bookmark_borderMemories of Florida

Surfside Condominium collapse. Memories of Florida.
Photo by Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. From Wikimedia.

Ah. Memories of Florida.

Building Collapses in Miami on June 24, 2021
After a lifetime of watching movies about the romance of living next to the ocean, I once spent 2 years in Florida. My memories of Florida are somewhat different than those of Johnnie Mathis. It was more like living in a front load washer than a romantic walk alone on a pristine beach silent except for the soft lapping of waves against one’s feet. In addition to monsoon rains and unrelenting hurricanes, the beach is inflicted with sand fleas, scourges of seaweed, jellyfish, and automated skeletons covered with wrinkled and unnaturally brown skin. Memories of Florida.
The tropical climate nourishes an incredible number of insects and reptiles that pervade all buildings and gardens. Trees and plants grow so rapidly, it is easy to feel that they will engulf you if you look away too long.
Once-fabulous ocean-front buildings collapsing is just one of the many wonders of oceanside living. And climate change.
Why Buildings Collapse in Fast Company:

Just after 1 a.m. Thursday, a sudden, unexpected, and devastating structural failure occurred in Surfside, Florida, when a large section of a 12-story condominium building collapsed. A short distance from the shore north of Miami Beach, the Champlain Towers South Condo’s southeast corner simply fell, bringing 55 of the building’s 136 units to the ground in seconds. Security camera footage from a nearby building shows the structure falling straight down, in two separate chunks, as if the ground underneath had slipped away.

bookmark_borderDepressed for No Good Reason

Well, not exactly depressed for no good reason. It’s the fifty-first day of my shelter-in-place sojourn and I finished reading Sarah Kendzior’s Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America this morning. As a specialist, Kendzior explains the development of autocracies and kleptocracies and chronicles all the steps in Donald Trump’s rise to power. Good book but not an upper.

Book cover of Hiding in Plain Sight by Sarah KendziorHiding in Plain Sight is written the way Western journalists write about dictatorships on the other side of the world. Trump is actually incapable of running an autocracy without a lot of help—which unfortunately he has—because it requires more attention than he is willing to give it. But he is a master at kleptocracy, turning everything to his personal gain. He doesn’t look for the silver lining; he wants the whole gold box, full of postmarked honorifics. And is not shy about saying so—to any fellow autocrat in the world who can help him get it. The only good thing about this is that Trump isn’t a good judge of “a fellow” or “not a fellow.”

The tone of Hiding in Plain Sight is immediately apparent. It starts with:

The story of Donald Trump’s rise to power is the story of a buried American history—buried because powerful people liked it that way. It was visible without being seen, influential without being named, ubiquitous without being overt.

The Trump administration is like a reality show featuring villains from every major political scandal of the past forty years—Watergate, Iran-Contra, 9/11, the Iraq War, the 2008 financial collapse—in recurring roles and revivals, despite the widespread desire of the public for the show to be canceled. From Roger Stone to Paul Manafort to William Barr, it is a Celebrity Apprentice of federal felons and disgraced operatives dragged out of the shadows and thrust back into the spotlight—with Donald Trump, yet again, at the helm.

And that is just the beginning. She goes on to say,

The crises of political corruption, organized crime, and endemic racism are all connected, and they shape everyday American life. But in addition to these structural problems, we contend with specific powerful individuals who have acted against the public good for their entire careers. We see the same old men, again and again, vampires feeding on a nation and draining the lifeblood from words like “treason” and “trauma” and “tragedy.” They are buffered by backers who prefer to operate in silence, free from the consequences of scrutiny. There is a reason they call it a criminal underground: you walk over it every day, unaware it exists until the earth shakes below your feet.

The use of words like “treason,” “trauma,” “tragedy,” “apocalyptic,” are not often used by professionally respected American journalists to describe political events in the United States of America. Kendzior’s language is straight on and it was jarring until I had followed her argument for a third of the book. The facts are easily confirmable. I recognized the details of Trump’s life in New York City and the actions taken during his presidency. There is no disputing the facts. But just like the Republicans in his impeachment trial, we have ignored their impact and treated them as belonging to a different world. Trump and friends are “over there somewhere.” As if they were indeed on reality TV — both really happening and not meaning anything because it’s television.

