can’t see the forest

These are a few of my favorite cyberthings

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I submit to you five of my favorite things about the Internet, and encourage you to feel free to add your own in the comments:

  1. The Blogosphere
    Yeah, the term is cliché now, and then some. I know. It’s a mot d’habitude, much like that French term I basically just made up to mean “a word of convenience.” Not bad, eh? NOT BAD, EH?

    Ahem.

    Printing Press 1568 To me, blogging represents the sociological nuts and bolts of the Internet, if you will. We’ve had enough of epoch after epoch of ‘centralized capital-intensive source projecting outwards to the masses’ communications models, and the Internet, if it is to be anything at all, ought to serve primarily as a means for user-generated content to flourish.

    This is why I rejoice that, if the Internet is going to be used as a vehicle for pornography, at least there are now sites where users can upload their homebrew. It’s a crass thing to say, I know, and therefore *incredibly* unlike me, but you get my drift.

    Blogs out there really run the gamut. Here’s another cliché for you: there as many different kinds of x out there as there are y who z them, where x = blogs, y = bloggers, and z = post. Some of them are great for entertainment purely by virtue of the excellent writing and/or the zany subject matter; some are incredibly informative and thought-provoking. And, sure, a lot of them are crappy, but who defines ‘crappy’ these days, anyway? The important thing is that blogging at its best promotes literacy, creativity, and communication, and is not a Barnes & Noble.

  2. StumpleUpon
    StumbleUpon is my favorite browser plug-in of all time, ever, amen. I can’t say it has done very much for my insomnia, but it has contributed smartly in some way to practically every other area of my life. StumbleUpon provides a randomized browsing experience that you can tailor to your interests, and which is regulated by a user ratings system to which you constantly contribute through your Stumbling. It also functions as a social networking/bookmarking platform where users can review websites and set up groups to share links, among other things.

    When you know exactly what you want and you want it right by-God now, use a search engine. When you’re ready to come down off your high horse and have some fun, try StumbleUpon. It will change your browsing forever, especially if alcohol is somehow involved. Either way.

  3. Wikipedia
    Wikipedia gets a lot of bad rap in academia, and that’s an understatement. It didn’t exist back when I was in high school and when I went through college the first time (I feel old now), but in the past few years I’ve sat in front of at least a couple dozen different professors and only one of them has made positive statements about Wikipedia to the class. “It’s so dangerous.” “It’s not reliable.” “It’s not peer-reviewed.” “Anyone can edit it.” To contrarian interpolations such as these, I find it most effective to reply:

    DUH!

    wikipedia-logo Fortunately, people have sensors called eyes that, in healthy specimens, are connected to computers known as brains. Working together, these tools can determine how well-cited a given Wikipedia article is, and whether or not it makes outlandish claims like “Columbus made landfall in the West Indies in 1942” or contains bizarre statements such as “SASSAFRASS420 IS AWESUM.” When these assessments are conscientiously carried out before citing Wikipedia as a source, good things occur.

    I remember how excited I was as a kid to get my first PC with a CD-ROM drive. Know why I was stoked about it? Because the first CD my dad brought home with it was Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia. I could never have dreamed that there would one day be something called the Internet and that it would contain a much, much larger encyclopedia full of user-generated content to which I–little old me–could responsibly contribute through copyediting and content editing in my areas of expertise. It is a stunning resource of unprecedented breadth and depth which is accessible worldwide for free. ‘Nuff said.

    I’m also partial to Wikipedia because founder Jimmy Wales is from my hometown of Huntsville, AL.

    Did I mention most of those professors were really old and probably not a little pissed off that Wikipedia wasn’t around for their undergraduate research?

  4. IMSLP
    I have to throw this one in there for my fellow musicians. IMSLP stands for the International Music Score Library Project, an astounding compilation of scanned, PDF-ified public domain editions of classical (and other) music scores. In this sense, it is an analogue of the literary-minded Project Gutenberg. As a piano performance student, I can go online and, free of charge, obtain perfectly sound editions of works from the (roughly) pre-1920 literature, and the collection–which also includes orchestral scores, operas, you name it–is vociferously expanding as we speak. As should have been expected, IMSLP has had to deal with its share of flak from music publishers . . . like, say, Universal Edition. As a result, the project was offline from late October 2007 through June of 2008, but has been faring much better since.

    The amount of money I could have saved on sheet music in my younger years is . . . not something I’m going to think about right now. Suffice it to say, the folks who do document processing and general maintenance for IMSLP can redeem this empty promise for a free foot rub from me–any old time.

