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16th of 21

dress-upboxaftermath

Dress-up box aftermath. When the parents are engrossed in conversation, Things are Bound to Happen.

I don’t yet have a Memorial Day photo of my Pops, WWII – Normandy Beach-landing vet, because his annual BBQ dinner is this evening and I’m hoping to convince him to pose for me in his father’s ship captain hat (Pops made it to LT JG, a “90-day wonder” out of the officer’s training school at Columbia University). Since I’m behind one photo in this photo-a-day month (these durned breaking news events are breaking me!) I may just post it here tonight.

Meanwhile, we’re now counting down the remaing 24 hrs on the Prop 8 CA Supreme Court decision clock. As of this posting, it’s 23 hrs. I’ll be glad for the drama to end, let me tell you.  There are two kinds of people: the Drama Queens, and the Drama-Averse, and I am the latter (yeah, yeah; my partner’s the former, from an illustrious family of DQs, what can I say.  We’re well-matched.)

Folks interested in reading some well-informed predictions (insofar as that’s not an oxymoron), you can find some good stuff linked out of this Friday Calitics article by Be_Devine: Melissa Griffin’s “Prop 8 Ruling WIll Come Out Soon! It’s Prediction Time!” which provides a judge-by-judge analysis, and the well-informed and intriguing arguments in the commentary on this Calitics article, “No Prop 8 Decision This Week.”

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Maddow Widowers’ Support Group, open for business

mwsg When the esteemed Dr. Rachel Maddow, Ph.D. (that’s Pretty hot Dyke, for those unfamiliar with academic acronyms) blew onto the national TV scene as a commentator for MSNBC, tons of gals’ undies got all up in a wad. And I mean that in a good way.

Coast to coast and up and down the internets, the Sisters of Sappho were all: Jumpin’ Jehosephat! It’s one of us up there! And of the butchie stripe, heretofore The Gender That Dare Not Speak Its Name! (At least it dare not speak its name on the television set, and according to reports by those who watch the series, if you were to search for this in between part of the gender spectrum on even something like The L Word you would be searching a long, long, long time.) But back to Dr. Maddow: She’s smart, we all said!  Plus she’s leftie!  Plus she’s not apologetic about any of the above!  I even got a little giddy myself (exhibit A).

There was just one eeensy, teensy problem I hadn’t anticipated, in my initial glee: having one of my kind representing on the TV set meant that I got to witness my beloved watching one of my kind representing on the TV set.  (Cue sound of record player needle being scratched violently off the vinyl.)  Yeah. So when we all laugh at Dr. M’s rapier wit, the beloved laughs just a leeetle bit harder than I do. You get the idea.

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Things are different now, part 1

Nearly two years ago, my beloved and I took our daughter, then ten months old, to the Alameda County fair. It was a hotter-than-July hot July day, not a fit day for anything but lizards to be out of doors. The temperatures in the Livermore Valley, which is sidled up next to California’s oven-hot Central Valley, regularly stretch up into the upper eighties that month, and have been known to peak at 115 degrees. But we were joining my sister, and my father, and my cousin, on a mission: Help my sister’s seven year-old son make it through his first county fair visit without his older brother. As with so much at that time, the thought of not going — because the pain would be too great, the associations too accute — was harder than going. Because to not go would be too sad. Just over three months following the cancer death of her first child, my sister was heroically navigating the impossible: protecting and preserving what she could of her surviving son’s childhood, as she helped them pick their way, shell-shocked, through the smouldering remains on the other side of their lives.

O, I could just stop there. Often do. Brain just comes to a full stop.

But. People continue, and there they were, continuing, and what could we do but simply continue alongside of them, as close as could be.

