lördag, augusti 09, 2008

A Method of Escape: Cabin Weekend

If you're looking for a political screed, you've come to the wrong blog. We're getting the hell out of here for 24 hours. Time for a visit to the cabin, take in a little lakeside air, drink some tea--we're even leaving the wine in St. Paul--and enjoy a little fireside chat.

And we're going to live like the beasts of the forest (the people, that is): we're going to grill our dinner.

Corn on the cob, bell peppers, zucchini, walleye (grilled over fennel stalks and brushed with chive/rosemary butter), and some other things, I think.

Sunday morning will bring a trip to Katty Shack, where they serve the best and biggest pancake I've ever encountered.

Super tasty weekend.

And who knows? That casino in Turtle Lake is on the way home. I've got a $20 bill in my pocket and it's calling to the Loch Ness game. See you on Millionaire's Row!

torsdag, augusti 07, 2008

Bad Medicine

Dairy Queen is donating the proceeds from all sales of its popular Blizzard product today to Children's Miracle Network. They call it Miracle Treat Day.

Yes, it's a nice idea. But isn't it a bit strange to tag a medical research donation to such an unhealthy product? "Welcome to Dairy Queen! Enjoy your diabetes." Very few of even the small Blizzards fall below 600 calories. Yes, you can survive it, but you know exactly why they want you there today: like meth, you'll be hooked.

You already are hooked. It's encoded in your DNA. Resist!


I found myself in a similar dilemma yesterday when at Target to buy some printer paper. There was a green-wrapped HP pack with a 50 cents-higher price. I had thought maybe that meant some post-consumer recycled content.

Alas: no.

Target does not carry that product from HP. At least, last night it didn't. Maybe HP doesn't even manufacture that product. (I don't recall what brand I've bought at OfficeMax. All I know is I was about out and needed more.) Turns out: HP slaps on green packaging, increases the price 12.5%, but donates 20% of profit on the product to the Arbor Day Foundation.

I did not like the one post-consumer recycled content paper they had on the shelf so decided in the end to go with the wasteful product that partially funds a good organization.

I might as well load up at the DQ, it seems. Perhaps resistance is futile?

onsdag, augusti 06, 2008

Rice = Nice

I paid a visit to FreeRice.com this morning to shake awake my half-asleep brain--half-asleep for I woke up at 3:30 a.m. and just stayed awake, eventually ambulating to the low-light environment off the kitchen for a little editing work at 5:30 a.m., if only to give my open eyes something to do.

Now, coffee before me, I remembered FreeRice: a site at which you take vocabulary tests, and for each word you get right (you've a one in four chance each time), 20 more grains of rice are donated in food-starved places around the world.

No registration is needed. No fees. Just you and the words and some sponsors willing to cover the cost of the rice donations.

Best word I remembered correctly: bumbershoot (umbrella)
Best word I guessed correctly: axilla (armpit)

Give it a try.

tisdag, augusti 05, 2008

Why I Oughta...

...never make another type of pizza other than THIS.

I've written about this particular pizza before. I was right then, and I'm right now. Well, the Muse was right. She's the one who found the recipe for Pizza Bianca with Goat Cheese and Greens.

I admit, I love thinking about the many other grand pizzas made here, such as this:

and this:

and this:

But the Pizza Bianca with Goat Cheese and Greens is just SO SO GOOD. Especially the crust. We hadn't made it in months, but with our good friend Kerrey in town from Little Rock we couldn't resist the excuse to indulge.

What the hell were we thinking taking so long to make this again!?

Everyone: please, please, please take that recipe and at least make the dough yours. It's well worth it.

fredag, augusti 01, 2008

The Life of Us

Over at the Country Mouse Tales, Claire posted an entry the other day in which she recognized some things she really likes about other blogs. That's something I ought to do more of. I'm certainly reading around enough.

Today I want to note how much of a joy it is to read The Life of Us...as much of it as I convince myself I understand. It's in Danish, and I've done a little study with the language. And there are enough similarities to the small amount of Swedish I know that I can puzzle out some things. When in doubt, and when dictionaries fail me, I turn to GramTrans for help.

The primary writer, Kathrine, used to do the Copenhagen Photo Blog and wrote in English. It was part of that photo-a-day ring from cities all over the world. She took wonderful shots. She still does, only now she uses them primarily on her family blog.

Kathrine and husband Mikkel (a musician) provide plenty of beautiful images from around the city and a number of short videos of their interactions with the real stars of the site: their young sons August and Alfred.

