Thoughts on the Death of Thoughts on the Dead (Without Research)

  • This post has to be written in bullet points. Because of course it does.
  • If you have to ask, you’ll never know . . .
  • Well, unless I explain it to you.
  • Or, unless you were a regular reader of that most special website that today’s post honors, in which case you know the rules, and the requirements, and the structures and meta-structures that made the whole thing work.
  • Suffice to say that me writing this post in bullet points, under the tenets of “without research,” means that you can’t interrupt me, and that I can’t Google things.

But . . .

  • No. I love you, I really do. But no. No. Bullet points are here. And bullet points must be respected. No interruptions.

Yeah, understood. Okay. Carry on.

  • Thanks. Seriously, I do love you. And I wonder where you are, and where you’ll go now. I hope Bold Guy is there too, I think, to keep you company. I suspect you two get along better than we all might appreciate here on the receiving end of your various wisdoms.
  • Say “Yo!” to Precarious for us all, ‘aight? ‘Aight??

I said “Carry on” . . .

  • You did. My bad. Here I go . . .
  • I am a terrible sleeper, due to a combination of psychological and physiological factors, which combined to force me into an arising at 4am, Arizona Time, this morning.
  • I nabbed my phone from my bedside table as I left the bedroom to make myself more comfortable, and as I do at the start of most days, no matter how early, I clicked on my saved link to Thoughts on the Dead.
  • And I saw this terrible, terrible news. Posted by Brother of the Dead (BotD), father of Nephew of the Dead (NotD), both of whom were dearly and publicly loved by my online friend, Thoughts on the Dead (TotD).
  • Who has died. Of a terrible cancer. At the age of 46. Which is too young!
  • I’m reading a book that’s about, in part, the Neolithic Period. TotD might have been an elder statesman/shaman type by making it to the age of 46 in those days.
  • Then again, maybe he would not have been. Our accepted modern understandings of the short life spans of our forebears are not necessarily correct, per this from another of my favorite online resources.
  • In any event, we live in neither Neolithic nor Medieval times, so 46 is too young, in the reality which we all inhabit, more or less.
  • And while TotD clearly did his best to keep his public persona going to the best of his ability without groveling and complaining (much) over the 10 months since his cancer diagnosis, it was pretty clear that he was suffering, and that was a hard thing to read, and hard to know, and hard to accept, and hard to comprehend.
  • And that’s just awful. And terribly, terribly sad.
  • And if I, among many, who knew TotD only through his anonymous online postings feel as sad as I do right now, then it’s beyond comprehension how bad BotD and the rest of his family and their “real world” friends and colleagues must be feeling now.
  • I extend my love and respect and compassion and care toward them all, for what that’s worth. May they find some small peace in the weeks and months and years ahead, and may they find joy in the incredible body of work that TotD left behind for all of us.
  • Because, Holy Moly, what a body of work that was!!
  • He was my favorite living, working writer, right up until the point when he wasn’t.
  • He’s now one of my favorite non-living, non-working writers. There’s a wealth of brilliance to be had among the work he left behind, novel-length and story-length tales that challenge the very best of anything I’ve read by anybody else, ever.
  • That’s not hyperbole. I’ve written about TotD numerous times on this site, sharing such accolades in real time, and not just as memorials. Here’s the list of pages here that reference him, in one way or another.
  • I loved his writing, dearly.
  • And I am something of an arrogant tool when it comes to writing, since I fancy myself as something of a fine writer, too.
  • (That’s a key part of my self-identity and self-worth, so if you disagree, you’ll hurt my feelings by doing so publicly, so why do that, right? Thanks for your restraint.)
  • As a writer, I believe (rightly or wrongly) that I have a fairly finely attuned sense of what makes for good writing, and what makes for bad writing, or “blah” writing, and I can tell you without any doubt or hesitation that TotD was a truly great, once-in-a-generation caliber writer.
  • A genius, on that front. And I do not throw that word around lightly.
  • Which may sound or seem weird, given the premise of his website, where all of his public work (to the best of my knowledge) resided and resides.
  • Here’s how he described what he did. Note that putting a quote box in here is going to break the flow of bullet points, because that’s what WordPress does. That does not mean that you get to interrupt before I return to the bullet points.

