Potpourri, June 18th (2013 edition)

[Continuing in what seems to have become an annual June 18 tradition, of commenting about whatever the heck I want to…]

[Video: Neil Gaiman signs 1200 copies of his newest novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.]

Medium-lukewarm: I’m still posting occasionally over at Medium. (Most recently, a brief appreciation of Carl Sagan.) But I still don’t get it, quite. The first time I posted there — the “Scribbling Books” piece — was right after receiving the invitation to contribute to Medium. My medium.com 'stats' page, as of the morning of June 18, 2013Within an hour or two of its posting, I got an email reporting that the thing had made a list of Editor’s Picks.

Exciting news, right? It certainly boosted the page’s view count (see image at right; click to enlarge.) And yet (as you can also glean from the image) there was little if any spillover to subsequent posts. I have no way to figure out why the drop-off, alas. All the possible reasons I can think of are sobering, if not depressing. If a post makes either the Editor’s Picks list, or a similar list of those most recommended by other Medium readers, you apparently can count on some good exposure. Otherwise…

Because of the way Medium is organized — very little information about those posting there — aside from their thumbnail photos (and, of course, the topics they choose to address) there is no way to know with any certainty the context in which they write. How old/young are they? What other sites, even what other Medium writers, do they read most often? (No blogrolls.) On what posts have they commented?

I can sorta tell that most of them are young, probably under 40 years of age. They tend to have professions rather than jobs. They’re politically astute. It’s almost charming how willingly they offer life advice: I’ve read numerous posts which begin, not in so many words, something like: Now that I’m 30 years old, I can say with assurance that X is true (whatever the X of the moment). I wonder if I ever had such confidence. (Probably not.)

Monkeys: Today’s Writer’s Almanac e-newsletter features this poem:

To Help the Monkey Cross the River,

which he must
cross, by swimming, for fruits and nuts,
to help him
I sit with my rifle on a platform
high in a tree, same side of the river
as the hungry monkey. How does this assist
him? When he swims for it
I look first upriver: predators move faster with
the current than against it.
If a crocodile is aimed from upriver to eat the monkey
and an anaconda from downriver burns
with the same ambition, I do
the math, algebra, angles, rate-of-monkey,
croc- and snake-speed, and if, if
it looks as though the anaconda or the croc
will reach the monkey
before he attains the river’s far bank,
I raise my rifle and fire
one, two, three, even four times into the river
just behind the monkey
to hurry him up a little.
Shoot the snake, the crocodile?
They’re just doing their jobs,
but the monkey, the monkey
has little hands like a child’s,
and the smart ones, in a cage, can be taught to smile.

(Thomas Lux [source])

Oh, to know which target to aim at…

Department of Conspicuous Consumption: So, The Missus has offered to get me a tablet device. All other considerations aside, for me this really boils down to a question of…

Well, it’s like Facebook. You know how everybody started getting on Facebook, and they’d say things like And you can do X, Y, and Z, and then you can do X and Z together, and… etc.? The big question back then was: Well, okay, but why would I want to do X, Y, and Z at all???

This is the same question I ask myself on the getting-a-tablet front. Of course, just as with Facebook, I can easily see myself no longer asking that question after a few months’ use.

Answer hazy. Try again later.

Sparkle someone else’s eyes: I’ve had a weird fascination for the 1970 song “American Woman” ever since I first heard it. It’s got a very distinctive sound — what the heck is that buzzing effect, anyhow? is that just a weirdly fuzzed-up electric guitar? — and its lyrics, as I thought then, were nicely incisive. But then I found out that the Guess Who — the band who recorded it — were Canadian… which really added some punch: this wasn’t just an American band, this was how outsiders see us. A lightbulb-over-the-head moment.

[Below, click Play button to begin American Woman. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 5:10 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

One further association with the song probably didn’t hurt its appeal for me:

The high school I attended had an annual spring tradition, called Sports Night, which pitted two teams of girls against each other in a variety of contests of one kind or another. These teams were named after the school colors, which were maroon and white, and (as I recall) girls remained with one team or the other for the entire four years of high school. For one such contest — at least that year — each team had to perform a group dance to a contemporary song. I favored the Maroon team, because all the girls I had multiple overlapping secret crushes on (crushes I’d nurtured for years) were Maroons. And guess which song they danced to? Yeah. I believe it was, in those pre-music video days, the first time I’d ever seen young women do anything so, well, sexy as members of a coordinated ensemble — certainly do it and get away with it. A lot of fanning of the self took place among the teenaged boys in the bleachers that night.