That day was an Auntie Decathlon for me. I was bound and determined to go ride for ride with Patrick. Any ride Erik would have gone on with him, I went on. Or tried really hard to get myself to go on. Since, after all, there are two kinds of people in this world, people who love rollercoasters and people who loathe them, and I am, not at all proudly, of the latter camp. Have been since I was my nephews’ age, so at least I can say that it’s not like I lost my youthful joie de vivre. That day I tried to swallow back my discomfort, and my nausea, and my healthy fear of creaky mechanical objects that hurtle people’s bodies recklessly through space, probably with shabby safety oversight. I didn’t ralph up my cotton candy, didn’t faint from heat exhaustion. Neither, fortunately, did our wee lil’ monkey, who remained plastered by the heat in her stroller most of the time. As much as a day like that could have been seen as a success, it was a success. The Ferris Wheel, the Tilt-a-Whirl, the Matternorn. The Scrambler. Though with great regret, I did have to say no to the Zipper. Patrick was a prince about it. Never cajoled, never complained about my reticence or my agedness, sweetly and kindly appreciated whatever it was I had to give. Lordy do I love him.

We closed the day with a ride on the Swing Chair. Finally, I thought, a ride that I might actually choose to go on myself, even if I weren’t doing the Auntie Decathlon. Just because it looks fun. Also called the Chair-O-Planes (or the swing carosel or the wave swinger), this ride swivels a dozen or two chairs, which are suspended from an enormous saucer by chains, in faster and faster circles, so that a mounting centrifugal force begins to spread them out like the stretched fingers of a hand. Oh, then the saucer tilts a bit, to make it all a little thrilling. Seemed fine enough to me, as I espied it from on solid ground.

Except that, oddly, of all the rides I’d been on that day, this one turned out to be the scariest. It could have been because the chains looked a whole lot sturdier from way down below. Could have been because the chairs themselves looked a whole lot sturdier from way down below. Could have been the unsettling, vaguely Satanic, groans-from-hell sound emanating from the machinery as we swiveled ever faster and faster. Could have been that it was the last ride of the day, and my amusement park courage was all used up. Or maybe it was the thought that came to me whilst swivelling around on the ride. Because as it rotated faster and faster (and Patrick, as evidenced by the sundry whoops he let out from his nearbly chair, was becoming happier and happier), all I could think about was what would happen if somehow a terrible accident happened, and I got flung clear into a treetop or further, and didn’t make it. What would my daughter do? I didn’t imagine anything terrible befalling Patrick, probably because I simply couldn’t abide the notion of lightening striking twice like that in the same immediate family. But I did think about something happening to me — or, more precisely, my one chair or my set of suspending chains — and mainly I thought of my daughter. And I realized: Wow. I am a parent now. I really am a parent.

Of course I had ample opportunity to realize I was a parent many times over during the previous ten months. Like say for example, all day long every day, and punctuating every night. But those moments of parental realization were the kind that came as I was responding to daily and hourly exigencies. They were specific, and activity-based. All the new things I was learning how to do. All the emotional skills I was learning to draw upon. On that late afternoon on that swing chair, I had the opportunity to feel a brand new, overarching kind of feeling, and at a visceral level: my life is now worth something new to me, because of its supreme worth to another. I cannot die early, I thought to myself, because my daughter needs me to outlive her childhood.

There I was, watching the buildings and the people down below and the treetops all blur past me, at a 30 degree angle, realizing: I need to stay here. I need to remain alive, and for a good long time, for at least as long as my mom lasted (thirty years into my life); ideally longer. When the healthy fear of the shabby swing chair machinery began to well up in me, prompted, I’m sure, by increasing Satanic groans, I took long, slow, deep breaths, and then exhaled them in love to Patrick. Thought: in these moments, he is simply alive, swirling on the ride, and that is bringing happiness to him, and that is good. I had no choice but to trust in the machinery for the duration of the ride. When I got off, I squeezed Patrick around the shoulders, then made a beeline for my daughter, by then a moist lump of warm clay in the stroller. Patrick turned around and took another ride with my beloved now as his wingman. (As it happens, when she returned, she reported the same striking realization.)

Since that afternoon I have been aware of these cautionary thoughts whenever they come — that I must be more careful than usual, say, on my bike, zipping home from work, contemplating a burst of speed through a yellow light. I drive more carefully, when I drive. I drink pomegranate juice, for the anti-oxidants. For my kids. Things are different now.

Next week Next month Someday, I swear: Things are different now, part 2.

