bloggity

There’s a lot of good conversation happening in the comments of the Facebugged post. Many topics, not just Facebook: blog nostalgia; blog communities compared to FB and other kinds of community; the sacredness of some topics and the notion of ‘right spaces’ for discussing certain things; more. Join us if you like. If I could, I’d pour you a cup of tea.

Leaving the Garden

June 30, 2014 @ 9:49 am | Filed under: Books

 

entroots

I read The Secret Garden to Rilla recently. She loved it beyond reckoning, same as I did at her age—same as I do now. During fraught passages, she couldn’t keep still: had to roll around on the bed, wave her legs in the air, hug herself, squeal, stand up and jump. All that emotion had to manifest in movement. It was fascinating to witness the way the book literally moved her. It brought a whole new dimension to my understanding of that expression.

***

Often, after I’ve read a book aloud to my kids, they take it away and immediately reread it. I thought Rilla might want to do that with Secret Garden but she looked almost shocked by the suggestion.

“No!” she exclaimed. “After you read me a book, I kinda treat it as an artifact too fragile to be touched.”

Well. I’m going to have to think about that. She probably won’t feel that way forever, and I imagine there will come a day when she does curl up with this tome for a delicious, private reread. Maybe around age ten or eleven—she’s only eight, after all. It’s interesting to contemplate, though. Was the experience of this book so fully engaging, such a complete kinesthetic, aural, visual, imaginative absorption that it feels enough? Have you ever experienced a book that way—a first encounter so complete that you never wanted to go back again?

Facebugged

June 28, 2014 @ 11:52 am | Filed under: Social Media

I’ve made an uneasy peace with becoming a product sold to advertisers. Now it seems I’ve been a lab rat, too.

The AV Club reports:

Scientists at Facebook have published a paper showing that they manipulated the content seen by more than 600,000 users in an attempt to determine whether this would affect their emotional state. The paper, “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks,” was published in The Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences. It shows how Facebook data scientists tweaked the algorithm that determines which posts appear on users’ news feeds—specifically, researchers skewed the number of positive or negative terms seen by randomly selected users. Facebook then analyzed the future postings of those users over the course of a week to see if people responded with increased positivity or negativity of their own, thus answering the question of whether emotional states can be transmitted across a social network. Result: They can! Which is great news for Facebook data scientists hoping to prove a point about modern psychology. It’s less great for the people having their emotions secretly manipulated.

bubble

I uploaded this picture last night, intending to write my usual sort of daily-chronicle post. Then my eye wandered from the rainbows inscribed on the bubble to the blunt, browned ends of the grass and I got distracted by the ruthlessness with which we shear off the tender edges of nature. I wandered off to bed, musing, leaving the post unwritten. (Huck’s finger is much improved, was the gist.)

This morning, after reading the article quoted above (about a different kind of bubble, a ruthlessness altogether unsurprising but disgusting nonetheless), I came back here and found the photo waiting. And now I see that I’m in the picture too, there inside the bubble, taking a photo of the green world on the other side of the film. You could work up quite a metaphor there, obvious, clumsy, but apt: the insubstantial bubbles, the world outside, the illusions of people that aren’t the persons themselves.

But my frustrations aren’t philosophical (of course Facebook was always going to exploit us in every way possible) but practical. The reason a billion people have handed over their (our) data to Facebook is, at heart, a practical one: it’s the most efficient platform anyone has yet come up with for letting us keep in touch with a large number of friends and family at once. We failed at writing letters. Good phone conversations, while satisfying, take immense chunks of time. If you want to keep up with each other’s daily lives, the little things, you have to talk every couple of days (at the least) or else there’s too much ground to cover and you must out of necessity abridge.

Yahoogroups worked, for a while—you could engage in meaningful discourse or chummy banter with a good-sized group of people at once. But generally most of those relationships were new, were forged because of the group, by means of the group. I made some lifelong friends that way (hello, TAMs! hello, Karen!) but (I don’t like that ‘but’; it sounds like a devaluation of the friendships on its left, and that isn’t what I mean at all)—but—but my high-school friends didn’t form a Yahoogroup. My college friends didn’t. We kept to our phone calls, our occasional letters and visits. I read letters six times and treasured them, and didn’t write back, or did but didn’t stop for stamps.

After a while, most of the Yahoogroups I was part of morphed into discussion boards (more efficient, because they allowed for topic-sorting; less efficient, because they required administration and management) or faded into disuse. I think I’m still signed up to forty-odd lists. I get mail from three, and read one and a half. It’s years since I logged into a discussion board.