But . . .

  • No. I love you. But no.

Right.

  • Right. So here’s how TotD described his enterprise . . .

My thesis is that the Grateful Dead were the Silliest Band in the World. I will attempt to prove this through misquotes, malicious lies, and just plumb crazy talk; everything in these pages is, of course, satire. Except for the stuff about Bobby: Bobby actually thought he was a fucking cowboy. He was also a terrorist, but we’ll get to that. Bob Weir is a fucking prince.

This is my first time making blog. If you enjoy what I’ve done, then that’s entirely your decision. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them, along with your choice for #16 Mississippi Half-Step OF ALL TIME.

  • It seems slight, doesn’t it?
  • Nonsensical, even. Soft. Half-baked. Not much depth there. How could this one-skit SNL-caliber concept run for days, much less months, much less years?
  • In any other writer’s hands, I don’t think it could have.
  • But TotD used that modest, humble,  soft launching point to embark upon one of the most astounding bits of world-building that I’ve ever experienced.
  • To cite but one of many examples: The Dead’s on-stage set-ups over the years could often look haphazard and amateurish.
  • That’s a fact.
  • But why was it a fact?
  • TotD created a character named Precarious Lee, who was a Dead roadie, and who took great glee in building the most structurally ridiculous stage plots possible, ideally involving low effort by the crew, disinterest from the band, and high risk to audiences, players, other crew members, the environment, the equipment, and quite possibly Precarious himself.
  • Ha ha ha! There’s a joke! Good for a solid post of chuckles, right?
  • Except . . . in the hands of a master like TotD, Precarious became a character of unexpected depth, with an incredible before- and after-story adjacent to his time with the Dead.
  • Precarious took us out on the Interstitial Highway, which was mind-blowing.
  • Precarious took us to the place where he settled (sort of), which was called Little Aleppo, and which was a neighborhood, in America.
  • And which spawned a book-length series of stories, one of which remains one of my all-time favorite reads ever.
  • Especially when it was rolling out, chapter by chapter, in real time.
  • I read it all on my morning train commute with my coffee, gleeful every day that a new installment arrived.
  • It was like being a Charles Dickens fan in the late 1800s.
  • When it was all done, I named that first Little Aleppo novel My Best Book of the 21st Century.
  • Even if it never saw the printed page. Even if it never made TotD a dime. Even if it never had to claw through the publishing industry’s maw to see to the light of day.
  • It remains brilliant, and you can still click the link above to read it, and then to read the stories that followed it at TotD’s site.
  • I strongly encourage you to do so.
  • So many great tales. So many great characters. Such incredibly refined writing, where words and phrases routinely pop from the page and shine, craftsman-like example of the ways that our language can become sublime, even when discussing the mundane.
  • A lot of it is really funny, as are a lot of other parts of the TotD semi-fictional universe, where real-world personages (living and dead) interact with created characters in ways sweet and sublime and subtle and soaring.
  • (Another Grateful Dead connection in the Little Aleppo stories: the group’s famed Wall of Sound PA/speaker system became sentient, and is now providing sound for an historic movie theater in Little Aleppo).
  • (The Wall is another great character, a fascinating exploration into the ways that an artificial intelligence might interact with the humans who surround it, often to its despair).
  • (But don’t call him WALLY).
  • But deeply integrated with all of the laughs into the weft and woof of the the TotD semi-fictional universe were moments of deep, haunting, soul-moving pathos and compassion and love.
  • And you never knew when a sad story was going to get funny, or when a funny story was going to get sad, and that’s pretty much the way real life happens, and that’s pretty much what made this little escape from real life so very, very magical.
  • There are hundreds, if not thousands, of examples of TotD’s excellence on such fronts on his website, so if you just head over there and plow through the archives, you will be richly rewarded.
  • (Expert tip: find a subject/topic you particularly enjoy, then use the categories and tags to dig deeper into the story lines associated with said topic).
  • Among that plethora of fine choices, one piece springs to mind today, and I encourage you to go read it.
  • But first: consider what’s happened in Arkansas over the past couple of days with regard to the rights, health and well-being of transgender young people.
  • And then: consider all of the other States in our country that are seriously considering similarly hateful and harmful laws.
  • And then then: read this.
  • That’s extraordinary story-telling. A short piece, that quickly introduces you to places and people who are remarkable and not, in equal measure, and makes you care about them, deeply, quickly, wholly.
  • And there’s a lesson in there, too.
  • You might learn something.
  • Or at least re-consider some other things.
  • And that makes it art, to these eyes, and to this mind.
  • Great art. Fine art. Serious art.
  • With chuckles.
  • I look at the very best things I’ve ever written, and they pale in comparison to that piece, or hundreds of other similar pieces scattered throughout TotD’s canon.
  • Wow, was he good.
  • Wow, will I miss his work.
  • And wow, will I miss him.
  • Even though I never met him.
  • Even though I have no idea what he looked like.
  • Even though I only learned his first name within the past year when Bob Weir outed him on a David Lemieux podcast.
  • Even though I only learned his last name when his brother told us all that he died this morning.
  • He was truly a Ninja Jedi when it came to online stealth and protecting his anonymity, while living fully in the public domain.
  • Hats off on that front. Well played, you.
  • So when I miss him, my brain will miss him as TotD, not as Rick Harris.
  • Though I wish I had had the chance to get to know Rick Harris, too.
  • I think we would have gotten along well.
  • Common interests and suchlike, you know?
  • Because online connections and friendships are real, for reals.
  • Truly.
  • Meaningfully.
  • Deeply.
  • I have met and gotten to know (virtually-speaking) a lot of other folks in the “Comment Section” at TotD’s site over the years.
  • A couple of them have already reached out to me this morning to make sure I knew the news and that I was doing okay with it.
  • I did know.
  • But I’m not doing okay with it.
  • I do look forward to keeping in touch over the months and years ahead with the community that TotD built.
  • Good folks. Funny. Freaky. Fine company.
  • Enthusiasts.
  • Weirdos and squares in equal measure.
  • You decide who fits in which bucket.
  • Or not. We’ll be here all the same.

