I’m Confused by Facebook’s “Fact Checkers”

I’m Confused by Facebook’s “Fact Checkers”

Let me make it very clear from the start: I appreciate it when friends fact-check what I post. I don’t appreciate long, drawn-out, circular, unproductive “political debates” with people who think politics is a sport, but I do appreciate friends who keep me honest on those rare occasions when I post utter rubbish on Facebook. It happens to us all, sometimes.

Assuming we’re breathing.

A few days ago, I posted a link – a direct link to a primary source of information – Donald Trump, Jr’s own tweet that so comically led people to mock him for calling Governor Abbott a Democrat. Governor Abbott, as any Texan knows, is not a Democrat. He’s not much of a governor, either, but that’s not the issue right now. Here’s the original tweet, in Donald Trump, Jr’s own words (I’m including the image for those who don’t have Twitter, and if you click on it – assuming he hasn’t deleted it – it will take you straight to the original source.)

I live in Texas. I’d love to see Ted Cruz resign; he’s a disgrace. Wanting to “cancel” Ted Cruz shouldn’t even be a partisan matter at this point, and he should be thoroughly investigated for his role in the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol. Three major Texas newspapers have called for Ted Cruz to resign.

Texans died during the winter storm and massive power grid failures in February. Texas Republicans and Democrats were fairly united on one thing: They were not impressed when Cruz fled the disaster area to the warmer climate of Cancun, Mexico. They weren’t impressed when he tried to blame his poor judgment on his 10 and 12 year old daughters, claiming he was “trying to be a good dad” by taking them to Cancun during a school break. They were even less impressed when his wife’s texts, complaining of the bitter cold and inviting friends to join them at the Ritz-Carlton in Cancun, at just $309 a night, were “leaked” by a friend. Apparently, no one wanted to be seen traveling with them during the pandemic.

It seems that Ted Cruz didn’t learn anything about damage control from Paul Ryan’s photo op in a soup kitchen, or from Trump’s tossing paper towels at Puerto Ricans after Hurricane because he staged his own.

Anyway… here’s where the “fact checkers” come in: They marked my post “partly false.”

It’s important to understand that the only thing I wrote was a sarcastic, “Who knew Gov. Abbott was a Democrat?” as an intro, with a direct link to Donald Trump, Jr’s own tweet. I certainly did not claim that Governor Abbott was a Democrat. And I only linked to Donald Trump, Jr’s own words. I’ll cop to sarcasm and snark, here, but not to lying:

So, how is this “partly false”? Here’s what they have to say, when you click “See Why”:

Had I written a whole news article claiming that Donald Trump, Jr was an idiot who truly believed that Governor Abbott was a Democrat, as opposed to being an angry weasel who cannot write a proper sentence and shouldn’t be allowed to wield an apostrophe, then I could see their point, too. I certainly wouldn’t argue that Donald Trump, Jr. was an eloquent rhetorician who brilliantly expressed what he was trying to say in his tweet. I also wouldn’t argue, as some have uncharitably done, that he looked high when he posted it. He clearly needs the likes of writer Alexis Tereszcuk to decipher for us mere mortals what he was trying, inadequately, to say.

But apparently, it’s not my annoyance over his laughable ineptitude and misuse of the English language that bothered the “independent fact checkers” Facebook uses. It is mind-bogglingly weird that they seem to be fact-checking Donald Trump, Jr’s own tweet, in his own words, to say that he didn’t mean to say what he clearly said and still hasn’t bothered to delete.

I’m assuming he’s allowed to delete his own tweets? He is a private citizen, right – not a government official using Twitter to conduct official business, as his father and so many other politicians seem to think is appropriate? He could say, like Britney Spears, “Ooops, I did it again!” and write whatever the hell it was he actually meant to write. That is, if he didn’t mean to write what he did write, rather than…

It’s like one of those Escher drawings.

I sent in an appeal, but only as a matter of principle. I told Lead Stories that I truly don’t care if they ever remove the “False Information” overlay – it’s funnier this way, and highlights the inadequacies of social media’s attempts at automated content moderation. I would applaud their efforts, but there is still so much truly dangerous misinformation being spread online about COVID19, so much racist, misogynistic, hate-filled garbage, so many fake and fraudulent accounts, so many bait-and-switch advertisers – just so many other, more important things that Facebook deliberately ignores despite repeated reports, that  I wrote, “it calls the credibility and worthiness of your own efforts into question, when there is so much more false information on Facebook, dangerously misleading bunk on Facebook, that I submit reports on, and am told, “This does not violate our Community Standards.”

 

#100Words100Days, Instagram, and Add Text App

#100Words100Days, Instagram, and Add Text App

Refreshing

A few months ago, I made my personal Instagram account “private.” Or as private as it could be, with 794 followers. I was tired of playing Report > Block > Delete with the daily onslaught of fraudulent accounts. But I also wanted to keep a public Instagram account, and to explore how Instagram might fit with my writing – not just snapshots of “whatever caught my eye today.” And while my “personal brand” as Queen of the No-Niche Niche is “eclectic,” I wanted a template to tie things together, similar to what my friends Sharon Hurley Hall or Ming Qian have been doing.

Then, I ran across an account called @100Words100Days. I loved the idea, but I also wanted to make it my own. I thought that, for Instagram, it needed more visual appeal. My first efforts lacked any sort of cohesive look and feel; later entries were more visually attractive at the expense of readability.

