You know FB has finally hooked you when

December 29, 2012

you think about updating your status with an insight before writing about it in your journal or talking about it with anyone else.

I signed up with Facebook in 2006 after some students at Alabama A&M invited me and told me I needed to be on Facebook. Some students preferred MySpace, so I may have had a MySpace account first. No matter — I rarely used either.

And, until about a week ago, I still didn’t *get* Facebook. Really not. Did not get the appeal. Didn’t get how folks logged on several times a day. Didn’t get the FB games with farm animals and fairies. Just did not get FB. A utilitarian FB user, I considered myself above the hoi polloi because I logged on only after I’d gotten a Gmail message alerting me to a new post in one of the groups I belonged to. I used FB for information — not personal aggrandizement.

Then, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, I *shared* a poster with a quote by John Oliver about shoe-bombs, airport security, and gun laws. And I watched the poster get re-posted by several people. And I thought, “Wow. That’s almost a meme, eh?” Then I shared a photo of young Angela Davis and Toni Morrison walking side-by-side and wearing huge afros. Several people commented. Nieces, former colleagues, old friends I haven’t seen in many years. And I was finally hooked. I finally got FB. What did I get? The serendipity and idiosyncrasy of information and sharing it. Echoes. The comfort of like minds. Appreciation.

Now, I log on to FB, and I often spend five to ten minutes scrolling through all the updates. I enjoy FB community — which is a curious sort of community. I won’t call it elusive or illusionary, although I want to. I feel a connection to people with whom I have not spoken in many years — sometimes decades. I know personal preferences and incidents in the lives of people whom I know only cursorily in face-to-face interactions. And I bump up against people I’ve never met but discover through other FB friends — and I appreciate their writing or their events or their politics.

I finally touched down on Planet Facebook.

Google’s tribute to Ada

December 10, 2012

Yeah! The Google doodle for today is a tribute to Lady Augusta Ada Byron Lovelace. Click on the doodle and you’ll find a list of excellent resources.

I’ll add my own here — a paper I write in 2000 called Ada and Grace: Practical Visionaries. I wrote the paper for a computer science class I took (in C — imagine that…), and I remember getting 110 on it. But then, I had my PhD in comparative literature and had been teaching college for a while. I think my computer science teacher was deliriously happy to get a literate and well-researched paper, and she also knew I worked my butt off in the class. Just a bit competitive academically, I got one of the highest grades.

Sue Bogar’s class taught me that coding was like writing poetry, and Ada — only legitimate child of Lord Byron — knew how math and language interwove. My favorite quotation from my research comes from a letter Ada wrote to her mother: “You will not concede me philosophical poetry. Invert the order! Will you give me poetical philosophy, poetical science?”

my relationship with the dictionary

October 16, 2012

I did something I haven’t done in a very long time — I looked up a word in the dictionary. That is, I pulled down the second volume (N-Z) of my copy of The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1993) from the top shelf of my bookshelf and riffled the pages to “withdrawal,” the word I wanted to learn more about.

In my journal this morning, I was writing about the three types of coping mechanisms Charlotte Joko Beck discusses in Nothing Special: “conforming to please, attacking, or withdrawing” (122). Those of you who have had enough therapy or psych classes probably recognize that my focus on “withdrawal” means I was investigating my primary coping strategy. As I wrote, I got caught up with the word — where did it come from? Why pair these two words — “with” and “draw”? Anything to do with 19th-century British drawing rooms? I was veering off into duels and Samuel Richardson-like scenarios as I contemplated the widely different meanings of the word — for instance, “withdrawal” is what one experiences if one stops engaging in an addiction. So I thought, ‘I need to look this up.’ And the most curious thing occurred — I decided that my usual practice of googling the word and choosing the Merriam Webster definition would not give me the information I needed. I wanted origins, history, context. Nothing but the Shorter OED would do.

I felt virtuous as I hoisted the fiteen pounds of paper and binding down from the shelf. I opened the pages and realized I needed to change my regular glasses to reading glasses or else I wouldn’t be able to decipher the print. No matter — I was delighted to land on “wibbly-wobbly” on my way to “withdrawal” and thought, yet again with that Luddite smugness, ‘Oh, I’d never have found this word if I’d just gone online.’

“Wicca” is the entry directly below “wibbly-wobbly,” and my smugness slipped a smidgeon. “The practices and religious cult of modern witchcraft.” That’s it? I thought of Wikipedia and imagined a much longer and much more informative entry. I got sidetracked for a few seconds with “wichert” (a kind of chalk mixed with straw to make walls) and “wichuraiana” (roses named after Max Ernst Wichura) and thought again that the online Merriam Webster would have confined me to looking only at entries before or after the word I sought.

