Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Reviews You Can Trust

or so the tag line reads at the bottom of every major entry (hotels, rentals, restaurants, things to do) at tripadvisor, a Newton, MA based web travel site, boasting 36 million monthly visitors. Reviews you can trust. And, er, perhaps, I do.

Someone's Making Money but...

that is, there are commercial tie-ins up the wazoo (links to Booking Buddy, Cruise Critic, Family Vacation Critic, Seat Guru, Flip Key, and on and on and on and on) on the site, and therefore you can in many ways consider this a travel portal (aggregator, linker); however--big however--they do seem to offer authentic traveler reviews about everything you can imagine that is even remotely associated with trips and tripping (no, not that kind). Among them:
On to Where the Land Runs Out

As some of you know, I'll be heading to Chile (according to the Chilean national consular site: "where the land runs out") for my sabbatical, on February 1, 2010. And so, as you can imagine, I've had to research the whole kit and caboodle. Enter: Trip Advisor.

While it would take me a month of Sundays to begin to describe the site, allow me to say here, dear Writing for New Media friendos, that I found a place to lodge based on reviews such as these:

Whether or not these or others like them were penned by shills, I cannot say. I can say, however, that it seemed tonally and substantively appropriate, and so I believe it. And, believing is all.

Polyglottal (sic?) Panorama

Reading it in many languages seems to help. And reading about the IT from those who are as far-flung as you can imagine helps, too. (True, I give more credence/put more stock/am willing to hear what anyone other than U.S. and A Americans have to say. My U.S. and A anti-bias flops out....). That is, it is not uncommon to find reviews penned in French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese--from people based in countries around the globe. And I do love and respect anyone who ain't from around here...

Have an Expert, Will Travel

In addition to "User" reviews, I also found Destination Experts, who, according to the site:

...are the backbone of the TripAdvisor community. They are regular contributors who exemplify the best of our forums, giving helpful, friendly advice and welcoming new members. They are passionate about the destinations they represent. Whether resident locals or frequent visitors, they have up-to-date knowledge of what's going on in their destinations.

PS - Destination experts are volunteers, so don't be afraid to say "thanks" when they've provided you with helpful advice!

I've been hearing from one who lives in Valparaiso, the town I chose as my destination. He's willing to answer any questions and even to engage in some research. Can't say I take his advice without a grain or two of salt, though. Perhaps he is on the up and up. More likely, there's a little taste for him somewhere along the line. That's part and parcel of this, I think. Everyone's got to earn. Or, perhaps my cynicism takes center stage.

I'll let you know (in the form of a Trip Advisor review, of course) when I return.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Library Thing

As an English Professor, my reading list should be riddled with profound and transcendent titles, the stuff I'm supposed to pass on to my intellectually hungry sons or lurking students. Well, it turns out that those days are gone. My reading these days is typically, in a word, transactional (the anti-profound). Truth be told, like many others of my ilk, I spend most of my reading time reading (evaluating?) evolving student work.

When I do have a moment to read anything other than student work these days, I either read a Spanish language newspaper (part of my continuing, but painstakingly slow Jeff-hungers-for-a-meaningful-second-language project), a police procedural, or, if a new one has dropped from the James Lee Burke tree, a Dave Robicheaux mystery.

Unfortunately, I do tire of Spanish language news (not for the Spanish, but for the news), and prolific as he is, Burke's output isn't nearly enough to take care of even my part-time reading needs. So, I find myself asking: who next?

Who Next?

Sure, my wife is a voracious reader, and my department is full of colleagues who have the kind of life in which books rise to the top of their own honey-do lists. But, frankly, if I've found nothing else out over the years, I've found that my tastes are... just that. Mine. Mis propios sabores.

Still, I've thought there must be some Web 2.0 answer to scratching my who next itch.

The Social Book List

Enter Library Thing--a Web 2.0 social networking site that "with over 800,000 users and 40 million books" that "allows one to find some 'eerily similar' libraries and a Zeitgeist full of random information."