For my own druthers, it's rather nice to have the opportunity to listen to Danish. And Katharine's writing style is quite spirited (so far as I translate it!).

Her images of the city inspire me.

Copenhagen is one of the main cities of my heart. I've been there twice and know I'll go again. In the meantime, I've got The Life of Us to tide me over.

I recommend the images/entries here ("A Summer's Day in Copenhagen"), here ("Nyhavn," named for the neighborhood and canal) and here (because that hoodie rocks).



Perhaps it was the cooled air and celing fans giving my fellow joe drinkers the fits, or perhaps they'd all consumed something...fidgety the previous evening and felt a bit of an internal draft. Or maybe they were simply very excited to see another.

But as I sat in the coffee shop on Thursday morning entering article abstracts into a database and listening to a Pixies-heavy mix on my headphones, the people around me were outrageously expressive with one another. They shifted in their seats like Tom Arnold. They used their hands the way Italians are portrayed on commercials.

It was like sitting among mimes, and since I had headphones on, they might as well have been mouthing their words.


I was upbraided by an old man for saying "All's well," for this is apparently something one is not to say in certain company.

"Maybe you say that with your white friends," he said, "but you watch out in certain neighborhoods."

(He's black. He's also a friend, so this wasn't a random berating. It's actually quite characteristic of him to abruptly give a lecture on matters you'll seldom discover the reason for.)

He demonstrated a gang-like greeting gesture that looks something like giving an indigestive chest a single rap with a fist, then fanning open the fingers.

"All's well," he said as he did this.


I had thought I'd finally gained the edge on my father in reading Scandinavian mysteries; but alas, fresh from the 6-hour drive he and Mum took to visit, he walked in, saw the Håkan Nesser book I'm reading (The Return) and said, "I've read that."

"And Borkmann's Point?" I asked.


He went on to name a couple authors I haven't reached yet (Karin Fossum and Åsa Larsson, the latter of whom interests me for the Kiruna setting).

Back to the Scandi drawing board for me....


We are.

onsdag, juli 30, 2008

In the Company of Wolves

Klondike Kat Always Gets His Mouse!In a former life I was editing a construction trade magazine. Our bread and butter was a particularly data-intense annual issue that we'd come to call The Human Stain in-house. (Our two other bad boy directories were known as The Dog Zoo and The Beast. The Beast was so awful that the editorial director placed outside her office a bucket labeled "Lung Bucket." It was where she made it clear she'd deposit someone's lungs if they messed up her participant forms.)

One year as I struggled through the Human Stain, a company faxed me a photocopy of another company's product data. They'd made revisions to the names, changing the names of the products to their own product names.

A weak explanation on the form indicated that they had an agreement with this other company and that this would be an okay edit.

I ignored it, much in the way it's said that the press corp, way back when, ignored the indiscretions, personal failings and discomforts of presidents and other key public officials because to talk about such things seemed too catty for "real news" and the American news diet.


Now I'm in another life, but one very similar to the former. It is still trade-heavy and on the construction side of things. And I'm thinking about scraping.

Scraping is the nabbing of content from one source and posting it elsewhere as if it's your own or at least yours by permission. Bloggers--including myself--are often scraped by blogs and sites set up as nothing more than a warehouse of Google Ads. The scraped content is used to attract search engines, which are used to attract readers. They arrive at the scraper site and, look at that!, they find ads. Maybe they click one. Cha-ching! Money in the bank for the scraper.

You can report these sites and get them blocked or warned, etc., but in going to these sites you open yourself up to another problem: potential malware (that is, invasive software often hidden in a "cookie"...which your browser may already be set to automatically accept because so many sites demand you accept them so you can also see the offerings of their "legitimate" sponsors, and so those sponsors and sites can track your habits).

It's sort of like electric kudzu.

All of this is in my mind today because I've sort of started the legal wheels turning against a company in my industry because of the scraping that firm has been doing on a company "blog."


I didn't necessarily intend to launch a legal matter, and maybe I haven't, maybe the resolution is more pleasant, but I just don't know. It's much too early, but something is in motion.

Because A Company took content that B Company had paid me to arrange on behalf of C Company. I learned of this through a Google News Alert (under the Blog Alert heading). An industry-specific keyword on which I receive alerts was set off by this blog entry at A Company's website.