I quickly fell behind. No one said #100words100days had to be consecutive days, though, right? As I refined my ideas, I grew to dislike the earlier posts and how they looked in a grid layout. The more I looked at them, the stronger my urge to rip out all the posts and start over grew. Would anyone care? Would I lose followers? Most of my followers there know me well enough, by now, not to bat an eye.

So I took a step back and thought about this for a while. I made a list of my own, personal requirements:

  • Visual appeal;
  • Readability (I put visual appeal first only because it’s Instagram);
  • Cohesiveness of design;
  • Ease of creation, using a consistent workflow that can adapt to either PC or mobile device with minimal effort;
  • Affordability of software.

There’s a reason designers and graphic artists are paid well. What looks effortless is anything but.

And I started to rip.

Here’s what I finally came up with – but as always, I reserve the right to tweak it over time!

Now, how to recreate this and make it easy to do in the future?

Software

Sharon and Ming Qian both recommended Canva, which is available both on mobile and desktop. I know that Canva has many die-hard fans, but for me, it’s like Scrivener: I really want to love it, but I just don’t.

I was determined to work with the tools I had on hand, if at all possible. For the desktop PC, that was Corel PaintShop Pro 2021 (the full version is currently $99, or $79 for the upgrade, and is close enough to Photoshop without the sticker shock to suit me).

For my Android mobile phone, I wanted just one or two apps that could do it all and on a shoestring budget. I was able to narrow it down to File Manager Plus, Snapseed, and Add Text (by Gabo Apps). Sorry, all you Clubhouse fans; Add Text is only available for Android. All three are free; for a small one-time fee, you can upgrade Add Text and File Manager Plus to remove the ads. I generally won’t pay a recurring monthly fee to use an app. I will pay a reasonable amount for apps I use quite often or find particularly useful. I use these often enough that I was happy to support the developers and support folks.

I’m using Microsoft Word to create the text, using a shared document on OneDrive. That lets me count words easily, and seamlessly move back and forth between devices. Microsoft OneNote is another good option, but it was easier to get the word count using Word.

File Manager Plus

If you have a favorite File Manager app on your phone, already, use it. I use File Manager Plus when I want to create a special folder for transferring files to or from my PC. In this case, I used it to create one in my photo gallery called 100 Words. This is also where I will save the output from Add Text, rename it, and select it to upload to Instagram. To create a folder:

  1. Tap the overflow menu (upper right corner, three vertical dots):
  2. Select New:
  3. Type a name for your new folder:
  4. Tap OK (check mark icon).

Snapseed

I use Snapseed to edit the photos I take on my phone. It’s a powerful, free app from Google. Fear not, iPhone users: according to Tom’s Guide, there’s an iOS version that, as of 2017, might even be better than the Android version. See Snapseed Review: Best Photo-Editing App for Serious Photographers. I remember there being a fairly steep learning curve, but only because I was unfamiliar with the icons and UI design of Snapseed. I’d suggest grabbing the app, loading a copy of any photo, and experimenting with all the features of the app before trying to create a photo story for Instagram with it.

After opening a photo in Snapseed, you will see a menu across the bottom of the screen: Looks, Tools, and Export:

Looks equates to Filters in Instagram. Snapseed includes a few built-in filters, just like Instagram does, but also allows you to save your own photo adjustments as a Look. Before using Looks, you may want to do a bit of research, and ask yourself: Do my photos need any pre-set filters? What sort of effects would I want to apply consistently? Things like filters, color saturation, and focus can have a powerful emotional effect on the viewer. But you may not need to make may changes to your snapshots, depending on what and why you want to share.

  • The 10 Best Instagram Filters for 2021 – unsurprisingly, digital cameras have reached the point where no filter at all is often the best choice. Read this to find out why, and what the next best choices are. I prefer to manually tweak my images, if they need tweaking at all.
  • When to Use Saturated Colors – color has a psychological effect on the viewer. This article talks about how to appeal to the viewer’s emotions.

The main thing is to crop your image to 1080×1080 pixels, to prep it for Instagram. Crop is found under Tools.

If you like the edits you’ve applied and want to save them as a group, to use on other photos, tap Looks, scroll through the options to the right, and click the + icon. Type a name for your Look. You can select those settings from Looks, and apply them, now, to any photo you edit in Snapseed.

Add Text

Add Text is one of the few free apps that has ever made me think, “How can I give you money? How can I give you more money?” This full-featured app is free – no need for a “premium upgrade” to add all the best features! They are all there, right from the start. The cost to remove ads is $4.99, and well worth it in my opinion. The cost to add additional shapes is $1.99. I added this – call it a “tip” for the developer and support. If all we wanted to do was “add text to an image,” Snapseed does that quite nicely. Assuming you are satisfied with the built-in fonts and styles. Other apps let you do this, too. No – the trick is in how versatile the Add Text app is, and the fact that you can create multiple layers of images and text.

To duplicate the look here, complete the steps outlined below.

The image above consists of a background (white), two images (one photo and one banner “overlay” in black at 65% opacity containing byline, tag, and website URL), and one text layer (title). I created the original in PaintShop Pro, then saved each layer to my phone and created a Project in Add Text using these premade layers. That simply makes it easier for me to create the same look (and spacing, more or less) on both desktop and mobile.

Do take note of your overall image crop size (mine is 1080 x 1080 pixels, for Instagram), your font choices, and your font size choices. One thing I wanted to do was to use the same typefaces I’m using on my website: Acme and Abel. I had no idea just how many fonts were available to me – so I suggested to the developers that they add a feature that would let users add free Google fonts. Within a couple of hours, I had an answer – just tap the up arrow under Format and search for them.