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Stockholm Syndrome, infant version

I’m sick, the baby’s sick, the dog’s sick. It looks like the toddler’s en route to getting sick with what I’m trying to kick, which I have because she gave it to me months ago. But worst of all, the computer’s sick! The horror, the horror! ‘Til it’s well again, I’ve had to encamp at a lesser machine, which has greatly hampered the doctoring and online conveying of both prose and photgraphic images. Production will pick up once a dent has been made in any of the above maladies, especially the computer one. Production will also pick up when I can type with more than one hand.

Let me explain.

We only have two kids, so my survey sample size is a little skimpy. (Not that this should deter me: when has inadequate data ever stopped anyone from drawing sweeping conclusions about physiology, psychology, and the like?)  I’m now ready to say there are two kinds of infants: oral-obsessives, and oral couldn’t care less-ives.  In other words, the binkie-bound, and the rest of them.

Just a scant month into his life on the outside and we’re pretty sure that kid#2 is binkie-bound.  He’s fussy, he’s agitated, and then you give him the finger.  He sets his eyes off in the distance for a moment as he registers what it is, then he pulls it in with the vacuum force of a jet engine’s turbofan. And he’s off a-suckin’ to his heart’s content. Nothing will bother him: not the pokey fingers of the big sister; not the pelting down upon him of spit-up rags, slipping as they inexorably do from our shoulders onto his face; not the flinging of his head hither and thither, like a rear-view window bobble-head doll*, as we feebly try to haul him around through the day’s domestic necessities.

Kid#1 could take or leave the finger; mostly she left it. Not a milk-bearing teat? Not interested. But this guy: he’s clearly going to be a lollipop-sucker, a pencil-nibbler, a toothpick-shredder, and a (let’s hope only bubble-gum) cigar-chewer. Yep, it’s plain to see he’s orally fixated, like his ma. (The beloved has found, strictly based on anecdotal research, that most of her opera singer colleagues are orally fixated; maybe this bodes well for his musical future.)

At first, his pinkie-lovin’ was a thrill. The obvious upside of it is that there’s something related to my body which I can procure and apply, to ease his worried mind. I wasn’t able to provide anything of the sort for the lil’ monkey. Someday when I’ve really lost all sense of decorum I may regale you with the tale of what I did try to do, once — just once! — when I was desparate after an hour-long crying jag and no Mama in sight to calm her. It didn’t work, people. But I had to try. I feel a little awkward about it still, though it does provide a point of positive connection to menfolk who think that if only they could, they would, etc., and all would be well. O, but I’ve said too much already.

Back to Stockholm Syndrome, infant version. Of course the downside of his pinkie-lovin’ is that once the digit is inserted, it’s pretty much stuck there, ’til long after he’s drifted off to sleep. So long as the pinkie’s attached to my hand, and my hand’s attached to me, I’m hostage to him. And yet every pinkie-sucking minute is making me love him more. It’s a pernicious cycle and I don’t see myself doing anything about it anytime soon.

*[Want to shock and amaze your friends? Get them their own bobble-head doll of their kid as a gift! Can this really be possible? See for yourself.]

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Fifth list of ten: How to build a better weblog award competition

one hundred stones
Original photo credit: The Windgrove Center, Tasmania, AU.

In celebration of the 100th post, part five in a ten-part series.

[Warning A: Jumbo post alert! Warning B: Of little interest to anyone who didn’t ride the Weblog Awards roller coaster last week! If you didn’t, please check back in another day or two for actual content! content! content! If you did ride, and have an itch to scratch about it, read on!]

As a way to put the 2006 Weblog Awards rollercoaster ride in some perspective, I thought it might be useful to come up with some steps about how to build a better Weblog Awards system. Not that there aren’t enough bright ideas hopping about in the animated Weblog Awards Forum. But I got five more of these lists to get out, man. And I reckon I’m not the only one that suspects a different story would have unfolded, had this — and all the other finalist blogs in all the categories — had competed under a different set of rules.