All of us?

  • Yes, all of us.
  • We love you.

Dear WordPress: Really? REALLY?!?

UPDATE: After a lot of wasted time researching, contacting WordPress, and fiddling about, I do appear to have found another workaround that is allowing me to see the Classic Editor panels again. I have a paid premium account on the WordPress.com platform (WordPress.org is a different beast), so I can’t swear that what I did will work for you if you’re on another version or level of their various products. But by leaving this particular website’s control panel and going to my master WordPress Profile Page for all of my websites, there is a new toggle switch there that says “Show advanced dashboard pages. Enabling this will replace your dashboard pages with more advanced wp-admin equivalents when possible.” I toggled this on, saved, logged out, closed my browser and cleared my caches, re-loaded and re-logged-in, and can now get the functionality I want, though the look and theme are all different, for no good reason. (I still have to specifically find and choose “classic editor” when creating new or editing old posts in this view; the default is to the new Block Editor version). I hate that WordPress now seems to be following the Facebook model of continually changing settings unilaterally, forcing constant maintenance, vigilance, and updates to keep things working securely and looking the way I want them to. Note that I gave up on Facebook in 2012 for precisely that reason. I have little patience for that behavior. Here’s hoping it doesn’t happen again here. But here’s believing that it will. Grumble. 

Last October, I wrote a post here called Dear WordPress: Your New Editor is Terrible. I noted that I’ve been managing my personal website via various WordPress applications since 1999, mostly happily, but that I was most decidedly not happy about their new Gutenberg “Block Editor,” which was functionally inferior to what I was used to, and seemed clearly to be designed for folks who either write or read their web content on their phones. Fortunately, at the time I noted that there seemed to be some workarounds that would allow me to continue using their “Classic Editor,” and I have been using said workarounds since that time, still mostly happily.

