How To Rule the Web: Learn It

You probably don’t need to know everything, but it sure couldn’t hurt.

You may not need to know, for example, that Jesse James Garrett coined the accronym AJAX because “XML HTTP request” is too much of a mouthful to easily say. But wouldn’t it be cool to use Asynchronus Java script And XML on your blog to add sexy features and functionality?

Lynda.com is a fee-based library of online tutorials. The fee, however, is a very reasonable flat rate — paid monthly, tri-monthly, bi-annually or annually — which gives you unlimited access to Lynda.com’s voluminious library of video tutorials. Everything you could ever want to know about producing, editing, programming, generating, posting and hosting multimedia content for the Web is taught at Lynda.com.

Fifty one subject areas cover topics ranging from establishing the most basic WordPress or Blogger accounts to using advanced tools like AJAX, which is the technology behind Google Maps’ capability to allow you to scroll around, zoom in and zoom out of the map box without refreshing the page or otherwise interrupting the other actions of your browser. Subjects at Lynda.com include:

  • Audio
  • Digital imaging
  • XML
  • HTML
  • CSS
  • Podcasting
  • AJAX
  • Blogging
  • Web design
  • Web development
  • Content Management Systems
  • Digital Photography
  • and more

The Audio stable, for example, includes 24 courses ranging in duration from 30 minutes to 12 hours. The courses cover a litany of major production tools like Audition, Garage Band, Pro Tools, Soundbooth, Soundtrack Pro, Reason and Logic Pro, as well as general subjects like “Digital Audio Principals” and Podcasting.

You can pay as little as $25 per month or as much as $250 per year for standard access. A premium membership costs $375 per year and gives you access to a host of training exercises to go along with each video. But they’re really not neccessary.

Lest you mistake this as paid advertising for Lynda.com, be aware also that there are free ways to get training in some of the same areas.

W3Schools online, for example, provides free, hands-on, step-by-step tutorials for the entire gamut of programming languages. You won’t find software tutorials like Photoshop, Pro Tools or Dreamweaver at W3Schools online. But you will find exercises in CSS, HTML, Java Script, XML, AJAX, PHP and more. These make for handy supplments to the clearly elucidated video lectures found at Lynda.com. Or, if programming languages are all you’re after, W3Schools online might be all you need.

This is not a factoid

I wonder where factoid came from, anyway?

I overheard the question and couldn’t help wondering too. I’ve never liked the word. Most people bandy it like a synonym for fact, with the qualification, perhaps, that it’s a rather small one. But if that’s the case, an obvious word like fact or statistic would do.

That’s not the case. A factoid is “an invented fact believed to be true because of its appearance in print” or it is, at best, a trivial piece of information, according to Merriam-Webster online.

The American Heritage Dictionary goes so far as to concede factoid‘s faddish popularity as a synonym for a smallish fact, but it says that’s a usage problem. The primary definition is: “A piece of unverified or inaccurate information that is presented in the press as factual, often as part of a publicity effort, and that is then accepted as true because of frequent repetition.”

According to various online sources, Norman Mailer coined the word in his biography Marilyn Monroe (Grosset & Dunlap, 1973)Monroe Meets Mailer by cobbling the word fact with the suffix –oid, which “normally imparts the meaning ‘resembling, or having the appearance of’ to the words it attaches to” (American Heritage).

Mailer’s book, however, is out of print and is neither available at my local library nor my local bookstore. I’m not interested enough to pay $3.99 for shipping that I may hold the artifact of, as my friend who first posed the question observed, “another one of Mailer’s dubious contributions to Western Civ.”

Avian Eulogy

By Paul Harhar

The Gazeitgeist

ASH TRICKLE — A wild turkey struck the windshield of a car going west on Highway 30 Wednesday, Ash Trickle Police said.

Four vehicles crashed because of the errant fowl, which was probably hungry and looking for dinner, police said, citing the bird’s tranquil but weathered visage.

It lay motionless on its side, one wing unfurled under its head in the snow. Three distinct splatters of red on white were the only reminders of mortality about its pristine carcass.

A few yards away sat the turkey’s victims, two mangled cars, an SUV and a pickup. Each bore visible anguish from the avian slaughter: crumpled doors, smashed trunks, twisted metal; all fouled up.

Traffic passed slowly, stirring the air. Malaise settled in like a fallout.

Fitzgerald’s declarative sentences

In the spring of 1917, when Doctor Richard Diver first arrived in Zurich, he was twenty-six years old, a fine age for a man, indeed the very acme of bachelorhood.

Doctor Dohmler spread his hands wide enough to carry a young pig.

Dick sighed.

Dick considered.

Dick laughed.

In the dead white hours in Zurich staring into a stranger’s pantry across the upshine of a street-lamp, he used to think that he wanted to be good, he wanted to be kind, he wanted to be brave and wise, but it was all pretty difficult. He wanted to be loved, too, if he could fit it in.