Imagine my surprise, as I was rooting around the web for alternative examples, when I discovered rival weblog awards! Blogular rookie that I am, having begun in earnest only this past spring, I was utterly unaware of them. One existing award is international (the BOBs), another is older (the Bloggies). Another (The Webbys), includes a few blog categories in a survey of the web far, far beyond the blogosphere. Two split their awards into juried and “User Prize” winners (the BOBs), or juried and “People’s Voice” awards (The Webbys). The Bloggies employs a jury selection to get blogs to the finalist stage. All are designed to keep the mass voting hysteria in check by attempting, in one way or another, to limit the quantity of popular votes.

If it’s pure quality product you want to suss out, if you want some way to determine excellence in a blog, then a popular vote contest isn’t going to reveal anything more than (relative) popularity. If you’re looking for something else, I offer for your contemplation these

Ten steps to build a better weblog award competition:

1. Strive to reward excellence, while admitting from the outset that “excellence” is a fairly subjective thing and that no two people are going to be completely satisfied with a rubric by which to judge it.

2. Try to determine a rubric anyway, responsive to the features that define or characterize blogs as a distinct medium of communication. These might include such things as: quality and originality of content; value of content to intended community; quality and originality of graphic design; elegance of user interface/ readability; appropriateness of design interface to blog content; presence and liveliness of dialog with intended community.

The Deutsche Welle International Weblog Awards, called the Best of the Blogs (or BOBs), use the following guidelines, published on their Criteria page:

Prose: Linguistic expertise, intelligibility, timeliness, transparency, authenticity.

Creativity: Originality of topic, humor, use of new style elements.

Design: Appropriate design, use of multimedia elements (animations, graphics, audio, video.

User Friendliness: Interactivity, usability, linking, commentary functions, other useful properties.

The aspects listed above are not a comprehensive list and should be used as general guidelines for the jury’s decision.

The Webby Awards reward excellence in content, structure and navigation, visual design, functionality, interactivity, and overall experience. Here are their Criteria.

Most blog designs are turnkey, and most amateur bloggers work fairly modest variations on a standard template. This one is a typical example: I use WordPress’ K2 with almost no fancy customizations, except for the header bar; my contribution to its overall design is to attempt to keep some color consistency, and to break up text in the links column with the occasional image or graphic. (That is, to the extent I can figure out how to pry into the WordPress template without derailing it.)[Ed note: July 2008 I actually did spiff it up, with the help of others. So there.] Design judgment under these circumstances entails the splitting of hairs over how bloggers make use of existing templates. For this reason, original template design should be especially rewarded.

The Bloggies separate off these design templates and actually reward “Best Application for Weblogs” (2006 winner: Blogger; finalists: Flickr, Del.icio.us, Site Meter, and WordPress).

3. Determine the most reliable means by which to measure a blog’s relative success in these various realms. This would be a very hard thing to do, since much of the design and content judgments would be so subjective. Some relatively objective measures of a blog’s impact and worth within its intended community may be measurable via tracking such things as its user comments, its incoming links and traffic. Another measure would be the amount and way in which a blog is referred to on other blogs. And while there’s no accounting for taste, many can agree on essential standards for sound design and usability. Jakob Neilson, usability guru, has provided some usability standards for blogs that could provide a basis. (Even if the aesthetics of his own sites fall far short of the ideal.)

4. Subject that rubric to a wide, democratic, wiki-like review and revision, by those who make up the community to whom this measure of blogular excellence matters.

5. So that step #4 doesn’t devolve into chaos, fix the period of public review to limited time, and delegate the final determinations on the judging rubric to those who would also serve as jury for the blog competition.

6. Recruit a varied, principled jury to judge the nominees. How many people, and how the judging process might be administered, would have a lot to do with the scope of the blogosphere that the award is attempting to represent. The jury ought to comprise a panel of distinguished contributors to and observers of the blogosphere, representing a range of specializations (design, content, community impact, significance of contribution, etc.).

The International BOBs use a jury of “independent journalists, media experts, and blog experts,” and each year’s jury is profiled on their Jury page.

The Webbys are overseen by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, a 500+ member association characterized by excellence in contribution to life online:

Membership in The Academy is currently by invitation only and is limited to those individuals who have catalyzed great achievements on the Internet, demonstrated extraordinary talent in a traditional medium, or who possess in-depth knowledge of new media and comprehensive familiarity with a broad range of sites within a category.