It’s All in Public Records

Kendzior’s sources are public records: speeches, newspapers and journals, think-tank papers, television broadcasts. She is frequently an invited speaker at national conferences and has done hundreds of interviews with statesmen and journalists throughout the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet Bloc. From all sides, the facts are confirmed and still hidden in plain sight. Trump will tell anyone who asks exactly what he did and will do, and he dares anyone to stop him. His weapons are denial and falsehood. There are no secrets.

A funnier story about this occurred during an interview with Rachel Maddow by Stephen Colbert. The most recent story was about Trump trying to blackmail the President of Ukraine.  Colbert asked, Well since your signature style is to tell the story behind the news, how does it feel to be upstaged by Trump who told the story himself? Maddow laughed and responded, And when you ask him if he did it, he says yes. Nothing to even investigate!

The unique importance of Kendzior’s work is that she lays out all the facts, connects the dots,  and exposes the advantages of Trump’s actions for himself and his family. And going further, she explains their dangers to democracy. Even more disturbing, she details situations where journalists and government agencies could have taken action and explicitly refused to. Agency heads buried evidence and fired people whose investigations resulted in illegal and even treasonous activities. Russian assets* infiltrated agencies with no greater prosecution than being fired.  The FBI made announcements that aided in Trump’s reelection while withholding information about their investigations into him.

The saddest for me was the New York Times. I tend to trust the Times implicitly. If they print it, they have confirmed it. If they don’t print it, it isn’t real. I was shaken by the Judith Miller and Iraq War fiasco confirming Bush administrations assertion that the premise for the war had been confirmed. Iraq had the partss to construct nuclear weapons. Ultimately, they fired her and admitted the fault but it was months before they questioned her sources.  I eventually recovered but now Kendzior indicts the Times again.

Kendzior reveals many situations in which the Times, along with government agencies, watchdog organizations, regulatory agencies, public officials, news programs, and others who had the proof and explicitly refused to publish it. Kendzior names the names and gives the dates, and lists her sources. She isn’t optimistic about the future and isn’t sure that Trump won’t be elected again, but understanding the condition of our democracy and our nation is vital if we want to dig ourselves out—if it is still possible.

*Assets is used instead of operatives or spies because the individuals are not in the employment of a foreign government. They are people who could be blackmailed or gain other benefits from the foreign country receiving internal information.

 

Sarah Kendzior is best known for her reporting on St. Louis, her coverage of the 2016 election, and her academic research on authoritarian states. She is currently an op-ed columnist for the Globe and Mail and she was named by Foreign Policy as one of the “100 people you should be following on Twitter to make sense of global events.” Her reporting has been featured in many publications, including Politico, Slate, The Atlantic, Fast Company, The Chicago Tribune, TeenVogue, and The New York Times.
“[Kendzior’s] book documents Trump’s ‘decades-long erosion of American stability, integrity, and democracy.’ I recommend it, especially if you have any doubt about what’s at stake in this year’s presidential election.”
Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist

 

bookmark_borderCoronavirus Counting Game, Watching the News

Watching the News Coronavirus Counting Game

It will make watching the news worth it when there isn’t any.

  1. Which journalists have books on their walls? Or paintings? Or photographs? Or certificates?
  2. How many books by Stephen King can you count? By Rachel Maddow? About Trump?
  3. How many mix fiction and nonfiction? New and old?
  4. And do you see any old books?
  5. Percentage of unadorned white walls to bookshelves?
  6. Are certificates framed, mounted on wood, or just taped to the wall?
  7. Who is doing their own makeup and who is happy doing without?
  8. Who has introduced their children? Pets? Partners? How many times?
  9. Who has figured out that unless they raise their laptops up to eye level they will look like gargantuan monsters peering down into a deep pit?
  10. Who has changed their backdrop? More interesting or less?
  11. Who has the greatest number of photographs on their shelves? More than books? Any books? Any photographs?
  12. Who has the slowest internet connection?

For Extra Credit: Coronavirus Counting Game Predictions

  1. When will kitchen tables and lounge chairs begin appearing?
  2. How long will everyone’s hair get? Who will get a Blackmarket haircut first?
  3. What new books will begin appearing on shelves?
  4. How soon will they stop pretending to dress up and appear as is?
  5. Who will miss their spot first because they are taking a nap?

bookmark_borderComprehending Time, Passing Through a Wall

Typographical image of 70 75 76

 

Explaining to a seven-year-old how to tell when 5 hours had passed, I pointed to the clock. No, she said. I know how to tell time, but I don’t comprehend it. How long is it? What can I do in five hours?

