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April 29, 2005

MyPlates

Lately, I've been riding the bus to work more and driving in a lot less. When gas is $2.50 a gallon and parking is $3.50 a day, the (mostly) free bus pass goes from a nice idea in theory to a massive money-saver.

Riding the bus means that I get to look at the scenery rather than the sticker-covered late-model Volvo in front of me. Also, I finally get interrupted time to read again. (I'm not aliterate; I just don't read books all that often anymore. Almost all my reading is online.)

The other day, though, I looked out the bus window as it pulled up to a stoplight and spied a car of non-descript make (unless it's a Beetle or an Aztek the modern car is going to be non-descript) with Florida plates. Instead of "Florida" across the top of the tag, though, it said "MyFlorida.com," which is baffling, since the last I looked Florida was still a US state.

At that exact moment I was reading "Web Design On A Shoestring" by Carrie Bickner. One of the things she discusses is her dislike of starting web site section titles with "My." Unfortunately, the book isn't readily at hand, being that's it's sitting on my desk at work, so I can't pull out the section of the book to quote. The point is that it's clutter (think how much easier News, Sports, Weather is to read as a list compared to MyNews, MySports, MyWeather) and it seems silly to call something "mine" when you don't personally own it or have a personal connection with it.

I don't feel any connection with Florida. It's down... there. Bottom right. Disney World. Devil Rays. Manatees. Whoopee. Been there once in my life and didn't feel good or bad about it.

I don't own any part of it, either. Why would the state use this ludicrious marketing shorthand on their tags when more than 90% of the country isn't going to warm to the concept of possessing Florida?

And it's a .com, too. And that seems appropriate. Dotcoms were bastions of unreality, filled with events and people blown way out of proportion, personalities loaded down with pretense and self-importance, and an underlying sense that they were better than the rest of the world despite not having anything to show for it once the hurricane hit. Mix in some butterfly ballots, Cuban children trying to go back to Havana against the will of the greater local Cuban population, and a crazed family of a woman in a persistent vegetative state, and you either end up with a spot-on description of Florida, or the business model of MyLackey.com (RIP, 2000).

All said, while the Florida tags are overblown marketing crap, at least they aren't offering specialty tags for people who are MIA or KIA like the state of my youth is. Which tag would be scarier to see on the car in front of you, the one advising you the driver isn't at the wheel, or the one indicating the driver is of the undead and, in the event of an accident, will likely request to see your insurance card and to feast on your brains?

Posted by dylan at 12:52 AM | Comments (3)

April 23, 2005

Just a normal Saturday

Mowed the lawn. At least, tried really, really hard to. Haven't mowed it since the zenith of last summer's drought; it took me about 20 minutes to do our postage stamp sized front and back yards. Today, it took me 1 hour, 20 minutes. Why? Well...


This afternoon, we were in the living room with Annabel (who's been sick) when were heard this loud THUD in the other room. The super-giant Kirkland Signature jug of laundry detergant had been thrown off the dryer by the spin cycling washer and was discharging liquid laundry detergant all over the mudroom. It took all the towels we had and a lot of vigorous mopping to get the floor to something less than a skating rink.

While I was mopping up the mess, the Seahawks, in desperate need of a WR who can CATCH AND HOLD ONTO THE BALL, drafted a center. Just when you think the Mariners are run by the biggest idiots in town, the Seahawks remind you that they've been the local leaders in idiocy for ten years running.

Meanwhile, yesterday's end of day smackdown of Meetup has been picked up by Scoble and Winer. So now, it's going to be a race between Meetup to get back across the bridge too far and the racing, teeming hoards of bloggers fuming in the red mist of insta-outrage. And they're all going to converge on my monthly web hosting bill.

Part of the plan today was to complete and roll out the new templates for the site. Unfortunately, until the traffic dies down I'm going to have to belay the work.

And I think it's supposed to rain. Or hail. Or something. The clouds roll in, the sun comes out, and a minute later the clouds are back, just as the sun peeks out. Nice day, though.

And the Hawks just drafted a WR in the second round. HA! I MAKE FUNNY! They picked up an ILB instead. Wonder what these guys are like at home.
"Dear, could you go to the store and pick up some sugar?"
"Sure, dear."
(30 minutes later)
"Honey, I'm back from the store. Rice-A-Roni was on sale, so I bought a dozen boxes."
"Did you get the sugar?"
"Do we really need it? Because Rice-A-Roni is The San Francisco Treat(TM)!"
"Remind me again why I stooped so low as to marry a moron like you."