Before reading the entry for “withdrawal,” I marveled at the four full columns dedicated to “with,” thus proving that prepositions are the bane of any English language learner. “Withdrawal” – “n. E19” tells me the word is a noun from the early 19th century. I had to go back to the front part of volume 1 to get the explanation for “E19.” “[f. WITHDRAW v + -AL, repl. the earlier WITHDRAWMENT.]” There’s a superscript 1 after “-AL,” and I’m not going to ferret out what it refers to. The initial “f.” means “from.” I found that explanation at the front of volume 2, where all abbreviations are listed. I still did not find out if the word is originally English but no mention of any other language indicates its English origins. The definitions spanned from the psychological to the financial. I did not learn what I wanted, which was a history of the word.

So I googled “withdrawal” and clicked on the Merriam Webster definition. No hefting of bound pages, no need for reading glasses since I could adjust the font, no need to go back to volume 1 to figure out all the abbreviations. Same definitions, but I find out that the first use of the word was in 1749. No documentation for that claim. The medical term for “withdrawal” also has its own separate entry. And I am invited to tell Merriam Webster why I was looking for this word. I can also read users’ comments, and I learn that while one person has been spelling the word wrong for years (spellcheck informed her), another user was pleased that Merriam Webster online proved her email spellcheck wrong when it chastised her for spelling “withdrawal” incorrectly. (I have just realized that I will never get back the five minutes I’ve spent reading these comments and writing about them.)

I’ve always read a lot, and one of my great pleasures as a child, a tween, a teen, and even a young adult was looking up words in the dictionary. I had a hard-bound American Heritage dictionary — I think. I remember what the cover looked like and how the threads of the cover came undone over the years of use. I was one of those word nerds, who wrote down the word and the meaning and then tried to use the word in conversation or writing. Word nerds get this — that palpable joy in vocabulary and increasing one’s choice.

But my experience today tells me that I won’t likely pull down The New Shorter OED any time soon. I like seeing the two fat navy-blue volumes on my top shelf and remembering when my family gave the costly birthday present. But to find a definition, I’m likely going to continue my habit of googling a word and choosing the Merriam Webster definition. But I need to remember that my practice costs me the smile that “wibbly-wobbly” engenders and the insight about the labyrinthine usages of that deceptively innocuous preposition, “with.”

Farewell, Flock

April 21, 2011

After several years of enjoying Flock’s open-source browsing capabilities, it’s time to say good-bye. Flock is closing down. Off to make games with Zynga. I’m going back to Firefox. But I already miss Flock.

astroturfing — or fake democracy on the web

March 5, 2011

George Monbiot’s blog at The Guardian offers a chilling analysis of the practice of astroturfing, which Monbiot defines as follows:

fake grassroots campaigns that create the impression that large numbers of people are demanding or opposing particular policies. This deception is most likely to occur where the interests of companies or governments come into conflict with the interests of the public.

Monbiot is researching this topic and was contacted by a whistleblower who admitted to having 70 personas he used to promote corporate interests on discussion forums. Monbiot poses the question: how do we stop this practice? I agree with him when he says that astroturfing “has the potential to destroy the internet as a forum for constructive debate” and “jeopardises the notion of online democracy.”

second life avatar

April 4, 2009

Just had to show my Second Life avatar. I hang out at the ISTE Island and Cookie Island, where the writers are.
Second Life avatar

Technomama – Ana Sisnett — my tech heroine for Ada Lovelace Day

March 23, 2009

Ana Sisnett (1952-2009) was Executive Director from 1998-2006 of Austin Free-Net, a community technology center. But her pioneering on the internet began earlier when she co-founded Technomama with Gisele-Audrey Mills. Technomama worked with the Institute for Global Communications (IGC) and the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) back when the text-only internet presented more opportunities for social justice activism than for consumerism. Funded in part by the Foundation for a Compassionate Society, Technomama trained women left out of the digital revolution and viewed equal access and ability as an international human rights issue.

An early adopter who delighted as much as the next geek over a new application or gadget, Ana nevertheless always thought through the complex questions of access, training, and ability. If the technology excluded, well, then…where’s the fix? She admired the work of Knowbility, whose annual AIR-Interactive (Accessible Internet Rally) features a web-design contest focusing on assistive technology and accessible design.

Over the last three years, Ana struggled with ovarian cancer, and she passed away on January 13. She leaves behind many, many people who were touched by her vision of a usable and just technology that bridges differences and helps us realize our better selves.