  5. eBay
    I know, I know . . . some of youse guys may be hatin’ on me for this one. I am about as far from a consumerist as one could get without being absolutely frickin’ ascetic, but there is something way cool about eBay. Going once . . . going twice . . . SOLD! A perfectly good pedicurist wall clock for US$17.99!

    eBay is not something I use a lot, but I have, in the past, conducted fairly major transactions through the service as both buyer and seller. My mom trades crystal dinnerware and other collectibles through eBay and actually manages to turn quite the profit through her dealings.

    In them fancy city places, they’s even got eBay stores!

    Like liquor, mascara, hot sauce, electric fences, and guaranteed blockbuster comic book-themed film sequels, eBay is subject to user-end error of the obsessive variety. Too much of a good thing is not always wonderful. But even if you haven’t a penny to spend, it can be mighty fun to see just who’s trying to rip the world off over what lamentable piece of junk under the auspices of the world’s largest virtual flea market.

We can only guess what the future holds for Al Gore’s brainchild. Given what I guessed twenty years ago that computers would be used for in the future–like doing my algebra homework for me–I feel sorely unqualified to speculate. I suppose we’ll just StumbleUpon it as it comes our way.

NOT BAD, EH?

Al Gore - Internet

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What on Earth has been going on?

Posted in Blogging, Life, Personal by Curtis on 12/4/08

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Now, this blog has never been a “Here’s how my day was; how in the hell was yours?” kind of affair. I’m a little more journalistic than that, if only marginally so.

But I’ve been gone from the site for quite nearly a year, so I figured a few words as to what I’ve been up to might be in order.

The big picture hasn’t changed much. I’m progressing nicely in college, earning good marks, soaking up as much as I can and making some wonderful new friends in the process. One of the biggest changes is that I am now spending much more time studying and working in music than I have in a number of years. I view this as an overwhelmingly positive development purely by virtue of the wonders it has done for my general mood and outlook. It’s been an adjustment, and I’m learning to balance being a full-time musician with my studies in philosophy and other subjects. That, in case you were wondering, is code for “I no longer have a life. Haaaaalp.” Okay, not really.

The largest project I’ve been stuck headfirst in lately is a new musical composition, Selections from Chamber Music, which consists of five poems from the eponymous collection by James Joyce set for soprano and chamber orchestra. If all goes well, the work will be debuted in March at the inaugural New Music Festival at UAHuntsville, my university. The festival is going to be an exciting event, especially for a small school like ours, with lots of new music by composers from within and without. I’ll keep you abreast and will try to post the performances afterwards.

Earlier this evening (sometime before it turned into morning) I was gazing expectantly into the five lines and four spaces of the English horn part , thinking to myself, “Yeah, that’s a great little piece of counterpoint you got there, English horn part, but what in the bejeezus is missing from my life?”

The whole rest at the end of the phrase I’d just completed stared back at me, blankly, for about four beats. Since there was obviously something missing from his bar of music, I thought he might have some insight for me.

“You’re RIGHT!” I exclaimed. “My BLOG! Eureka!

I will freely admit, I actually waxed very sentimental there for a minute, thinking about how–despite the past twelve months of abject neglect–this blog has followed me literally from one side of the continent to the other; has seen me go from lonely, frustrated office worker to purposeful, slightly hoity-toity collegiate with a boyfriend. Did I just come out on my website? I think I may have. No matter. It’s cool.

I thought about the wonderful friends I’ve made through blogging, people like Ann at PG, BlueBear, and raincoaster, to name just a few of my favorites, about what their posts and their antics have taught me about the world, the human spirit, and myself.

Most of all, I merely arrived at the conclusion that, as much as things are going right in my life, I’m just not myself if I’m not on here, reading and writing. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this is why I believe in the Internet. Sorry, guys; there was a lot ’twas happening, and I totally spaced. For, like, a year.

I’m not sure exactly what I’ll be writing about in the coming posts. Only time will tell. Expected the unexpected–that way, if the unexpected expected is what you get, I’ll expect you to get a good chuckle out of it.

Before long I’ll be going through old comments trying to give them the attention they deserve; I also want to do a little pruning here and there in the archives, depending on how it goes.

I hope your winter holidays, however you choose to celebrate them, are looking bright. I’ve got a lot to think about and a world literature final exam to take in the morning; and since it is the morning, I’d best let you go for now.

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Out of hibernation I creep

Posted in Blogging, Life, Personal by Curtis on 12/4/08

Good grief. I notice now that the first line of the last post says “Happy New Year,” and here we are close to another new year already.

My return to this site is long overdue. I can only say that it’s been a super-duper-hyper-eventful year; that early in the year I decided to slow down on this project a bit; and that, before I knew it, I was on semi-permanent vacation from my blog.