I was almost 70 then and I couldn’t comprehend time either. Hours, yes. But I was in the decades. How long my life had been—how long anything had been. What had I done with all the time? Was it really that much time? More than a year later, I still felt like I must be lying when I said I was 70, but that was the only answer I had. I was stuck with it.

At 75, I began to believe that I was over 70 — probably over 70, still with a doubt. I became convinced firstly, by practicing saying it and thinking about it, and secondly, when notified that I had to have a doctor’s note to renew my driver’s license. That made it tangible. I now had to stand in the other line, live by different rules. See the footnote. Or even look for a different website.

But still, it was just something that required more paperwork, and deciding whether it was good or bad to allow people to race over to pick up things for me. And wondering if I was dropping things more or just noticing how far it was to the floor.

Comprehending Time as Age

I was 76  before I comprehended time as age. I had baked the Thanksgiving turkey for 25 and made soup the next day. Had I really done this 40 or more times? Had my birthday happened in the middle as usual, largely unnoticed for the 76th time?

As grey December began, as usual, I became reclusive, thinking about changing my life—or whether life was changing me? It was now possible to calculate how many years I had left, how many good years. What did I want to accomplish? What should I stop doing so I could focus and have a chance of finishing something? I had been secluded for a week not talking to anyone and canceling out on four social events at the last minute, three on consecutive days. People were beginning to ask.

I still didn’t want to go out to dinner or gift exchanges or watch meaningful theater. I was even out of sorts with MSNBC, my background of white noise. The week ended and calling for takeout was still too much interaction. What would become of me? Should I just give up and be old? Just stay by myself and do all my predictable and loved things—writing, knitting, reading, making paper flowers, avoiding daily cooking, and avoiding exercise (at all costs). I had some months past lost the automatic habit of getting dressed in the morning. It was a decision I now made later in the day depending on whether I planned to go out or not. Increasingly, I didn’t.

Passing Through a Wall

Lost in all of this, a grey wall flooded into my view. Not a stone wall or a brick wall but a wall of translucent photographs—mostly people, anonymous but not ominous. One face blurring into another in the layers of grey mist. The wall was moving like images in videos that slide off to the left or right to reappear from the top or bottom. Its length dissolved into a distant vanishing point. The wall was deep, layers of faces and spaces. It was as if Rod Stewart might stand up and say This is the Twilight Zone. And then he did. But he didn’t say anything.

In seconds, the pervious wall engulfed me and disappeared behind me. I was on the other side. Rod Stewart was gone.

Rather suddenly I felt less unbalanced and less unsure. More accepting but still tentative. I was left sitting comfortably aside from the Sturm und Drang. I was on the other side. There was time to be more concerned about the downfall of democracy. It wasn’t arrogance or grandiosity that was pushing me to be concerned about understanding the meaning of the principles of freedom and equality. What is safe? What is fair? Was there anything that would promise movement in a hope-worthy direction?

I became less repentant about leaving dirty dishes on the kitchen counter. It was my counter.

The bell had rung. I could never go back. But it didn’t feel like a problem, more like a release. But life felt different. As if I had graduated from something, or to something.

 

 

Cover of Elderhood by Louise Aronson

Of course, I went looking for a book that would explain where I was now that I had landed on the other side of the curtain.

I found Elderhood by Louise Aronson. It’s written about her experiences working in the medical field with elderly patients but she rises above the identification of elderly with dying. Her perspective is that the elderly are in a stage of life that often comes with infirmities that need to be accommodated, but they do not define who the person is or how they experience life.

 

bookmark_borderThe best music video ever made: Viewing Grand Rapids


Roger Ebert ranked this of “Views of Grand Rapids” the best music video ever made. After Newsweek pronounced the city one of the top ten dying the cities in the nation, residents sang and danced back.
This world-record setting 9+ minute lip dub features every willing resident of Grand Rapids and they sing, dance, and move in formation to Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie. In the background is Grand Rapids—probably all of it— including parks, office buildings, rivers, fire trucks, gymnasts and cheerleaders, guitar players of all ages and sizes, kyakers, a pick up football game in the street, marching band, swing dancers, car dealers, bands, and a mass pillow fight. Eminently viewable, multiple times. Watching it more than five times in a row is probably excessive — but who cares?