While you can take a tour on your own, allow me to offer a couple of highlights here.


Like many social networking sights, your profile facilitates your connection to those who share similar interests:


Knowing who you are and behind whom and what you stand is, of course, insufficient--and certainly not why I checked out and joined Library Thing. Groups are the reason. And, groups they've got, hundreds:

For now, you can find me trying to decide whether I'm more a Sofa Reads, a 75 Books Challenge for 2009, or a Build the Open Shelves kinda groupie.

More--if I can ever make my way from the front page of this Library Thing to its last--anon.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

What's Wrong with Cave Life?

Anyone who knows me in any way knows that I spend more time on the web than I should. ("On the web"... sounded like quite a gramps there, huh.) Online. Better. Online. But what am I doing out there?

Belly Up, Lest You...
This and next and perhaps the week after, we are and will be dealing with the subject of "social networking" in my Writing for New Media class. Such got me to thinking about how I spend my time online. It got me to wondering if I could characterize my time online as social.

Yes, I have a Facebook account, and a Diigo account, and a Twitter account, and likely many other social networking accounts that I've forgotten about. But those were taster's choices. Given my line of work (love that expression... couldn't find a good link to explain its origin... but did find an interesting site during my search...), I feel compelled to belly up to the smorgasbord of the web with great frequency and appetite. But I am rarely there to do more than taste. I'm certainly not out there to establish or extend my community.

Groucho Marx and the Green Eyed Squirrel
Having spent my time at social networking sites (as I've already owned up to), and having been tracked down by more than one friend I never wanted to have in the first place, and having had to gaze rheumy-eyed at umpteen family trip albums to Albany and Albania, I can certainly conclude that as for social networking, I'm really a Groucho Marx ("I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members") and Foamy the Squirrel kind of guy:

(Skip this one, if you are mild of heart, ear, or eye; my Mother would consider it triple x....)

Wow, that sorta says it all. Thanks, Foamy. In addition to speaking my mind on social networking, you've filled the acute rodent gap I've felt since Rocky J left me in the cartoon lurch:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What's Mine Is...

In this unit, we are all about considering issues that can mostly simply be summarized (not given the fair, comprehensive, and nuanced treatment, of course, of course) under the banner of "ownership."

The Banner, The Questions
A few of a zillion questions you can find on this banner: Who owns what I create? Who should benefit--intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and, yes, monetarily--from my creations? (Me; my heirs in perpetuity; Columbia College Chicago; the corporation that produced my keyboard, my display, the font I've used; the corporation that provides the bandwidth that allows me to post my creation online?) How does what I create occupy the world? (Should a poem I wrote about the Holocaust, say, appear without my consent on a neo-Nazi web site? Should anyone be allowed to download a photograph I've taken and post it on their fridge?) What role do I play in the distribution of the stuff I've created? (Should I have a say in whether my class assignments are used in other classrooms? If I do receive royalties, should part of those be owed to my employer?) What role do I play in the re-conception, re-creation, re-purposing, re-directing, re-routing, etc. of the stuff I've produced? (Should I have final say over whether my creations are mixed and matched and mashed and?)

One Way In
How to get at this? Well, I produce stuff all of the time. I write poems. I create class assignments. I edit technical documents (please note: if you compare the final version of a document I was asked to edit with the original with which I worked, you'd have to agree that editing = creation.) I could discuss those. And likely I will if I continue in other posts. Here, though, I'd like to own up to the fact that I am an amateur photographer.

Like nearly everyone else with disposable income, I have a digital camera (okay, I have many), and use it, sure, to capture memories. But, too, I scratch a more profound itch. Let's call it art and be done for now.

Chiapan Art
Here's Chiapas from the window of a church tower in Aguacatenango (Chiapas, Mexico).

