Pages

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Better Know a Delegate*

In February, I received an email from a local group of fellow Obama campaign supporters and volunteers mentioning that the Missouri State Democratic Party would be holding caucus meetings in March at the ward and township level to elect delegates to the Missouri State Democratic Convention.

Even though I would consider myself to be a pretty well politically engaged citizen— I follow political news closely; I research political candidates; I attend political rallies; I vote regularly in both national and local elections; I have been known to voluntarily watch CSPAN—I had never been to a Missouri caucus meeting before. As a matter of fact, I had never really considered going to my home state’s Democratic caucus before.

Why not?

Well, in Missouri, we hold a Democratic presidential primary, and the number of delegates assigned to each candidate is determined by the results of that primary. The Missouri caucuses are held, not to choose a candidate, but to choose which Democratic party members from each ward, district or township will be sent to the Missouri State Democratic Convention as delegates pledged to vote for a particular candidate, and then to select a small number of those state-level pledged delegates to be sent on to the Democratic National Convention.

In the past I have trusted that, if I voted in a primary, my voice would be heard by the state party; the election of delegates seemed little more than a symbolic process to me. In recent decades, most Democratic presidential primaries have been decided long before the Democratic National Convention, and the delegates who attended most recent national conventions have done little more than ratify the ascendancy of an already chosen candidate.

But, as any Democrat with a television or internet access knows, this election cycle, things are different.

This time, the fight for the 2008 presidential nomination may well continue right into Denver. And even if it doesn’t, the 2008 Democratic National Convention is certain to go down in history, either as the first to nominate a woman presidential candidate, or the first to nominate an African-American presidential candidate.

This year, I found myself very interested in the Missouri caucuses.

And so, I went to my township caucus meeting, where, much to my surprise, I was elected a state-level delegate on the spot, without even having to plead my case—the turnout at my township meeting was so low that I was basically pressed into service. My husband was also named an Obama delegate at the same meeting.

Thursday night, we attended the Congressional District Caucus Meeting for Missouri's First Congressional District.

If you'd like to read my account of the national-level delegate selection process there, go and check out my very first post at Momocrats!

I'm really honored to have been invited to join this group of passionate, intelligent, opinionated women bloggers. Whether you're interested in a parental perspective on progressive politics, or you're just looking for more news and views about this year's historic Democratic presidential primary race, if you haven't visited Momocrats yet, you don't know what you're missing. Go check it out!

*As always, props to my secret lover Stephen Colbert.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Conversations with a Three-Year-Old: Motherly Love and Life in the Womb

MOTHER: Hold still please so I can put this lotion on you. It's good for your skin.

CHILD: Lotion is not good for your skin.

MOTHER: Yes it is. This lotion is.

CHILD: No it's not!

MOTHER: Of course it is, silly. Why would I, your mother, who loves you and wants you to be healthy and happy, purposefully put something on your skin that was bad for your skin?

CHILD: Well, when I was a baby you didn't always do good things.

MOTHER: What do you mean? What did I do that was bad when you were a baby?

CHILD: When I was a baby, I bet you used to put VINEGAR on my skin!

MOTHER: I did not. Why on earth would I do such a thing?

CHILD: Because when I was a baby, you didn't know yet how much you loved me.

MOTHER: I did too know I loved you when you were a baby.

CHILD: No, you didn't. You didn't know how much you loved me because all I could say was "Dada."

MOTHER: Do you mean you think I didn't love you because you said Dada as your first word instead of Mama?

CHILD: Yes.

MOTHER: You silly boy. I didn't mind that you said Dada first. I loved you before you could even talk. I loved you before you were even born!

CHILD: You did?

MOTHER: Of course I did. Before you were born, when you were still inside my belly, I used to talk to you and sing songs to you and I would tell you how much I loved you. And I would put my hands on my belly so I could feel you kicking me. You would kick and kick, and my belly would jump up every time you kicked me.

CHILD: Oh, I'm sorry about kicking you so much when I was in your belly.

MOTHER: Well, that's all right that you kicked me. I didn't mind.

CHILD: I couldn't see you while I was in there. I thought you were a drum.

MOTHER: You thought I was a drum?

CHILD: Oh, yes. It made a great sound when I kicked you. THUMP. THUMP.


Edited after reading comments regarding my son's future as a professional drummer to add:

The best part about this, really, which can only be appreciated by someone who knows Isaac well, is that, if left to his own devices, he would listen to music all day long. And when he's listening to music, he drums on things CONSTANTLY. When he was about six months old, I got him a new big boy high chair and the very first thing he did when I sat him down in it for the first time was drum on the tray. He drums on the coffee table. He drums on the floor. He drummed on our old glass dinner table so much I started to fear he'd hit the right frequency and shatter it, so I gave it away and bought a wooden dining table instead.

And his Kindermusic class teacher has specifically said to us, "You have a fantastic future drummer on your hands," because he can already do simultaneous independent rhythms with each hand.

When I was pregnant with him, in the last few months of my pregnancy, whenever I would sit near some device playing music with a strong beat, he would kick in time.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Blog Blast Update

Remember when I posted a lengthy series recently as part of a St. Louis bloggers' blog blast about BlogNetNews, an "aggregator" site that seems to be walking CROSSING a very fine line between blog aggregation and splogging?

The inimitable Queen of Spain recently discovered her blog content is being scraped by BNN's parenting site.

After reading Erin's post, Victoria from Anachroclysmic also wrote a post detailing her recent confrontation with BNN's quickly-becoming-infamous Dave Mastio.

And the expanding conversation about the BNN controversy has now come full circle, as Buster of InMuscatine, one of Mastio's earliest and most vocal critics (and a blogger I singled out in my series as one whose original work Mastio repeatedly refused to remove from BNN) came across Victoria's post, which linked back to both Erin's post, and mine.

Buster has issued a modest proposal some bloggers who have been unable to get their content removed from BNN may wish to consider.

Personally, I think the best way to stop BlogNetNews from taking advantage of and disrespecting bloggers is to keep blogging about how BlogNetNews takes advantage of and disrespects bloggers, thereby forcing BlogNetNews to display content about Dave Mastio's own devious and inappropriate behavior.

But Buster's idea might work, too.

In case anyone missed it, here are the posts from the original St. Louis BNN Blog Blast (if I've left anyone out, as I'm sure I have since I'm half asleep, do tell me and I'll add you in):

News-Bitch
Little Bald Doctors
Mamalogues
Super Fun Patrol
Slacker-Moms-R-Us
A Bun's Life
The Broad Brush
Prologos
Highway 61

Also, this is the post on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Virtual St. Louis blog, tentatively proposing a joint venture between the Post-Dispatch and BNN, that prompted me, and other local bloggers, to investigate the new BNN St. Louis site in the first place.

And here is the paper's reaction to our reaction.

(Fifty points for anyone paying attention who can catch the irony inherent in that second Virtual St. Louis post's title.

Not that my post titles were that original, or anything. I'm just sayin' . . .)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Conversations with a Three-Year-Old: Computer Shopping


FATHER: So, which of these two laptops here do you like better?

MOTHER: Well, this one has a built-in web cam. That would be nice whenever one of us goes on a business trip-- we could use it to talk to the kid at home over video.

FATHER: This one has a bigger screen, though.

MOTHER: That's true. That screen seems a little brighter, too. But this one has more hard drive space!