Then came blogs. Those of us still doggedly blogging for personal reasons look back on 2005 and 2006 with nostalgia: we remember what it was like in those days, less than a decade ago, when we were for the first time opening our front doors and saying here’s my house, come in. We shared too much, made friends, celebrated art and nature, got in fights, copied one another or got furious about being copied—all the same things we’d done on AOL in 1995 and in email groups in 1999, only now with photos of our children. We formed new and very real friendships: real and strange, because we knew (know) so much about each other and have watched each other’s children grow up, and yet we live so far away some of us may never meet. When one of us goes silent for a while, the others worry. Sometimes I’ll think: if she dies, I might never know what happened.

That’s if she isn’t on Facebook. Because that’s what Facebook does better than blogging—connects wide groups of people and spreads news they wouldn’t necessarily publish on any other website—and Facebook is why only a fraction of my friends-who-blogged are blogging still. Facebook IS blogging. It’s everyone blogging at once on the same platform, a platform cleverly managed (manipulated) for purposes we all agree are greedy at best, and not guided by principles that put our best interests remotely near the top of the priority list.

I love Facebook. I hate Facebook. I have loved and hated it since the day I joined. Facebook gave me back friends I had lost: that’s the sum total of my reason for loving it, and it’s immense. All those other platforms brought me new friends. Facebook reunited me with old ones. I don’t need to dress it up in metaphors. I’d lost touch with some of the people I loved best, and Facebook gave them back to me. It gave me what blogging didn’t: daily contact with beloved cousins and old school friends. Every day, it gave (gives) me photos and anecdotes of their lives, their children, their pets, their loved ones, their work. How can I measure the value of that?

If all the people I loved were inclined to blog—to blog about their personal lives, no less—I wouldn’t need a platform like Facebook. Somehow, Facebook accomplished the miraculous feat of convincing all these old friends to blog as we were doing, with oversharing and our children’s faces and outrage and sorrow and delight. And commenting is easier there, it just IS: fast, efficient (it always comes back to efficiency), and rewarded by a heartening LIKE. And—significantly—more conversational. You can reply back and forth quickly, in real-time like chat. Don’t blog comments feel more formal somehow? They didn’t use to. I feel like we used to chitchat more in the combox, but maybe that’s nostalgia. It’s probably just the time delay. If I reply to your comment here, it’s probably a day after you wrote it, and who knows if you even see the reply.

It’s strange, actually, the way we feel safer about sharing our personal stories on Facebook. We know we’re the product there; the evidence is thrust before us every time we open the tab and see a sidebar ad for a book we looked at on a different website the day before. We rail about the way they keep resetting the news feed from ‘most recent’ to ‘top stories,’ we fume at each sneaky privacy-policy change, we wince each time another website wants us to log in via Facebook before we can leave a comment.

But we go back, because that’s where our friends are posting photos of their their babies, their travels, their graduations. Because it’s a mini college reunion every time one of us posts and all our classmates chime in, laughing over an old shared joke. Because we have history together, and we care about one another’s present-day lives. Because if something serious happens, you’re going to tell your Facebook friends before you put it on a blog.

To leave, or to make the decision never to go in the first place (for reasons I respect and with a resolve I may at times envy a little), is to cut yourself off from a certain flow of information. There’s plenty of nonsense and trivia on Facebook, as there is in all forms of human interaction, including some of the best phone calls I’ve ever had. But there’s a great deal of the Real, the Good, the True there too, and it’s that—not simply the dopamine hit, as many theorists would have us believe—that brings us back. It’s genuine curiosity. It’s, to be blunt, love. I love you and I want to know how you’re doing. If Facebook is where you’re showing me, how can I stay away?

I would pay for an ad-free social connection site with no data-mining and no gross user manipulation of the sort revealed in the newly published study described in the article above. (You can click through from the article to the study itself.) But—here’s what I know. I know it’s unlikely a critical mass of my friends and relatives would too. Facebook caught us because it was free, and because there was a numerical tipping point: so many of us are there now, you really are missing something if you aren’t. Which isn’t to say anyone should be there who doesn’t want to be: I wouldn’t presume. As I said, I respect and admire their reasons for staying away.

But I’m a practical person, and I know what I’ll miss out on if I leave. I’m 46 years old and I’ve lived in a lot of places. I love a great many people. As I said on Facebook this morning when I shared the link above—my last act before logging out for a breather—”But how will I get my YOU fix?”

Wednesday, I think?