Could be this is why the Webbys have been called “The Oscars of the internet” by The New York Times.

7. Make the judging process as transparent and as rigorous as possible. The Webbys’ “judging process” page provides a great example of this.

8. Acknowledge that a means of communication as wide-open and unregulated as the blogosphere is likely to foster many blogs which straddle multiple subject area categories, complicating the process of parsing them into discrete subject area categories. The Webbys, which aim to reward excellence in web site design including but also far beyond the blogosphere, provide more than 65 categories. Notably, no “generalized” category exists, minimizing the confounding experience of comparing blogs with dramatically different purposes and scope.

9. Find a way to live with the fact that apples will be compared to oranges which will be compared to camshafts. And that no matter how the process is conducted — no matter how transparent, how well-thought out, how wisely substantiated by professional consensus — many folks will feel cheated, rooked, had, screwed, and swindled. Because there are two kinds of people: good sports and poor sports. Both will want to play, and everyone will consider themselves good sports, and their competitors poor sports.

10. If a select panel of distinguished jurors seems inappropriate for a medium as garrulous as the blogosphere, here’s a concession. The Webbys provide a parallel competition, the “People’s Voice.” There, the general online community can vote on the finalists chosen from the nominees. But this stands parallel to the “winners” chosen by the panel of professionals.

It’s not clear to me how the Webbys’ “People’s Voice” vote is conducted. How to narrow things down to the good ole fashioned, one person, one vote? That has got to be the $64K question. No one is likely to provide their Social Security number or their driver’s license number, two of the few data points which could be uniquely verifiable. Yet every other data point even just slightly less private — email address, phone number — isn’t exclusive to just one person. That is, plenty of people use multiple email addresses and phone numbers.

For better and for worse, this is what the Bloggies do:

•  Only one nomination form and one finalist voting form may be submitted per person.
•  E-mail addresses are required to vote. You must use your own address.
•  If you attempt to submit a second ballot, your first one will be erased.

The BOBs do this:

While there’s no way to eliminate fraud from Internet voting, we’re trying to avoid it by making voters — the real human ones — enter text from a randomly generated image to confirm their votes.

So they, as do the Weblog Awards, surely field multiple votes from the hyper-motivated.

Whatever the case, if the “popular” part of the awards were to be determined by a one vote-per-computer, one vote-per-24hrs spree over the course of ten days, you can be guaranteed the following:

  • voters with access to multiple computers (e.g. at work and at home) will be privileged;
  • competitors will be at an advantage when they spread the word far and wide, and therefore active or activatable online networks will be at an advantage;
  • an important or dramatic issue perceived to be at stake can inspire such a network to emerge under pressure; and
  • feverish competitiveness will be built into the process, particularly if an issue is perceived to be at stake in any of the competitions.

If all that sounds like fun, then great! Cause that’s what I think just happened with the 2006 Weblog Awards! But the “winning” blogs are not necessarily standard-bearers for excellence in design, content, or even utility to intended audience. They represent those whose readership and/or community is either the largest, or the most motivated, or both. Maybe they’re motivated by quality product, maybe not. All’s we know is they’re motivated.

And so we roll to a stop back here at this particular assemblage of lesbo bon mots. I gave up trying to solve the abiding mystery surrounding how in the Sam Hill this blog made it as a finalist (I’ve run out of alternative readings on the blog title; perhaps someone read it right, and thought these were the sweet musings of Papa Ethridge, or Papa Lang, or Papa O’Donnell). But there it was, and there it stayed, and it netted a sizable community of voters with a sizable motivation to vote, which has been in turns surprising, humbling, and inspirational. To those of you erstwhile voters who stick around as readers: I’ll try to live up to your expectations, on behalf of my cute kid, and all sorts of other cute kids in LGBT families that I think she’s standing in for. But it’ll have to be back at my pre-Sweeps Week publishing output, though. Every other day, weekends and childbirths off.

[Sixth list of ten: Things I have in common with dads]

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