Posted by dylan at 05:06 PM | Comments (6)

April 22, 2005

My belly's aching now to say

This was going to be an odds 'n' ends post, but then I check Anita's report on Wednesday's weblogger meetup.

Some quick background: The Seattle Webloggers Meetup (Weblogger Meetup No. 1) has been around for a number of years. (I want to say 2001, but I'm probably wrong.) We've used Meetup to handle the monthly announcements of meetings as well as attracting new members. We have a fairly core group of regular attendees that include older adults (sorry Chas) all the way down to a one year old (aka my daughter).

All has been well... until Meetup announced that they would begin charging the organizer, Anita Rowland, a fee for putting our group up on Meetup -- $9/month through 2005, $19/month thereafter.

This is something new. I mean, how do we pay for it? Is paying for Meetup worth it? Can we build our own and do better, but if we do, will we lose the promotion Meetup gives us?

On Wednesday, the Seattle Weblogger Meetup attendees discussed the new charges and whether we wanted to pay them. A number of people were ticked off. OK, almost everyone. But the point of the discussion was whether Meetup was worth the hundreds of dollars in annual cost over the next few years, or if an alternative could provide us with what Meetup provided.

Of course, being the egotistical loudmouth I am, I stated that we have three options:

  1. Stay with Meetup and pay up
  2. Move to another organizing service (Yahoo being one example)
  3. Roll our own "meeting up" system

Anita reminded us that the payments to Meetup wouldn't commence until her service ran out at the end of May, so we still had a month to discuss. After some brief deliberation, by consent the group agreed to remain with Meetup for the time being. As a show of our commitment to Meetup, Anita, and the group, a few of us gave her money to defray the impending costs. Others in the group are investigating what it would take to create our own meeting up system, and I'm sure they will report to the group later.

Apparently, though, our polite, everyone-has-their-turn, let's-work-towards-consensus discussion (and after all, we're all Seattleites here, so consensus uber alles) didn't sit too well with someone in the Meetup PR department. This is the verbatim quote from their blog:

Belly-Achin' Bloggers in Seattle

According to a fun image on Make You Go Hmmm, seems that some of the good folks at the Seattle Blogger Meetup chipped in a few bucks and helped Anita Rowland with the nominal fee for the Seattle Blogger Meetup Group.

Guess this Meetup was worth their time-- at least $2 bucks worth!

Y'all had a good Meetup and you supported your local group! Sounds like everyone should be happy.

We work hard to make it easy for you pull this together.

So really, folks, what's the belly-achin' all about?


Added to The Meetup Wire by Myles on Thursday, April 21, 2005 at 02:08 PM.

Belly-achin'? What the?

Look, I've lived in Seattle for ten years now. I know what belly-achin' is. If belly-achin' were baseball, Seattle would be the Dominican Republic and the Yankees all in one. We were having a discussion. Yes, there were compliants about Meetup. Plenty of them. But we're staying with Meetup for the moment because, well, it's a good product that satisfies our needs.

To a Meetup employee to say that we, the customers of Meetup, the members of Weblogger Meetup No. 1, are a bunch of belly-achers is not only ludicrious, it's insulting. For their PR person to snark about us like that on a public blog is unreal, and it minimizes the real questions and concerns all Meetup groups are dealing with right now over the decision to charge monthly fees. Whomever this Myles is, his PR skills are on the same level as, well, my mad skillz at skateboarding. (Non-existent.)

So, personally, dear Meetup people, here's what I suggest you do as recompense:

  1. Apologize to the members of Webloggers Meetup Group No. 1 in writing for calling us belly-achers.
  2. Throw this Myles on a plane out here to Seattle (We have JetBlue now, you know) for next month's Meetup (May 18, 7pm, Ralph's Deli, kitty-corner from the Cinerama on 4th) and have him personally deliver this apology orally. And hey, I'll even buy him a sandwich if he dare show his face. We won't bite, we promise. We're good people out here in the upper left hand corner.
  3. Throw in some compensation. Give us free Meetup through the end of the year. Or the end of next year. Optionally, throw in some swag. Whatever.

We've been loyal customers. To insult us like this makes us want to, well, belly-ache. Ball's in your court, Meetup.

SUPER ADDED BONUS! Just discovered our offending Meetup employee is one Myles Weissleder.