Here are the steps to do this, using only the Add Text app:

  1. To open the app, tap the Add Text icon:
  2. Select Background color. I chose white. Do not use Transparent (the gray and white checked circle) for Instagram posts.
  3. Next, you will see a blank canvas in your chosen background color. Across the top, from left to right: Back button; Pan/Pin/Fit (move, resize); Undo; Add Layer (same options are shown across the bottom, just below the canvas); Redo; Show Layers; Save and Share.

    Use pinch-zoom to resize the canvas so that you can see its edges. This isn’t necessary, but it’s helpful in making sure that overlays and text go edge to edge and are centered.
  4. Using the + (top center) or the Add Layer ribbon across the bottom, tap to choose Shape. To create the image shown above, choose the square. Adjust the size and position of the shape until it looks like the image shown below. To do this, tap the icons – from left top, clockwise – Delete Layer; Adjust Height; Rotate; Expand/Contract (keep aspect ratio); Duplicate Layer; Adjust Width.

    Slide the Opacity to 65% (or whatever amount you prefer) to allow the image to show through from underneath.
  5. Tap the + to Add Layer. Choose Text.
  6. Type the text you want to appear on the new layer. Tap the alignment button (top center-left) to cycle through left-aligned, centered, or right-aligned (relative to the text box itself). Tap the justification icon (top center-right) if you want text to have justified margins; tap again to return to ragged margins. Tap OK (the checkmark in the upper right corner).
  7. Tap and drag the text box to reposition it. The icons are the same as for Shape with two new additions: the icon at the right side of the box resizes the text box width without resizing the text inside the box, and Edit (keyboard icon at the lower left corner) lets you edit the text itself. If you use any of the other resize icons, you will also resize the text height, width, or overall size – but as an image. In most cases, it is better to resize the text using the Format options to select the font size.
  8. Across the bottom of the screen, you will see the text layer options: Style; Format; Color; Stroke; Highlight; Spacing; Position; 3D Rotate; 3D; Perspective; Bend; Shadow; Gradient; Texture; Opacity; Erase. Swipe this options ribbon right or left to scroll through all of them.
  9. Select Format. To locate a particular font, select Bonus or Standard. These are two different lists and are not searchable as a single list. My fonts, Acme and Abel, are under Bonus. You can scroll through the lists for visual samples of the installed fonts, or search for a specific font by name, if you know the name of the one you want. If you still cannot find the font you want, but have the .ttf file on your device, click the + icon to add it. You can find additional fonts at sites like fontsquirrel.com.
  10. Tap the font name to apply it to your text layer. Tap the star icon at the right to add the font to your Favorites.
  11. Tap the back arrow to the left of the font name to return to Format. Select the text you want to format – you can select individual characters, words, or the entire contents of the layer. Adjust alignment of text, apply bold, italics, underscore, or strikethrough. Increase or decrease the font size.
  12. From the text options menu across the bottom of the screen, tap Color. Tap white. You can also use the eyedropper to pick up colors from a background image or to enter a hexadecimal color value for more precise color selection.
  13. Repeat steps 5 through as often as needed. The example has three text layers: title, hashtag, and URL. To make it easier to reposition, resize, and add effects to text elements later, do not try to type all text into one layer.
  14. Experiment with other options to learn what each does. For the purposes of this exercise, this is all you need to do.
  15. Tap the + to Add Layer. Choose Photo.
  16. Tap Gallery. Browse the Gallery or File Manager Plus to the select the photo you wish to use over your Background Layer.
  17. Tap the Show Layers icon (second from the right, at the top of the screen).
  18. Tap and drag the = to the right of the layer name to move it up (towards the top) or down (towards the bottom) of the stack of layers. The image should be underneath the shape and text layers.
  19. Tap the Save and Share icon (upper right corner). Tap Save Project (you can use this next time, altering only the image and text as needed).
  20. Tap to open the Project you just saved.
  21. Tap the Save and Share icon (upper right corner). Share to File Manager Plus. Save to the folder you created earlier.

You may also want to view some of the Add Text Tutorials on YouTube.

Here are the two basic templates I created:

and 

This is just the background, banner, and text (other than the title). All I have to do, now, is add a title and image to the cover, and add story text (and, optionally, a background image) to the story pages.

Here’s a second story I posted using the same templates:

The “boilerplate” and hashtags are also stored in, and copy/pasted from Microsoft Word.

Epilogue

Not only did I fall behind on the #100Words100Days challenge, I got completely derailed shortly after I’d written about half of this post. You may have heard that a little Arctic freeze hit North America – and smacked Texans especially hard the week of January 15, 2021. I’m in Houston.

And I’m fine. We were without power for 34 hours straight while night-time temps plummeted to 13ºF. Then we were thankful to be on rolling power – enough to warm the house up from 48ºF, at its lowest point indoors. We only lost water – due to pipes cracking and low power at the station that delivers us our water – but that only lasted about 4 hours. All in all, we were among the lucky ones. There are people in Houston, and across the state of Texas, who still have no power, no water, no food, and are – to add insult to injury – on a “boil water notice” (meaning that if they do get water, the pressure’s too low to keep it free of potentially deadly pathogens, so they can’t ingest it without boiling it for a few minutes first). Some of these people are seniors, or families with newborns or small children.

If you are looking for ways to help, I strongly suggest a donation to the Houston Food Bank.

A Little Trip Down Memory Lane

A Little Trip Down Memory Lane

Who Doesn't Love a Good Game of Tag?