CHILD: Excuse me.

FATHER: Just a minute. Mommy and I are talking. This one has an Intel processor, and that one has an AMD. I think that's the biggest reason for the price difference. Well, that and the larger screen.

MOTHER: But does it really matter anymore whether you get Intel or AMD? I mean--

CHILD: Excuse me!

MOTHER (to CHILD): Just a minute, dear. We have to make an important decision. (To FATHER) As I was saying, is there really a difference between AMD and Intel anymore in terms of performance? I mean, aren't they considered comparable? Plus, the AMD one has that cool label burning feature in the CD drive.

FATHER: That's true. But, are you sure you dont--

CHILD: EXCUSE ME!

MOTHER and FATHER: Yes?

CHILD: You said this one here has more hard drive space, right?

MOTHER: Yes, sweetie. That's what Mommy said.

CHILD: Okay, then. This one has more hard drive space. It says it has 250 gigs, right? More hard drive space means more space for music. We need this one.

MOTHER and FATHER stare at CHILD in stunned silence.

MOTHER: Okay, I guess we need this one, then.

FATHER: Yep, this one it is.

Conversations with a Three-Year-Old: Phobias

MOTHER and CHILD walk down a garden path on their way to an Easter egg hunt. Another family passes by, pushing a crying baby in a stroller.

CHILD: Mommy, why is that baby crying?

MOTHER: I don't know, dear. Maybe the baby is hungry. Maybe the baby is tired. Maybe the baby doesn't like this chilly wind.

CHILD: No, I don't think that baby is hungry or tired or cold.

MOTHER: Why do you think the baby is crying, then?

CHILD: I think that baby is afraid of Easter.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Fun with Google

StatCounter informs me that certain persons are finding my blog by searching for "wanton debauchery photos."

What an erudite way to search for racy photographs! Heavens. That's practically Victorian.

I'm sorta proud that the dirty minds coming to my blog are at least smart dirty minds.

(Was it you, Dwight?)

Last night I was number three on Google for that phrase, but this morning I've already dropped to number four.

Well, that's okay. This post might bump me back up.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

On Whining

Okay, I'm watching all this news coverage of the flooding around here and I'm realizing I really AM being a whiner when I complain about a couple of little puddles of water in my basement. I hereby rescind my petty complaint. There is some serious stuff going down in southern Illinois and southern Missouri today. I hope all the people I know who live in those areas are doing all right.



(I do still wish my kid could bring himself to eat something other than three crackers and a pretzel today, though, and I wish he could ditch the cough that's making him sound like an 80-year-old smoker. Can I still have that whine?)

One of the Things I Like Least About Being Sick

Is how dirty and neglected my house gets while I'm ailing.

I was sick with the flu and then a post-flu sinus infection (I think that's what it was-- I didn't bother to get it officially diagnosed) for almost the entire month of February. And then, after about a week and a half of relative wellness during which I made several relatively futile attempts to catch up on the housework while also catching up on freelance work and blogging, I find myself sick AGAIN with some new virus, not to mention exhausted after three straight nights of spending half the night awake comforting my sick child (who was up half the night for three straight nights with a vicious hacking cough), and the other half of each of those nights trying vainly to snatch some sleep while listening to my poor congested husband, who doesn't normally snore, buzz like an angry army of chainsaws.

There is currently an obstacle course made out of toy blocks and cars completely covering my noticeably un-vacuumed living room floor. My dining table is covered with un-sorted mail. A pile of dirty dishes languishes in my un-shined kitchen sink, and that pile is beginning to overflow onto my un-wiped counter. My office is stacked with un-filed papers. My bedroom floor is strewn with un-washed clothes.

And it's all I can do to keep up with throwing out the tissues my kid keeps using and dropping on the floor.

I'd post pictures, but, really, I don't want to be that cruel to a sick woman.

To top it all off, we have water seeping in the basement from the torrential rains, and yesterday for reasons unfathomable the toilet in the bathroom we just remodeled just started leaking water into the basement. And not clean water from the tank, either-- it leaks right over the stack when you flush it. Which must mean the brand new wax seal we fitted the toilet with just a couple of months ago must be faulty. Which means we have to take the whole toilet apart again, and replace the wax seal again. Like, immediately, if we want to be able to use it. (We do have another bathroom, thankfully, but still.)

I feel like my house is falling down around my stuffed up ears. I feel totally overwhelmed today.

Luckily, I can push all thoughts of the state of my house right out of my head just by thinking about how my already underweight kid has lost like half a pound this week from throwing up / not eating because he's so sick, and now the size 2T pants that my almost four-year-old JUST started being able to wear without a belt about a month ago are now falling off of him again!

Yeah, I might be in sort of a whiny mood today . . .

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Conversations with a Three-Year-Old: Physics

CHILD: Look! Look at my finger!

MOTHER: Don't stick your fingers in random holes in the computer. You know better than that.

CHILD: But, why shouldn't I do that?

MOTHER: Because you might get a shock or something.

CHILD: But why?

MOTHER: I've told you before. Because computers have electricity inside them.

CHILD: But why do computers have electricity in them?

MOTHER: Because computers run on electricity.

CHILD: But why do computers run on electricity?

MOTHER: Because computers need electricity to work.

CHILD: Why?

MOTHER: Because they need the energy from electricity to do things, just like how we need energy from food to do things.

CHILD: But, why?

MOTHER: Because!

CHILD: Why because?

MOTHER: Because I said so!

CHILD: Just because? Just because you said so?

MOTHER: Well, no, not really because I said so.

CHILD: Then, why?

MOTHER: Because e=mc². Can you say that? E equals M C squared.

CHILD: Because e=mc²?

MOTHER: Right.

********

I suppose this means he's feeling a bit better now. Right?

Too bad I'm not yet.

Edited to add: Bonus questions from the last hour:

"Mommy, what are Democrats and Republicans?"
"Is Hillary Clinton a Democrat?"
"Why is John McCain a Republican?"
"What does personal responsibility mean?"
"What does community mean?"

"Mommy, what is a virus?"
"Are viruses mean?"
"What do you mean viruses don't have brains? What is a brain?"
"But, why is my brain inside my head?"

"Mommy, why does your blog have all those whys on it?"

True Geek Confession*+

When I'm stressed and I feel I need a moment to sit and collect my thoughts in silence, I like to sip cup of tea.

Earl Grey.

Hot.

* Props to my woman Dawn, per usual.
+ Inspired in part by Dana's most recent confession of Sci Fi geekitude, and in part by the fact that I am actually sitting here right now soothing my sore throat and my unruly soul with a cup of hot Earl Grey.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Friday, March 14, 2008

St. Louis Blog Blast on BNN

Go here for a list of bloggers who have participated so far.

