How the next apocalypse will be caused by this instance of science run amuck
I suppose we can thank Wired magazine for adding "technology entreprenuer-heros" to Number Two above. I love Wired magazine, and I'd really love to write for Wired, but I gotta tell you, the feeling that I'd have to include some variant of Number Two in every story I'd query makes me hold my nose and write for my blogs instead. I wonder if Wired deliberately chose this narrative path, a variant of the cyberpunk anti-hero cowboy, jacked-in to the system, or if it fell into it with the tech boom. It's been copied by other entreprenuer-hero magazines ad nauseum (Fast Company, Business 2.0).
So if mainstream media is screwing up its coverage of science and producing pathetic science writing, I'd hope bloggers, many working in technology fields, would do something to correct the larger error in their mainstream narratives.
This is for those bloggers who enter these spaces not to write endlessly about themselves, but rather, to use their blogs as a way to SHARE what they find interesting in the world, to say "Hey, lookee here!" and let their blogs be a way to interact with the wonder and silliness and oddness and create or enter watercooler conversations about these things (Boing Boing has too much oddness and not enough conversation, if you ask me).
Translating science into something relevant and understandable to a wider audience could bring real joy to bloggers who love and are fascinated with science, even if they've had to face the fact that most jobs in science don't allow them to indulge very much of the wonder that first drew them to the field. Yeah, I'm talking Popular Mechanics readers, Wired readers, sure, but ANY workshop tinkerer, ANYONE who loves to read and engage with how things work. Science is NOT impossible arcana. It can be accessible to those who don't have precise disciplinary specializations.
Just as I preach the need for public intellectuals in the Blogosphere, I also hope this space can help popular interdisciplinary science to thrive, so that it becomes an avocation that doesn't stop when you discard your childhood chemistry set, or rock tumblers, or that fun build-it-yourself radio kit.
Yeah, that was me as a kid. Somewhere along the line, someone in school (maybe me) decided my aptitudes ran toward the humanities (they surely do), but I never fell out of love with science and curiosity and a desire to invent. I know there's others out there like me.
Michael Bugeja has some advice below for would-be science writers, and by extension, bloggers. Bloggers have an opportunity to do mainstream media one better, because they don't have the commercial imperatives of advertisers to force every science story into one of those three godawful narratives. Bloggers are expanding this world of discourse, so I'm hoping they can expand on these narrow-minded science story templates.
But if bloggers excerpt and condense these stories, they run the same risks as journalists. They can reduce things to sound bites, decontextualize, and oversimplify just as badly.
I direct a journalism program at a science-oriented university where
my colleagues are modern-day alchemists, turning corn into fuel,
conjuring twisters in wind tunnels, or morphing visitors at our virtual
reality lab into plant cells during photosynthesis.
These professors rank among the most ingenious, passionate people I have ever met.
Put some of them in front of a reporter, however, and all bets are off.
Being misquoted in the media is commonplace, especially when the
topic concerns science. Depending on the error, a quotation out of
context can catapult a scientist into the national spotlight where the
person gets to clarify the remarks and do it again, only this time for
a mass audience.
Journalists, of course, are partly to blame for overselling science.
True, big national newspapers and broadcast outlets have seasoned
correspondents. Science happens everywhere, including college towns
like mine, Ames, Iowa, where agricultural biotechnology is on display
in fields and on shelves of supermarkets. Many reporters who cover
science do not fully grasp it, interviewing sources with polar
viewpoints on genetically modified products or exotic animal diseases.
My colleagues diagnose mad cows. Reporters love mad cows because the
beasts in question have or do not have the disease. Better yet, we eat
on average 67 pounds of beef annually per person, ensuring the story
will be read. But the science of immunohistochemistry to test for
bovine spongiform encephalopathy at the U.S. Department of Agriculture
laboratory is, on occasion, an arcane topic for the reporter who also
does restaurant reviews.
To put this into perspective, consider this: The scientist who
visited my university and who reportedly made that comment happens to
be the same person who wrote the essay, titled, “Creation Myths: What
scientists don’t — and can’t — know about the world” in the journal In
Character. His name is Robert Hazen, author of the extraordinary book, Gen-e-sis: The Scientific Quest for Life’s Origins, and a professor of earth science at George Mason University.
Read Hazen’s book, if you haven’t already. When you do, you realize that his comment as reported in the Ames Tribune
actually is based on the molecular fossil record. Most reviews of his
work note how fair and balanced his theories actually are.
You can’t deduce that, however, by reading the 387 words in the
story about his talk at Iowa State University on February 3, 2006. You
need to glean the 339 pages in Hazen’s hard cover book.
And in this numerical comparison is also the problem at hand.
Bites from Books
Below are some of the most influential books that helped shape a century of science, according to The American Scientist,
the magazine of the Scientific Research Society. To illustrate my
point, I have reduced each work’s premise or conclusion into a sound
bite — an excerpt taken out of context — [...]
What would be the outcome, I wondered, if reporters attended
lectures by authors of these great books, quoting them out of context
in the year of publication, given the social mores of those times?
Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception & Heaven and Hell
(1954): “Although obviously superior to cocaine, opium, alcohol and
tobacco, mescaline is not yet the ideal drug. Along with the happily
transfigured majority of mescaline takers there is a minority that
finds in the drug only hell or purgatory” (p. 66).
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man (1959):
“[M]an is seen not as a static centre of the world—as he for long
believed himself to be — but as the axis and leading shoot of
evolution, which is something much finer” (p. 36).
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (1962): “Future historians
may well be amazed by our distorted sense of proportion. How could
intelligent beings seek to control a few unwanted species by a method
that contaminated the entire environment and brought the threat of
disease and death even to their own kind?” (p. 8.)
Benoit B. Mandelbrot, Fractals (1977): “Why is geometry
often described as ‘cold’ and ‘dry’? One reason lies in its inability
to describe the shape of a cloud, a mountain a coastline, or a tree.…
Mathematicians have disdained this challenge, however, and have
increasingly chosen to flee from nature by devising theories unrelated
to anything we can see or feel” (p. 2).
Jane Goodall, In the Shadow of Man (1988): “Who knows what
the chimpanzee will be like forty million years hence? It should be of
concern to us all that we permit him to live, that we at least give him
the chance to evolve” (p. 252).
Steven Weinberg, Dreams of a Final Theory (1992): “If
there is a God that has special plans for humans, then He has taken
very great pains to hide His concern for us. To me it would seem
impolite if not impious to bother such a God with our prayers” (p. 251).