Myles Weissleder, VP/Communications
Myles keeps the voice of Meetup in tune, keeps the media in the loop, evangelizes the Meetup story, has his ear to the ground for opportunities as the Meetup groundswell builds—and more-or-less sends and receives an unthinkable amount of email.

The VP of Communications is calling us names. What sort of things are they teaching at university departments of communication nowadays? Did he get his degree paid for by the George Steinbrenner Scholarship?

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! A search on Myles Weissleder in Google turns up this page. The first thing he says about himself?

"I'm a consumate communicator."

I would say that isn't true 100% of the time. 97%, I could give you. But 100%, nah.

But then, I'm just a whiny web designer and Meetup member with a BA in environmental studies, thread-bare social skills, and a year-old daughter I expose monthly to a bunch of obnoxious belly-achers. What do I know about communication compared to the WISE AND MIGHTY MYLES?


UPDATE (4/24): Anita's summary from last night is a good place to start. As we stand, we have apologies from Hilary Moon Murphy (Meetup Community Manager), Matt Meeker (Co-Founder), and, after a false start, Myles himself. All are in the comments below.

For the record, we're smack in the middle of Pesach, and Myles was off celebrating the holiday. So, cut him some slack for that.

The other two points of resolution (send Myles to our next Meetup to apologize, throw in some compensation) remain out there. For the sake of trying to salvage the relationship, Meetup should try to act on them. However, I am happy that we were able to get their attention and with the response they've given us... even Myles' first attempt at an apology.

Like I said in the comments below, my feelings about this can be summarized by Mr. Costello: "I used to be disgusted/Now I try to be amused." I'm not angry. I think this is pretty funny. I think there are three lessons one can take away from this:

  1. Never, ever insult your customers, even in jest.
  2. Think before you blog, especially if you're a corporate blogger.
  3. Bloggers are the worst people in the world to insult, because they will tell the whole world about it.

And one last thing: Why hasn't anyone at Sloan or Haas or HBS (or even our local B-Schools in Seattle [UDub, Seattle U., SPU, etc.]) started offering classes on how to effectively use and manage the Internet? I think this the third time now I've seen an organization jam its foot clear into its epiglottis thanks to Internet-based communication. You have all these people who think corporate blogging is the latest and coolest, but they've never blogged, and they hire non-bloggers to run these blogs that are supposed to be the voice of the company. See, it's one thing if Myles, on his personal site, called us belly-achers. Instead, he does it on a corporate blog hosted on the mothership site.

If I get time, I think I'll write something on what I think corporate blogging should be. Today, though, it's off to the game to hope that the Native Americans don't sweep the Mariners.

And oh... none of us wants Myles' head for this. Mind you, if he were my VP of Communications I'd strongly consider firing him, but hey, that's my opinion. What I want is for Myles -- and the entire Meetup organization -- to learn from this experience. Be open with your customers about what's going on. Speak with one voice. And never, ever insult your customers if they're webloggers.

Posted by dylan at 05:39 PM | Comments (22)

April 21, 2005

Grandpa's got the Popemobile

There's this saying: "Once a Catholic, always a Catholic." The month of April has proven that it's not just a saying, at least for me. Everything Catholic comes back and lingers as they bury one pope and raise up a new one.

The thing that's baffled me has been the spit and venom thrown at Benedict XVI, the former Cardinal Ratzinger. He's an arch-conservative. Here comes the Inquisition, the New Crusade, the Great Purge of Anyone Not In Opus Dei. Almost every one of these comments has come from a non-Catholic. So, let me explain things to those of you who can't do an entire Mass in your head.

He's not an arch-conservative. If he were, this Sunday would be the return of the Latin Mass. Yes, he's against homosexuality and women priests. Last I looked, so is the Catholic Church -- and has been for more than a millenium. No surprise there. He's also anti-modernism and made some clueless remarks about the evils of rock music. Well, what do you expect from a 79 year old concert pianist? "I love that rock 'n' roll. Why, during the Conclave, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor and I got in a heated discussion over who was better, the Shins or the Thrills!"

I mean, what did people expect, Eddie Izzard? We just ended a 26-year papacy of a staunch defender of the faith. The sort of pope that would one would see would be one who is going to be the transition point between John Paul and the next generation, one who is going to be a bridge, not a song unto himself.

