Ars Bloggiendi

arsmoriendipagesLet’s hope that doesn’t devolve into ars moriendi very soon. We’re told the blog is on its way out — maybe has already been hit in the butt by the door — because humanity so captivates itself with 140-character bursts of “content.” Personally, I like writing blog posts and I like reading them. It’s a lot like writing a Pepysian journal, only with an audience that can talk back.

But I also happen to like reading newspapers. And look what’s happened to them…

There’s more to blogging than blurbing. The blog is a perfect platform for various kinds of long-form writing — not only journal-like or epistolary entries, but reportage, investigative journalism, serious essays, even stretches of fiction or poetry. None of these (except possibly haiku) are accomplished in 140 characters.

Google, in its determination to dictate the shape of the future right down to the last pixel, may very well have delivered the coup de grâce to the blog as a functional genre. Not everything fits on a cell-phone screen — even Apple figured that out when they came up with a larger iPhone. A newspaper does not feel adequate when it’s shrunk to the size of a tabloid. A magazine continues to hemorrhage readers after it turns itself into a website. Books gain popularity when sold cheaply in Kindle format and gates open for amateur self-publishers, but publishers of quality products go under and, in the absence of gate-keepers, we’re so swamped with schlock that no one takes a published book very seriously anymore.

The medium, in a word, is the message.

IMHO, Google’s demand that every website, no matter what its subject matter or what its genre, must fit on a tiny mobile screen — or else Google will effectively disappear it — could very well amount to a final blow to blogging, at least in its long form. Narrow a column, shrink the size, and pretty soon your readers feel like they’re reading toilet paper. It changes their experience of your writing, and that change surely could be perceived as negative.

And it doesn’t take much “negative” of any kind to drive readers away from an electronic medium.

A blog devoted to publishing the written word, I suspect, is not something that is easily read on a smartphone.

As in print publishing, the physical look of the product is as important as the content — maybe even more so. That’s why we have (or had…) graphic designers, whose skills are every bit as crucial to a published work as the writer’s and the editor’s. People bought Arizona Highways and National Geographic and Life Magazine and Playboy for the sensual experience of handling those publications as much as for the pleasure of reading and viewing professional photography.

Have you taken a look at the incontrovertibly “mobile-friendly” blog themes out there? Notice something funny about them?

At base, there really are only about four, maybe five underlying design structures for these things. They all look the same. After you’ve seen four of them,  you’ve seen them all. Most of them have only one or two columns — very few have three. Most of the two-column numbers will disappear key widgets from your sidebar, either creating more hassle for you as you figure out how to bring them back or simply eliminating those elements from your blog. Some relegate widgets to the bottom of the page, widgets that you — knowing where most readers’ eyes go in the milliseconds after a website loads — put into a sidebar for a reason.

Effectively, Google has arrogated the design of your site away from you, away from your designer, unto itself.

And why not? It already arrogated the privilege of advertising on your website to itself.

Google the search engine may be a handy tool, but, my friends, Google Inc. is not our friend.

Well, I’ve tried a number of them and have made all of my sites compliant with the new demand.

The Copyeditor’s Desk, to my mind, does in fact look better in its new duds, the old WordPress Twenty-Twelve theme.

Adjunctorium, gussied up in Shaped Pixels, is OK. I guess. Still have to figure out how to get a “subscribe” widget in there but simply do not have the patience to fiddle with it anymore. I’m not nuts about the punkin orange links — dislike orange type in general. Probably I can get in there and change the link color…but this little project has already consumed enough time, thank you.

Writers Plain & Simple, which is hosted on WordPress.com, is still wearing Chateau, as is Plain and Simple Press. At one moment Google’s accursed “tool” claims the thing is mobile-friendly; at the next, not so much. If you enter writersplainandsimple.com,  for example, you get a stupid “AWESOME” message, Google apparently assuming we all speak like Valley girls and are so kewl with this accolade. If you enter the true, behind-the-scenes URL, writersplainandsimple/wordpress.com, then Google gives you a raspberry.