Until this morning, when I logged in to write a new post, and noted that my WP-ADMIN control board looked different. It didn’t take long to realize that this difference seems to hinge on the fact that the “Classic Editor” work-around options no longer exist, and that those of us who are using the WordPress platform (and, in my case, paying to use their platform, as a long-time premium account owner) will no longer be given the option of using the interface that we’ve enjoyed for the past dozen years, or longer.

So I’m writing this post in the new editor, and it’s terrible. TERRIBLE, I say!! It truly sucks. I hate it. I have no idea what it’s going to look like when I publish it, and I have no idea how to do simple things that I’ve been doing for years and years, but now are either hidden or disabled. Not a happy camper today. Not. At. ALL.

So to my fellow WordPress bloggers: are you seeing the same thing? And if so, I have two questions for you. (I would normally bulletize or number them here, but it’s no longer obvious how to do so, dammit). Anyway . . . (1) Are you aware of any remaining workarounds to continue using Classic Editor, and if not, (2) Are you aware of any other hosting platforms where a massive WordPress website like this one can be easily exported and imported without having to undergo massive reformatting, re-linking, and re-loading of images and files?

I’m truly dismayed, disgusted, annoyed and aggrieved at having this change forced down my throat as a long-time paying customer of this platform. This is an utterly awful way to treat platform users, for no obvious discernible benefit to those of us who make the WordPress commercial enterprise possible. Not sure when you’ll be seeing another post from me accordingly. I have to assess whether to migrate, adapt, or give up, after 26 years as an active blogger, going back before the word “blog” (or WordPress) existed to describe what I and other online writers were doing. And what I would like to continue doing, if our hosts wouldn’t keep punching us in the face with unwanted changes that make the act of writing and publishing online painful, not pleasurable.

(Note: I generally make a point of adding an image to every post I make here. But it’s also not obvious how to do that in this shitty, shitty, SHITTY editor, so just imagine a picture of me scowling in a state of deep ire here, in lieu of something that I could have quickly created and loaded 24 hours ago).

(Another Note: I also don’t see anyway to slot this post into the categories that I have used to archive and organize my website over the years. Why? WHY?!?!? WHYYYYYYYYY?!?!?!?!?!?!!?!?!)

Down on the Blog Farm

I’ve written here before at length about my very long (by internet standards) history as an online denizen, but as a brief summary recap for the sake of today’s post: I have been active in online communities since 1993, I had my own website in 1995, I owned my own domain in 1999, and I have been blogging for over a quarter-century at this point, doing so even before there was a word for what we were doing here in our shared virtual sandboxes. With nearly 30 years of laying myself out in the public virtual domain via literally dozens of evolving formats and platforms, I’d happily say that I have very few regrets about the way that such experiences have gone, with two notable exceptions. First, the hateful time-suck that social media became (which led me to abandon all of those platforms in the 2010s), and second, my one experience in letting a commercial entity host and control the content I shared, for fun, not profit.

That commercial era began for me in early 2007, by which point my blog, my many bylines in the popular Metroland alternative newsweekly, and my on-camera and behind-the-scenes activities on Time Warner Cable’s Sounding Board music television show had created a nice sense of brand recognition for me in my (then) home market in Northeastern New York. About a year earlier, The (Albany) Times Union (which was and remains the major regional daily newspaper in the market) had decided that they needed to get onboard with the emergent blog phenomenon, creating a portal that merged staff blogs with a variety of “reader-blogger” or “citizen-blogger” (their terms) pages. I was happily paddling about in my own pond when I was approached by a representative of the Times Union and offered the opportunity to place my work on their portal, ostensibly (per them) enhancing my exposure and readership. While I was doing just fine on my own, traffic-wise, I saw no meaningful red flags with that new Times Union relationship, so I agreed to the request and added my voice to their portal. It looked like this at the time (minus the broken links), for those inclined toward Albany nostalgia . . .