Start here for my take. (Be warned. It's long. Four posts! And you may be forced to learn something technical-like.)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Fine Line Between Aggregation and Splogging: Part Four



Crossing the line

In the three previous posts, I've discussed the some of the similarities between blog aggregation and splogging, and also pointed out the some of the differences that set well-intentioned blog aggregation sites apart from sploggers. The key differences in my view are:

  • Reputable aggregator sites ONLY POST SHORT EXCERPTS; sploggers post excerpts of any length and/or full posts, often including photos, from the blogs they scrape.
  • Reputable aggegator sites ALWAYS ATTRIBUTE COPIED CONTENT TO THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR; sploggers may not attribute the content, or may deliberately give the content a false attribution.
  • Reputable aggregator sites LINK BACK TO THE ORIGINAL SOURCE WITH PROMINENT, EASILY FOUND LINKS; sploggers may not.
  • Reputable aggregator sites PROVIDE CLEAR BENEFITS TO BLOGGERS AND BLOG READERS; splog sites may not.
  • Reputable aggregator sites DO NOT PRETEND TO BE SOMETHING THEY ARE NOT, while pretending to be something they are not is, in fact, the very essence of what sploggers do.
  • Reputable aggregator sites DO NOT MISLEAD USERS into believing that the scraped content they present is produced by the aggregator site, or in any way affiliated with the aggregator site; they make it absolutely clear that the aggregator is meant to serve as a portal to the original content; splogger sites intentionally leave the relationship between the original authors and the site presenting the content unclear.
  • Reputable aggregator sites ALLOW BLOGGERS TO OPT-OUT, AND MAKE OPTING OUT A SIMPLE EFFORT; sploggers do not.

But, what about sites that meet some of the "reputable aggregator site" criteria listed above, but not others?

BlogNetNews.com/stlouismo is one such site.

Recently debuted, BlogNetNews St. Louis is one of the latest in a series of BlogNetNews sites run by journalist , newspaper opinion page editor, and former Bush administration speechwriter Dave Mastio.

BlogNetNews St. Louis scrapes feeds from blogs and aggregates them on a single page. Like a reputable aggregator site, BNN only posts excerpts, not full posts.

However, BNN also scrapes and posts photos from blog posts. Not just thumbnails, but nearly-full-sized photos. And BNN hotlinks to those photos, which means that every time a photo is viewed on BNN, bandwidth is being used on the original blogger's website. This may not be a big deal for people hosting their photos on really big sites like Blogger or Flickr; however, if a blogger is hosting his or her blog on his or her own server, hotlinking can be a fairly serious issue. Hotlinking photos is widely considered to be bad internet manners.

BNN does link back to the original sites that it takes content from. But the links on the site are somewhat confusing.

For example, BNN has a blogroll running down the right side of the page. The blogroll is titled "BNN Blogs." It lists all the blogs that are featured on the BNN St. Louis site. But if you click on one of those links, the link takes you, not to the original blog by the original author, but to another page within BNN.

Which brings me to the next way in which BNN St. Louis strikes me as being little too much like a splog: through misleading layout and language, BNN St. Louis, in my opinion, will mislead users into thinking that the bloggers listed in the blogroll are affiliated with the BNN site.

BNN is not organized like a directory.

Take a look again at Alltop. Look at the way the blogs are broken down into categories. Look at the way the clean, simple layout focuses on the links to the blogs themselves, and nothing more. Look at the way the excerpts there don't appear unless you mouse over a link that takes you directly to the original blogger's site.

Now, take a look again at BlogHer. Remember, BlogHer is a community-based blog network. It was founded by women bloggers, for women bloggers, to address issues concerning women bloggers. Participation in the BlogHer network is entirely voluntary. Decisions at BlogHer regarding advertising content on the site are made only after examining the collective input of the entire community.

Look at the Journals page on CafeMom. Now, CafeMom did not start as any sort of grassroots organizing effort. It's a top-down community building effort, funded by a marketing company. But participation in the CafeMom community is, again, entirely voluntary. CafeMom does not scrape bloggers' posts for content. The journal authors at CafeMom are choosing to host their journals there on the CafeMom site.

And look again at BNN. From a visual standpoint, which type of site does BNN resemble more closely? A directory-style aggregator, like Alltop? Or an opt-in, voluntary community building site like BlogHer or CafeMom?

I'd vote for the latter. BNN is organized, not like a typical directory, or a blog search engine. Not even like a typical web-based feed reader. BNN is visually organized like a community-based blog network. And it's there in the name, too. BLOG (news) NETWORK.

But BNN is not a blog network. The bloggers on the "BNN Blogroll," by and large, did not choose to be involved. The blogs on the site were picked by Mastio. The bloggers did not volunteer.

How do I know this? Why, I emailed him to ask about it! And this is what he said:
I build each of our sites by hand, looking at each blog myself and gathering all the publicly available email addresses that I can find for the authors. Upon launch and sometimes before launch, I email all of those people with an explanation of what we are doing, how it works and what we hope they will get out of it.
Now, that doesn't sound so bad, does it? I mean, he is taking the content without permission, and he is presenting it in a sort of misleading fashion that implies that the bloggers whose content is on the site are somehow involved. But after he takes the content, he does at least email the bloggers he took content from to let them know he did it, right? That's what he said he does, in the email he wrote me.

But I must say, I found that response to be a bit suspicious.

Because the thing is, I know a lot of St. Louis bloggers. And not just casually, over the internet. I have, in fact, met many St. Louis bloggers in person. And I would consider more than a few of them to be friends.

But in fact, NONE of these friends of mine had mentioned to me that their work was being featured by BNN St. Louis. Which was a bit curious to me, given that the local blogging community has been all atwitter about BNN ever since Kurt Greenbaum posted about it on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Virtual St. Louis Blog.

(And not just because a headline on the Post-Dispatch website misspelled the word "bane." I know, I know. Everyone makes typos now and then, including and especially me. But this typo's been driving me nuts every time I link to it. Because bane is one of my Favorite. Words. EVER.)

So, I emailed several of my friends who were listed on the BNN site to ask them whether they had even been notified that their content was being used on the site. All of the people I emailed list contact emails on their blogs in easy-to-find spots. So, if Mastio had really been "gathering all the publicly available email addresses" he could find in order to contact the authors featured on the BNN site, then these bloggers should have been contacted, no?

As it turned out, most of them had not been contacted. Most of them, in fact, had no idea that BNN was scraping and reposting their blog content until they were informed of that fact by my email.

And most of them shared my opinion that the format of the site was confusing and misleading, making them look like they were affiliated with some sort of network that they actually had nothing to do with.

A "network" bearing, incidentally, enormous banner ads on every page:





Now I've done some research, and I came to discover that this is certainly not the first time BlogNetNews has met with some controversy.

Bloggers in some other cities where BNN operates have complained that they feel the BNN ranking system is unfair. When one blogger in Virginia who felt the BNN site was treating him unfairly asked to have his content removed, Mastio refused, citing fair use, and the frustrated blogger decided to shut down his RSS feed to prevent Mastio from continuing to scrape his site.

When a different blogger in Iowa asked Mastio to stop using his content because he felt that BNN's business model was exploitative, BNN responded by mocking the blogger over email and continuing to post the blogger's content.

When a blogger in Georgia asked to have his content removed from a BNN site there because he felt his girlfriend's blog had been unfairly excluded from the BNN site, Mastio again refused to remove the blogger's content, and mocked the blogger in the comments section of the blogger's own blog, saying: "When we didn’t cave, Rusty came up with the picture and launched his widdle cyber tantrum."

Does this sound like the operator of a reputable blog aggregator to you?

Because it sure doesn't sound to me like Dave Mastio has that much respect for the bloggers whose original work powers his site.

If Mastio's BNN venture isn't actually about promoting blogs or bloggers' interests, what is it about?

Could it be about drawing traffic to those banner ads I mentioned?

