mm229: Writer’s diarrhea, continued

December 21, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

(… the opposite of writer’s block, right?)

Our wonderful host, WordPress.com, lets us know on its Statistics page what were the leading posts on one’s site for the day, and the day just past. They even provide a link that allows one to learn how many cumulative hits a particular post on one’s site has received over its life.

We mention this because for the first time someone actually was listed as having read post “mm167: Writer’s diarrhea” from 11-October-2007.

So I reread it; damn! I’m good! 😉

Odd that this popped up when it did; it’s the rare post on the topic of blogging; now that WordPress can show how in the Categories listing on the sidebar many times “blogging” has been used as a category, one can learn that it’s been called out here in this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© only 15 times in 240+ posts. And of course, I’m certain that constant reader knows that clicking on any category will bring up all of the posts for which the category has been invoked.

So, I reread the entire category; damn! I’m consistently good! 😉

Most days we try not to be too self-referential or navel-gazing, within the constraints of course of the entire concept of blogging, which is built on self-reference and navel-gazing, and the often much too intimate sharing of one’s quotidian banalities.

Ahem. So here we try not to spend too much time in such pursuits, attempting rather to peg the day’s post on one or more external hooks, external being the zillion page world wide web. Once pegged, then one is permitted to be self-referential and navel-gazing, because it’s now in an external context.

No secret that among the zillion blogs out there (WordPress.com says that as of this writing it has 2,020,627 blogs with 71,011 new posts today, and they’re just one good sized corner of the ‘sphere, and I do mean good — love you guys!), there are predictable concentrations of subject matter: religion, politics, the politics of religion, the religion of politicians, etc. This nanocorner has even been known to indulge its political side once or twice (hence the name of the place, (Left-Handed Complement, you know) one supposes).

So yesterday I was harvesting promising stories for potential future posts, and I found this one, on a site that MUDGE is distinctly undercredentialed to be reading, The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Fascinating to me that before I even went to look for my own entries on the topic of why we blog, and why we choose to read certain others’ blogs, someone came to WordPress’s notice, and mm167 showed up in the stats. Meant to be, I guess.

chroniclehighered

The Polarization of Extremes

By CASS R. SUNSTEIN

In 1995 the technology specialist Nicholas Negroponte predicted the emergence of “the Daily Me” — a newspaper that you design person-ally, with each component carefully screened and chosen in advance. For many of us, Negroponte’s prediction is coming true. As a result of the Internet, personalization is everywhere. If you want to read essays arguing that climate change is a fraud and a hoax, or that the American economy is about to collapse, the technology is available to allow you to do exactly that. If you are bored and upset by the topic of genocide, or by recent events in Iraq or Pakistan, you can avoid those subjects entirely. With just a few clicks, you can find dozens of Web sites that show you are quite right to like what you already like and think what you already think.

Actually you don’t even need to create a Daily Me. With the Internet, it is increasingly easy for others to create one for you. If people know a little bit about you, they can discover, and tell you, what “people like you” tend to like — and they can create a Daily Me, just for you, in a matter of seconds. If your reading habits suggest that you believe that climate change is a fraud, the process of “collaborative filtering” can be used to find a lot of other material that you are inclined to like. Every year filtering and niche marketing become more sophisticated and refined. Studies show that on Amazon, many purchasers can be divided into “red-state camps” and “blue-state camps,” and those who are in one or another camp receive suitable recommendations, ensuring that people will have plenty of materials that cater to, and support, their predilections.

Credit for finding this article goes to the consistently phenomenal and charter member of the blogroll blogroll2 Arts & Letters Daily, a regular read long before we ventured into the scary practice of creating content (derivative though it may be frownie_thumb[1] ) rather than simply consuming it.

Of course, Cass Sunstein’s focus is on those Web 2.0 sites that tailor content to the scourings of past choices; Amazon.com still represents the ultimate commercial application: you bought this, other folks who bought this bought that, we think you might like the other.

There are news aggregation sites that do the same, picking up on what you click on, and presenting you with more of the same. Thoof.com is an extreme example, and Mixx.com an even more recent and slightly more high minded one.

In Sunstein’s observation, backed by the Colorado experiment cited, once one finds oneself with like-minded people in such sites, reading like-minded bloggers, that mass of like-mindedness tilts one further toward the extreme end of whatever spectrum is on the table.

The Internet makes it exceedingly easy for people to replicate the Colorado experiment online, whether or not that is what they are trying to do. Those who think that affirmative action is a good idea can, and often do, read reams of material that support their view; they can, and often do, exclude any and all material that argues the other way. Those who dislike carbon taxes can find plenty of arguments to that effect. Many liberals jump from one liberal blog to another, and many conservatives restrict their reading to points of view that they find congenial. In short, those who want to find support for what they already think, and to insulate themselves from disturbing topics and contrary points of view, can do that far more easily than they can if they skim through a decent newspaper or weekly newsmagazine.

And the person with moderate views leaning in one direction continues to read, the leaning’s become a tilt, which reinforced by continual one-sided content, becomes polarization.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The Polarization of Extremes – ChronicleReview.com

Thus far, 7Âœ months in, we don’t feel too polarized, except maybe on a few choice topics: Bloomberg for President, One Laptop Per Child, UAVs, web conferencing (boy am I overdue there!).

Covers a spectrum, one hopes, of interests and political positions, nothing too middle of the road, but nothing extremely polarizing either.

We’ll endeavor to remain open minded. Tell us if we’re not, won’t you?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm224: Dec. 17, 1903: A seminal date in world history

December 17, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

MUDGE grew up at a time when everyone knew who the Wright Brothers were. Indeed, I believe that the one who survived beyond 1912 actually died the year I was born. And I just looked it up — Orville died exactly nine days after I was born, at the age of 76.