Denise Schmandt-Besserat, How Writing Came About (1996):
“[W]riting emerged from a counting device.… Each change of reckoning
device — tallies, plain tokens, complex tokens — corresponded to a new
form of economy: hunting and gathering, agriculture, industry” (p. 122).
If you have read these books, you would realize that the above
citations require substantiation. Those excerpts make great pull quotes
in print or sound bites on air. However, taken out of context, they
also provoke as much as inform. That is why I caution scientists to at
least qualify similar remarks with humbler disclaimers, especially if
they believe passionately in their assertions.
[Robert Hazen says]
“So what’s a scientist to do? My approach is to explain three things:
“First, describe what we think we know about the topic (and, if
possible, provide a little background about the measurements and theory
that support that knowledge). How do we arrive at our conclusions?
“Second, explain what we DON’T know about the topic, including the
uncertainties, the controversies, and a sense of how much weight to
place on different ideas. It’s always best to be honest about our
imperfect state of understanding.
“Third, and equally important, explain what we’re doing to find out more.”
According to Dr. Hazen, science is a never-ending adventure.
I feel the same way about journalism.
Michael Bugeja, who directs the journalism school at Iowa State University, is author of Interpersonal Divide: The Search for Community in a Technological Age (Oxford University Press, 2005).
I like the idea of thinking about this, although I don't know if I like the writer's prescription of how to go about it. I don't want to necessarily become a neo-Victorian (thanks Neal Stephenson!) keeping my tidy Commonplace Book (what the devil is a blog, anyway?).
But I do think too many of us read like students and multi-taskers, skimmers, in other words. The beauty of a beach novel is that you can pause after a paragraph and stare into space, ponder an idea the passage raises, reflect, question, argue in the margins. But how many so-called "beach novels" are worthy of such a ponderous approach? But are you ready to take Middlemarch to the beach?!
More appropriate, I think, for blog authors and would-be blog authors, would be to reflect on what makes a piece of writing valuable outside of the moment that spawned it, that might even make it stand up longer, make it stand the test of time.
I had a non-fiction workshop teacher who urged us to think about our long essay-like pieces as an attempt to be THE definitive take on that particular topic. Now how's that for something to shoot for?
Bloggers tend to respond so much to the moment, and there's nothing wrong with that. But Thomas Paine was also responding very much to his moment, and his little pamphlet surely has stood the test of time. We could say the same about Ben Franklin's little aphorisms, or even what he wrote under the throwaway name "Silence Dogood." (Of course Ben Franklin also believed in his own aphorism, "Fart Proudly," which I think conveys both the right degree of irreverence and timeliness about those things we might wish could stand the test of time.)
The demise of print looks as if
it will be a long, drawn-out affair. John Sutherland, the chairman of
last year’s Man Booker Prize Committee, offers an arresting statistic:
Today more novels are published in one week than Samuel Johnson had to
deal with in a decade. As he calculates it in “How to Read a Novel,” it
would take approximately 163 lifetimes to read the fiction currently
available, at the click of a mouse, from Amazon.com.
So what to read? That’s the question. But as Mr. Sutherland’s title
suggests, there’s a second question entangled with the first, addressed
in several new books devoted to the lost art of reading. It’s a
Malthusian problem. The amount of printed material increases
exponentially, but the time available for reading remains static or, in
many cases, decreases arithmetically. So once we have decided what to
read, the question then becomes, How to read? And the paradoxical
answer is, Much more slowly.
In “Reading Like a Writer” the novelist Francine Prose
shows how to do it. She forces the act of slow reading by singling out
excerpts from her favorite writers and zeroing in on single words, then
sentences, then paragraphs, teasing out the specifics that transmute
raw language into style and an artistically meaningful form. She has a
notion, quite correct in my experience, that all readers start out
slow, savoring individual syllables and words. Gradually, under
pressure, they speed up, consuming more but enjoying and absorbing less.
Reading becomes information processing. The sheer bliss of the
childhood reading experience comes to seem like a lost Eden, recaptured
only in thrilling fits and starts or when time, mercifully, stands
still. Prison and vacation make good readers.
Ms. Prose sets out to rewire the reader’s circuitry and get the
electricity flowing the right way again. She has excellent taste, and
she picks fights, which is fun. She heaps scorn, for example, on the
standard advice that a writer should show rather than tell. She also
admits to a prejudice against using brand names in fiction. It’s the
lazy writer’s way of placing a character or establishing a social
setting. Nothing can date a work more quickly, she writes, “than a
reference to a brand of bed linen that no longer exists.”
This argument raises an intriguing question. Balzac and Dickens did
not rely on brand names, but they did minutely describe clothing to
indicate social status and character. Like obsolete brand names, these
styles and, in many cases, the articles of clothing themselves have
become extinct. Only period experts understand the meaning of clothes,
carriages and interior decoration in the world of Turgenev or Flaubert.
What’s a literary realist to do?
These impediments do not figure at all for Edward Mendelson, who
holds seven classic novels up to close moral scrutiny in “The Things
That Matter.” Each book is chosen because it sheds light on a
significant stage in human life, beginning, naturally, with birth (Mary
Shelley’s “Frankenstein”) and ending with death, or at least the uneasy
prospect of a future minus us (Virginia Woolf’s “Between the Acts”). In
between, Mr. Mendelson, a professor of English and comparative
literature at Columbia University, tackles “Wuthering Heights,” “Jane Eyre,” “Mrs. Dalloway,” “Middlemarch” and ‘To the Lighthouse.”
All seven novels are by women. Three, perversely, are by one author,
Woolf. Mr. Mendelson defends his choices in a rather sophistical
introduction, but then gets right down to the heavy work of close
reading. He can be oppressively earnest. “The Things That Matter” can
seem like an endless sermon or a higher form of Cliffs Notes (“ ‘Jane
Eyre’ records a journey out of a childish world into an adult one and a
journey out of inequality and into equality”), but the author’s shovel
work generally turns up riches. He takes the reader deep into the moral
universe of his authors and pulls together thematic threads with
extraordinary skill. He is a good reader. Not my kind of reader,
perhaps, but he thinks books are important and reads them as if his
life depended on it.
So do the 55 contributors to “You’ve Got to Read This Book!” That’s
how excited they are about “the book that changed their life.” They
need an exclamation point to express it.