When I first posted at the Times Union, there were about 30 pioneering blogs there, with varying degrees of active participation; I was very much near the top end of that curve in terms of my volume, engagement and readership. That blogger number grew into the hundreds in the years that followed, and for a relatively brief period in the 2008 to 2013-ish period, the Times Union blog portal was a massive influence on and contributor to the regional political, arts, culture, social and creative communities thereabouts, and most everybody I knew and worked with at that point was actively engaged in some way, as a creator or a reader, in the works that were offered there. I was a good team player in that era, participating in various community engagement events designed to promote “citizen-bloggers” and their work (and, of course, the Times Union itself), and I got to know and love a variety of tremendous writers during that time who I would count as influences, inspirations and/or friends to this day, most notably Roger Green, Rob Madeo, Teri Conroy, Chuck Miller and Kevin Marshall.

But then September 2010 rolled around, and that all came to a painful, grinding, and abrupt halt for me, as I’ve written about here in this series of articles, for those who did not experience the situation in real time . . .

Ignore My Times Union Blog, Please

Bye Bye to You, T.U.

Good Riddance to the Times Union

The net result of that debacle was that I went off on my own to launch the Indie Albany and Indie Moines websites (no links, alas, as I pulled them both down and killed the domains some years ago), then consolidated everything back under my own imprint again around 2014. Which was all good and fine. What was not good and fine was that the Times Union held everything I’d written for them between 2007 and 2010 hostage, against my wishes, and it remains up on their site to this day. I also, sadly, got to watch a variety of friends and acquaintances chewed up and spat out by the Times Union in the years since then, when their unique work was deemed problematic from a commercial or political standpoint for a variety of reasons, few of them good. Rob and Chuck both went down in flames that way, and it was really ugly in both cases, and just plain mean, on many fronts. Fortunately, those two and most of the others quickly launched their own platforms, which I’m happy to still read, all these years on. Good writing is good writing, no matter where it resides.

The “bad citizen-blogger” issue blew up again in recent weeks when New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik had a meltdown about a satirical post by Lale Davidson on the Times Union blog portal. Apparently, this latest kerfuffle is the one that has broken the camel’s back as far as the Times Union‘s editorial team is concerned, as they have announced that they will be shuttering the citizen blogs effective February 5, 2021. It’s the end of an era, for sure. I can’t say that’s a bad thing, particularly, but it’s a thing nonetheless, and noteworthy, as a marked data point in the long time-line of the ways in which newspapers manage their bottom lines with interactive content on their websites. As publishing experiments go, I’m not sure the blog portal was ultimately a successful one for the Times Union, but it was certainly a long-running one in modern media terms. There aren’t many folks still hosted on the Times Union portal who I read regularly, but I do hope that the few good ones there find their own homes soon, as I’d like to continue reading them. We’ll see how that goes.

On a personal front, it does appear that this transition will finally release my own work from the Times Union portal, as I’ve been in touch with their blog manager, who’s indicated that it should not be a problem or issue to wipe my material off the newspaper’s website during the upcoming clean-up and purge. Yeah, I know that people who really, really want it will be able to find it via the Wayback Machine and other online archives, but it will still be psychologically satisfying to know that my work is no longer being held hostage against my will. It will also be satisfying to know that, in the long game, me and so many others have been better served by staking our own claims to our own turf, without giving away our work to support a profit motive that’s rarely compatible with our own creative self-interests. That was a big lesson learned, at bottom line. The hurts weren’t terribly material from any financial or professional standpoints, but they still stung, and I’ll be happy to have that annoying reminder removed from the public domain, even if it took more than a decade for that to happen.

2020: Year in Review

Remember 2016? There was a lot of “Worst Year Ever” chatter as it wound to its close, four years ago this month. We lost David Bowie, Prince, Gene Wilder, Maurice White, Muhammad Ali, Bernie Worrell, Greg Lake, Keith Emerson, George Michael, Carrie Fisher and so many other “big” names that year. We also elected President Bonespurs Tinyhands, made Brexit a sick and sad reality, watched global climate change unfold in tragic ways in real time, experienced a devastating number and impact of mass shootings, and suffered the extreme right-wing media giddily expanding its reach and impact in the aftermath of international fellow-traveler efforts to sabotage our already-sickened democracy through the infectious cesspools of social media.