I’m wondering how many people care anymore that the first flight ever anywhere of a heavier than air powered airplane was made in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on Dec. 17, 1903, 104 years ago today.

I’ve been thinking about it all month, like I have every December since I was about eight years old.

Does anyone remember Landmark Books? I think I may still have some of those left from my childhood somewhere in the dungeon below the house, together with others picked up second hand for the next generation of MUDGElets.

Thanks to Google (where else?) found an interesting page on a site I’d never encountered before, Valerie’s Living Books with this description:

Landmark Books (American history) and World Landmarks (world history) are accurate, in-depth stories for young people nine to fifteen years old. These living histories were written by award-winning authors or by men and women who experienced the events first-hand. Written during the 1950’s and 60’s and illustrated either with two-color drawings or clear photographs, the books are informative, enjoyable, and well worth collecting and reading.

Reading level and content vary from book to book. Some are relatively simply written and are very appropriate for middle to upper elementary children. Other books, because their reading level is higher and the subjects they cover require a mature reader, may be best suited for young adults.

Explanation for the digression: I first learned about the Wright Brothers and their amazing achievement from one of the Landmark Books, “The Wright Brothers, Pioneers of American Aviation,” by Quentin Reynolds; I read and reread it countless times. What a tremendous inspiration. And what a terrific series of books, on so many fascinating and important topics.

Ironically, Valerie’s did not have a copy to show you, so I went to my trusty old/rare books destination, Alibris, for this:

wrightbros

Don’t remember the dust jacket, but this hardbound book and many others in the series were in aggregate one of the pillars of my childhood.

In this age of videogames and Nickelodeon, a parent could do worse than to find some Landmarks at a local used book emporium, or Valerie’s or Alibris, and put them in the way of your 8-14 year olds. A world full of important people, events and things existed for several billion years before they were born; they could get a clue…

Okay, though, back to the Wright Brothers. So, I always think about the first powered flight around this time and date; was even noodling around thinking that it might be a topical lead-in to a further discussion of one of this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere©‘s current concentrations, UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles — we’ll get to it another day, thanks), when I encountered this story today at Wired.com.

Dec. 17, 1935: First Flight of the DC-3, Soon to Be an Aviation Legend

By Tony Long  | 12.17.07 | 12:00 AM

A Douglas DC-3 shown in flight.  | Photo: Corbis

1935: The Douglas DC-3 makes its maiden flight at Clover Field in Santa Monica, California. Despite a production history lasting only 11 years, it will become one of the most durable, long-lived and beloved aircraft of all time.

While it may be a legendary plane today, the Douglas Aircraft Company wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about getting the DC-3 off the ground. The impetus came from American Airlines, which wanted a plane that could provide sleeper berths for 14 passengers.

So if Orville and Wilbur were inspirations of my childhood, so then the Douglas DC-3 was an icon of that time also.

For they were still around when I first began looking up in the sky in the early 1950s; I dimly remember flying in one somewhere (or maybe I just hope I so remember! — I flew in piston-powered airliners several times in my youth), and during my childhood built more than one plastic scale model of that aircraft.

And Wired told me something I didn’t know:

The first DC-3 flew Dec. 17, 1935, 32 years to the day after the Wright Brothers’ historic flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. It was a good omen for an extraordinarily good plane. The DC-3 entered commercial service flying coast to coast, with an overnight stop, across the United States.

Talk about synchrony…

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Dec. 17, 1935: First Flight of the DC-3, Soon to Be an Aviation Legend

How absolutely, astonishingly, completely the world changed after December 17, 1903. Not quickly, at first. The Wright’s motorized, manned kite only flew 120-feet, less than the wingspan of many modern aircraft and, secretive and paranoid perhaps, the brothers took their time getting out the word, enough so that there were challenges through the years for the unprecedentedness of the achievement.

But then, men and women took to the air, eventually outer space, and the planet simultaneously grew smaller and larger as a result.

All because a couple of bicycle mechanics in the town of Dayton, Ohio read everything they could on the subject of heavier than air flight, thought they could do it better than the lavishly funded formal scientists of the day, applied their self-taught mechanical skills and creative problem solving abilities, including finding a safe but out of the way venue for their experiments, and, somehow, leaped into the sky.

The U.S. Air Force has an amazing museum of flight at Wright-Patterson Air Base in Dayton, the site honoring, of course, Wilbur and Orville. (By the way, if you and your kids have any interest in the subject, you can easily spend an amazing day wandering around more than 300 aircraft. Been there, with my then-17-year-old son; we opened the museum one Sunday morning, and closed it that evening. And, free admission! Thanks, taxpayers!)

Kitty Hawk, an otherwise unremarkable bunch of sand dunes, is memorialized by a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, (USS Kitty Hawk CV-63) the second to carry the illustrious name, soon to be decommissioned and in the news recently when the Chinese government turned it away from a ceremonial Thanksgiving visit to Hong Kong, and then objected when it transited back to home port at Yokosuka, Japan (been there! gaped at that huge ship there!) by way of the Taiwan Strait.

kittyhawk

Finally, while we’re showing useful photos, have to share this one, the magnificent capture of that first flight, that first day of the current era of manned flight, from Wikimedia Commons.

wrightfirstflight

A stunning portrait of a stunning, global civilization altering day.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

Note!: the links to Valerie’s Living Books, and Alibris used above is for the convenience of faithful reader and represents no commercial relationship whatsoever. Left-Handed Complement should be so fortunate as to ever collect remuneration of any kind for this endeavor. I can link, so I link. It’s technology. It’s cool. It’s an artifact of Sequitur Service©. Deal with it.