There’s something profoundly depressing about seeing “The Seven
Habits of Highly Effective People” listed as someone’s No. 1
life-changing reading experience. But so it was for Lisa Nichols,
described as “a motivational speaker, personal coach and the founder
and C.E.O. of Motivating the Teen Spirit.” Uplift and go-to-it
entrepreneurship trump Virginia Woolf and George Eliot, although a few
fiction titles, like “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “A Tree Grows in
Brooklyn,” make the grade. Otherwise it’s “The Science of Getting Rich”
and “How to Make Millions With Your Ideas.” Maybe the Europeans are
right about us, after all.
I got to writing a comment over at Dan Greenfield's blog late last night, and something up and bit me while writing it, so I've decided to repost the lengthy comment here, with a bit from Dan's original post as a set up from the dialogue I was entering.
BTW, Dan is a PR professional who is also Vice President for Corporate Communications at Earthlink. I met him for the first time about a month ago at a meeting of the Atlanta Media Bloggers.
Does your corporateblog keep you up at night? Are you anxious about starting one? Do you feel “inadequate” because you don’t know what RSS and tagging are?
Well look no further because I have the cure for you. Accept no substitutes. Guaranteed to work or your money back.
I think many who blog or want to blog have,
at times, felt much of the former and wished even more for the latter –
a miraculous remedy with secret ingredients to cure our social media
I am here to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, as if you didn’t already
know; there is no such thing as the tooth fairy or Santa Claus, and any blogging cure-all is bound to be just a case of blogging snake oil.
is hard work – from trying to figure out whether to write, then what to
write and then how often to write -- despite what so-called experts may
say. Embracing transparency, candor and personal
expression on a regular basis is stress producing even in a corporate
culture that supports it. And hiring someone to write your blog for you will never generate the passion you need to succeed.
So what do you really need to know to be a successful blogger? How much technical expertise do you need to have? How technical should your blog be? What does it take to be an expert? How can you tell a pretender from the real thing?
For some answers, I sought out some seasoned bloggers to get their perspective on what it takes to be an expert.
Here is what I wrote for a reply (among others who also replied). Note: I am not one of the experts Dan was soliciting. [grin]
I'm seeing some kind of movements and counter-movements in
cybercultures and communities, sort of like pendulum swings online, and
the sort of distinctive signature styles when different cultures seem
to dominate the spaces (I've been studying cybercultures since 1993,
dunno if that makes me an expert, but that's what I've been working at).
So online, even without oil, some of the boom-bust character swings
affect people's personalities online, how they act in different
From early 1994 to about 1996, the Web was a place for true believers,
Kool-Aid drinkers, folks migrating over from Usenet and listservs,
MOOs, IRC, wonky folks, techie folks, but folks accustomed to
communities and dialogues, often combative dialogues. These were people
who were likely to have been veterans of some famous flame wars in this
community or that community. They looked upon people with AOL.com email
addresses with suspicion [grin].
Many in those days were working very hard to try to make web-based
communications less one-way, less monologic. They wanted interactive
"sites," places to anchor real communities.
While I was focusing an ethnography on one such community, there was a
shift online, as the boom picked up speed with an influx of cash. New
stereotypical online characters entered the mix, some as out of place
as the AOL.com email addresses were when they first ventured into real
and intense online forums.
Sort of like when a rich Texan shows up in some small town and walks
around in a big hat and tries to buy up everything without really
knowing what he's buying. Or like when the Pipeline folks showed up in
Alaska and started shipping their own labor into the state (huh, many
of them Texans).
Things get nutty in Alaska in boomtime. Not many zoning laws, so strip
malls go up every which way, in a frenzy (I know one town was about a
mile wide and 10 miles long). People put septic tanks too close to
lakes. The locals shake their heads and wonder why no one seems to have
any sense. Friends get rich overnight and start doing lots of cocaine.
I think people's characters get revealed as much in times of plenty as
in times of hardship. It's like a little test the universe gives us.
Things got a bit nutty online too. Folks who'd never been in real
online communities showed up. Many came from the world of old media,
where a lot of money lived in big piles. They thought about the media
landscape in terms of one-way communication instead of interactive
Oh, and sort of like when the white Europeans showed up in North
America and claimed to have "discovered" this big empty continent and
neglected to notice that the Native Americans were already there? These
late 1990s arrivals just sort of showed up in cyberspace, started
bulldozing and putting up their strip malls every which way, with no
regard at all for what was there before them (that would require
something like dialogue to be taking place, a rather alien concept for
But that big old party went bust, and about the only good thing about
it was that those fair-weather folks took a powder pretty quick. Who
was left? People who had a REASON to be there, because it was where
their friends were, the communities that shaped and gave identity to
important aspects of their lives. Long before there were dating sites,
people were meeting partners, making friends, having parties, all
through communities online.
Some of us may have felt that we got our old Internet back once those carpet-baggers bugged out.
And in real vital online communities, there were even folks in the late
1990s building home-grown content management systems, precursors to
blogs, to serve up fan fiction, fan artwork, all manner of things to
support forums and other groups.
Blogs were born from communities and bulletin boards, just as much as
they were from web pages. Real communities and bulletin boards, chat
rooms, graphical VR spaces, where the communities existed first, and
the sites that were part of them came second (even Slashdot and
And then blogs began to multiply, and new communities formed up around
many of them. LiveJournal was as hot for teens as MySpace is now.
Dialogue and interaction were the rule, not "blogging success."
You can guess where I'm going here. I'm starting to feel a shift in the
Force (go tell Obi Wan Kenobi!). I feel another boom coming on, mostly
by the shift in the personalities of the spaces, and what their goals
and intentions are. I hear an awful lot more talk about how to bottle
and sell "blogging success" as well as products and company PR, than I
do about real communities, interaction, and dialogue.
I'm hearing more talk about blog metrics and measures than ANY compelling topics of conversation on this blog or that blog.
I'm seeing all kinds of blogs springing up, presuming to play English
teacher of sorts for bloggers (hey, that was my job! I taught English
for 15 years), speaking not in a dialogue as part of a community, but
rather, offering 10 reasons for this, five tips for that, making
pronouncements, prescriptions, all with a one-way voice-of-authority
tone, like "HERE IS WHAT YOU SHALL DO FOR SUCCESS," like someone died
and made that person god, when old-timers around here know they're just
making this stuff up as they go along.