Or could it be about drawing traffic to those banner ads, AND drawing traffic away from blogs, to the newspaper websites Mastio has a history of partnering with? Propping up the struggling dead tree media outlets with fresh, popular blog content, for free?

I don't know. I'm not Dave Mastio.

But if I were Dave Mastio, I would think very, very carefully about trying to be nicer to the authors whose work I wanted to use.

The Fine Line Between Aggregation and Splogging: Part Three


Blog Aggregating Websites

Pretty much since the dawn of blogging, there have been attempts made, by bloggers themselves and by readers of blogs, to organize and network the blogging community in ways that make it easier for bloggers to find other like-minded bloggers, and easier for blog readers to find blogs about subjects that suit their interests.

The blogroll is, of course, one of the earliest adopted and most commonly used tools for that purpose. Bloggers make a list (or sometimes multiple lists, organized by region or topic) of links to other bloggers that they themselves like to read. Blog readers often use these lists to find other bloggers whose work they might enjoy.

Blogrolls have the added advantage of boosting backlink ratings for the blogs they list. Backlinks are links to a site from another location, and search sites like Google use backlinks as one indicator of a site's popularity. A high number of backlinks may positively influence a website's search ranking, especially if those links themselves are coming from a highly influential site.

In addition to the blogroll, another organizational/networking tool that has arisen organically within the blogging community is the blog network. Originally, blog networks were started voluntarily by groups of bloggers, usually bloggers who had similar interests or wrote about similar topics, who decided to band together and create a site together, a site dedicated to a particular region, topic, or cause.

BlogHer is one example of such a network, which focuses on women bloggers. Started by bloggers, for bloggers, as a place to promote discussion about women's issues among bloggers, BlogHer has grown to include an ad network and a successful national blogging conference series. Participation in the BlogHer network is entirely voluntary. Members can choose whether or not to contribute original content to BlogHer's blogs and message boards, and they can choose whether or not to link to their own original blogs in their BlogHer profiles.

Crazy Hip Blog Mamas
is another blog network started by bloggers for bloggers. As the name suggests, it focuses on Mommyblogs, and again, participation is entirely voluntary. CHBM hosts blog carnivals, where all members are invited (but not required) to write posts on their own blogs covering the same topic, and members are encouraged to vote in weekly contests that nominate a "Member of the Week."

Sites like BlogHer and CHBM provide members with opportunities to discover and network with like-minded fellow bloggers, and help blog readers find collections of similarly themed blogs. Such community-based sites often also make a profit for their founders, from ad revenue; the large, sophisticated audiences they draw are a prime target for many major advertisers. However, since participation in networks like BlogHer and CHBM is entirely voluntary, and since members of community-based sites like these are usually given a good deal of say in any major marketing decisions, this is not generally seen by members as a conflict of interest. In fact, ad revenue often allows community-based blog networks to offer even more services to their members, generally benefiting the community.

Alongside the community-based blog network, two other popular methods of organizing blogs have emerged: the blog search engine, and the blog aggregator website.

Blog search engines are just what they sound like: search engines that specifically search only blogs. Google now has its own blog search engine. Icerocket is another blog search engine. Both find search results by searching through blog web feeds. If your blog doesn't broadcast a web feed, it won't get picked up by these engines.

Blog aggregator websites are a little more difficult to describe, in part because there are so many different varieties of websites that aggregate blog content. Some blog aggregators are basically blog directories that offer links to blogs organized by topic or category, and also provide some of the features of a software-based feed reader by notifying users when a listed blog updates.

For example, there's Technorati, which combines its own blog search engine and a well-organized link directory with a front page showing a constantly-updated display of brief excerpts of blog feeds from some of the internet's most popular blogs, right alongside excerpts from news articles. Technorati also allows site users to create personalized user accounts, where blog readers can set up their own customized pages to track their favorite blogs using web feeds, just as one can using a software-based feed reader, and blog owners can declare ownership of their own blog profile if they find it listed in the Technorati directory.

Technorati also rates blogs for what it calls "authority." This rating, similar in ways to Google's PageRank, is based on backlinks from other websites.

And then there's the recently launched Alltop aggregator of blogs and news stories, a Guy Kawasaki effort that is described on own Alltop's own About page thusly:
You can think of an Alltop site as a “dashboard,” “table of contents,” or even a “digital magazine rack” of the Internet. To be clear, Alltop sites are starting points — they are not destinations per se. The bottom line is that we are trying to enhance your online reading by both displaying stories from the sites that you’re already visiting and helping you discover sites that you didn’t know existed.
Alltop does not use an objective popularity-based rating system to decide which blogs to list. Rather, as far as I can tell, it seems to pretty much just list those blogs that Alltop's founders like, plus any popular blogs that are either highly recommended by Alltop users, or specifically request to be included.

Like Technorati, Alltop also uses web feeds to provide up-to-the-minute updates for the blogs it lists in its directory. Alltop shows post titles for the last five posts from each blog; when a user mouses over one of the titles, a brief excerpt from the post is shown. However, Alltop is a much simpler site than Technorati; it does not allow for custom web-based feedreading pages like Technorati does. Nor does it have a search engine function.

The Fine Line Between Aggregation and Splogging

Okay, let's pause for a moment here. Reading that section just above about blog aggregating websites, did you notice something?

Blog aggregating websites like Technorati and Alltop scrape bloggers' web feeds for content, and post that original content to their own sites, just like many sploggers do.

But, before David Sifry and Guy Kawasaki start sending me hate mail for trashing their sites on my blog, let me just say this right now: I believe that most blog aggregation sites should NOT be lumped in indiscriminately with the sploggers.

Most blog aggregation sites have an entirely different intent, serve an entirely different purpose, and treat scraped content differently than sites run by sploggers.

Many blog aggregator sites, like Alltop and Technorati, provide valuable services to both blog readers and bloggers. Blog aggregating websites can help blog readers find new blogs that may interest them by organizing blogs by region or topic. They can help bloggers by exposing bloggers' work to a wider audience, and also by providing valuable backlinks to the blogs featured on the site. The benefits of blog aggregating websites are, in many ways similar to the benefits of feed readers and community-based networks, in that they bring more readers to blogs by making it easier for blog readers to find, read, and manage blog content.

And sites like Technorati and Alltop treat the content they scrape very differently than the way sploggers do. Unlike many splog sites, they post excerpts only, and not full posts. Unlike many splog sites, which show content without attribution, or even in some cases deliberately, falsely attribute stolen work to a different author, all excerpted content on Technorati and Alltop is credited, and prominent links are provided to lead users directly back to the original site.

Both Alltop and Technorati are organized in such a way as to make it absolutely clear to users that the sites are intended to be used as portals to the original content they feature. They are explicitly designed to help readers find new content, and help bloggers find new readers. The sites LOOK like directories. And they WORK like directories. They are not pretending to be anything other than what they are.

And, importantly, both Alltop and Technorati allow bloggers to opt out of being featured on their sites, and post clear instructions on how to do so. (See links in previous sentence if you're interested.)

It is nevertheless undeniably true that blog aggregators' business is built on the original work of bloggers. Any and all sites that aggregate blog content without the original authors' express permission must walk a fine line, in my view, between helping bloggers, and exploiting them.

And some do sites cross that line.

The Fine Line Between Aggregation and Splogging: Part Two


Web Feeds

Most bloggers, whether they know it or not, already publish something called a web feed, with every single post. The two major web feed formats are called Atom and RSS (hence the commonly used term "RSS feed").