Nostalgia, indeed.

It has been years since I played a good game of blog tag! Thank you, Ming Qian, for bringing back a bit of fun and for nominating me, in your post, “What Inspires You to Write? #BloggingNostalgiaTag

Now, I hasten to add that I know of few bloggers who didn’t swear off accepting “awards” sometime in the early 2010s – so I’m not sure who I can nominate for this without getting my back plastered with “Kick me!” notes.

I hope I can think of some good sports before I finish this post, and luckily for me, most aren’t local – so they can’t really kick me.

Click the + icon to the right of each section to expand and read.

 

Intro + 3 Fun Facts

Here’s the copy-pasta blurb:

Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; and A New Leaf for Lyle. She draws inspiration from her family, from her own childhood adventures (some of which only happened in her overactive imagination), and from readers both young and young at heart. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, J.J., whose love and encouragement make writing books twice the fun.

Three fun facts? 

I started college at age 12. But then I went back to 7th grade. I didn’t actually earn my B.A. till I was 18. Despite a prodigious start, I have not cured cancer or done anything Nobel- or Pulitzer-prizeworthy. Yet.

I was a “wanted woman” in Missouri for about 18 years. It was the principle of the thing. I wasn’t speeding and everyone who knows me knows I wasn’t about to lie and admit to something I didn’t do. They probably still have my check for $62.50; I’ll bet they framed that thing.

I have gone parasailing upside-down, and been dunked head-first into the Atlantic from a 2000-foot cable. I’d do that again in a heartbeat. 

First Blog Platform + Name

Apparently, I have been lying about this for years – looking back through the Wayback Machine, it seems I completely forgot about nPorta logs. Fine, you go search Google for it. I’ll wait.

And then there was Xanga. I mean, I guess? I always thought of Xanga and Live Journal and Windows Live as journals…

That’s a pretty stupid distinction. I see that, now that I’ve typed it out. So my first blogging platform, technically, was not Blogger. But read on – there’s more info about this under “A Fun Blogging Memory.”

 

Why I Started Blogging

Two reasons: I like to try new things, and I’m a little lazy. Before I integrated a blog into my website, I had to wait until I was on my own desktop PC, at home, in the evening, to update it with anything I thought would make a great addition.

When I heard of weblogs, logs, blogs – whatever you want to call them, and learned that I could update them fairly easily through either a browser interface or email, I was hooked. It was fast, easy, and much more interesting than an infrequently updated, static website.

Looking back, this “rush to publish,” this impatience so many of us share, has not always served me well. Sometimes it pays to let things simmer, to hold off and sleep on it before hitting Publish.

 

My Favorite Part About Blogging

I think that my favorite part of blogging is the interaction of writer and reader. Blogging and commenting are a conversation. In a way, a blog is like a well-moderated forum. The blogger starts off with a topic, and readers are invited to comment. 

It’s unfortunate that social media, and I include blogging, here, is so fraught with “landmines.” There are too many spammy, contentious, hostile, trollish comments out there, and too few genuine conversations happening on blogs, these days. For every real comment I get, here, my spam filter discards ten. If this blog were at all popular, that would probably be 100 – even 1000. 

 

What I Blog About, by the Queen of the No-Niche Niche

So, the original question is, “What do you blog about, and why did you choose those topics? Is your blog related to your field of study? Why or why not?”

I blog about anything I feel like writing on a given day, which is one of the happy trade-offs to not blogging for money. (Next question: “What do blogging and sex have in common?”)

Back in 2009, I took a free online course from ProBlogger (Darren Rowse): “31 Days to a Better Blog.” And there was one assignment related to discovering or choosing your niche. All I could think was, “I want it all! I don’t want to be pigeonholed!” I announced to Darren that it was my intention to “dominate the no-niche niche!” And my online writing, back then, was “me time.” It was supposed to be fun.  

That explains why I have no regular “posting schedule.” I’ll go months between blog posts rather than let it turn into a chore.

Is my blog related to my field of study? This question is going to out me as “old enough to be Ming Qian’s mother.” It’s been a long time since I thought of it in terms of a “field of study.” But I guess you could say that it is related, since my undergraduate degree is in “Rhetoric & Writing.” And you might dredge up a post or two on copyright law, so I guess I’ve dragged the Law degree into it on occasion. 

It’s convenient to be a lifelong learner; in that sense, I suppose anything I write about is related to some field of study – even if it’s not a “major.” 

If Fame and Fortune Were No Object, What Niche Would I pick?

Well, they are no object – so I’ll stick with the no-niche niche. If fame and fortune were an object, and given I’ve already confessed to being both curious and lazy, I’d have found an easier and more reliable way to attain both fame and fortune – blogging isn’t it.

A Fun Blogging Memory

I was blogging when Blogger, co-founded by Medium’s founder, Ev Williams, was still a baby. You might say that I’ve come full circle. You’ll see, in a moment, how little has changed in the past two decades.

There Are Adults Who Haven’t Been Alive as Long as I’ve Been Blogging

One of my first blog posts was me trying to define what the heck “blogging” was — I didn’t imagine anyone else would read it, and no one knew back then that “the Internet is forever.”

At some point, before the term “vanity surfing” was coined, I searched for my own name and found a mention in The Hindustan Times, where my definition of blogging was quoted and I was referred to as a “veteran blogger.” Once I stopped laughing and realized what a venerable publication that really was, and not some little fly-by-night website like my own, I was stunned. I wrote to their tech columnist, Deepak Mankar, and confessed to him that I was anything but a veteran blogger, but thanked him for the compliment of quoting me in the newspaper and calling me one.