I've taught both regular English and technical and businesss writing,
and it appears to me that bloggers need a whole lot more than formulaic
prescriptions from the land of tech/business writing and SEO nonsense
to "game" the system. (I think I'm inadvertently echoing Plato, who
often whined about the very famous and rich speech and writing teachers
of his time, the Sophists)
For every new blog that's launched, there doesn't have to be a reason
or a community first, any more than Thoreau knew what he was starting
when he just up and went out to Walden and started writing. Sometimes
you know the reason, and sometimes the reason finds you.
What I worry about are gamer blogs, playing word combinations and
titles like they were shaking the dice in Boggle, always with one eye
on their Technorati rank and the blessing of an A-lister.
It seems like there is going to be an avalanche of "fake" bloggers
unleashed onto the Nets, all writing some variant of bland,
characterless imitations of these "how-to-blog" preachers, whilst
earnestly striving to boost their ranks, sell widgets, perhaps become
What is it I'm thinking of, Amway? A pyramid scheme? Everybody must get
blog, but really only the ones who got in early get any real benefit?
Why does it feel like the carpet-baggers have returned?
And why does it feel like they've just "discovered" North America
again, and whoops, there's still no prior inhabitants to dispossess?
I think bloggers need more of what they learned in freshman comp,
instead of business and technical writing, to have a successful blog.
They need to write in a real voice for real audiences. Calculated
rhetoric sounds calculated, just like most of the stuff in Old Media.
I do hope many many people find their voices and soar online in communities and dialogue, where the real energy is.
Wouldn't it be great if it turns out that English teachers are
important after all, even if most of them are paid less annually than
the cars most of their students drive at college?
My fear is that people who maybe would really connect with some
wonderful communities online will get so lost in the surfaces of these
endless sales pitches and proscriptive, prescriptive voices of
authority in this little boomlet that they'll just look at the new
strip malls and shake their heads, do their best Holden Caulfield, and
say, "This is phony. It is not for me."
Egad! Should we start watching for these sell-out bloggers to appear on a spammer-scale? Will machines generate these blogs, these three-links-per fake-promo-link-farm posts, and then massively spam the comments field too?
I mean, direct mail folks (and by extension, spammers) operate under a low low LOW percentage response rate, five percent or something, but they look at that five percent (or whatever the number is) as rock solid, an entitlement that justifies a calculus of MILLIONS, gazillions perhaps, of no-friction messages sent out, just to get that rock solid single digit return on an investment of next-to-nothing.
I believe they think it is a valid method of creating value out of thin air. And by their calculations, it may be, but actually, it destroys far greater values to create that single digit value, in the same way fouling your own well does. They say dogs at least know enough not to defecate where they live, but it is a lesson many humans apparently never learned.
Suppose vast numbers of bloggers accept that blog version of an envelope-stuffing "job" below. Would that be enough of a disruption of the noise-to-signal ratio to disrupt the ecosystem of the blogsophere itself?
Comment spam and trackback spam are disruptive, but marginal (at least now they are, because of CAPCHA, but they were once out-of-control enough to radically turn an interactive space into one-way monologues). Google and Technorati already have a hard time parsing link-farms out of their records. What if it became impossible because humans were conned into becoming willing link-farm agents?
The Turing Test generally holds when it comes to distinguishing humans from machines... but what happens when humans are hired as willingly volunteers to become the machines, because machine-generated spam blogs can technically still be detected (AI not really being good enough yet to simulate uniquely human-style randomness)?
Blogsvertise is looking for bloggers to post their ads:
Blogsvertise.com is looking for bloggers who are
interested in getting paid to post a variety of assigned topic entries
in their already-existing blogs.
Bloggers will be asked to post short entries on a variety of topics,
including three links to an advertiser's website in each entry. You
decide what to write; it is not necessary to endorse the advertiser's
product or service.
Each completed task will pay $10 via Paypal after the entry has been online for 30 days.
This is a great way for bloggers to earn a small income in addition to or instead of featuring pay-per-click advertisements.
Email for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org
I include the addresses above, hoping someone with the capability to spam this person will have at it, as karma for the blogosphere pollution this ridiculous link-whoring will generate.
The blogosphere exists because some bloggers chose to make a stand on integrity, to be REAL in a world increasingly of media marketing-created surfaces, the NON-reality-based universe.
Now those media-marketing types want to remake the blogosphere in their image, to make the world safe for NOTHING BUT mindless promotions of every sort.
I have nothing against honestly using advertising on a blog, nothing at all. I do, however, have a problem with the influx of the direct mail/spamming forces who want to apply math on an absurd scale, in order to create highly questionable returns, and in the end, to ultimately destroy the system by overwhelming the search engines necessary to creating the blogosphere's value.
I remember a time before there were search engines on the web. In 1993 and 1994. Spiders, we called them then, when they first started appearing, Web Crawler and Lycos.
BEFORE search engines. Can you wrap your mind around that concept? It's sort of like imagining the world without nearly-universal electrical service (during this massive heat wave, it brings the point home) . I overheard a news report the other referring to the very IDEA of living without electricity as "primitive."
You know, I about gagged at such utter stupidity. Had this news anchor ever read Victorian literature? Would people in the modern age call Victorians, with their drawing rooms and excruciatingly correct manners and social customs "primitive"?!
Ah, nobody reads much anymore, and they wear their ignorance out in the open without even the good sense to be embarrassed by it. I was on a Jane Austen kick again last night, so I'm filled with outrage.
There can be civilized worlds without electricity, and yes, Virginia, the Web once did exist in its present form without search engines (I'm really not counting Gopher, Archie, and Veronica, because those were tools for the Internet proper, the blinking cursor Internet, which is not to put down their rimportant ole in the development of the Net).
My caution here is that if the "Well" of the Internet becomes so fouled by these entities or agents as to render search engines inoperative, if their scale overwhelms even Google's massive server farms (server farms, good, link farms, bad), we may find ourselves in the same sort of anarchy online as the world would go into without electricity.
But the Blogosphere COULD survive.
What we'd have to do (and maybe this is obvious to old-timers from the 1990s, but I want to make it explicit to newer arrivals) is simply recreate the original purpose of the Blogroll, as a TRUE ROADMAP to what would become an utterly roadless world, a chaotic sea of information and expression.
That, btw, is what made one of the first million-of-hits web sites a success, in 1994. John December's Internet Web Text was a guide for a world without search engines. Because of the carefully-selected value of his travel-agent's guide to the Web, the space became intelligible to people as a landscape, in a way that the blinking cursor and Gopher never could create for most of us.
If glorified link-farm spam comes close to killing the blogosphere, this is something we will have to do as well, to rebuild all the roadmaps for a world without search.