It might make some sense to switch both of those sites to the antiquated (but at least still viable) Twenty-Twelve theme. But I’d need to come up with another image. I guess I could re-use the “books” image I knocked off for The Copyeditor’s Desk, but I don’t think it’s cropped to the right size (notice how the change deep-sixed my cool little black feather pen, for which I paid a designer freaking royally?).

But you know, I’ve already wasted enough time on this.

What a pointless time suck!

Image: Pages from an ars moriendi.

Mobilizing…

Argha! I’d been told that Funny’s theme, Thesis, was mobile friendly. And it probably is, if it’s updated. But…it’s not. To update you  have to know how to back up your site, and that’s beyond my capability. At the moment the Google God’s mobile-friendly testing tool says FaM is going to get shafted on Tuesday. So…no, without updating (and very possibly with it) Thesis is not going to do the job.

Fortunately I had several of the Twenty-xxx themes in the dashboard. They’re all said to be mobile-friendly, but as it develops,  that’s not quite true. The only one that seems to fill Google’s annoying bill without disappearing key widgets like “Subscribe”  is this one, Twenty-Fourteen, which is uglier than pussley.

Whitespace, a theme I used to use and that would actually do the job, is non-mobile-friendly.

I do not have time to sit here and fiddle with this thing today. So for the nonce, I’m afraid you’ll have to put up with the weird layout.

Three cheers for the European Union! Long may they sue Google‘s a$$.

Spring Doldrums?

You’d think springtime would burst on the scene with enthusiasm, activity, and all sorts of busy shenanigans, wouldn’t you? And normally it would: by now I’d have herbs and flowers planted (okay, a couple of those ARE in, but not a whole yardful) and I’d be full of schemes and projects. But so far, despite all the beautiful weather, I’ve done almost nothing and I feel no inclination to do much more than almost nothing. What the heck???

Yesterday as I was running around unproductively, I realized the allergies were so bad one of my eyes was swelling up, and both eyes were running.

You come to Arizona to find out what your allergies are — this is a very allergenic region because, in their effort to make the desert look like Ohio, immigrants have brought so many allergenic species into the state: they plant rye grass every winter and cultivate bermudagrass all summer, and there are so many damn mulberry trees their babes sprout as weeds. And pine forests, which still blanket northern Arizona even though they’re dying off as the climate warms, emit extremely allergenic pollen en gigantic masse, which floats down off the rim and plagues the Valley’s sensitive souls for weeks. Springtime, the only pretty ringtime, is not the only allergy season in Arizona, but it’s the most significant.

This is the worst allergy season I’ve ever seen in the 53 years I’ve lived here. And it’s not just me, for a change: everybody else is whining, too.

Respiratory allergies make you feel sleepy, without benefit of drugs. Add Benadryl or one of the other antihistamines, and you can breathe but you can’t stay awake. I’ve been taking a Benadryl knockoff at night and then a Sudafed knockoff in the morning. The stuff in Benadryl puts me into a stupor, and Sudafed wires me to the teeth. The hope is, then, that I’ll be able to breathe well enough to sleep at night but also walk around in a non-Zombified state during the daytime. Ugh.

Don’t know whether it was the allergies alone or the effect of the not-altogether-benign drugs that caused me to reach a deep nadir of non-enthusiasm yesterday. Except for one annoying task, the entire day came to exactly naught.

I needed to get my driver’s license renewed, a bureaucratic hoop-jump that is inflicted more often on older people because of the presumption that if you’re over 65, you must be incompetent (never mind that highest accident rates in this country occur among people aged 35 to 54). The state, in its Republicanized (hah!) cost-cutting campaign, has shut all the ADOT offices in the central city, except for one that’s in an area where I wouldn’t get out of my car on a bet. All the others are off in the far-flung suburbs.

One is in north central Scottsdale, not too very far from yesterday morning’s business networking meeting. So after breakfast, I made my way up to that site.