Depending on how a site author sets it up, a web feed sends either an excerpt from each new post, or a full-length copy of each new post, out to feed readers. Feed readers are software applications (like FeedReader) or web-based applications (like Google Reader) that collect information from web feeds and present it in an organized, easy-to-read format. (Feed readers are also sometimes called feed aggregators, because they aggregate information from different sources in one place.)

I say most bloggers publish a web feed whether they know it or not, because many big blog hosting sites such as Blogger broadcast web feeds automatically as a default option. If you use one of the major blog hosting sites and you don't want to broadcast your feed, in many cases, you have to go into your blog settings, find the feed option, and manually turn the feed off.

Now, there are several advantages to broadcasting a web feed from your blog.

Many blog readers regularly follow upwards of twenty or thirty blogs. It can be very time consuming for a person who reads that many blogs to visit each and every blog they read every single day to check for updates.

However, if a frequent blog visitor downloads a feed reader, or joins a web-based feed reading service, all he or she has to do is subscribe once to the feed of each of her favorite blogs, and thereafter, the feed reader will alert the blog fan whenever one of his or her favorite bloggers makes a new post. This allows blog audience members to spend less time hunting for posts, and more time actually reading them.

Plus, software-based feed readers can actually download posts and excerpts directly to a user's computer.
This allows blog readers with limited or spotty internet access to save blog posts while connected to the internet, and read them later while offline. This also allows blog readers to circumvent their employers' efforts to block employees' access to social media sites at the workplace (which may be bad for certain employers' productivity, but can be good for blog traffic).

In many ways, web feeds can be a win/win for blog readers and blog authors in that feed readers make blog reading easier and less time-consuming. It stands to reason that if more readers have more time to read more blogs, more bloggers can attract a larger audience.

However, let's say you happen to be one of the many bloggers who support their blogging habit via ad revenue.

What happens if a number of your readers start reading your web feeds on their feed reader, and STOP visiting your site?

If you have ads on your site, but a sizable chunk of your audience is reading your feeds exclusively and not ever visiting your site, that means those users of your site are never even seeing your ads. And in many cases, blog ad revenue is based either on click-thru rates (i.e., how many visitors to the blog actually click on the ad to see what it's about) or page impressions (i.e., how many times a web page is viewed).

This is why many bloggers who do host ads on their sites opt to limit their web feed output to excerpts only. This option allows you to send feed subscribers a heads up when you write a new post, along with the title of the post and a brief excerpt that shows what the new post is about. But in order to get the full post, subscribers have to click through to your actual blog. Once there, they see your ads.

However, this also keeps readers from being able to download your full posts and read them at their leisure, and it also keeps readers from reading your full posts in an environment where access to social media sites has been blocked.

So, bloggers who host ads on their sites and depend on ad revenue have the following options when it comes to allowing feeds:

  • Offer greater convenience to readers by posting full feeds, which might in some circumstances wind up drawing a larger audience overall, but which also carries the risk of taking traffic away from the blogger's main site, thereby decreasing the potential for ad revenue.
  • Limit some readers' ease of access to the blog's material by limiting feeds to excerpts, but prevent use of full feeds from drawing traffic, and therefore ad revenue potential, away from the main site.
  • Eliminate feeds altogether, which may prevent many readers from reading the blog altogether, but also provides the best insurance that loyal readers will always visit the author's original site.

Some bloggers have started trying to circumvent the Larger Audience from Feeds v. Greater Revenue from Site Visits issue altogether by providing full feeds, but embedding ads in the feeds themselves, to ensure that the original blogger receives some ad revenue regardless of whether a post is read on the original site or in a feed reader.


Web Feeds and Splogging

So, I've already discussed the inherent advantages and disadvantages to broadcasting a web feed from your blog.

But there is a much more insidious disadvantage to broadcasting your feed that I have yet to talk about, and that is the connection between web feeds and splogging.

You see, the way many sploggers acquire the original content that they copy, without permission, to their spam sites, is by simply subscribing to the bloggers' own web feeds.

A splogger subscribes to a blogger's feed in the same way a reader would. But instead of reading the content, the splogger uploads that content to the splogger's own website.

One way to protect yourself, as a blogger, from splogging is to stop broadcasting feeds from your website. But this may upset some of your loyal readers who rely on feed aggregator services to organize and monitor their favorite blogs.

And the fact is, sploggers can also acquire content fairly easily without using web feeds. There are all sorts of programs out there crawling the web right now, even as I type, that do nothing but find text-rich web content, copy it, and upload it directly to splogging sites.

There is no way to stop sploggers entirely from stealing your content. Even if you found a way to block splogger bots from scanning your site for text, a splogger could still manually copy and paste your content in seconds flat.

The only currently effective way to fight sploggers that I know of is to go after them after they take your content, either by pursuing legal action, by contacting other bloggers who are being exploited by the site and asking them to help you put collective pressure on the splogger to desist, or or by complaining about the splog site frequently on your own blog, thus forcing the splogger to display negative content about his or her own site, on his or her own site, if he or she wants to keep stealing your content.


The Fine Line Between Aggregation and Splogging: Part One



On Splogging



Do you see any big, paid sidebar ads on this blog?

No. At least, not at the moment.

I'm not against ads, mind. I myself work in marketing, which is really not even a skip and a jump across the way from advertising; the two professions are so intertwined it's sometimes difficult to see where one ends and the other begins.

Besides, I'm a writer. A writer who has studied the lives and work of other writers rather extensively, in order to gain a perspective on writing, to improve my own writing, and also to gain a pretty piece of parchment inscribed in Latin that says I'm qualified to write critically about other people's writing. Fancy.

So, because I'm a writer, and I've studied other writers, I know that the one of the primary ways writers, and other artists for that matter, have traditionally supported themselves throughout history has been through sponsorship. Five hundred years ago, it may have been sponsorship by petty kings or religious orders; these days, it's sponsorship by Apple or G.E. or Toyota or Nike. I get it. Really, I do. Magazine ads support magazine writers. Newspaper ads support newspaper writers. And blog ads support bloggers.

So I am not opposed to ads on blogs. As a matter of fact, sometimes I make a point of clicking on those ads when I'm on other blogs, and looking at the sponsors. Bloggers, being individuals, and therefore both much more vulnerable to scrutiny than large organizations, and much more able to make decisive judgements on how to present their own material, are often very choosy about what sort of ads they will put on their sites. Bloggers often choose to allow advertising from small businesses or non-profits with a corporate ethic I respect. I am interested in the companies my fellow bloggers choose to support, and I am interested in what kinds of companies are willing to support bloggers.

So, the lack of ads here is not due to some sort of deep-seated philosophical opposition to blog ads on my part. The lack of ads is more due to the fact that, being this is a personal blog, I want to be careful about what sort of business relationships I enter into here, because this place is an outlet for the creative energy that spills over and out of the tidy container of my professional writing work, and a place to vent my frustrations, and a place to have open discussions with other people of like mind, and so it feels in a way almost sacred to me, this place, and I don't want to let just any old business partner in here with muddy boots, marking up the carpet. (Note that this feeling obviously doesn't apply as much to muddy boots in the comment section. The comment section is sort of like my mudroom.)