Here's another view:

So, now you know that despite my fear of heights, I climbed to the top of a church--up an incredibly narrow, chiseled stairwell (here's a mid-stair view)

and captured (made?) some art.

It's All Apparently in the Face
The reason I mention this is, on the same trip, I was fortunate enough to meet and spend the morning with a weaver's family, not a few hundred yards from the church. Whatever I can say about them here wouldn't do them justice, and, anyway, you can read about them in my two most recent copyrighted (Mammoth Press) publications (Burro Heart and Mixed Diction).

Drawn as I was to making art of the town, you can imagine how drawn I was to (making art of?) the family:

Given the price of digital film, I could go on. At any rate, here, as they say, is the rub. It seems that I am allowed without concern for the Spanish roof tiles, corn rows, or mottled main street cobbles to post the first three photos (the fruits of my creative loins) on a site such as iStock, "the internet's original member-generated image and design community." Where you can "Get easy, affordable inspiration with millions of safe, royalty-free photographs, vector illustrations, video footage, audio tracks and Flash files."

I am not, however, allowed to post the second three without express written permission from my Chiapan friends. Show a face, and you've got to cover your ass. Oy. Thanks, Canon, for making it possible for me to not bother with film, with chemical-based developing and enlargement. But what have I lost in the bargain? Guess it's all beer and skittles until money is involved.

In this instance, I did not want to sell those faces (as a Jewish grandmother I never had might have said, "who could sell such faces"?); rather, I wanted to post them on the site to get credits in exchange for the work of another photographer. I saw it as innocent trading. I still do. My art for yours.

Yikes, outside of a little lunch trading (my almond butter and fig jam sanGwitch for your Cheese Doodles), I guess nothing is innocent. What's mine is...


It Did Not Start

as the hand weaver

rose and shat in his pig


nor as his wife knelt before

her glassed votives her executrix

her holy virgin idol



on the swollen road risen

from the highland wash

nor during our talk

of freerange stallions

bolting through maize plots

morphed into monsoon lakes


as we grouped before the loom

to swig local beer

to distinguish between aniline

& beetle dyes

to hear

about a man’s warp

his indigenous woof


as we leaned from the bell tower

above the cathedral in Aguacatenango

not as the sweet

rains pelted

the cross-hatched cobbles

where mongrels and sots slept splayed—

a billion

motes of local light


our prodigal gaze

Copyright Jeff Schiff

Creative Commons License
"It Did Not Start" by Jeff Schiff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pin Point Laser Guided Stray But Don't Stray and For God's Sake Tie Back to Your Raison d'Etre

And my blog critique rolls on. This week: some words about not straying from the IT you have designated as IT (after all, it is your it; no one forced that it on you)... and honoring the reason you created your blog in the first place

Pin Point
Long ago back in the day way back when, I used to call it "focus," and harp incessantly about its glory. I even had a focus cudgel made--with which to bang upside my student's meandering, peregrinating, fickle writings (most often formerly, painfully, inaccurately, and purposelessly referred to as "essays").

Keep your thing on track--no rhetorical bait and switch, unless you were angling (oops) for that in the first place. Don't begin discussing thing #1 only to drift aimlessly to thing #2.5 and on to thing #6.

That said, let me exemplify by using recent post on my feature blog: "The ZEN of the penis." Got wood?

Promised and Delivered
Anyway, wooded or not, one cannot help but notice how J. forecasts a subject in her post title, uses topic sentence-topped paragraphs, and--although she is given to parenthetical interjections now and again and again and again--treats the primary subject until her graceful, rounded, tied-back-to-the-beginning conclusion.

With These Words I Thee Wed
In addition to staying on track, this post certainly honors the founder's bloggy contract with us: to deliver "A blog about life, sports, cats and dogs, politics, sex, the joys and frustrations of working at home, and whatever else I feel like writing about." Not difficult here to honor such a conceptually generous mission, but, still, she's not writing about helicopter parts (at least I don't recall any such mentions) or entomology.