Not to say that B16 doesn't have problems. He's been one of the people responsible for taking local decision-making away from the dioceses and consolidating all that power in a micro-managing Curia. A parish priest can barely wipe his nose without getting a letter from Rome. His ties to Opus Dei, the Catholic answer to both the Masons and a certain group with ties to a writer named Hubbard, scare the bejeesus out of me. He talks of a "smaller" Church -- does he mean a smaller Roman bureaucracy or a church with all the moderates and liberals jettisoned for a hard-core fundamentalist base? And yes, there's sex abuse scandals, women's roles, and other long-standing issues mixed in there as well.

His talk about confronting "relativism" seems to hint at taking the church further out of society and into an insular box of yes. The Internet is remaking global society, increasing international connections, and leveling the economic playing field. Here, in this moment, the Church could engage an emerging culture desperately needing a relevant paradigm that can bring order to the chaos. But, it doesn't sound like he wants to engage as much as shake the dust off his feet. "You're all doomed to burn. Call us when you wake up and realize that. Meanwhile, let me condemn you again."

Non-Catholics, though, don't understand how personal this all is to Catholics, even the most lapsed. Like it or hate it, it's still the Mother who raised you. You don't like it that your Mother has a new man who's old, crotchety, and... old, but she's still Mother. So, when non-Catholics with no deep connection to the Church start pontificating (no pun intended), it sounds like, well, an old German cardinal ripping into rock music.

I've called myself a protesting Catholic for nearly half my life now. Mother Rome and I have some disagreements on women in the church, the over-veneration of Mary, and a few other things. So, we haven't talked in a number of years. But Protestantism sometimes feels like exile. I wish we had communion with real wine, not with Welch's from concentrate. I still make the Sign of the Cross every time the Trinity gets mentioned. I still say "trespasses" instead of "debts" in the Lord's Prayer, usually out of sheer rebellion. And I miss the poetry, the "bells and smells" of Mass, the cassocks and the majesty. Instead I'm stuck in exile, a land of preachers in bad suits, cross-waving Republican blowhards, Thomas Kinkade paintings and glurgy novels, spiritual fads that are weighed and found as wanting as a famine-ridden African vilalge, and tragic casseroles that look like rejects from Iron Chef: Battle Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup.

There's this off-quoted passage from Douglas Coupland's Life After God:

Now - here is my secret: I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God - that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.

That's where I am here in exile. I need God, Jesus, Spirit, by mystery and wisdom, to remind me that He's bigger than tuna noodle casserole, bad suits, bad art, and my own selfish and greedy ways. I look across the valley to the cathedral, knowing that God is Lord over both lands, even if they are filled with stupid, angry, arrogant, broken humans.

Maybe I'll go back one day. I don't know. For now, I'm here, stuck with Tom DeLay and a plate of cold green bean casserole.

Posted by dylan at 12:22 AM | Comments (6)

April 16, 2005

Careening

We got a letter from Seattle City Light on Thursday informing us that the power would be turned off because our landlord hadn't paid the power bill. Since 2003.

The power wolves were staved off by me diverting our last rent check to them, but it led me to wonder two things:
-- Why did our landlord stop paying the power bill?
-- And why did City Light wait until two years in before sending a red-bordered letter to us, the tenants?

On the latter, I asked them that, point-blank. The answer: "Well, it's not our job to baby-sit you." So, you're OK with not getting that money into your coffers for two years? You do that to the phone company, you don't have phone service 60 days later. I know there are those who would say that this is why we should privatize City Light, but is this really a for-profit/non-profit difference, or is it really a problem with old, inefficient, mainframe-driven utilities? I've heard of similar problems with other power companies, and even with phone companies.

Anyway, between this and the bank problems, it's been a very stressful and depressing week. My one highlight was tonight: While feeding Annabel her night-night bottle, I discovered that KBTC was running Austin City Limits, and the Pixies were on. She lay there, sucking on her bottle, completely focused on the Pixies and Frank Black's big bald head. "Monkey Gone To Heaven" came on. She grabbed my hand and kept watching. She's her daddy's daughter, that's for sure. She sure doesn't do that for Lindsey Lohan.

I sang "This monkey's going to bed" to her as I put her down. She wasn't amused.

Posted by dylan at 10:20 PM | Comments (3)

April 12, 2005

Like I need a hole in my head

Angst. Anger. And so on.

So, someone wrote me a big check that bounced, sending my account careening. My bank, the formerly nice and pleasant Washington Mutual, told me they couldn't do anything, screw you, we ain't helping. So, I'm about to drop WaMu, which is something considering I've been moving money through them for TEN YEARS.