And I'm only pointing out my lack of ads to show you that, when it comes to splogging-- which, for the uninitiated, is the practice of deliberately copying content from blogs, without the original blogger's permission, to another website, in order to draw search engine traffic to that site and thereby increase the splog site's ad revenue, at the possible expense of the uncompensated blogger, whose traffic may decrease, all without providing any meaningful service or original content-- when it comes to splogging, from a financial perspective, I currently, technically, have no dog in this fight.

But I still like to speak up, and loudly, whenever I find someone splogging, even if that splogger is not splogging my content. Why? Partly on principle. The splogger may not be taking my work today, but that doesn't mean he won't take it tomorrow. And the splogger may not be diverting any ad revenue from me now, but that doesn't mean revenue isn't being diverted from sites that belong to other writers, writers whom I consider to be friends, who might actually need that ad revenue to cover the costs of web hosting and maintenance so that they can continue blogging. And it doesn't mean that same splogger might not divert revenue from my site in the future, should my site eventually become a revenue source for me.


Why do sploggers do what they do?



Well, it has a lot to do with how search engine ranking works.

I know a fair bit about how search engine ranking works, because, as an internet marketing writer, I often write search engine optimized copy.

Search engine optimized copy is text on a website that is written in such a way as to improve the site's search engine rankings for particular search terms. Say I have a client who runs a store selling clothing on the internet. My client wants me to write a description of a hoodie they sell that will bring more customers in to the site through major search engines like Yahoo and Google, by targeting customers who are searching for hoodies because they want to buy one. Let's say my customer's current description of the hoodie on the website is this:

Cotton/polyester blend garment. Machine washable. Available in three sizes.


Now, this is an accurate description of the product. But it's not a good description, from an SEO standpoint. Think about it. You want to buy yourself a cute new hoodie. You want to buy it on the internet. What do you type into the search engine?

Do you type "Cotton/polyester blend garment"?

NO.

You type something like "Blue striped hoodie," right?

But when you type this phrase into Google, my imaginary client's site will never come up in your results, even if they do, in fact, carry exactly the thing you are looking for. Why? Because search engines find sites for searchers by looking for the text the searchers type into the search box. And the text you are searching for is not on the website belonging to my imaginary client.

The point I am trying to make here is, even just to show up in the search engine rankings for a particular search, a website must have rich, descriptive text that relates to the search.

Sploggers know this.

And so, they also know that blogs, which are sites with a lot of text-- text that is rich in a wide variety of common phrases, text that is updated frequently, text that often mentions current events or popular trends-- are likely to come up in search engine results for a wide variety of searches.

Rather than going to the effort to write such rich, quality text themselves, sploggers steal it. To draw searchers away from the site where the text was originally published, and to the splogger's site instead. And often, the sploggers don't just copy text from one blog; they copy text from hundreds or even thousands of blogs, creating a massive wealth of rich text on their site to lure in searchers from all over the web. Thus the sploggers are able to draw in an audience using someone else's work. And any time an audience is present on a site, there is the potential for ad revenue.

So, sploggers are essentially opportunists and thieves. And lazy ones, at that.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Conversations with a Husband

HUSBAND: Is it bad for me to tell you that, when I go to a blog I know you read and I see a comment that is longer than the post, I automatically know it's yours without even looking at the name?

WIFE: There WAS one other comment on that thread besides mine this time that was longer than the post, you know. This time.

HUSBAND laughs derisively.

Conversations with a Three-Year-Old: Chores

CHILD: Mommy, I have to go potty. RIGHT NOW.

MOTHER: Okay, I'll help you if you need help with your clothes.

CHILD runs to bathroom, then stops abruptly, eyes bathroom sink.

CHILD: Wait! I need to wash some dishes!

CHILD runs back to living room to retrieve empty cup from coffee table.

MOTHER: But, wait! I thought you said you had to pee! Like, right now!

CHILD: I do have to pee! But I like washing dishes.

MOTHER: Well, why don't you use the bathroom first, and then wash your hands, and THEN wash your cup?

CHILD: Oh, okay.

CHILD uses bathroom, climbs stepstool to bathroom sink, washes hands, begins washing cup.

MOTHER (Slyly): You know, when you're just a little bit bigger, you can wash dishes all you want in the big sink in the kitchen.

CHILD: Oh, really? Thank you Mommy!

CHILD steps down from stepstool, gives throws arms around startled MOTHER.

CHILD: I can't wait to be big as you.

-------

Note: Featured three-year-old not available for marriage until 2026.

A Sign of the Times

Does anyone else find this story ridiculous?

Back during last year's holiday shopping season, a mother of three named Treffly Coyne decided to encourage her two oldest daughters to collect coins for the Salvation Army bellringer drive. Together, the girls collected around $8 in change, and one night, their mother decided to take them to the neighborhood WalMart, not to shop, but just to drop their collected coins off in the kettle. She brought a camera, too, to take a photo of the girls making their donation. I guess she was proud.

The night she drove her daughters to Walmart to drop off their coins, it was sleeting outside. Coyne's youngest daughter, aged two at the time, was asleep in her carseat. When the family arrived at the Walmart parking lot, she made a decision that I think many, many mothers may have made under the same circumstances.

Rather than wake her sleeping toddler up to take her out into the sleet, she parked as close as she could to the Salvation Army bellringer. And then she took her two oldest daughters out quickly in the sleet to let them make the donation and snap a quick photo, and left her two-year-old, still strapped into her car seat, sleeping in the car.

Coyne locked the car and turned on the alarm before taking her older children across the sidewalk to make their donation. The whole errand took less than ten minutes. Coyne was never more than ten yards away from her car.

And yet, when she returned to the car, a police officer barred her from entering the vehicle. She was handcuffed in the parking lot and confined in a squad car. According to Coyne, the police took her youngest daughter into protective custody but left the two older daughters, aged eight and nine, alone in the Walmart parking lot.

Coyne is now on trial for child endangerment and obstruction of justice.

Now, I don't personally condone leaving children unattended in cars. I have never personally left my own son alone in the car, even for such a short errand. But, I just don't think leaving a sleeping child in a car for less than ten minutes while you are just a few steps away is an offense worth arresting someone over. I just don't. I mean, the car was within the mother's sight at all times. The woman did not even go into the store.

Back in the days before ubiquitious debit cards and Pay-at-the-Pump machines, when drivers actually had to go IN to gas stations to pay for gas, my parents used to leave my sister and me alone in the car for a few minutes all the time at the gas station, while they went INSIDE the establishment to pay, and I am sure this is true of most people in my generation. A lot of us, too, were left in the car for a minute or two at the corner store while an adult ran in to grab a package of diapers or a gallon of milk.

Should all of our parents have been arrested?

I understand that rising carjacking rates, and the general campaign to raise awareness about children's safety issues, have changed the social landscape since then. And so I do also understand why some people were upset that Ms. Coyne left her baby in the car, even though she only did so for a few minutes, and she could see the car at all times.

But I think the appropriate response, if officials thought a response was warranted, would have been to issue her a stern warning and leave it at that. I believe it's an almost criminal waste of time and effort for the system prosecute frivolous cases like these, when children are returned every day to homes where there has been documented evidence of serious abuse. And I think that dragging this well-intentioned mother's name and reputation through the mud will hurt her daughters far, far more than a few minutes alone in a safe car seat, in a safely locked car, ten yards away from their mother ever could.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The State of Isaac's Diet

For those who haven't been reading my blog since the beginning, I offer today my very first post.