David Pogue is apparently still on vacation and recycling the transcript of an old interview on his NYTimes blog, but I found some bits in there that were worth looking at, not as Thus Sprake Zarathustra, but just as something to mull over.
I never was as big of a Wonkette fan as so many people were, and that's an interesting subject for discussion all by itself. First, I sort of thought she laid an egg at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, as one of the first group of bloggers given press credentials there. I thought a bit too much raw ambition showed through, and I wasn't impressed.
But mainly, I never jumped on the Wonkette bandwagon because I just didn't think she was that funny. I dunno. Maybe some folks are starved for humor in the Beltway or something. I think I have a pretty good sense of humor, tending toward the body-function/bathroom variety, perhaps, but too much of Wonkette back in the day seemed like ad hominem cheap shots that weren't all that clever. I always figured whoever hired her away probably could have done better.
Now how's that for a cheap shot? I am (remain) a big fan of David Pogue, and there are still some interesting observations below.
A couple of weeks ago, CBS News Sunday Morning broadcast my
introduction to blogging. As so often happens, my reporting for this
segment involved some really interesting interviews, of which we could
use only a few minutes’ worth in the final episode.
I thought I’d treat you, therefore, to a heartier excerpt from one
of the most interesting interviews. Ana Marie Cox wrote the gossipy,
funny, blog Wonkette.com for its first two years before taking on a
column in Time magazine and a couple of book deals. Time announced
today that she would be the Washington editor of Time.com. On the Web,
she can be polarizing and controversial. In person, she’s funny and
media-savvy; it was clear that she’s no stranger to TV interviews. In
any case, what she wasn’t was boring. Here’s the transcript.
DP: And then, after two years of this, Time Magazine called with a contract.
AMC: Yes! I still can’t quite believe any of that actually happened.
I’m still waiting for someone to come out from behind the curtain and
be like, “Ha-ha!”
DP: But isn’t that the definition of a successful blogger, though, to get plucked from the blogosphere and given a column?
AMC: I think that’s what most bloggers would consider successful. I
don’t think that. I think that blogging as a medium is just that. It’s
a medium. And it has a very low bar to entry. But the reason why anyone
does it, I think, has to do with, like, having an opinion you believe
is worth other people hearing, and having something to say beyond to
the three or four people you talk to every day. And I think that’s why
people get into journalism.
And so it sort of would be a little odd if, given a chance to talk
to a couple million people, rather than a couple hundred thousand
people, you said no.
DP: So what are the ingredients then for a successful blog, apart from being entertaining or snarky?
AMC: I think it’s changing. Six months, a year ago, I would have
talked about what I think made Wonkette successful and makes Gawker
successful, to a certain extent, and other blogs: A strong, defined
personality with a sense of humor about themselves. An ability to
filter news quickly and to recognize, you know, what is interesting to
other people as well as interesting to themselves, and finding the
balance between those things.
What I think is changing is that people have now become addicted to
the rapid update. You know, the not just 12 times a day; 18 times a
day, 24 times a day. And it’s almost physically impossible for one
person to do that.
And so I think that we’re probably going to see that the individual,
strong-personality blog is not going to be at the forefront, because
group blogs are going to be able to do what people expect of blogs
[Not only would I STRONGLY disagree with this assessment (I think it reflects her going over to the dark side, overly influenced by mass media assumptions), but there are some folks talking about POSTING LESS rather than more as a more effective blogging tactic (see Eric Kintz on MarketingProfs, for his post on Why Blog Post Frequency Does Not Matter Anymore). I think "feeding the beast" is not only a recipe for jumping on George Jetson's treadmill, it removes reflection and thoughtfulness from the equation.
I mean, in a world of information glut, endlessly pinging Google and Technorati may be one way to get noticed (as tabloids have also discovered near supermarket lines), but what about VALUE? What about contributing to the greater wisdom of the world? What about creating something that might one day stand the test of time, as some of George Orwell's essays did, written from here and there as a correspondent, for this reason or that reason? Many of the reasons Orwell wrote are long past, yet we still value and read his words.
Why not aspire to something more thoughtful, rather than trying to desperately OUT-PING a gazillion bloggers? It stands to reason that actually standing out for something OTHER than your pings might actually be an effective way to break out in the filters and feed readers. You know, just as Glenn Greenwald did or someone like that. There are quite a few people who aren't pinging themselves to death with little one-liners that will be as forgotten as quickly as most of the stuff Wonkette wrote.
The fact that Nick Denton and Jason Calacanis are leaning toward a hyperactive flurry of postings, as if the only way a blog can succeed in winning the lottery is by buying (pinging) dozens of tickets (posts) belies the fact that WHAT is said actually matters very little.
And to tell you the truth, I did not get into blogging as a rejection of mass media assumptions because I thought WHAT was said is immaterial. WORDS MATTER. Choose them with thought, imho.]
DP: Who are the readers of the blogs? Is it just the BlackBerry crowd? The white-collar coasts?
AMC: I think it’s people with time on their hands. People who work
at white-collar jobs, have high-bandwidth Internet connections, and
aren’t expected to produce, you know, widgets on an hourly basis. I
think those are the blogveyers.
DP: I doubt it. So, blogs are read by this upper–
AMC: Well, they’re read by the opinion-elites, if you want to put it
that way. Which means that they get written about disproportionately to
how much they affect the world.
But because they get written about, they do wind up affecting the world. So–
DP: It’s self-fulfilling.
DP: And so what about this thing that blogs are killing newspapers?
AMC: You know, I suspect that The New York Times will never cease to
exist. That dinosaur can’t be killed. That really would take a meteor,
and I don’t think blogs are a meteor. They’re kind of like a tiny
But The New York Times is going to have to change. I mean, all major
media outlets are going to have to change to meet the demands of people
who might, you know, have grown used to some of the things they get
DP: So: 75,000 new blogs being created a day?
AMC: Yeah, I think that that may be true, but I can personally
attest that I probably started, like, five blogs as a joke, as a whim.
You know, like, a blog about purses. Or a blog about lipstick. ‘Cause
it’s so easy. Like, why not go in and start a blog, and then it’ll die
and never be heard from again? So I think that might be a large
percentage of the 75,000 blogs being created.
DP: And how many of these people are just blogging for an audience of nobody?
AMC: I mean, they’ve replaced the family newsletter. You know,
desktop publishing did a similar thing for print publications. But are
we going to count every person that used Adobe PageMaker to print out
their family newsletter as a new publication? No.