Think about that. Ten years. And not once have I had to endure being on the losing side of a merger. (Compare this with my mother, whose checks changed three times in three years thanks to a chain of mergers.) And, yet, they give me craptacular customer service and tell me I'm on my own. I've probably pumped nearly half a million dollars through them over the last decade, and this is the thanks I get -- a lousy customer service call with some guy who tells me that doesn't give a damn that I'm alive.

So. Let's consider banking alternatives the Google way.
wells fargo sucks : 24,000
washington mutual sucks : 70,600
bank of america sucks : 499,000
us bank sucks : 688,000

I think we might have a winner.

Posted by dylan at 10:24 PM | Comments (4)

April 10, 2005

Book memes

So, Samantha tagged me. Here we go.

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?
I will make the odd choice: the Larousse Gastronomique. Because choosing between Lewis, O'Connor, Chesterton, and Dostoevsky is hard. And anyway, the Larousse is an incredible encyclopaedia of food.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
Someone else's character? No. One in my own writing? Yes. But I think my fictional characters, at least in college, were me working out secret crushes while protecting my wallflowerness from actually having to act on them.

The last book you bought is:
Fiction: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. And I will eventually finish it, if I can just get over the fact that I think I know how it's going to end.

Nonfiction: Baseball Prospectus 2005. Yeah, like that's a surprise.

The last book you read:
The Zen of CSS Design : Visual Enlightenment for the Web by Shea and Holzschlag. Reading for work, again. I have a problem with books on CSS -- they're very repetitive. It's good that web writers have finally stopped spending half of a book justifying CSS. Now, though, I wish they'd take that half a book and use it to discuss what good web design is and how CSS helps a web geek build well-designed sites. The CSS gurus elide the fundamental questions of good design in the name of showing off some feature that only works in one "standards-compliant" browser running on one computer (and, of course, fail to explain why that feature is anything other than pointless eye candy.) It took a couple of years before the gurus admitted that the "compliant" box model wasn't as logical as the "non-compliant" IE box model. Maybe in another year or two they can lay aside the "coolness" and get to the "usefulness."

What are you currently reading?
Nothing, having just finished Zen of CSS. I think next up is re-starting The Pickwick Papers.

Five books you would take to a deserted island:

I'm going to claim the Desert Island Discs exemption and assume I get the Bible and the complete Shakespeare.

Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. A Russian novel full of odd, mystical tangents, tangled plots, and characters that walk off never to be seen again. In essence, a perfect desert island book.

Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor. Sharp, grotesque, and beautiful. Only a Catholic could write a satire of the Protestant South and its encounter with modern commercialism.

Good Omens by Gaiman and Prachett. The funniest book about the End Times, ever. I wonder if the Left Behind guys would have still written their craptacular series if they'd read this book first.

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. Only here because there is no single complete volume of the poetry of R.S. Thomas... yet. But this is still a great book, one that encapsulates the taming of the American West and the darkness of emotional adultery.

Total Baseball by Thorn and Palmer. Because, well, you know me. :)

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?
Well, Susan's done hers. So, I'll tag...
George
The Rev. Hasty
and because she'll never do it, Kat.

Posted by dylan at 02:26 PM | Comments (3)

April 07, 2005

Question for the Sea-bloggers

Say there's a 15 year old goth kid out there. Say she does some image siphoning and, well, posts a picture from your site to the goth forum she hangs out on.

What would you do? How much humiliation should I submit her to? And how much should all this be tempered by the fact the date of the post on the forum was April 1?

Thoughts?

UPDATE (4/8): Vengance is mine.

So what happened is that this 15 year old goth girl took a picture of Annabel and claimed it was her "baby sister." Unfortunately for her, she linked to the pic and sopped up some of my bandwidth. So, Ben was happy to let me use a picture of his notarized, er, arse to replace the Annabel pic.

Poor Miss Goth Girl Dying For Attention is going to get the attention she wants now.

By the way... which one of you is not_tellin?

Posted by dylan at 01:29 AM | Comments (6)

April 06, 2005

1

Day is half-over and I haven't mentioned... Annabel is 1 today. And she's growing like a weed.

I'll post pictures etc. later when I'm at home. If you want to get her a present, here's her wish list.

UPDATE:
Here's her cake from Sunday.
140_4087.jpg

And here's the birthday girl tonight.
141_4118.jpg

Posted by dylan at 01:54 PM | Comments (1)