This wasn't supposed to be my first blog post. I didn't originally envision that my blogging debut would be a piece about my son's baffling, terrifying refusal to eat enough food to grow.

I had been reading other people's blogs for quite a while before I started my own, and I had considered becoming a blogger for a long time before I took the plunge.

I had a Livejournal account, back in high school, before blogging was cool. Before blogging was even blogging, actually. Back then it was pretty much just called online journalling, because no one had thought of giving it a hip new name. So I had a Livejournal account, with an online journal. But I never really wrote much of anything in my online journal. I had a Livejournal account so I could read other people's online journals.

Some years later, I got myself a Fotolog. This was technically a blog-- a photo blog-- but I didn't really think of it as a blog so much as I did as a cool place to store and share my photos.

However, after my son was born, I discovered this newfangled blog genre called Mommyblogging. I loved to read other women's personal stories about parenting. Reading about other new mothers' total exhaustion made me feel less tired. Reading about other new mothers' isolation made me feel less alone. Reading that other new mothers had ALSO had to stifle the occasional disturbing impulse to toss their screaming newborns out the nearest window at three in the morning made me feel a WHOLE lot less crazy.

And as the "captions" on my photo blog began to grow suspiciously long, I started to wonder, should I start a blog?

I came up with the perfect name for my blog. I came up with the perfect subject, too!

(And that subject was?

Um, well, politics, actually. I originally thought I wanted to blog about the intersection of parenting and politics. With a little social and cultural criticism thrown in for spice. I know, I know. . . )

And then I proceded diligently not to write a blog for several months.

You see, something was happening in my life that was starting to distract me, a lot, from any ambition I might have had to become some sort of intellectual love-child of Erma Bombeck and George Orwell.

My son, my ONLY son, my baby, was getting very, very thin, sickly-thin, and refusing to eat. And I didn't know why. And neither, it seemed, did any of the expensive specialists I had been taking him to.

So when I finally wrote that post, that first post, here on that blog I'd so cleverly titled The State of Discontent, it wasn't about the intersection of parenting and politics. It wasn't a clever, sarcastic social critique. Because, frankly, at that point, I didn't give a rat's ass about that crap anymore.

When I wrote that post, it was a cry for help, in what I thought was an empty room, an echo chamber. It was a scream into the aether. I didn't expect anyone to read it, really, let alone respond.

But, people did. Mothers did. Offering me a supportive ear I even realize I'd needed so very desperately.

So I wrote more posts. And more people responded.

And then, offline, I found a diagnosis. Online, I found Lisa and Dawn, who each had a child with the same diagnosis. I finally found some good doctors. And a good occupational therapist. And
as the months went by, my son still struggled. I still struggled. But slowly, he kept getting better.

The other day, Peter asked how Isaac was doing in terms of his picky eating problem. And I realized I have not been updating my readers much recently on his progress.

I know a lot of people come here searching on Google for things like "why won't my child eat?" because their own children also are, or once were pathologically picky eaters. I have gotten another of emails from other parents of children with severe eating issues over the past couple of years, asking me for advice, offering me some advice or just wanting to commiserate.

I hope what I am about to write gives some encouragement to other parents who are dealing with this issue.

Isaac is still exceedingly picky, and still doesn't eat as much as I'd like, but, sometimes I lose perspective on how far my son has come.

He will now consistently eat: butter crackers, water crackers, graham crackers, Goldfish crackers, Wheat Thins, yellow corn chips, blue corn chips, potato chips, wheat bread, white bread, sourdough bread, plain bagels, blueberry bagels, asiago cheese bagels, cheese garlic bread, garlic nan, plain croutons, toast, french toast, pancakes, tortillas, hard pretzels, soft pretzels, Fruity Cheerios, Frosted Cheerios, Frosted Mini-Wheats, Life Cereal, granola, butter, cheddar cheese, mozzarella cheese, American cheese, colbyjack cheese, cheese quesadillas, chicken quesadillas (without salsa), grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken nuggets, soy nuggets, popcorn shrimp(!), cheeseburgers (without toppings), french fries, sweet potato french fries, sweet potato chips, dried carrot chips, raisins, golden raisins, dried blueberries, dried apricot, dried pineapple, dried coconut, dried mango, fresh sliced apples(!!!), plain dark chocolate.

He will now occasionally nibble at: deli ham, scrambled eggs, gouda cheese, orange slices (!!!), blueberry muffins, bran muffins, banana bread, cupcakes, cake, cake frosting, vanilla ice cream, chocolate ice cream.

He will now consistently drink: water, apple juice, grape juice, berry juice, orange juice, lemonade, fruit punch, cow's milk, chocolate cow's milk, chocolate soy milk, chocolate milkshakes, strawberry milkshakes(!), mango lassi(!!), vanilla Pediasure.

All right. So, you'll notice, there are no fresh vegetables on that list. The fresh fruit selection is limited.

Rice is not on that list. Neither is pasta.

(Trust me, the fact that my child will not eat rice or pasta drives me up the proverbial wall on an almost daily basis.)

But, let's look at that old list again:
"The only things he is willing to eat in any quantity with a smile on his face are dried fruit, dried coconut, apple juice, and Breyers vanilla ice cream."
I think he's doing quite well these days in comparison. Don't you?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Stephen, I Didn't Know You Felt This Way




Stephen's Fabulous Duet with John Legend




Jaelithe's 2007 Halloween costume


Coincidence? I think not.

Conversations with a Three-Year-Old: Blogging

CHILD: What is that noise?

MOTHER: Oh, it's a new noise my computer makes sometimes now. I downloaded some new software. It makes that noise when one of my friends writes a new blog post.

CHILD: What is a blog?

MOTHER: Well, you've seen Mommy's blog, right? Where I write things for people to read? A blog is a place where you write things for other people to read.

CHILD: I have a blog that I work on. It's called PBS Kids.

MOTHER: Oh, no, PBS Kids is not a blog. PBS Kids is a website with games on it. A blog is a website where you just write things. It's not about games.

CHILD: Oh. Well then, can I have a blog?

MOTHER: You have to be able to type to have a blog.

CHILD: I can type.

MOTHER [Considering the fact that this is indeed true]: But, on a blog, you have to know how to type lots and lots of different words. Can you type lots and lots of different words?

CHILD [Crestfallen]: Well, no. [Brightening] But, I can type Isaac. Isaac is spelled I-S-A-A-C. I know I can type that word.

MOTHER: That's true. You can type Isaac.

CHILD: And I can type Sam! Sam is my friend. I wrote her name on her Valentine.

MOTHER: That's true.

CHILD: And I can type boat!

MOTHER: Well, if you practice a lot, I bet you could learn how to type all sorts of words, right?

CHILD: Yes!

MOTHER: Well, all right. How about this. I'll let you practice typing something, and we can put it on my blog, okay? What do you want to write for people to read? Remember, a lot of people will be reading it.

CHILD types:


ISAAC LOVES YOU

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Vaccine Book: A Review

So, as I mentioned previously, I received a request from the publisher to review The Vaccine Book by Dr. Robert Sears (son of the original Dr. William Sears, co-author of The Baby Book, who pioneered attachment parenting and is therefore both beloved by millions and reviled by millions, depending on whom you talk to).

