November 30, 2007

50,000 words & more!!!!

Yeah! I did it. I wrote a novel at least 50,000 words in one month. I am doing a virtual dance. Ooo-wee! I finished NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

Actually, my word count is at least 53,000 words. But the frustrating part is that I didn't actually finish the novel. I got a little obsessed with the word count and my characters and their motivation so I didn't quite realize how to control my plot. I definitely knew where the plot was going. That wasn't the problem. But I still have the concluding chapters to write. Yet, having written 6000 words in one sitting, I realize that I can finish the novel.

Then there's the issue of re-writing and trying to get it published.

Well, tomorrow is another day. For awhile I'm going to savor the success. Oooo-weee!

November 21, 2007

Nanowrimo in Second Life

Second Life intersects with real life again. There's a great Nanowrimo group in SL. Check it out.

Also I checked out the website from the commenter on my last post. His site,, has several good essays about Second Life. This is an insightful point from the site:

I do believe we have the potential to find validity in our relationships and experiences online, but when do we allow it to become distorted in our perception? When does it become us being too easily pleased or deceived into thinking people are disposable? Can our real life experiences and relationships become distorted and disposable as well? How much of our life do we put on a disposable memory stick?

Then, of course, the thing that's on my mind is shopping for Christmas. Apple has a big sale on Friday, online it seems. The sales for Black Friday look interesting, but do you think the sales will be even more next week? What I find incredibly frustrating is that if you don't buy some of the high tech stuff before Christmas, it either disappears or the price goes up for awhile. I find the whole pricing structure of electronics, and toys as well, a tad frustrating.

Have you checked out the Black Friday/CyberMonday websites?
Here's a good article from about how to deal with the upcoming deals.

The photo is of the next Macbook accessory I have to buy, to connect it to a new, larger screen we have purchased. Thankfully, I found cables to link an iPod video to a television on red discount at Target. These cable things add up.

November 19, 2007

Being neutral on virtual realities

Children hanging out in virtual reality would sound like science fiction only a few years ago, and yet today it's becoming a hot topic. The way that academics and media watchers are discussing the topic seems, in a way, to only be scratching the surface. My sense is that there's a sense of more optimism than pessimism among those grabbing the spotlight on discussing this emerging world. Check out Doug Thomas' statement in relation to the MacArthur Foundation's forum last week "What are Kids Learning in Virtual Worlds: The Wonders and the Worries."

Within virtual worlds, kids are learning what it means to be members of a community, a community they are building and in many ways defining. The values they create and the rules and norms they develop are teaching them lessons in citizenship and community. In many cases that is a good thing, one which helps kids understand what makes for a healthy community and what makes for a dysfunctional one. At the same time, however, we need to be mindful of spaces which conflate citizenship with consumption or community with collection.

...Virtual worlds teach the skills to navigate the new information economy by allowing kids to learn how to find information, often times in an environment that changes rapidly. Taken together, virtual worlds can prepare our kids for the next generation of learning. If only our schools could move as quickly.

In the article covering the forum, Thomas acknowledges the inherent problems with commercialism (meaning mainly collecting stuff
and exposure to ads) in today's virtual realities for children. But then, the article quotes him say:

"Knowledge is changing. It (used to be that it) was a set of facts, now it's not so much a 'what' but a 'where,' in which kids learn how to find information," Thomas said. "That's going to be the single most important skill--the ability to adapt to change."

He added: "I wouldn't be worried if they're engaged and playing these games, I'd be more worried if they're not."

But most kids are not playing virtual reality games and many are not precisely because of capitalism, commercialism -- or in other words because most parents aren't rich enough to get their kids high speed internet connections and their own dedicated computer to go along with it. If you remember that 50% or more of children in the southern U.S. live in families at or below the poverty line, then you know what I'm talking about. The digital divide is becoming a digital chasm.

Even if your parents have money, it is still difficult to convince them to spend money on something intangible -- virtual pets and their related clothes. Most adults aren't even spending money for their own intangibles. True, there's a large group of people that play Warcraft, but those people also have dedicated an enormous amount of time to that world. The new virtual realities are going to have to be more fluid, allowing adults and children to enter easily.

In a recent New York Times article, "Pay Up Kid, or Your Igloo Melts," even parents who have the money to spend (burn?) are somewhat confused about why they're paying for some things in virtual reality. Paying $6 a month isn't too bad, but $19.95 for a virtual dragon is too much.

In essence, I'm trying to say that being more neutral on virtual realities might be better. I've been through this before when academic consultants jump up and down about how great the new technology is. But they don't always think out all of the ramifications. And one of the ramifications here is: Who's going to pay, how much, and why?

well, more later.

November 16, 2007

Analyzing Virtual Worlds for Kids

Through, I learned about yesterday's conference (Nov. 15) about the experiences of online virtual networks for children, specifically focusing on Club Penguin and Webkinz, it seems. Here's a link to Cnet's article "What kids learn in virtual reality." This is a fascinating quote from Doug Thomas, associate professor at USC's Annenberg School of Communication:

"I wouldn't be worried if they're engaged and playing these games, I'd be more worried if they're not."