Neither of us can find that clip, now — but at least I made a friend!

Before There Was Blogging

Mark Zuckerberg did not invent “social media.”

My first online chat happened on CompuServe in 1981, and by 1989, I was working as an unpaid moderator (SysOp) on GEnie. The Writers’ Ink RoundTable — the first to “hire” me — had a forum, a chat room, and a place to store files. I’d say it was at least as much of a “social network” as any overcrowded, contentious platform we think of as such, today. And somewhere in between, there were independent little user-run “bulletin boards” (BBSes) that had chats, online games, and more. Your parents weren’t running around with the dinosaurs, kids.

I See Dead Trees

In the early days of the commercial Internet (around 1994–2002), there were printed directories of websites, categorized like the Yellow Pages, and sold in brick and mortar bookstores. I had no idea, until tonight, that I was featured in one of them!

My first website, Scraps & Scribbles, or The Writer’s Corner, was a writing site. It was, as the book above says, “a list of links.” I only started it because I wanted to learn HTML, and all the websites back in 1994 or so consisted of rudimentary lists of programmers’ CD collections. That seemed awfully boring, so I focused on what I knew and started a writing site. There weren’t many, back then. But let me tell you in my own words —from nearly 20 years ago:

Tuesday, April 17, 2001

 

A Short History of Scraps & Scribbles

 

When I first started Scraps & Scribbles (originally called The Writers Corner), several years ago*, my main goal was to learn HTML. That didn’t seem like reason enough to add clutter to the Internet, and I couldn’t see me doing another one of those “Hello world, this is me, isn’t my CD collection just the kewlest?” personal home pages.

 

I was determined, from the start, to provide links to some of the best writing resources on the Internet — not just to collections of other people’s favorite links, but to sites containing primary content of interest to writers and readers.

 

Turned out to be a fairly time-consuming endeavor. And there weren’t 50 gazillion writers’ sites on the Internet then, as there are now. Just finding some of them proved to be a daunting task.

 

Always, tucked into a deep corner in the back of my mind, was this nagging feeling that some of that “primary content” really ought to be written by me. The other nagging feeling, not quite relegated to that dark corner of the mental basement, was that I was already spending too much time online! (Anyone here remember the movie, “The Beast in the Cellar”?) Anyway…

 

Flash forward to January 2001. I discovered two “new” things to play around with, and threw myself into them with zeal. The first was the “pay-per-click” writing sites, like Epinions and Themestream. I wouldn’t have found Themestream, if not for the fact that Epinions temporarily shut down while their site was being redesigned.

 

Don’t ask me what’s addictive about writing for a site that pays a measly $.02 or less each time someone reads your work. Even though technically it’s worth less than a token payment, like contributor’s copies of a print anthology, it’s money. Legal tender. In four months and 40+ articles, I earned a whole hour’s wages. (I do write for a living.) I’ll never see a penny of it, either. Themestream sent out an announcement last week, saying that the company would cease operations on Friday the 13th (how appropriate) and that it would be highly unlikely that they would be able to pay all their creditors — or their contributors.

 

But you know what? Thanks in part to Themestream, I finally put my money where my mouth was, got off my duff, and started writing something besides user’s guides — and now I’m able to move most of those articles to my own Web site. I finally have some of that primary content, not just great links, and it’s mine!

 

The second thing I discovered to play with on the Internet was Weblogs (like this one!). nPorta’s Logs (www.nporta.com) are probably the easiest and fastest to set up and maintain. And they’re easy to change or delete, as well.

 

Two others are more robust, but these are sites dedicated to “blogging” and don’t offer the same useful, customizable news features, or the handheld/wireless-friendly design offered by nPorta.

 

Blogger (www.blogger.com) and Xanga (www.xanga.com) are definitely worth a look. I would recommend Blogger to anyone who wants to integrate their log into their own personal Web site (and has FTP access to upload and download their own files). I would suggest Xanga for anyone who might want to set up a free Web site or log but who doesn’t necessarily want to become an HTML guru in the process. Here are some samples, if you’re curious: my Blogger page, integrated into Scraps & Scribbles (http://users.ev1.net/~hjahangiri/blog/dayjournal.html) and my Xanga page (not integrated into the Scraps & Scribbles site, but linking to it; http://www.xanga.com/HollyJahangiri)

 

I Am NOT a Publisher!

 

So don’t ask me to publish your writing on my site. I’d be delighted to do it, but I can live without all the potential legal complications.

 

I will, however, add links to other people’s writing sites. If you send me an email with the subject:

 

LINK for Scraps and Scribbles

 

I will add a link to your site, provided:

 

(a) You include your name, email address, URL, and a brief description (no more than 3–5 lines) of your work; and

 

(b) Your content is not inappropriate (pornographic, hate-mongering, racist, scatological, etc.) Mild erotica, strong opinions (clearly stated as your own and not argued with specious logic), diverse political/religious views, and such are, of course, fine.

 

* Scraps & Scribbles has been around, in one form or another, since 1994. Debbie Ridpath Ohi (whom I met in GEnie’s Writer’s Ink RoundTable a couple of years before that) was just beginning to build Inkspot into the deservedly popular writers’ site it was soon to become; and her site was one of the very first links added to mine.

Not much has changed, has it?