Now, I don't normally do solicited product reviews here. It's not that I think solicited product reviews are bad (Unless of course you're getting paid to say only nice things in your supposedly objective review, in which case, I say, shame on you. Go Directly to Blog Jail. Do not collect $200.) I actually enjoy reading product reviews on other people's blogs and websites, if I'm interested in the product and I know the review is legit. For instance, I love Cool Mom Picks so much I want to marry it.*

It's more that, when I'm writing here, I am much more interested in writing epic navel-gazing posts about my myriad failures as a mother, deep thoughts about kids jumping in piles of leaves (and, more recently, wonkish political polemics!) than I am in writing posts about umbrella strollers or whitening toothpaste. What can I say? As an internet marketing writer, I basically write descriptions of products all the time for my paid job. Here on the blog, I'm on product description vacation.

But book reviews are another matter entirely. I love books. I love to write about books. I love to write about books so much that I spent my entire college career reading books and writing about books and in fact practically living in books, even though many people advised me to study something more profitable. Like, say, how to genetically engineer bacteria to glow in the dark,** or something like that.

(Do you hear that, book publishers? Send me more books. I'll review them. You do not have to pay me. In fact, I will not accept payment. Though, it might take me two months to get to it. And I certainly don't promise to be as nice as I'm going to be in this one. I like this book, but I might not like yours.)

And since I also love learning about biology, and I'm obsessed with being an informed patient and parent, The Vaccine Book was really right down my alley.

So, on to my review:

Review of The Vaccine Book By Dr. Robert Sears:

In the Preface, Dr. Sears says, "It is my goal to give you the pros and cons of vaccination so that you can make an educated decision." And that is exactly what this book does. I think parents and doctors on both sides of the vaccine controversy, as well as those who are confused or undecided, will find this book truly helpful.

The author admits a pro-vaccine bias from the get-go. He states clearly that he believes the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks. And yet, he also makes it clear that he does not consider parents who are against vaccinating their children to be irresponsible, ignorant, or crazy.

On the contrary, he takes pains to point out that parents who choose not to vaccinate their children need a good relationship with an understanding doctor even more than parents who do choose to vaccinate, because if their children do catch, say, mumps or something, they'll need an understanding doctor to provide good care. And he comes out strongly against the growing practice among pediatricians of dropping patients who refuse to vaccinate. He even offers some good information on wrangling with the legal issues involved in choosing not to vaccinate your kids.

And for parents who believe delayed vaccination is the way to go, he presents a delayed vaccination schedule that focuses on those vaccines he believes to be the most important according to his extensive research.

The book does an excellent job bringing together important information on each of the major childhood vaccines from a variety of sources, all of which are clearly cited. Sears describes the illnesses each vaccine is meant to prevent, giving detailed information on symptoms, severity, and the possibility of long-term effects, and estimates the likelihood of an unvaccinated child catching each disease. He then explicitly describes how each vaccine is made, and gives a detailed ingredient list, as well as a detailed description of possible side effects.

For a healthcare-information-addict such as myself, these sections were a delight to read. I have never before seen in one place so much clear information on what goes into the vaccines we put into our kids. I found myself wishing very much that this book had been around when my own son was a baby.

I remember very vividly sitting in the doctor's office those first few times my tiny baby had to have a shot, staring at the brief, not-so-informative list of potential side effects some nurse always handed me (which was always, for some reason, printed on some sort of bright, cheerily colored paper with drawings of smiling children at the top), and wondering, very nervously, "What is in this shot? Why does it cause these effects in some children? Which of these effects is really normal, and which is really a sign of something serious?" And no one ever seemed to be willing and able to answer my questions to my satisfaction during a fifteen-minute doctor's visit. But this book does.

Toward the end the book veers toward some rather scary speculation about possible risks associated with the use of aluminum in vaccines. It's an odd shift in tone for a book that starts out pro-vaccine, and it makes me wonder if the Good Doctor himself started to question his own vaccine stance halfway through. I'm mostly pro-vaccine myself, but this information on aluminum kind of freaked me out. I'm glad he pointed out the need for further study on this subject, but, still, I kind of wish he had been able to get some more concrete information for the book regarding the risks of alumninum before it went to press.

Overall, I think this book is worth buying for any parent who is interested in learning more about vaccines. I think it presents a mostly balanced and respectful view of the vaccine controversy, and it offers a lot of valuable information on vaccines in a format that is easy to read.

------------

*And Kristen did propose to me one time over email. For realz. Although now what with her being a Clintonista and me being an Obamamaniac, I guess we're kind of like Montagues and Capulets. But I would still totally hit that. I mean, come on. Who wouldn't?

**Okay, so I actually did genetically engineer some bacteria this one time. But I really don't remember how to do it anymore.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Cats

Debbie at I Obsess wrote a post recently about cats she and her friends have lost.

I was going to comment about some of my own cats, but then I realized I was actually writing a post. So here it is:

Charles was the kitten my mother finally got from the local shelter after a full year of my sister and me begging constantly for a cat. But Charles hated being a pet. He glared defiantly at everyone. He liked to sneak up behind my sister and me and bite our ankles. Hard. Which was especially scary since we were just little kids when we got him. He beat up on other cats. He was generally an asshole. The kind of cat who could turn a person off from liking cats forever.

But whenever he was sick, or dejected, or wet from a bath, he would curl up next to the nearest person and purr. Sometimes my sister and I used to give him baths when he didn't really need them, just to get him to act nice for us.

Which was really kind of cruel of us, no?

Chicory was so malnourished when we found her under the porch that she had rickets. My mother fed her from a bottle until she grew strong.

She dashed out the door one night, arthritic as she was at the age of eleven, and never came home. We all figured she'd run off to die a good cat's death in the great outdoors, but still, not knowing was worse than having to put her down.

Juliana was a smart one. When she was a kitten, she figured out that the best way to get her lost toys out from under the fridge by knocking down a yard stick my mother had hanging in the kitchen and using it to sweep back and forth under the fridge.

When I went off to college, she sat in the window by the door every night, just as she had every night when I was in high school, waiting for me to come home. Eventually my mother had to send her to live with me, just to keep her from being so sad.

She was so angry at me when I had to leave her with a friend for several months while I lived in a place that didn't allow cats. And then when I got married, and had a human baby, she got angrier. Naively, I had thought that since she loved me, she would love my child just as much, but she was jealous. She started peeing on things, especially the baby's things. She started being mean to everyone.

But I still remembered how she used to curl up under my chin as I slept at night, how her fur as a kitten had been softer than silk.

I still think I failed her because I sent my husband to the vet to put her down when she got sick. But someone had to stay home with the baby.

I haven't had another cat since Jules. My husband is allergic to them.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Dear St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

There is a reason we St. Louis cognoscenti like to call you the Post Disgrace.

It is not because of "edgy" writers like Dana.

It is because your reporting is all too often shoddy, unoriginal, or both.

It is because your articles are often riddled with typos, factual errors, and grammatical goofs any entry-level copy editor ought to be able to catch.

It is because the few brilliant voices at the paper are mostly drowned out in a sea of relentless mediocrity.

It is because your forays into internet publishing have been tentative and tone-deaf; your web design, clunky; your attempts at online community-building, inept.

Post-Dispatch, we don't even HAVE another "real" newspaper in St. Louis. Don't you think we'd like to love you?

Don't you think we wish we could be proud?