Estoric Hughes 500D Parts

Ah, A Buggy Life

Simple stuff, really, to stay focused--but easily lost in the pressure to post and post. I know. I know.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Keep Me Interested or I'm Gone

Now where was I?

Oh, yeah, there's gotta be some there there and some real draw (the definition of which I'll keep working at in this and subsequent posts) if you want me to keep coming back to your blog well, to drink your bloggy draft, etcetera etcetera. So, what's next. Well, let me keep at J-Two-O (plus, I get bonus points for knowing the blogmistress; or, for which I get issued familial demerits--but which I'm inured to and so don't so much mind).

Keep Your Tone Trimmed and Burning
There's cheek at J-Two-O. Sass. Sometimes there's a bit or a ton of burn. Pique. There's angled disgust. Just-this-side-of-healthy funny stuff. However. Whatever. Here I'll say "tone." J-Two-O is tony. Not tony (as in fashion and glitz and sophistication), of course, just full of tone. Tone-y. Take, for instance, the September 7th, 2009 post on "Mattress hoping." That's typical. "Yeah, right, yada, yada, yada" is written all over it. "Yeah, right, even though I'm talking about inconsequential stuff, it's oddly important in this twisted, irony-filled, dog-often-eats-dog world." A kind of someone-is-looking -over-your-shoulder-and-you-are-gonna-snap-them-one tone--just for the relief of it.... At any rate, it is obvious, repeatable, and, if it were any other kind of tone, you might could call it a comfortable at-the-bar tone. That is, you can expect it. Like Mickey Dee. Same taste across the country, the world. Same tone (voice) post to post.

If you still don't catch my drift on tone, check out grammar.edu on the subject. Bottom line, have a recognizable tone or risk the loneliness of the long distance blogger.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Beacon in the Forest of Blogs; or, Why Should I Belly Up to Yours and do more than Engage in a Perfunctory Scan?

Yes, they are easily conceived and nearly as easily executed, de rigueur in a world gone sharingly mad, part and parcel of one’s membership in the 21st century communication club, and therefore there are too many of them out there, and we are forced to pick and choose (still waiting for pick to differentiate itself from choose). So, other than the usual affinity draw (for me: Yankees stuff, middle-aged Jewish man living away from New York stuff, Grateful Dead stuff, best thin crust pizza stuff, etc.), which ones do you befriend? (That’s, after all, what you do with a blog. You “befriend” it—and hope it befriends you.)

Say you stumble upon one, though… what makes you stay long enough to rub against it for a while (that befriending metaphor can go a punishingly long way.) Well, let me use one blog (J-Two-O) to reveal what I look for… For you, yes, for you things might could be different.

Endo or Exoskeleton, I Need Some Scaffolding, Fella
I am harried guy. I’ve got six plates, two cups, and a knife or two or three in the air above by spinning hands and dizzied head. I want to be able to know within seconds what a blog is about. Take J-Two-O; although I may quarrel with the blog’s breadthy purview, I know straight off what I am (speaking ballpark here) in for: “A blog about life, sports, cats and dogs, politics, sex, the joys and frustrations of working at home, and whatever else I feel like writing about.”

Is There a You Behind the It
I also want to get a sense (real or invented) of who’s churning out these posts. In the case of J-Two-O that’s “J.” (J, followed by a period….)

Tasty Treats: for the Mind and for the Eye
Perhaps it’s the business writing teacher in me. Perhaps it’s the harried dude. Whomever is doing the talking, that person says: “give me headings or give me death.” And give me headings that zing or tingle or pang me or cause intestinal distress or crinkle me at the crow’s feet.

Here are some J-Two-O headings that did the trick:

•    Are people who use twitter twits?
•    Does size really matter
•    For god and underwear
•    How to lint roll a cat
•    Just say no to men in speedos

Okay, that’s a wrap for this morning. You’ve got better things to do. I’ve got…