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  1. Now that I’m (almost) 40, I can tell you that Medium appears to do all that they can to randomize the discovery of content.

    I can’t figure out how to consistently locate, follow, or bookmark the writings I find there, beyond recommending them, or sharing on Twitter. My need to bookmark then becomes a Great Social Vote when all I really want is to have that blogroll or RSS feed and return to read it again later.

    Now that I’m not 30, I find this non-arrangement of content less convenient, and I struggle to write the perfect, pithy profile summation which would indicate the latent genius that I expect will become a reality by the time I’m 41, and which would also prove I’m not a doddering elder wishing there was some kind of order.

    Though I really just like things to be in order.

    Something like that.

    Here’s the frustrating rabbit hole I keep running into: I click on the Twitter link provided (if they provide one) and I go to their profile and then click on the website link provided on that profile (if they provide one) and I end up on some about.me page which then sends me to their Twitter or Medium profile. What kind of madness is this? Spill their guts online, but unwilling to identify whose guts.

    I can’t wait until I’m 50.

    • Part of the problem with finding stuff on Medium, for me, anyhow — and so far, anyhow — is that the site buries its own metadata in the context of Medium entries by this or that kind soul. No site map (that I’ve found). No standard “About Us” page. No “Medium Support” area. I love that it’s all about the words, or whatever the slogan is; but the rigorous absence of structure means that you can’t necessarily find the words you really want to read, without perhaps just happening to find a link to them in something you perhaps wanted to read a little bit less. Carefree serendipity: always a fun way to kill a Sunday afternoon, say. A ten-minute break while you’re waiting for a callback from a client, not so much.

      I did see mention of how to build an RSS feed URL… ah, yes, here it is: it’s in a note which another user posted to someone’s complaint about there being no RSS feed. You can do it for collections or authors. And — why not? — the explanation itself isn’t posted on Medium, but in a Tweet to which the note links. Short form: create a feed to a collection OR an author using a URL like this:
      where KEY is the author’s Medium account (i.e., their Twitter “@ name,” including the @) or the compressed form of the collection name. So a feed for your Medium posts would be at:
      and a feed for my collection of maunderings would be:
      (The collection name displays on the site as “Maundering, All Right?” But I’d changed it from the original “Maundering. Me. So?” — and the collection URL apparently never changes.)

      Circular anonymity: Medium profile > Twitter profile > generic blog “About Me” page > Facebook home (closed to all but friends)…

      You may come to regret having composed that final sentence. At least without including at least one “(almost).” But somebody needs to invent a line of fortune cookies which say such things.

      • I should have said: there IS a category/collection called “Medium Help Center” (posting by invitation only, presumably limited to Medium staff). It’s at:
        Again, though, the information there is all in the form of more or less informal Medium posts. Take the Medium FAQ, for example, at:
        (Dig that crazy URL!) It’s good that such a thing exists, and can of course be updated from time to time. But the questions don’t seem arranged in any particular way except (I guess) the order in which the author thought of them. And there’s no standard bulleted/numbered list of questions at the very top of the post, even an unstructured one: you can’t just read the questions and follow a hyperlink to an answer below (probably because there’s no way yet of defining a named anchor in a post, since we can’t edit the HTML and there’s no widget-ish device to do so). You’ve got to scroll through the whole post, reading the boldface questions.

        (And how about that? The “how do I build an RSS feed?” information is there: item #8.)

        Sigh. I guess I should be more patient. It’s still in beta, right? or maybe it’s up to gamma now.

      • I think it’s going to be like Gmail, which was in beta for 35 years.

        Beta covers a multitude of sins, including an FAQ section that confuses.

        I am, however, going to set up some RSS feeds. Thanks for those links.

  2. Hyocynth says:

    Regarding American Woman: although I never partook of the Sports Night mania, I made enough tissue flowers for the floats that I felt I was a part. Our sister was a Maroon. She had to do a dance number to that song as well. She could Not roll her hips to get the desired effect at one point and I had to show her how to do it. I recall dancing in front of the huge round vanity mirror upstairs trying to get her “loosened up” in order to do it. I’m not sure I appreciate the memory or not!


  1. […] man’s reach vs. his grasp: Last year, I claimed to still be posting occasionally at Medium. A tally of my output there shows that I […]

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