It all seemed utterly dreadful at the time, and it certainly felt wonderful to wish it all good riddance come January 1, 2017. But then 2020 arrived, said “Hold My Beer,” and made 2016 look like a veritable paradise of goodness and justice and equity in comparison to the horrors that the past 12 months have heaped upon us, domestically and around the globe. If you want or need concise hot takes on why 2020 was such an ass-end of a year, I’m sure you can find plenty of them in the newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs, televisions shows or social media feeds of your choice. I generally try to avoid such wallows, and I doubt that I can add anything worthwhile to that bewildering stream of chatter, so I’m not even going to bother to try. Suffice to say that 2020 was a truly shitty year on a truly macro basis for an immense number of people, and that my normal website year-end report (which follows) is offered as a diversion for the record, not as a summary of recent horrors.

ON THE BLOG:

In 2019, I posted 70 articles on this website, noting 12 months ago that “as satisfying as that is, given my own goals for the upcoming year, I doubt that I will hit the same high post mark in 2020.” Well, surprise, surprise, 2020 didn’t quite go the way I planned it, and I ended up writing 147 posts, the most I’ve done since the Poem-A-Day Project in 2004. Retiring from full-time work certainly gave me more time to write, as did the cancellation of planned travel, and the need to fill socially isolated time in some satisfying and/or productive fashions. Interestingly, other folks being similarly isolated seemed to have an impact on readership here, per the following trend analysis of 2014-2020 website hits and visitors (actual numbers edited out, as it’s tacky to share them; the trend line is what matters):

I’ve owned this domain since the mid-1990s, but prior to 2015, I split my writing between a variety of sites with a variety of hosts. Since consolidating everything here in 2015, our Anno Virum has clearly been the most successful year in terms of readership numbers. It is nice to think that perhaps I helped some folks distract themselves, even if just briefly, from the day-to-day awfulness that 2020 has inflicted upon us. I suppose at some point I should consider trying to monetize that. Though I know from experience that turning fun/hobby undertakings into work/income ones that way usually never plays out as happily as one might expect it to.

As I report each year, here are the dozen most-read articles among the 147 new posts here in 2020:

And then here are the dozen posts written in prior years that received the most reads in 2020. It always fascinates me which of the 1,000+ articles on my website interest people (or search engines) the most, all these years on since the first 1995 post on an early version of this blog. (Note that I exclude things like the “About Me” page or the generic front page from the list, even though they generate a lot of my traffic). And once again, here’s hoping that people realize that the perennially-popular “Iowa Pick-Up Lines” post is a joke . . .

ELSEWHERE ON THE WEB:

See this earlier post: Best of My Web 2020.

TRAVEL:

See this earlier post: The Roads Not Taken.

RECORDINGS:

See these two earlier posts: Best Albums of 2020 and Most Played Songs of 2020.

LIVE PERFORMANCES AND ART EXHIBITIONS:

Yeah, right. That didn’t happen, for obvious reasons.

BOOKS:

See this earlier post: Best Books of 2020.

FILMS:

See this earlier post: Best Films of 2020.

AND  THEN . . . .

. . . onward to our brave post-Trumpian world, hopefully one that is anchored in science, justice and truth, all of which we will enjoy from our new homestead in Arizona. At least until travel is safe(r) again, anyway. I assume that I will be back here at my desk in December 2021 with a similar report (as has become my habit), marveling at that which was, and eagerly anticipating that which is yet to come. See you then?

Ho Ho Humbug Us, Every One!

Best of My Web 2020

I’ve been online for a long, long, long time, in the relative terms that Internet experience can be measured. This blog’s archives extend back to 1995 (before the word “blog” even existed), and I was romping and stomping about in virtual spaces earlier than that, like some digital dinosaur hauling its heft through a primordial dial-up ASCII swamp. While I’ve bailed on social media in recent years, I still do a sizable portion of my reading online, and with a quarter-century-plus experience in sorting the garbage that spills out of the interweb’s pipes, I think I’m pretty discerning in plucking the shiniest gems from the stinkiest spew of the online world.