Well, I figure that a lot has been going on lately the microcosm of my life and in the world at large. A month-long winter break from college is as good a time as any to crack my knuckles and get the posts rolling again. I’m curious to see how the site will change according to how my noggin has been jostled around over the past year, and I’m more than ready to find out how my fellow friends and bloggers are doing.

Give me a minute. I’m currently wrapping up one of the largest-scale musical compositions I’ve yet attempted, which I hope will be performed at my college’s inaugural new music festival in the coming spring. It’s a suite of poems from James Joyce’s Chamber Music that I set for soprano and small orchestra. I’ll tell you more about it later.

Being out of touch is bad. I don’t know exactly what the coming weeks will bring, but I miss my writing and I miss my readers . . . and heaven knows, there’s a lot that needs to be said, if only for the sake of saying it.

Thanks and warmest wishes,

-Curt

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One Year Out – 10 Things I’ve Learned about Blogging

Posted in advice, Blogging, how-to, Internet, Personal, Web, writing, WWW by Curtis on 9/23/07

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Continuing my recent Lettermanian trend of this and that, I was able to survive introspection long enough to come up with ten things I’ve learned about blogging since I began this quest about one year ago. Maybe you’ll have something to add?

  1. Read more. Write less. You’ve probably heard me invoke this anecdote ten too many times already, but I like it—Isaac Asimov, when once asked to give his best advice to young writers, said “Read more.” Stephen King gave the same advice in his On Writing. But it’s not just about developing style and technique. One gains insight by writing, but quantity and quality of input can only help to increase quality of output, as I see it. When you find yourself far more focused on writing than reading, it might be time for a quality check.
  2. Don’t get too ambitious on a per-post basis. I am as guilty of this as anyone else I’ve encountered in the blogosphere. As raincoaster once pointed out to me, the medium of blogging is just not as well suited to long posts as to shorter ones. Splitting posts with —more— can help. It’s your blog—write as much or as little as you please. It’s wise to remember, though, that your blog post is a tangible product in that it shows up on a screen and will be, perhaps unconsciously, sized up as a whole before any of the parts are explored. For that reason, short and squat is more attractive for most people, no matter how many awesome things you might have to say. If the topic is too large for a single post, make a serial of it. That’s how most large works have historically been first published, anyway.
  3. Avoid hotlinking media. Not only is it discourteous (except maybe in the case of gigantic hosts), but it’s unreliable. Numerous older posts where I hotlinked images, etc. are now missing that media because the link has been killed or the target has moved.
  4. Remember your audience. This is one of those things that goes for writing in general, of course, but it’s particularly important if you’re trying to attract repeat visitors. Try not to write as if you’re talking to yourself, try not to overuse technical jargon and astronomical vocabulary; but, at the same time, don’t talk down to your readers, either.
  5. Avoid weak language. Another very general rule. It’s a good habit to avoid words/phrases like seem(s), maybe, I think, in my opinion, is being, was done—and try not to get too adverb-happy, also. Clean, straightforward language does wonders to hold interest. Weak, overly subjunctive writing is invariably too wordy and can get tiresome pretty fast. Remember: Subject, Verb, Object. It works. Variety is the spice of life, but not the meat-and-potatoes of life.
  6. Take your time. Hurry up. The choice is yours. Don’t be late. Tee-hee. What I mean is not to get too comfortable with the ‘Publish’ button. You can always edit later, but if you come across posts in your blog that cause you to wonder “When did I do that?” or “Why did I do that?” then you’re probably taking things too quickly. Or, maybe, you’re just a coffee addict like me. Or both.
  7. People and relationships are important in the blogosphere. Everyone’s style is different, but in some sense, each blog is an open book, a reflection of the person to whom it belongs. Be prepared to feel a kind of attachment to those bloggers with whom you identify. And while, yes, there are a lot of opportunistic f***s out there, one should always be open to the development of working relationships on the Web—while remembering, of course, that they are on the Web.
  8. Regular posting means regular traffic. Admittedly, some of my biggest days in terms of page loads have occurred while I’ve been away. As a general rule, though, regular traffic is created by regular posting and by regularly frequenting the sites of others. It’s easy to think that the posts you care the most about should naturally receive the widest viewing audience, but, in reality, that’s seldom the case.
  9. Categories and social bookmarking require thought and planning. Categorizing and bookmarking sometimes become chores I execute in a perfunctory manner. But using these tools wisely and with a little forethought can make all the difference in how visible and accessible your material is to others.
  10. If you care more about stats than comments, something is awry. Enough said. Seriously.