The license renewal process is a ludicrous joke, because they don’t give you any kind of test that proves your driving skills. They make you peer into a pair of binoculars, read a line of numbers, and ask you whether you can see lights flashing to the left and to the right. Then they make you stand around and twiddle your thumbs until they can photograph you and then they make you sit around and twiddle your thumbs until they can manufacture a license, which now they don’t even give you but mail to the address you provided (presumably to short-cut people giving fake addresses). This process can take upwards of two hours.

The lady in front of me, who looked to be about 28 or 30, could not read the numbers. Instead of telling her to go get her eyes examined, the test administrator had her guess again until she got enough figures right to pass.

You sense the pointlessness of this already, don’t you?

Well, to make it feel like less of a waste of time, I decided that afterward I’d visit the Nordstrom’s Rack, seeking more of the extremely cool tops they sell. The best-stocked of these stores is in a shopping center so close to that ADOT office you could walk across the street to it.

Ah, yes. Pointlessness.

The Rack had exactly Nothing. None of the spectacularly cute Bobeau tops were to be found. Neither was anything else anyone would want to wear. I tried on a pair of tights…ugh! The ones I bought from Amazon fit better and were better quality. Eventually I found one, count it, (1), top that looked like it would be cool with jeans but as I was walking to the dressing room thought do i really WANT to stand in line to get a stupid don’t-you-dare-steal-this number tag to try on a top that’s no better than something i could get at Costco, where i can return things hassle-free???????

Rejecto!

Okay. There’s a Michael’s next door to that store. Looked for a knitting book with instructions on how to knit on several double-ended needles: $48. Uh huh. For $75 I can get real, live, knitting LADIES to teach me how to do that. For free, I can learn how to do it from YouTube.

But I did want some new silk flowers, since Luz was devastated that I moved the gigantic container of fake flowers out of the bathroom into the office, to hide an overloaded electrical outlet that became visible when I got rid of a stereo cabinet. Wanted some fake roses in the reddish-to-orange shades, which would look nice in the bathroom. Checked Michael’s extensive collection of phony foliage: just awful. The fake roses, in particular, were poorly made, their edges actually FRAYED(!) and the petals wrinkled and funny-looking.

Ohhh…kayyyyy…. Well, there’s a Pier One in that shopping center. Walked over there. Yeah, they had their usual expensive fake flowers, and yes, some of them were MUCH better in quality. But none were roseoids. The only ones they had in the desired color range were similar to the ones I already have. Annoying.

Long as I was at the Pier One, I looked at some small area rugs, since I’d like one with an overall deep red effect for the former TV room, which looks pretty devastated without a rug in there but, since the doggy door is in there, is not going to get one of the pricey area rugs presently stashed out of puppy’s reach. Find one; unroll it on the floor. In among the reddish yarns, it has strips of BRIGHT GAWDAWFUL CHARTREUSE. The damn thing about puts your eye out.

Rejecto!

Over to the Cost Plus. Nope: Cost Plus/World Market has quit carrying that kind of thing altogether.

On the way back to the car, I revisit Michael’s, hoping that maybe, just maybe I overlooked something that would work.

Well, no. Rejecto.

Oh, god, how much of a waste of time was that morning?

As I was driving home, I remembered that as a young pup, I used to know how to make crêpe-paper flowers. It’s not very hard. The trick will be to find the crepe paper, which may not be so easy anymore, since most women go to paying work these days, rather than spending their days cleaning, cooking, repairing, gardening, babysitting, chauffeuring, representing hubby’s business interests at social events, entertaining clients and partners, and doing ladylike crafts. However, commenters at Martha Stewart’s how-to page provide leads to finding some of the stuff.

So that may be my next little project, if I ever get my act that much in gear.

However, a new paying editorial project just surfaced. So it’ll be awhile before we see any new paper flowers in the bathroom.

So, to work.

Salad Porn

Okay, we all know about Food Porn, a habit engaged by several younger generations. NZ Muse, for example, is famously given to musing over spectacular food. So — at least pre-bébé — is Revanche at A Gai Shan Life…note the preponderance of food images in this travel post. Little of it, alas, is dietetic. And of course the beloved Asian Pear is a master of the restaurant review.