The entry contained content I'd worked on for B and C Companies. All the links were removed and replaced with links to other pages on A Company's website. Credit for B Company's site, where I published the piece, was not given. No link to C Company was provided, even though the piece was about its products. Even with the specific products, A Company's intra-blog links stayed in the main A Company website.

So I wrote C Company and asked if it had a business relationship with A Company, in which case I was willing to turn a blind eye to things because it could spur business for C Company--who paid the people who pay me--via A Company's potential work with C's products.

Alas, there was no relationship. C Company wrote to me and CCed its legal rep within the company and asked for the context regarding how I'd discovered this. I told them. I even pointed out how A Company had done this seemingly with all its 250+ blog entries, usually by pasting a newspaper's article copy into a blog entry and filling it with A Company-promotional links (while also stripping out source and author credit).

All of the links were, in turn, tagged with further promotional material even though the content wasn't about them.

Among competitors, this could be used in rather unethical ways (though how do you determine harm?). For example, your company is Swedish Widgets and Crockery. A competitor comes along and post your same text: This is the home page of Swedish Widgets and Crockery.

Roll your cursor over that name but do not click it. Let the cursor sit there a moment. A different name should pop up.

Essentially, that's the sort of piggybacking one could do if all this was allowed to go unchecked.

I wouldn't call it a vicious circle, but I would say it's annoying; like national politics.


A good deal of blogging, including my own use of it, involves some scraping, or borrowing, or whatever we're going to call it other than theft. I think there are very legitimate ways of doing so, even for people who blog for profit (I'm unfortunately not one of them, though this profitlessness gives me the lovely freedom to sort of wander off for months at a time).

Bloggers tend to use the content of other's in two essential ways:

* Pasting text, such as news, in order to share an interesting point / story or to really take issue with it

* Messing with images--such as putting devil horns on politicians--for satire or expression; or using an image in a clearly new and disassociated context for a point or theme, such as when some idiot might use an image of Klondike Kat atop an overly long blog entry about blogging ethics and actually turning someone in--even sort of accidentally--because of that person's clear violation of ethics.

I think both of these uses are perfectly acceptable, and as far as one might take our protection of writing and speech--by which I mean using it, not surpressing creative (or even lame) use--I think we should. I don't approve of a society entirely under the lock and key of corporate copyright offices. In the styles noted above, text reuse is generally with citation, such as to the New York Times or the National Review, because people who take the time to do this usually want you to know what they've been reading.

It's their way of saying (if not outright), "Can you believe this shit!?"

In the case of images, I think they are usually without citation because (a) most people don't know how to cite images [this includes many English instructors, though they usually know how to look it up in a guide] and (b) most of us online use images in a manner as we might in a collage. In a notebook. In high school.


I don't know what happens next. I feel bad. Sort of. I've had plenty of good conversations with the people at A Company before.

Certainly they intended to generate traffic, and traffic could lead to money. (The news articles they were scraping, by the way, were construction and engineering-oriented, usually in areas the products they work with are involved.) So while this wasn't a case like a Google Ad-mad scraper, it's a similar beast.

Have they used other companies like this? I don't know. I haven't carved through it all. I'm not going to.

I just don't understand why a legitimate, noted business would put itself out there with such liability not just for copyright infringement but clear misuse of a competitor's name, products, service and promotion. How much dumb can one claim?

Part of me thinks today's events unfolded because what A Company did with another company's name was worse than what it had been doing to news articles.

Part of me thinks they unfolded because what A Company has been doing to real news is worse. You know, it's, like, freedom of press and the sanctity of the written worth, man. What Lincoln said.

And part of me thinks these events have come to a head because what A Company did affected me. Because in all honesty I'd known their blog was out there, and I'd known they'd scraped content. But I didn't react because I hoped they'd change, or I hoped they'd run out of energy like so many bloggers, or I had run out of energy for getting torqued up on these matters because there are so many who just say screw it to ethics, especially when money may be involved.

I hoped, at any rate, that they wouldn't bother me.

But they did. They took my words, and not just my words but the words I'd written for hire. And not even my words for hire, really, but only some of them. Because, as I am so often during the work day, I was just a wet nurse for words birthed by someone else, words I'd been asked to care for and draw attention to and perhaps make even more profitable.

fredag, juli 25, 2008

Congratulations, Lol!

My good friend Lol gave birth to little Keegan Patrick yesterday. He's 7 lbs, 9 oz, and he's certain to be the good sort of nerd if I have any influence (and I will, Ray and Lara, I will).