What’s the point?

I’m going to have to be the pismire here and say that while it’s entertaining, I’m not sure it’s great marketing – I got to the end and wasn’t sure what the point was.  — Comment on YouTube

The best kind of marketing there is. Marketing is about creating desire for your product. It’s entertaining and amazing. It makes you feel good. You want to see it over and over to hear that song and see all those people singing it. And figure out how they did it.

And in the background is Grand Rapids. Who knew what Grand Rapids looked like? Now “everyone” does. They will never hear “Grand Rapids”  or hear “Bye Bye Miss American Pie” again without seeing images of happy, healthy people having fun under blue skies in pristine cityscapes. If all these people could pull this off, Grand Rapids has to be a great place to live.
People will be going to Grand Rapids to visit the site — it will become a destination. If they have a job offer in Grand Rapids they will be more likely to go. Better than a home office in a less hip place. Any organization or business in Grand Rapids can have a great website by linking to the YouTube video. Current residents will be reenergized and proud — if they aren’t in the video, they will know someone who was. Everyone in Grand Rapids is now famous.

How the video was made:


bookmark_borderPattern in Islamic Art

Grand Mosqée de Paris, 1926
Grand Mosqée de Paris, 1926
Pattern in Islamic Art is an online archive of over 5,000 beautiful Islamic patterns. Images sortable by museum, monument, region, town, materials used (ceramic tiles, plasterwork, wood, etc.), or by architectural feature (decorative panel, doors & doorways, lattice-work, etc.) Excellent images and documentation.
Images are also available in prints.
The image above is from Pattern in Islamic Art:
Grand Mosquée de Paris
This mosque was founded in 1926 and built in recognition of the 100,000 Muslim soldiers from French colonies who gave their lives during World War I. Designed in a Neo-Mudejar style, with contributions from both Morocco and Algeria.

bookmark_borderLearn WordPress

Chalkboard with a Lesson
Learning WordPress has just become easier. WordPress has launched a new site, Learn WordPress, directed at WordPress.com users, those whose site is hosted by WordPress. WordPress.com sites are free and have limited but often adequate features. You then pay WordPress people to fix and refine your site if it needs it, or to add more features.
I host sites on my server independently of the WordPress.com site, using the same software but with higher capability and more options. But understanding those options can be confusing. That is exactly why Learn WordPress is helpful. It explains the basics without confusing you with all the possibilities and pitfalls and things you may never want or need to know.

Learn WordPress Concepts

The first key to learning anything is understanding the concept, the idea. What does this do? What is it? And how does it work?  The Learn WordPress website gives you the essentials in Plain English — a rare commodity as soon  as anyone says, “software.”
In addition to help when you are starting from basics, some pages will always be useful. The Glossary explains blogs, carousels, categories, pages and posts, responsive themes, etc.  Get Flashy explains widgets, the little boxes that can be added to sidebar to add images, slide shows, search boxes, subscription forms, etc.
The Get Configured page lists resources to find images. Images are very important on websites and the perfect images takes time to find. It can be useful to find the images you want to use without paying  by the hour for a designer to look for them.

Testing WordPress

It might also be helpful to set up a WordPress.com site for yourself as a test, even if you are going to hire me to design and host your site. It’s a good way to learn so you can update your contact information and text  information quickly and less expensively after I set up the site.  Then I can manage the software upgrades, add capabilities, do monthly maintenance, and trouble shoot.
Logo from WP Beginner
If you intend to take over your site completely this is a good site for leaning how to manage it: WPBeginner: A Beginner’s Guide for WordPress.
 

bookmark_borderPerfect Profile Pictures

Not Just for Dating Anymore

Cartoon-Style Drawing of an AngelWith the growth of social media for networking, the profile picture has become a major decision for anyone who participates. Which picture will people click on in LInkedIn? Who will follow me in Twitter? Am I turning people off with my stern look on Facebook? Is my smiley smile too smiley? What do I do with my eyes? What should I wear.
On OKCupid, “the Google of Online Dating,” the profile picture had 90% greater influence than the profile text. Even if you aren’t looking for a date, they are still very important. I’ve never, for example, followed person without a profile picture unless I already knew them (and wanted to connect).
There is a solution on BufferSocial, Thoughts on sharing, creating, analyzing and converting with social media. Kevan Lee reports on the research into the science and psychology of profile pictures in “The Research & Science Behind Finding Your Best Profile Picture.” People actually study this!