So. Check out this noon’s Diet Food Porn…

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As usual, click on the image to get the real picture…

What I really (really!) wanted was some delicious little bay scallops soaked in butter & wine and dropped exquisitely over a plate of pasta. But…

Yes. But. This morning I hit the low 134’s (134.2!!) on the scale, down from 136.9 and headed for the goal of about 132.5.

Pasta? No… Don’t think so. That would mean tomorrow’s weight would be pushing 136 again.

Those scallops were gonna have to go over a salad. Darn it. Here’s how it all came down:

 You need:

frozen or fresh scallops of  whatever description (I used frozen bay scallops)
cumin, powdered or seeds that you’ve pulverized in a blender or old coffee grinder
one or two cloves of garlic, chopped finely or minced
a handful of chopped fresh parsley
salad greens (mâche, in my case, because it keeps forever)
little green onions, chopped
a tomato or two, with flavor
bottled salad addenda, such as hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, whatever)
various fresh veggies, such as carrots, radishes, thin crispy spring asparagus, whatEVER
a fresh lime (or two) or a fresh lemon
decent olive oil
a tablespoon or more of butter
crumbled feta cheese, ad lib

Mound up the greens and fresh veggies (including the green onions) on a plate, having cut larger items into bite-size pieces. Add pieces of whatever comes in a can or bottle. Sprinkle  some olive oil over the mound.

If necessary defrost the scallops by soaking briefly in cold water. Dry scallops well on paper or fabric towels. Sprinkle generously with cumin.

Melt the butter in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic. Add the scallops. Stir or toss around as they cook. Add parsley. When the shellfish look cooked (they get kind of white and firm; do NOT overcook!), squeeze one juicy lime or half a juicy lemon over them. Stir around to deglaze the pan.

Pour this directly out of the pan over the salad greens/veggies.

Top with a little salt and pepper. Sprinkle some cheese over this. (Feta is good; you could also manage with Parmesan or maybe with some kind of blue cheese.)

Pour wine. Take salad and wine to table. Enjoy.

Day from Hell After$shock: The Water Heater Bill

Nine hundred eighty dollah and twenty-six cents. That’s what a new water 50-gallon water heater costs, installed.

I expected this, because the last time I bought a water heater — about 11 years ago when I moved into this house — the plumber said prices were headed for the stratosphere because of new safety requirements. He said then that heaters would run upwards of $600, which indeed they do. This one was $820, plus the cost of installation.

And now I see that Bradford White, the brand my new guy installed, is almost universally disliked and reviled. One buyer said their four-year-old model turned into a “blowtorch,” burned their house down, and killed their dog. That was just outside of Tucson…three months ago!

Well, the plumber didn’t get the icemaker line reattached. I may tell him to return the thing, when he comes over here tonight to connect that. Wish I’d had the sense to look it up yesterday before he installed it!!

Wouldn’t you think a plumber would know the products better?

What am I gonna do here…? There’s no way the guy is going to be able to return the thing, now that he’s installed it and filled it full of water. But holy mackerel…another Consumer Affairs commenter said a year-old model filled their home with carbon monoxide, poisoned her and her husband, and killed their dog. The thing is in the garage and the door between the garage and the kitchen is supposedly a fire door. But that door leaks like a sieve.

He wouldn’t take AMEX, so I had to give him a check. So that means I don’t have the credit-card warranty/insurance deal.

Why do I think I’m lined up for a royal screwing here? This does not look good.

I guess what I’ll have to do is buy a home warranty, which will replace the unit when it craps out (assuming it doesn’t explode my home), and also put a fire alarm and a CO alarm in the garage. There’s already a smoke alarm in the kitchen.

Another half-assed home warranty…dayum! Just what I need: another monthly charge. They cost about $500…maybe I’d be better off to simply put $42 each month toward the next water heater, which, if this one doesn’t burn the roof down around my ears first, will be in about six years and two days. It comes with a six-year warranty…which the guy failed to give me attached to the unit.