As far as I'm concerned, let a GAZILLION family newsletters bloom! It's still active media, and in doing so, it flies in the face of passive media and the push-button marketing brain-wash.
Active media says "Wake up, Neo!" Time to take the red pill.
Brian Clark at copyblogger has one of the most practically-focused blog how-to pieces I've seen, and the reason it excels is that it tells you explicitly what NOT to do! I'll pull out my favorite bits here, but you really owe it to yourself to head on over there and not only read each item, but take every resource link included with each item. Way Cool!
Some people are turning the whole “blogging advice” arena on its
head, and instead of focusing on what you should do to be an effective
blogger, they point out what you shouldn’t do. Perhaps this is a better
way to get certain points across?
OK, I’m game. Here’s my “top five” list of big mistakes people make,
and a handy prescription for how to cure what ails your sickly blog.
5. Do you write for search engines instead of people?
Your blog is suffering from “robotitis,” an affliction characterized
by boring, keyword stuffed content that serves only to fill the blank
spots between AdSense ads. If you actually hope to sell something, you
need emergency attention, fast.
3. Do you agonize over writing a great post, only to slap on
some hastily-concocted post title that all but guarantees hardly anyone
Less-than-compelling headlines kill more solid blog posts than any
other blogosphere affliction. There is a cure, but you’ll need to take
action fast. If not for yourself… won’t you do it for the children?
[This was THE biggest problem my students had at the University of Montana last fall. Their second biggest problem? Clearly introducing and citing links in their posts instead of saying something vaguely cryptic and then saying "click here." As a surfer, if you don't tell me where I'm going, that is an invitation to me NOT to take the link.]
1. Do you use user-unfriendly RSS options that you bury at
the bottom of the page, and leave out an email subscription option
I can only label this as a disease of the blogging mind. You do all
that hard work to get everything else just right, and yet you rely on
people to remember to come back on their own? That’s just
self-destructive. Paging Dr. Freud!
A high school student did this terrific independent study, and I just LOVE the questions below that came out of it. Most excellent. Should note, also, as Ben does below, that he worked with a really extraordinary teacher, so I've gotta put a link and a shout-out to that teacher's blog too: Jesse Berrett teaching at San Francisco University High School.
Kudos, y'all! And I may be emailing for the whole document of your research as well. Fascinating stuff. I'm especially fond of the second bullet point below.
Is the “wisdom of crowds” always better than the opinion of one, and if so, how does that wisdom get “mined” on the web?
This bullet point also makes my socks roll up and down too!
Is objectivity in media “a view from nowhere”? In covering any controversial story, the media tends to simply let whoever has been defined as "the sides" dictate their beliefs and just do an "X said, but then Y said" story.
Ben Casnocha: Results of Independent Study on Blogs, Journalism, and Media
From September-December (first semester) I embarked on an academic study on blogging and the intersection of journalism, media, and the 'net through my school's Independent Study program. I thus received academic credit for this work (I know, I was elated too!). My faculty sponsor was Jesse Berrett - he's the chair of our History department but well versed in a broad range of topics including popular culture and internet stuff. As a book critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, Salon, and others on the side, and armed with a handy dandy PhD from Cal, he brought a healthy dose of skeptical perspective I needed. (His own blog is, for now, brief reviews of books he reads - all genres and types - and pictures of his baby. In 2004 he read 254 books, and he reflects on that year of reading here.)
Excerpts from the results of our research and work follows. If you'd like the whole document, email me.
Do all conversations lead somewhere? How effective are conversations with many talking compared with one person lecturing?
Is the “wisdom of crowds” always better than the opinion of one, and if so, how does that wisdom get “mined” on the web?
What process do people go through to change an opinion? Are opinioned-blogs and the ensuing spirited conversations changing anyone’s opinion? How often do blogs (or any conversation for that matter) go beyond “I think this” and “I think this.”
What role do blogs have besides the obvious one of being a watchdog/critic of mainstream media?
What is the future of “hyperlocal journalism” where neighbors and community members write local stories in an online format?
Is objectivity in media “a view from nowhere”? In covering any controversial story, the media tends to simply let whoever has been defined as "the sides" dictate their beliefs and just do an "X said, but then Y said" story.
What are the limits/constraints of the blogging form versus the future possibilities?
Does a lack of referees on the web tends to support an everyone-has-his-own-truth world where “truth” is up for grabs? Is it realistic to hope for a higher-up authority to separate truth from fiction either on the web or offline? How does the increasing lack of trust in institutions in America affect this?
Here's another good observation:
There seems to be a “truth” coalescing about blogs in mainstream media, which is that they are usually good watchdogs, but tend to be prey to all sorts of crazy rumors, speculations, and conspiracies. Thus, “the jury is out.” This may not be true, but this is the account that most major papers run whenever there’s a story covering aspects of blogging—a couple good things, a couple bad things. In essence the “they say X, these others say Y” story.
One venture capitalist blogger I read a few days ago said that his bet for the “the next big thing” is around an emerging “architecture of participation” or as he put it, “the revolution of the ants.” Everyone getting into the action. The participatory nature of blogs versus the one-way lecture of mainstream media is crystallized for me every time I read a column in the New York Times or Chronicle that I want to talk to someone about. I may agree or disagree or want to learn more. How can I scratch that itch? I can write a blog post linking to the column with my thoughts and solicit feedback or read others who have blogged about that column.
I like that, "revolution of ants." Granular. Cumulative. Asymmetrical. I just find myself nodding through this whole thing, yes, yes, yes. Vulcan mind meld, dude! I wish I wrote this well when I was in high school.
Blogs At Their Worst
“One of the biggest criticisms of blogs is that so many are self-absorbed tripe. No doubt, most are only interesting only to the writer, plus some family and friends,” writes Dan Gillmor in We the Media. He goes on to say that’s no reason to dismiss the genre, but it does raise an important question: does society need a lot more people voicing opinions or thoughts and does that create more produce intellectual, cultural, moral, etc. progress? I mentioned in the “best” section that my blog gives me a voice. It would be arrogant to argue that my voice needs to be heard, but not that nut-job propaganda-spreading conspiracy-theorist. The leading bloggers and pioneers in this field seem to agree that there should be virtually no restrictions or exclusivity in the blogosphere with a bet being placed on the notion that the best blogs will bubble to the top through links.