One time he saw her in person; as he walked past the Palace Hotel, a magnificent Rolls curved into the half-moon entrance.

It was a rail-side garden, and in the car was a sign: Défense de cueillir les fleurs.

He remembered once when the grass was damp and she came to him on hurried feet, her thin slippers drenched with dew, she stood upon his shoes nestling close and held up her face, showing it as a book open at a page.
‘Think how you love me,’ she whispered. ‘I don’t ask you to love me always like this, but I ask you to remember. Somewhere inside me there’ll always be the person I am to-night.’

In the country there was less noise, as though they were all listening atavistically for wolves in the wide snow.

All night in Paris he had held her in his arms while she slept light under the luminal; in the early morning he broke in upon her confusion before it could form, with words of tenderness and protection, and she slept again with his face against the warm scent of her hair.

Before they went out, as fine-looking a couple as could be found in Paris, they knocked softly at Rosemary’s door. There was no answer; judging that she was asleep they walked into a warm strident Paris night, snatching a vermouth and bitters in the shadow by Fouquet’s bar.

— from Tender is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

One-egg Ramen

After a brief altercation with my banker at the clerk’s desk the other day, I came to realize that now I’m on intern pay, I should eat accordingly.

To fortify everyone’s favorite budget meal to hate:
– boil only just enough water (about .5 liters)
– drop in the ramen block, boil for 1.5 minutes, flip it over
– wisk an egg in your soup bowl, stir it in the pot
– empty the “seasoning” packet into the pot, stir well and serve

Presto!

You can perform inumerable variations on this routine by swapping ingredients and, of course, flavor packets. The oriental ramen is one of my favorites. The one with jalapenos is good too. And for a variety of add-ins try lunch meat, tofu, left-over peas, cocktail shrimp, etc.

the new agate

agate; \ˈa-gət\, noun 3 a: a size of type approximately 512 point b: condensed information (as advertisements or box scores) set especially in agate type
– Merriam Webster online

Readers of the Internet age are more and more impatient with undesired content.

They want particular content in peculiar ways, with the fewest number of portals and barriers between. The new agate, as it turns out, has very little to do with type size and a lot to do with preference. The new agate is anything you don’t want to see. And you can choose to minimize it, filter it or condense it yourself. Better yet, you can search for exactly the phrase you want, and skip all the agate between.

Good Web sites must empower visitors to filter their personal agate. This is why RSS feeds come with filters, Twitter thrives on being able to choose or block certain users, and every website worth its pixels has a search bar prominently featured.

This may be an aspect of America’s online culture that Franzen would lament. If he’s reading this, he might be spiraling into depression right now. Then again, it doesn’t hurt to be in touch with the world.

How To Be Alone

Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2002

Jonathan Franzen was depressed.

He was worried that the Internet was accelerating American culture on a fast track to becoming a banal, unreading homogeneity. He despaired over the disappearance of true community into the vacuous ether of the World Wide Web. He fretted over what this meant for America. What will become of a culture once all the readers have gone extinct? But, he was also afraid of becoming obsolete. He is, after all, a novelist.

And novelists, he felt, have a hard time of it nowadays. Gone are the times when writers can reclusively garner illustrious reputations like J. D. Salinger, Philip Roth and Cormac McCarthy. Serious novelists, it appeared to Franzen, must compete for an ever-dwindling audience of serious readers in a market increasingly saturated with non-serious readers and books.

Franzen recounts his despair with wry humor. He describes his emergence from it with humility:

I recognize that a person writing confessionally for a national magazine* may have less than triple-A credibility in asserting that genuine reclusiveness is simply not an option, either psychologically or financially, for writers born after Sputnik. It may be that I’ve become a gregarious traitor. But in belatedly following my books out of the house, doing some journalism and even hitting a few parties, I’ve felt less as if I’m introducing myself to the world than as if I’m introducing the world to myself. Once I stepped outside my bubble of despair I found that almost everyone I met shared many of my fears, and that other writers shared all of them.

I picked up Franzen’s collection of essays, How To Be Alone, because the title exuded immediacy and humanity. Franzen is frank with his fears, but circumspect with his evaluations.

The plight of the contemporary novelists, he realizes, is laughable compared to Herman Melville’s life and toil. It may be necessary for a writer to resist shallow fame, even to the point of obscurity, if he is to resist a culture of inauthentic mass-marketed image. But, it also doesn’t hurt to be in touch with the world.

Many of Franzen’s conclusions are most germane to writers. Everyone, however, should feel resonance with his observations. His distrust in the claims of technology, pop-psychology and mass-media entertainment are balanced by his distrust of the nostalgia that once gripped him.

Franzen’s style is immediate and human, his concerns are relevant and his elucidations are poignant. Read him.

*An earlier version of “Why Bother” first appeared in Harper’s Magazine in 1996 under the title, “Perchance to Dream.”