I may even have found that definition of a weblog that earned me a mention in The Hindustan Times:

What, you ask, is a Weblog? A Weblog might be a virtual journal, a daily news update, a group’s bulletin board, or a feature of a Web site. You’re reading a Weblog right now; I use it to post update notices and other tidbits to Scraps & Scribbles, and I can do it from any PC that’s connected to the Internet, any time. This Weblog was created using Blogger (www.blogger.com). Blogger lets me create and use my own template, so that my Weblog can be seamlessly integrated into my own Web site. I’m not forced to use someone else’s idea of a cool layout; every element is under my control. I can archive messages, too.

I was lazy; I just wanted a way to update the contents of my website without having to log in, download and edit pages, save and re-upload them — there had to be a better way. And that was what I found appealing about Blogger. I could integrate it into my own website, with a little effort, and then update things on the fly, from anywhere.

And while I was working, full-time, as a technical writer, designing Windows Help for PCs, and teaching others how to code HTML, other writers moved in and dominated this writing “niche.” Now in 2020, the whole topic of “writing” is so broad that it’s no longer a niche at all, and doesn’t even count as a topic on some websites and indices. We’re all writers, now; writing about writing is so “meta.” But I digress.

Back in the Olden Days

Once upon a time, we had “web rings.” These were little bits of code people set up that would act as Previous and Next buttons, but instead of taking you to the next post or page in the blog, Next would take you to the next site in the ring. This is how we turned blogging “social.”

What Ever Happened To Webrings?

Once upon a time, we had “web rings.” These were little bits of code people set up that would act as Previous and Next buttons, but instead of taking you to the next post or page in the blog, Next would take you to the next site in the ring. This is how we turned blogging “social.”

The closest thing we seem to have, now, is Linky Tools and InLinkz. Not a bad substitute – if people will use them.

And then there were “blogrolls.” I kept asking developers to make mine cinnamon with extra vanilla icing, but they just rolled their eyes and tried to explain that’s not what a “blogroll” meant.

Sometimes, it’s fun to play dumb. Till someone believes you are.

Rules, Rules — We Don’t Need No Steenkin’ Rules!

Sharon Hurley Hall writes, “We were excited about this new way of sharing our writing and we blogged regularly. There were no rules about how long posts should be or what should be included. There were no images, for the most part. It was just you, your words, and your fellow bloggers.”

Except that’s not how I remember it. Some of us were excited about this new frontier and its lack of rules, but others were equally excited to invent and pontificate at length about what the rules of blogging were, or ought to be. It was almost as if they had nothing else to write about, so they had to tell everyone else how not to write. I have criticized and satirized these early “listicles” to death, and I urge you to hold fast to the notion that there ought not to be any rules but good writing.

By “good writing,” I simply mean “that which does not bore the reader to tears and make them beg for death.”

Money for Nothin’

The Internet is full of some of the laziest people I’ve ever run across. They seem to honestly believe that they can earn money doing absolutely nothing — or by “blogging,” but their definition of it is not Sharon’s or mine, and doesn’t involve writing original material. It means using cheap software and tricks to scrape and spin other people’s content, sell ad space, and earn revenues by getting all their friends to click on the ads.

It means shoveling half that cash back into someone else’s $497 web training program on how to do it faster and better.

Or, maybe, they actually did believe they could get rich quick by blogging, and this is why there are 15,973,456,002,009 abandoned blogs and disillusioned former bloggers working in retail and claiming that “blogging is dead.”

Blogging makes great business sense if you have a product to sell and plenty to say about that product. If the product is paper, maybe you write about sustainable forestry or less stinky methods of producing paper products. If you’re selling antivirus software, you’ll never run out of cybersecurity topics to write about. But you do need to be an expert, or hire an excellent freelance writer like Sharon Hurley Hall who understands enough about the topic to write credibly about it, or you’ll just end up looking foolish.

We all know by now, surely, that only a small percentage of writers get filthy rich, and none of them do it in their sleep. But those folks who keep on churning out crap like, “I Made $34,982 on My Last Medium Story, and You Can, Too!” are just getting rich off P.T. Barnum’s “suckers.”

They tend to ruin it for the rest of us.

How? By running off the audience.

In the end, though, those of us who started out blogging for the fun of it, or just to enjoy honing our writing skills on topics of our own choosing, will still be around. Medium feels like that “old school blogging.” There is a community, here, comprised of writers who support and care about one another as people.

And slowly, bit by bit, our audience will return.

Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien!

“If you could start over, what would you do differently?”

Not one darned thing. 

I take that back. I would strive to develop a more consistent habit of writing for my own pleasure. Not just blogging, but short stories and poetry – imaginative play. 

Blogger Who Inspires Me

 

Mitch Mitchell is the first person to pop into my head, for a number of reasons. First, he has established the kind of regular habit of writing, reading, conversing with other bloggers, and recording video blogs on YouTube that I wish I had the dedication and discipline to emulate. And he has been commenting on my blogs, cajoling me into writing more often, pointing out my typos, and encouraging me to try new things – like letting him interview me when I felt so awkward about speaking on camera that I shooed my entire family out of the house to do it!