Being a community-oriented sort, I’m happy to leverage my online explorations to share a roster of the five websites that moved me most in 2020, in the hopes that you might find them engaging and entertaining as well. My own web productivity and traffic both increased significantly this year (I’ll share more about that closer to the end of the year), likely as a combo platter of me having more time to write post-retirement from full-time work, and of other people having more time to read as we were collectively clamped down during this our Anno Virum. I know the websites cited below helped brighten some dark days for me over the past twelve months. Maybe my own website will have done that for you as well in 2020. It would make me happy were that the case. And we all need some extra happy these days, don’t we?

Thoughts On The Dead: Once again the best of the best to these eyes and ears. I learn a lot, laugh a lot, and love it a lot. Still. And again. The always and aggressively anonymous author has had a tough year in 2020, but he’s continued to write, brilliantly and consistently, and I’ve continued to read, gladly, thankfully, giddily and giggly. While knowledge of the Grateful Dead might help a bit on certain posts, it’s certainly not a hard prerequisite, as there’s a whole lot of cultural and musical and political turf covered herein, semi-fictionally. As a reminder, TotD’s got book-length work out there, too, if you want a deeper read. I recommend that, strongly. Bonus Points: He’s largely nocturnal, so I almost always have something new to read over my coffee every morning. Winning!

Going Medieval: Deep history, social conscience and significant snark from the UK’s Dr Eleanor Janega, knit together into a thoroughly brilliant whole. I’ve danced around the academic study of history in my own educational adventures, and I really, truly appreciate writers and researchers who can explain our todays and tomorrows through their deep understanding of our yesterdays — especially when such explications are offered with mad high-level story-telling skillZ that make the ancient timely, and the long-since-forgotten topical. This site has it all going on, every post a winner, guaranteed to make you smile and laugh as you (gasp!) actually learn something.

Daily Abstract Thoughts: Mostly short, thoughtful reflections from “Orcas Laird,” a native Scot living and writing from a gorgeous island in Washington State. As a gentleman of a certain age, I most appreciate this other similarly aged gentleman’s observations on topics sublime and mundane. He’s an astute and keen web philosopher in his ability to make the boundaries between those sublime and mundane bits blurry. We see big things when we look at little ones, sometimes. He’s very, very good at that, and is also an objectively fine writer, capable of terse elegance, which often eludes me in my wordy ways.

Messy Nessy Chic: A gorgeous and deeply entertaining site, one where you can gawp at beautiful things, learn about arcane topics, and enthuse about the ephemera that exists at the outer edges of Web World. Nessy’s weekly “13 Things I Found on the Internet Today” series is always a delight, and it’s rare that it doesn’t take me down some totally time-wasting online rabbit hole. Which is a good thing, if that’s not clear. I’m happy to be deeply distractable, and even happier to have such a good portal for distractions readily updated and available for my frittering about.

Ramblin’ With Roger: Roger Green and I shared blog space years ago at a newspaper website whose name I shall not utter, because things there ended poorly for me, and for many others. Roger was always one of my favorite writers on that commercial media site, writing well about many things that interested me, and/or about which I cared deeply on both intellectual and emotional bases. Even back in those blog farm days, Roger was running his own highly-prolific web gig, which is now up to 15+ years of consistent daily posting. And I do read him every day, just because I know I’m going to see something new and interesting, whenever I do. You can, and should, too!

Did you know that The Jubalaires were arguably the first recorded rap artists, in the 1930s? I didn’t either, until Messy Nessy turned me on to them, along with loads of other happy time-wasting arcana.

Dear WordPress: Your New Editor is Terrible

I’ve been running all of my personal websites on WordPress platforms since 2007. That’s when I moved off the Blogger/Blogspot platforms I’d been using since 1999, which had followed four years of cold-coding my sites via hand-crafted html pages FTP’ed into the ether over a slow modem. I’m long-time online, for sure. I’ve been happy with the WordPress experience over the years, and equally happy to pay for a $100 premium account every year for each website I still care for. That investment gives me advertisement-free experiences for my readers, enhanced media hosting capabilities, and various other behind-the-scenes benefits. Beyond my personal websites, I have either launched or relocated a variety of professional sites on WordPress over the years, and have recommended that others do the same if they want to create affordable, adaptable, easily-usable platforms for sharing quality content in pleasant formats online. I think I qualify as a loyal, trustworthy WordPress customer accordingly.