Five hundred dollah times 6 years is $3,000, enough to buy three new water heaters…

Well, meanwhile, it’s off to Costco to return the Panasonic telephone lash-up. The instructions are so complicated they are simply incomprehensible. I never have figured out how to bring up the “menu,” and to use the “Block Call” button to beat back the phone solicitors, you can’t just push the button. You have to somehow “select” the phone number, but you can’t find a way to “select.” And apparently “out of area” is not a blockable code.

The thing wasn’t that expensive, but with a thousand-dollar bill for a new water heater that may kill me, the dogs, or all of us, every little bit helps.

What Do Surveys Survey?

The beloved Charles M. Blow is holding forth on the Walter Scott case, which one would expect that he should. I’m not going to say whether I agree or disagree with today’s column (those of  you who’ve been watching closely can imagine). But I would like to discuss a source that he (graphically supported by the NY Times) uses to help make his finely honed point: a Gallup poll asking Americans about their views of police force.

Every time someone trots out statistics from one of these polls, I find myself asking What do these questions really mean? And more to the point, what did the respondents really mean when they answered “yes,” “no,” “maybe”?

Let’s consider the responses to the questions Mr. Blow’s graphic designer presents.

“How much confidence do you have in the police”? Those responding ‘a great deal/quite a lot':

Whites: 59%
Blacks: 37%

How much confidence do you  have in the police? I’ll tell you what my answer is: “It depends.”

It depends on the call to which one asks the officer(s) to respond. It depends on the officer’s training. It depends on the officer’s years of experience and on the quality of that experience. It depends on the officer’s overall IQ: smart, normal, or dumb as a post?

I feel a lot of confidence in most officers’ ability to cope with a traffic accident. I feel a lot of confidence in their ability to respond to my call to 911 reporting that some creep is trying to get in a bedroom window.  I feel a lot of confidence in their ability to respond to a cell phone call saying I’m at Tatum and Shea, headed for the Paradise Valley Police Station, and someone scary is following me.

I do not feel a lot of confidence in most officers’ ability to deal safely with domestic violence in progress, although I suspect they would do better than I could. Especially if they were bigger than me.

I do not feel a lot of confidence in any man’s or woman’s ability to respond when someone threatens his or her life; no more than I feel a  lot of confidence in my own ability to respond to a direct threat on my own life (other than to know that if I had a pistol in hand I would not hesitate to shoot).

I do not feel a lot of confidence that a police officer would deal kindly with Gerardo or Luz if someone called to say they saw one or the other of them entering my property when I wasn’t home — even if I’d left the key for Luz or the back gate unlocked for Gerardo.

I do feel a lot of confidence in any officer’s inclination to sacrifice his or her own safety to help someone whose life appears to be in danger.

“How would you rate the honest and ethical standards of police officers.” Those responding “very high/high”:

Whites: 59%
Blacks: 45%

How would you rate the honesty and ethical standards of police officers? Me, I think 59% “high” or even 45% “high” is pretty damn good. I would rate the honesty and ethical standards of most human beings as “mediocre” to “low.” Police officers seem to be human beings, and so…well…

Is the American justice system biased against black people?” Those responding “no”:

Whites: 69%
Blacks: 26%

And you? Do you think the American justice system is biased against black people? Yes, no, maybe? As for moi, my response is WRONG QUESTION!

In my not very humble opinion, the American justice system is biased against poor people: the more money you have, the more justice you can afford. Thanks to a legacy of slavery and discrimination, a larger proportion of black folks than of white folks live in poverty, or in something close to it.

Is the American justice system biased against poor people? Damn right. To the extent that a lot of black people are poor, well, sure: the system is biased against them. If you asked me, out of the blue, “biased against black people?” I might or might not answer “yes.” Or “no.” Depending on my mood and on what you asked in the previous questions.

So you see…I hate these surveys. You see why?