Writing, Writing & Writing with Holly Jahangiri  

Blogging Nostalgia Tag Instructions
  1. Insert the blogging nostalgia tag banner anywhere in your blog post.
  2. Thank the person who nominated you, and include the link to their responses.
  3. Answer the 9 questions in the blogging tag. You do not have to come up with new questions in this blogging tag.
  4. Nominate up to ten bloggers, do not stress if you cannot come up with ten names!
  5. Notify the nominees via any channel that is convenient for you (e.g. email, Twitter, Facebook, blog comments, etc.).
  6. List the rules on your blog post, preferably before you attempt the blogging tag.
  7. You are not required to include the words ‘blogging nostalgia tag’ in your blog post title or URL slug. We understand that some bloggers will want to optimize this blogging tag for SEO. Therefore, a brief mention in the body text will be sufficient!
Blogging Nostalgia Tag Questions
  1. Introduce yourself and share three fun facts about you.
  2. What was your first blog platform, and do you still remember your blog name?
  3. Why did you start blogging?
  4. What is your favorite part about blogging?
  5. What do you blog about, and why did you choose those topics? Is your blog related to your field of study? Why or why not?
  6. If you could pick any blog niche without considering web traffic or monetization potential, what would it be?
  7. Share a fun blogging memory with us.
  8. If you could start over, what would you do differently?
  9. Finally, is there a blogger who inspires you? Name the first blogger you think of and your favorite three blog posts from him or her. Do not overthink this question, we are not playing favorites here!
Tag, You're It! And the Nominees Are...

Corinne Rodrigues, whose guiding word for 2021 is “Yes,” so I’m hoping she’ll join me for this fun!

Mitchell Allen, who shares my down-the-rabbit-hole curiosity, silly sense of adventure, and never fails to join in my online reindeer games.

Marian Allen, who is the creator of my alter ego (a character who shares my name, my love of purple, and my feather boa – but who serves as Head Librarian of a Living Library on Llannonn), and whose writing has entertained me and distracted me from my woes for a decade or more.

Mitch Mitchell (never to be confused with the other Mitch(ell)), nominated here because I think maybe he’ll forgive me since I called him “inspirational” or something earlier in this post. Not to mention he’s got plenty of “blogging nostalgia” stored up, I’m sure. (It’s not a “blog award,” Mitch – it’s a game of TAG! C’mon, come out and PLAY!)

Jyothi Nair, a (relatively) new friend of mine in blogging, but a “veteran blogger” in her own right.

Parul Thakur, who recently celebrated:

8 years
931 posts
1700 followers
25,000 comments
200,000 views
AND A WHOLE LOT OF LOVE.

Vinitha Dileep, a fine writer and poet, as well as an intrepid online adventurer and fellow “veteran blogger.”

Shinjini Mehrotra, a talented artist and writer, avid reader, and “seeker of soul” who has been blogging almost as long as I have!

Esha M Dutta, a self-described “late entrant” into the world of blogging (2014!)

Shilpa Gupte, who will probably manage to weave all answers into a work of wit and brevity, as she is a master of flash fiction!

Roshan Radhakrishnan, because his posts have consistently lifted me out of the doldrums for the past couple of years – he always manages to find the gems that restore my faith in humanity.
If I did not name you, and you’d like to play, consider yourself TAGGED! 

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year, and Everything It Brings!

Happy New Year, and Everything It Brings!

I could sit here trying to come up with something profound and quote-worthy to say about 2020, but it would be a lie. It has not been, “the best of years” nor has it been, universally, “the worst of years.” Maybe it has been one of the most off-kilter of years. For some, the saddest and the scariest. For others, the most unjust and disappointing. For some, it has meant opportunities seized; for others, opportunities glimpsed, from under a warm blanket, as they went flying by. We have all been touched by the pandemic in some way, but the truth of it is, we’ve had different experiences of it — good, bad, and everything in between. “Where were you when the first lockdowns were announced?” will join “Where were you when the Challenger blew up?”

We’re all “in it together, separately.” And that’s okay. But I think enough’s been said about this year to leave it feeling like warm horseshit wrapped in chocolate with a glittering crust of way too much sugar. A nauseating and unnourishing lump of something  that’s been rolled downhill more times than a sturdy haggis, slammed into a sand trap by a carrot-topped golfer in dingy gray whites, and spit into the sea by an annoyed alligator stung on the ass by a murder hornet for good measure. And yet…and yet. It’s not been all bad, has it? Not if I’m here to write this and you’re here to read it.

Let’s move on, shall we?

To my friends on the other side of the planet, where it is already 2021, I say “Happy New Year! Treat 2021 kindly, or at least don’t piss it off before we get there to wish it well!” To my Australian friends, in particular: “Please, please, for the love of all that’s holy, don’t let the funnel web spiders get drunk and mate with the murder hornets, eh?”

To my friends on the east coast of the USA – look on the bright side: No need to brave slush, snow, and drizzle to join a crowd of a million people in Times Square, this year! Watch the festivities online, where it’s warm and safe. Zoom with friends, and share a toast. Frankly, I’m a little thankful for rain where I live. Not to be a wet blanket on the fireworks thing, but neighbors have been setting them off since Christmas and we could all use a break. Especially those folks on NextDoor who have pets, and the ones who aren’t quite sure whether it’s gunshots, fireworks, really loud champagne corks, domestic violence, or the start of World War III. Let’s let everyone have one good night’s sleep to “ring in the year.”

Please don’t drink and drive. Most hospitals are short-staffed, short on beds, and are doing triage, these days. Triage is where someone runs around a mass casualty and plays, “Duck, duck, go!” only it’s more like, “Right now, next week, dead!” You get your drunk self into an accident, you’ll be lucky if they patch you up in a Whataburger parking lot and post your idiot face on social media. Come to think of it, just don’t get drunk. It’s not going to be fun when the EMTs have to drag you out, feet first, from between the shower and the toilet to patch you up in a Whataburger parking lot before posting your idiot face on social media. Give your local hospitals and healthcare professionals a break, and celebrate responsibly.