The Highlights

Definitely read this article if you want to understand why but these are the top recommendations:

  1. Smile with teeth
  2. Dark-colored suits, light colored buttondowns
  3. Jawline with a shadow
  4. Head-and-shoulders, or head-to-waist photo
  5. Squinch
  6. Asymmetrical composition
  7. Unobstructed eyes

And things to avoid:

  • Hats
  • Sunglasses
  • Hair, glare, and shadows over the eyes
  • Laughing smile
  • Sexiness

So now you know. If you doubt these recommendations, Lee explains how the research was done including all the statistics, graphs, and test pictures. Interesting results: Women get more attention making eye contact with the camera; men receive more avoiding eye contact. Women can be more flirty and men definitely not.  Men don’t even do well smiling!

Guy Kawasaki’s four keys:

  1. Faces only. No family, friends, dogs, logos, etc.
  2. Asymmetrical. Use the Rule of Thirds to create your profile picture
  3. Face the light. The source of light should come in front of you.
  4. At least 600 pixels wide. There are varying shapes and sizes of profile pictures on social media. A 600-pixel image will look great no matter where it’s viewed.

The Rule of Thirds

Draw a Tic Tac Toe grid on the picture. Put key elements on the intersections and avoid putting a key element, like your eyes, in the center square. More info at 3.7 Designs.
The OKCupid page with profile pictures of the staff is an excellent example of profile pictures that meet these recommendations — although not all of them. Those that don’t stand out.
There is more but I found this enough to build high anxiety over why people aren’t clicking on my posts.

bookmark_borderMajestic: Analyzing Links

Majestic describes themselves as “The planet’s largest Link Index database.” What they know is a lot more than I know, for sure. What they can tell you for only one of their services is how many links there are to your site and how many of them are “good links.” Good links come from sites with real content. Bad link come from link mills that only link to a lot of sites to drive traffic to their own site — where they sell various, probably worthless services or stuff.

Improve Your SEO

The reason you want good links is because they help you in search engines — Bing, Google, Yahoo, etc. There are many general search engines and some specialized ones.
Majestic also provides pie charts and data on the kind of links — text, images, etc. — and which pages are linked most often. This can be important information. Some of the pages that are linked most often are ones I had forgotten I had posted. I had to go look them up to see what was most important to my readers!

bookmark_borderSearch Engine Optimization, SEO Tools

What is SEO, Search Engine Optimization?

“Search engine optimization” is a fancy way to describe methods that help search engines find your site. This site, SharonVillines.com, is the place where I put things I don’t want to forget—and probably will unless I write them down. I’m not concerned about the world’s ability to find this site, but more concerned about my ability to find the stuff I store on it. And for whatever reason, your ability to find it.
Thus the assortment here appears to a search engine to have a lack of focus. That means it is highly unlikely to find its way to the top of any search except my name. Thus this site is probably the worst example of best practices SEO you could find.
I do care about SEO on my other sites, however, and on the sites I design. I try to keep up with best practices. Solid SEO with no tricks. Tricks like keyword stuffing will get you Banned in Boston. Deep-sixed in search engine land. Think page three where no one goes.

SEO Simplified for Short Attention Spans

All that to say I found an excellent article today on SEO on the TNW site,  “SEO Simplified for Short Attention Spans.” It is a short (by website design standards) explanation of SEO. It’s written by Barry Feldman (on Twitter) of FeldmanCreative, a content marketing consultant, copywriter, social media advisor.
It includes very clear explanations and good illustrative examples. Check out the article for understanding SEO. What I wanted to remember here are the tools Feldman lists for checking the SEO of my sites and yours.

Three Must-Have SEO Tools

To practice, study, and check search engine optimization, Feldman recommends three free must-have SEO tools for beginners and experts alike:

  • Google AdWords Keyword Planner—Supplies keyword search data and ideas.
  • Open Site Explorer by Moz—Tracks your website’s link profile against competitors, identifies top pages, shows social activity data, and more.
  • MozBar—On Chrome and Firefox browsers, helps determine how difficult it is to rank for specific keywords. (I haven’t used this so I can’t explain how you use it. But it sounds like a good thing.)

So that’s the daily don’t-forget-this update. Not quite as exciting as popcorn but you can’t have everything.