Do blogs promote an opinion-first, evidence-later trend in our society? Jay Rosen sees a new trend unrelated to blogs pertaining to information-gathering: first get opinions, then analysis, then hard news. One could extend this trend to people first expressing opinions, then maybe finding some articulate analysis to back up their opinions, and possibly some real data supporting their points. It is easy to blog an opinion or rant. A good footnoter is also a good linker, hence the emphasis by respected bloggers to link to sources or other sites to back up posts. But without some sort of “authority” deciding what has some foundation versus simple crazy rants, the blogesphere can house bundles of unsubstantiated opinions.
Here's an interesting opportunity to participate in what will certainly be an eclectic and interesting online community, with some terrific media tools and resources, and perhaps an active citizen journalism venture. I will be watching to see how the new Beeb site unfolds. I'm tempted to plunge in myself, but that I'm over-extended at the moment. Still, the temptation may later come over me.
What better community playground, if you are someone who likes pre-existing playgrounds, instead of building your own. Someone I know who has previously worked at BBC hinted to me that this thing was coming, and that it was going to be ground-breaking and nifty-neato-cool! [bold emphasis below is mine]
BBC today unveiled radical plans to rebuild its website around
user-generated content, including blogs and home videos, with the aim
of creating a public service version of MySpace.com.
Highfield, the BBC director of new media and technology, also announced
proposals to put the corporation's entire programme catalogue online
for the first time from tomorrow in written archive form, as an
"experimental prototype", and rebrand MyBBCPlayer as BBC iPlayer.
Mr Highfield was unveiling the results of the broadcaster's Creative
Future review of programming and content before an audience of BBC new
Mr Highfield was unveiling the results of the broadcaster's Creative
Future review of programming and content before an audience of BBC new
Mr Highfield's presentation, Beyond Broadcast, outlined a
three-pronged approach to refocus all future BBC digital output and
services around three concepts - "share", "find" and "play".
He said the philosophy of "share" would be at the heart of what he dubbed bbc.co.uk 2.0.
Highfield said the share concept would allow users to "create your own
space and to build bbc.co.uk around you", encouraging them to launch
ther own blogs and post home videos on the site.
The BBC is also
running a competition to revamp the bbc.co.uk 2.0 website, asking the
public to redesign the homepage to "exploit the fuctionality and
usability of services such as Flickr, YouTube, Technorati and
At the heart of the play concept is MyBBCPlayer,
which will allow the public to download and view BBC programming online
and was today rebranded as BBC iPlayer.
"BBC iPlayer is going to
offer catch-up television up to seven days after transmission," said Mr
Highfield. "At any time you will be able to download any programme from
the eight BBC channels and watch it on your PC and, we hope, move it
across to your TV set or down to your mobile phone to watch it when you
Here's another article, however, with a bit more of the philosophy behind it, including how the BBC is paying for it (layoffs?!), which also makes me suspect that for all its innovation, the venture does represent a considerable risk for BBC, if for some reason it doesn't take off like gangbusters.
BBC chief unveils plan for future and warns of losing young viewers
Thompson says a 'big shock' is on the way Blueprint includes revamp of online presence
Owen Gibson, media correspondent Wednesday April 26, 2006 The Guardian
BBC's director general, Mark Thompson, yesterday warned that it would
lose touch with the younger generation for ever unless it fundamentally
changed to adapt to the digital world.
New audience research unveiled
to staff revealed that a third of viewers felt the BBC did not make
programmes for them. Meanwhile, 60% of 16- to 24-year-olds watch fewer
than three hours of BBC television a week, with a quarter of them not
tuning in to a single BBC programme. Mr Thompson said there was "a big
shock coming", with the pace of audience and technological change
"faster and more radical than anything we've seen before".
the conclusions of Creative Future, a year-long project to define the
BBC's on-air and online ambitions over the next five years, he said it
was designed to meet the "creative challenge of an entirely new era in
The resulting plan, which has already proved
controversial with some staff grappling with the 4,000 job cuts
earmarked to raise £355m a year to help pay for it, includes a range of
new ideas across all areas of the BBC.
In news, a new strategy
will concentrate on breaking news via the internet and News 24, which
will be "moved centre stage", with big names expected to appear on the
digital channel rather than traditional bulletins.
One morning last month, I woke early, finished a book I'd been reading, and shut down my blog.
I had kept the blog for nearly five years, using it as a repository for
personal anecdotes, travelogues, and the occasional flight of
fiction—all of which I hoped, eventually, might lead to a novel. And
then, somewhere between the bedsheets and 6 a.m., I realized something:
Blogging wasn't helping me write; it was keeping me from it.
[What she writes here below... I remember
feeling EXACTLY this when forced to crank crap forgettable articles for
newspapers, either the stress from constantly meeting new people and
feeling shy while at the same time having to commodify them, or the
personal humilation at knowing I was just dumping my interview stories
into a rote formula. That was in the 1980s, though, so I went into an
MFA program in creative writing instead, to learn to write for myself
and my own standards again. And now, many many years later, blogs have
taken me past the creativity-cramping I used to feel after some of my
poems got published in good literary magazines, the fear of writing a
poem that was pure crap. Blogs are works in progress, and publications.
They're a dessert topping AND a floor wax. Can't beat that.]
prior to that, I'd been writing for an alt-weekly in Austin, Texas.
What began as a great job had curdled into an anxiety nightmare. I
would burn to write a certain profile and then, deadline looming, I
would stare at the computer as another beautiful Saturday ticked away.
I can remember crossing the street one night and thinking, absently,
"If I got run over by a car, I wouldn't have to finish that story!"
Don't get me wrong—I didn't want to die. I just wanted a really long extension.
Thus my decision to leave the job. Thus my journey to the southern
hemisphere. Thus the blog that I started, thinking no one would read it
and secretly hoping they would. The blog was the perfect bluff for a
self-conscious writer like me who yearned for the spotlight and then
squinted in its glare. [...]
Eventually, I began enjoying my writing again. I stopped worrying
about deadlines, audience, editors, letters to the editor, all the
stuff that had smothered me before. I was writing so fast that I didn't
have time to double-think my sentence structure or my opinions. What
came out was sloppier but also funnier and more honest. I started
getting e-mails from people I'd never met, and they were actually
now here's the bit that's my favorite quotation. Maybe I'll put this
line up in the banner rotation on my blog. If it isn't too long.
times, I started to feel that jokes and scenarios and turns of phrase
were my capital, and that my capital was limited, and each blog entry
was scattering more of it to the wind, pissing away precious dollars
and cents in the form of punch lines I could never use again, not
without feeling like a hack. You know: "How sad. She stole that line
from her own blog."
that cool? And it's just SO true. I've also felt that way about some
rants I've written to a listserv I manage. I never know what's going to
bite me in the butt, or when the stars will line up and the universe
or the tenth muse is going to speak through me, so stuff comes out that
wouldn't otherwise. I have to appreciate that. But if that's the ONLY
place where the universe is channeled through my writing, then I'm
pissing away my best ideas too.