No New Year’s Eve ever feels complete without ABBA singing, “Happy New Year.”

New Year’s Eve Aha! Moments

Responding to a comment by a friend, this morning – a friend who was complimenting my writing and calling it “occasionally edgy” – I wrote,

…when my mind’s in a really dark place, my writing isn’t really ‘edgy.’ It’s more like a pathetic little bathtub filled with quicksand, where you can almost imagine me wallowing around, trying to pretend my feet don’t touch the bottom. I get about two paragraphs in, start muttering, ‘Oh, FFS…’ and stop. Take a walk, take a nap, take two aspirin and call my Muse in the morning.

 

I can’t write drunk, either. I suspect those writers who are notorious for drugs and drink were battling other demons — and trying to silence them long enough to write, not the other way around as so many young writers imagine. I don’t like it when my Muse drinks and falls asleep on me. It’s just boring.

 

Now that I’ve retired, I’m starting to think that my best writing time is in the morning after a good night’s sleep — which is, frankly, a surprise to me, since mornings have so long been filled with cursing the alarm clock, fixing or eating breakfast, getting the kids ready for school, getting me ready for work, and then commuting to the office. Me, write in the morning? This does not compute! But there we have it — perhaps the only real epiphany of 2020, and it comes on the last day.

And if there is no such thing as “mere coincidence,” then there have been a few noticeable themes that keep popping up lately. To the same friend, who also complimented my artwork and claimed that she “didn’t have that same outlet,” I wrote:

I’m thinking that I am being called to mentor several of my women friends on letting go of other people’s unrealistic expectations and negative opinions of us (or, really, our perceptions of what their expectations and opinions are, since they’re much more likely to be caught on their own mental hamster wheels, worrying what we think of them than they are having any expectations or opinions at all, of us).

 

I hid my little drawings for the longest time. When I finally worked on some during Inktober, and did them in the living room while watching TV, then got the nerve to post them on Instagram, I was surprised at how many people liked them. I see amateurish efforts that fail to fully express what I “see” in my head. But my husband liked them, and my sister in law said she’d buy them before buying some $750 paintings we saw at an art exhibit, and people whose artwork I really admire followed me on Instagram! I still don’t think of myself as “an artist” in the way I do as a writer. But neither have I – nor likely will I – dedicate the time and effort in practicing art as seriously as I have writing – over decades! So why should I compare myself to those who have? I have no expectations of my artistic skills, nor does anyone else. I still struggle a little with disappointment when the thing on my paper is so far off the thing in my head, but then I remind myself that I have more than 1000 words with which to describe that thing to you, and even if my sketches are worth only a few words, they’re not my only means of self-expression. Just something different to play with.

New Year’s Resolutions

If they don’t work for you, and you don’t believe in making them, that’s fine. I’m hedging all the bets. New Year’s Day dinner will include pork shoulder, black-eyed peas, sauerkraut, fresh salad, and cornbread. The details of my resolutions are unimportant; what matters is that they are written down in my journal and are already in progress. If you make them, put some thought in them and don’t feel a need to share – but do write them down and commit to them. Make them specific and time-bound, and break them into steps. Make each milestone measurable – not “read more” but “read one book each week for 52 weeks.” Put them just slightly out of reach – make them challenging enough not to bore you into abandoning them, but not so challenging that they defeat you at the first setback. Hold yourself accountable, or ask a friend to do that with you. I have asked a couple of friends to hold me accountable for writing something to enter into a writing contest with the deadline of February 1. Last year, I “got busy” and let that slip past unnoticed.

Don’t let 2021 slide by unnoticed. All the things you were unhappy about in 2020? Make a list. Then break that down into “What can I do to FIX this?” or “How can I make sure this doesn’t happen again?” The answer may be “Not a whole hell of a lot,” or it may just feel that way at first. But sleep on it. Think about it. Get proactively involved – in your own life, your community, politics, volunteering, letter-writing, job-seeking, friend-making. Or let those things go that you can’t control – because they will just suck up all your time and steal your joy. Focus on what you already have the power to do, or figure out what you need to learn or do to have the power you need.

So Tolls the Bell on 2020

So Tolls the Bell on 2020

“Have you made your New Year’s Resolutions?”

“No, should I have?” I don’t know why I feel slightly defensive at the question. “Have you?”

“I’m still thinking about it.” He approaches each resolution as a SMART goal to be tackled and owned, well before the end of the year.

I don’t want mine to be perfunctory. There ought to be some deep thought, some spiritual inner work, some reflection and profound meaning attached to the crafting of resolutions. Perhaps they are not meant to be shared lightly over a sip of champagne at midnight, or dismissed, later in the day, over black-eyed peas and sauerkraut, as we hedge our bets for luck astride the Mason-Dixon line.

For some, it is merely pro forma. They’ll abandon their hastily-scribbled, half-heartedly made resolutions in the blink of an eye, then question why anyone bothers making them, as if all are doomed to fail. There ought to be more gravitas to this “Making of the New Year’s Resolutions.” Some solemn ceremony. Real commitment.

Be a better person, I write, then cross it out. What does “better” look like? Be kinder, I write. I cross that out, too. That should be a continuous improvement effort, not a resolution.

“You’re overthinking this, aren’t you?” He shakes his head and laughs.

“Mm.” I still have four days. Four days to keep last year’s resolution.

I haven’t killed anyone. Yet.