June 25, 2014 @ 7:29 pm | Filed under: Family Adventures

ivycache

Huck has an infected finger. I’ll spare you the gory details. Suffice it to say they’re gory, and I’ve added a new and entirely unwanted skill (pus drainage) to my maternal repertoire. We spent much of yesterday at the doctor, he’s now on antibiotics, and, proving there’s lemonade to be made even from a festering lemon, the two of us got to sit cuddled up until midnight watching Minecraft videos together. If I’m a little punchy today, you’ll understand.

Did manage to squeeze in some fun yesterday before the unfortunate appendage went from alarming to horrific: a bit of geocaching with the younger three at a lovely park we don’t visit often. At least, the first cache was at the park; the second one was at the dead end of a neighborhood street a couple of blocks away, a somewhat grimier location than expected. To Huck’s disgruntlement I wouldn’t let him touch anything, which means Rilla got the fun of the cache grab. WB doesn’t care who makes the find as long as he gets his turn at holding the phone/compass.

Today was piano and repaired hearing-aid fetching (happy is its owner, who can hear again) and finger-soaking and general collapsing, and nary a book did we read. But if you need to know how to lure zombies into an iron golem trap, Huck and I are your man.

Online Foreign Language Resources #2: italki

June 24, 2014 @ 8:44 pm | Filed under: Foreign Languages, Fun Learning Stuff

See #1 in this series: Memrise.

italki1

Last night I had a trial lesson at italki.com with a German teacher who currently lives and works in Taiwan. At the appointed hour he rang me on Skype and we had a delightful half-hour chat. We started with video but the connection was wonky so we switched to audio only, and that worked fine. Something I especially appreciated was that whenever I struggled with a word or phrase, Stephan corrected me and typed the correction in the chat window so I could see it as well as hear it. Afterward, the chat log provided a nice transcript of the things I’d learned.

language optionsSince this was a first lesson, it was largely conversational. Stephan spoke to me in German from the beginning (when I set up the lesson I’d had to fill out a form describing my current level), asking lots of questions and encouraging me to plunge in and answer as best I could. I loved it. He also sent links to a couple of resources—a German children’s book, the first half of which I read and translated with his help, and, when I mentioned that I often confuse which prepositions go with which verbs, a pdf with some preposition exercises.

Italki lets you choose between “professional instruction,” where the tutor will probably have you work through a textbook with homework, and “informal tutoring,” which is more the conversational kind of session I had with Stephan, practicing and improving my skills through dialogue. The latter is the less expensive option, but both kinds of lessons are pretty reasonable—downright cheap in some cases, depending on the language you’re studying and the exchange rates involved. Payment is all handled through italki; you purchase italki credits (ITC) at the rate of 1 dollar per 10 ITC, plus a small processing fee based on your payment method. When you book a session, italki holds your credits, and after you mark the session completed, they pay the instructor. If the session doesn’t happen for some reason, you get your credits back. Most lessons seem to be in the neighborhood of $10-15 per session.

The selection of language is fairly staggering. Basically, anywhere there’s Skype, there are italki tutors eager to take you on as a student. Most instructors have made short videos to introduce themselves. I love this one from Modabo in Spain. :) Many instructors indicate on their profiles whether they have experience teaching children, if you’re looking for a tutor for younger kids. For teens, pretty much any instructor is a possibility.

Many instructors offer trial sessions like the one I had at a special rate. Italki allows new users to sign up for three of these trials, so you have a chance to try out the interface (and the teacher) without spending very much.

The website also encourages connections among users; you can find language partners to practice with or do swaps—say, you help me with German and I’ll help you with English. After all, actually speaking a language—jumping in, trying to form sentences, making lots of mistakes and having someone correct you—is the best way to move toward fluency. Users are also encouraged to write notebook entries in their target languages, inviting native speakers to offer corrections and advice. There’s a handy markup system to use in editing others’ entries. All very friendly and low-pressure.

So far, in my limited experience (two weeks browsing the site and last night’s wonderful lesson), I give italki high marks. Rose is drooling over the language list. We’re thinking some italki Spanish lessons might be a very good option for her. Like me, she’s been using Memrise to build vocabulary in her target language(s), and she studies Spanish grammar in a print textbook. But there’s nothing, nothing, like speaking with a native speaker. I’ve been stuck at a sort of low-intermediate level in German for a very long time. As in: decades. It was exhilarating last night to discover how much I really can say and comprehend. I understood almost everything Stephan said, and when I didn’t, he repeated the phrase, typed it out for me, and told me the English. It’s a very organic way to learn. I would love to take more lessons with him, the informal tutoring kind. I see Sign Language is offered as well, which is a very exciting possibility.