It did help a lot when I was
writing my dissertation, to be active in private listserv discussions
in the Xenaverse, the fandom community I was studying. Invaluable,
actually, and I owe those people so much for being a sounding board,
and for arguing with me when I got it wrong. Sometimes, now, when I read my dissertation,
I wonder who wrote it, because I do feel that the tenth muse, or at
least Xena and Gabrielle, were using me for a channel. Doesn't feel
like I wrote it at all, and on really good days, I swear the
dissertation wrote itself. I don't know too many harried and harassed
grad students who can say that about the process, but it was one of the
best times of my life.
There's one more bit that the writer has here that I thought was a particularly pithy observation:]
I suspect I'll come back to blogging eventually. It will
be something I quit on occasion, like whiskey and melted cheese, when
the negative effects outweigh the benefits. Practically every blogger I
know has taken their site down at some point—for personal reasons, for
business reasons, for boredom reasons. It's no different from the way
we have to turn off our cell phones or stop checking e-mail so that we
can actually focus on something. As much as I loved writing online,
it's a relief writing offline: taking time to let a story unspool, to
massage a sentence over an afternoon's walk, to stew for days—weeks,
even—on a plot line. What a modern luxury. Now, if I could just turn
off the TV, I think I could finally get started.
I've been there and done that, and yes, it most certainly did feel
very good. I really started blogging in earnest with Radio Userland in
early 2002, and the blog I was posting to at that time (nameless here
forevermore) rose up respectably in the blogosphere, and in the mostly
tech-blog atmosphere of that time, got linked to by the A-listers of
the day, which satisfied me but wasn't the be-all and end-all of my
existence, having gone through that previous newspaper experience that
drove me into the Arkansas MFA program. Regardless of who linked to me,
I was really still writing for myself.
So by early 2003, and for certain by the start of the Iraq War, I
was immersed in war coverage at work, putting in a lot of overtime,
worrying about some war-bloggers in Iraq who are my friends, and I just
needed some time off. I went inward, started learning the I Ching, and
filled four handwritten journals in six months. Felt real good. And
then I started blogging again. That felt good too. It's called "being
your own boss."
I know I've been bad with posting news of my trip and arrival in Missoula, but here are some photos of the stunning scenery I've been looking at since I got to Big Sky Country.
I've been busy with the start of school and building blogs like mad, but I did find time this Labor Day to take the dog out to the Rattlesnake Wilderness Area and climb a ways up Blue Mountain on some horse trails. I was out there just at Home on the Range, or something like that. Not too high, but it did give me a nice view of the Missoula valley, which was once a massive inland lake larger than any of the Great Lakes, kept in place by a glacial dam during the Ice Age. Neat, huh? When the glacial dam busted through, it sent a 500-foot wall of water all the way to the Pacific, or so they tell me (I'm from Alaska, where we always try to BS the new people in town).
On some of the mountains around town, you can see past shorelines of the lake, but sorry, not visible from any of these pictures. If you see a flash of water in some of the shots, that's the Bitterroot River, which runs into the Bitterroot Mountains, which I hear are big and gorgeous. That will be my next destination!
We also have a confirmed Lewis and Clark campsite here (confirmed because of the chemical content found in the latrine, heh), with bicentennial events running Sept 8-11, which was the exact time that Lewis and Clark slept here and used their latrine, 1805. Woo woo.
There were snow warnings in the passes and fresh dust on some mountains. And unbeknownst to us, a bunch of boulders had actually collapsed in on one of the tunnels the day before (according to AP) and closed the trail. But an outing of UMT J-school grad students and faculty mostly had a bit of a cold wind to contend with at the top of the trail, and a 1.7-mile curved tunnel with no lights but our own head and bike lamps to get us through. Wooo-eeee-oooo! I should look up the exact number, but 7 tunnels or so, and about as many trestle bridges, including that one looong one you see in the pictures. Way cool! My inner clock was messed up tho, because we kept crossing back and forth on the Montana/Idaho state line, so we kept gaining an hour, losing an hour, gaining an hour, losing an hour...
The weekend before Thanksgiving I went to a neat unpretentious ski place in the Bitterroot Mountains to the south, called "Lost Trail: Powder Mountain," off a tip from some folks at the ski shop. That weekend only two places were open (the other was over by where I took that bike trip from the other photo album, Lookout Mountain). What terrific luck! The lodge is rough and a crowded mess with people clomping all over, total nostalgia from skiing at places that don't assume everyone is filthy rich. Locals tell me last year there was so little snow, Lost Trail was the only place that could even stay open. Reminds me of Alyeska in Alaska in the late 1970s, long before anyone even thought of putting in a tram. Only thing different was I didn't see anyone skiing in Carhart coveralls like they used to in Alaska.
It turned out to be a stunning day, and I had so much fun I'm going back here the Sunday after Thanksgiving, rather than the closer Snowbowl, which is only open at the very top and still doesn't have much snow. But Lost Trail got a bunch of new snow the last few nights, so it should be great. I'm hoping the back mountain lifts open up too.
Last ski trip in Montana, unless I go again. I wanted to go at least once to one of the famous Montana ski places, and Big Mountain in Whitefish was just right. What amazing views of Glacier National Park to the east and clear into the Canadian Rockies to the north! I stayed at Pine Lodge in the cute little town and took the free Snow Bus up the mountain. In the pictures that follow, you'll see the odd effect of a temperature inversion that left the valley in the single digits and socked in with fog, but gave us in balmy upper 20s and gorgeous sunshine on the slopes. A few other things you should know: The fog/cloud deck and snow frosts up the trees into strange shapes, like those above. At Big Mountain they call them "Snow Ghosts," and clearly a lot of folks love the tree skiing among the ghosts. I stayed on the groomed runs, as the freezing and thawing made the rough stuff too challenging. Intermediates were great fun, and really easy too, as the mogules I'm more used to were groomed down to corduroy. Not icy at all. It seemed to turn intermediates into steep granny runs, but they were definitely steep. Hey, I never fell once, and skied hard right up to darkness and closing lifts.