But as is so often the case in our technological times, WordPress has decided that what made its platform best for me, and many others, is not really what we want. They rolled out a new editor (e.g. the page where writers create, format and post content) in late 2018, and I found it utterly awful, clearly prioritizing quick-load, short-attention-span cell phone and tablet functionality over any other considerations for “big screen” users, who might actually have a vested interest in the aesthetics of their pages. But that was okay at the time, because as a long-standing user, they allowed me to keep using the “Classic Editor.” Good choice. Let the n00bs learn the new platform which, while trying to give everyone the ability to do things that 95%+ of them will never want or need to do, ends up doing the basic stuff poorly and in a most counter-intuitive fashion.

In recent months, every time I’ve created a new post in the Classic Editor, I’ve gotten a pop-up saying (essentially) “New ‘Block Editing’ Goodness Is Coming!”, but it has featured a “Not Now, Nope, Nuh-Uh!” opt-out button, which I’ve happily pushed, and gotten on with what I wanted to get done. Still no hurt, no foul. But then when I hit the “New Post” button a couple of days ago to create this, the crappy new Block Editing system (also known as “Gutenberg”) appeared before my dismayed eyes, without any opt-out options obvious. Dammit!

I waded with deep annoyance into the counter-intuitive morass, where it took me much longer to create a post than should have been necessary, and where there were things that I wanted to do that I couldn’t. Please note well that I’m an accomplished and sophisticated long-term communications technology user with strong computer problem-solving skills, generally able to figure out whatever I need to figure out, so this isn’t just a case of a dumb old person being befuddled by a shiny new application rolled out by and for the kidZ. It’s really just objectively bad. So I looked into how and whether I could return to the Classic Editor, and learned that WordPress was, indeed, offering an Add-On that would allow users that luxury — but in order to access and load it, I’d have to upgrade to a Business Account, at a cost of about $200 more per year that I’ve been paying. No Effing Thank You.

A quick survey via Google shows I’m not alone in thinking that this upgrade is a real stinker. Two of the most long-term and accomplished bloggers I know, Roger Green (15+ years of daily posting) and Chuck Miller (10+ years of daily posting) both beefed about it on their pages, and I feel compelled to join them in lodging my protest. I hate when companies do things like this. I hate change for change’s sake. I hate not being given a choice in how or whether to go along with such change. I hate that I have to waste a post telling you that I hate how I have to make a post. Hate it, hate it, hate it. Bad tech company! BAD!!! [rubs tech company’s face in soiled mess on virtual carpet, while hitting it with rolled up virtual newspaper]

As is typical, of course, nerds gotta nerd and geeks gotta geek, so folks are already figuring out some work-arounds. If you are an equally frustrated WordPress user, you can click on the links to Roger and Chuck’s pages in the preceding paragraph to learn about some of them. I’m using one now, happily clattering away in Classic Editor, without having to pay more for it. (Though I’ve learned that if I press the “Edit” button to tweak something on the post once it’s published, I’ll get jammed into Block Editor World again, so I have to go through several other back-of-house steps to avoid that). I suspect the work-around I am using will be short-lived, as I can’t imagine that WordPress will allow such a loophole to remain open once it spreads widely and cuts into their anticipated new Business Account revenues. Grumble.

I really have no desire to move my platform, and hope I don’t feel obligated to do so. But this is shitty customer service in support of a shitty product that people have been actively resisting for nearly two years now. I think it’s important that WordPress hears such sentiments from folks who have been with them since their earliest days, either paying them for the privilege, or generating advertising revenue for them via free accounts. Feel free to share, cross-post, or otherwise deploy this piece if helpful to making the point in your own sandboxes.

In closing: please don’t poke us with any more sharp sticks, WordPress. It’s not nice, not good for the community you’ve built, and not a worthy reflection of the technological face you want to show to potential new customers. Did I mention “grumble” and “hate it”?

“Anger” by William Blake. Because there’s a Blake painting for every mood and moment.

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