Well, that doesn't seem to be the reaction of most parents I know. They're terrified of their kids playing on the computer beyond 15 minutes. Maybe I'm just hanging around with conservative parents in Illinois' heartland. But these parents are well educated and most have a high speed internet connection at home. Many use computers as an important part of their job. So why are they reluctant to let their kids online, communicate with their friends online, or even have online 'jobs' to earn money to 'buy' things?

If they're worried about commercialism, as the cnet article indicates, isn't what they're describing more like 'why it's important to have a job so you can buy things you need: food, shelter, clothing?' True, the kids are buying fun things, but they are learning about the connection between earning money/points to buy something that you want and then using it. Or they find out that maybe they didn't want what they bought, like a boy getting a pink tutu for his penguin. Webkinz, in particular, doesn't let you earn points unless you can pass certain tests, some of which are difficult for me to pass on the first time. So the 'jobs' are not easy-peasy, but require some skill and effort.

Other parents are reluctant to pay the cost of Club Penguin. But it's $5 to $6 a month, depending on the plan. That's less than two McDonald's happy meals. Or less than most Lego sets. Or about the same as seeing one movie in a theater a month, without popcorn. More parents seem to be allowing their kids to have a Webkinz, which cost from $8 to $15 (I think that's right) because that's the only entry fee. Well, at first that's the only cost. But there's more! Kids are begging parents in stores to buy them another Webkinz. I met a mother whose children each had 10. And then there are clothes, trading cards, etc., with special codes to unlock more stuff online. This may cost me more than $6 a month if I keep going to the stores that are easily noted on the web by our Webkinz fan.

Or, is it the obsessiveness that these virtual worlds generate? Okay, this is troubling. Adults get obsessed about being online, so it's not surprising that kids do too. I wish that the academics had responded to this problem.

What about the weirdness of making friends online, and then not being able to make friends, and then being shunned by friends? I sometimes think this is rather overblown by parents. Kids' friendships are often fluid, especially on playgrounds, which is what I think is a good analogy for Club Penguin, in particular. Maybe it's okay to learn how to be friends quickly, to learn how to let go, to not get too jealous of friends. That might be a good life lesson.

For an added perspective, here's a link to a recent poll that says "Parents and Video Games don't mix." The following quote from a parent, who here is talking more about fantasy and violent games not really Club Penguin and Webkinz, still seems to present another position of parents
"It's just such a waste of time," said Lackman, 47, a power plant operator from Center, North Dakota, "I tell him, 'Do something that has some lasting value."'
But maybe learning how to negotiate in virtual worlds is going to continue to be an important skill for this new generation. My mom always wanted me to 'go outside.' I ended up bringing a typewriter outside and learning how to type in a tree with fingers that were freezing because I had to be outside during spring break in March. I was using my mom's old Royal typewriter with the hard-to-hit keys.

Perhaps that's why I particularly like that kids have to type to communicate. That's why I'm okay with Club Penguin in our house. I like that we have lots of excitement for Thursday's newspaper on Club Penguin, as I've mentioned before here.

The one parent that I know that regularly lets her daughter on Club Penguin does so because her best friend moved to Texas. This way they can talk to each other for a long time without tying up the home phone.

But the panelists in California seemed less concerned than many of the parents that I know. Yasmin Kafai, associate professor of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, suggested that

parents become a member in the virtual world that their kids belong to and play with them. "Go into the world with them," she said.

So, looks like there's a big divide between many parents, kids who like virtual reality and will be involved in it probably for the rest of their lives, and academics on the west coast.

November 14, 2007

Abstinence Ed doesn't work but Hip-Hop Ed might

I thought this article from the NY Times about using the language of hip-hop to reduce teen sexuality and increase empowerment of girls might be interesting to my friend who's an expert in studying teen sexuality. Then I thought it might be interesting to post on this blog as well. Only some of the hip-hip songs lead to risky sexual behavior. The study indicates that it's not the lyrics necessarily but the milleau surrounding listening to the music in groups that's the problem. To quote the article:

Most of the teenagers in the study were sexually experienced. But the researchers found that the overt sexuality of the music and dancing was not the main influence on sexual behavior. Rather it was the old standbys of alcohol, drugs and peer pressure that typically led them into sexual encounters.
When I was talking to my friend, she politely pointed out that studies show that abstinence education doesn't really work with teenagers. They are still going to have sex.

In Amanda Robb's NYT Op-Ed piece Oct. 18, 2007, she points out the tragedy of abstinence education:
In addition to provoking shame about a nearly universal activity, abstinence-only sex education is ineffective and dangerous. Last April, a 10-year study found that students who took abstinence-only courses were no more likely to abstain from sex than other students. Previous studies revealed that abstinence-only students avoid using contraception.
Here's a link to the AP article about the major study released in April 2007 about how teenage abstinence programs don't work. Here's a link to the Mathematica Policy Research report, which you can the download as a pdf, on which the news article is based on.

I think that the study noted in this Nov. 7 2007 Time article ("Abstienence not curbing
teen sex") is what I was thinking about when I was talking with my friend. It's by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. I found the images there from the group's new ad campaign. They are a tad odd, I think. Not sure if telling someone to 'stay self-centered' or 'stay a slacker' is such a good idea. But I'm sure they've been extensively market researched.

Just to be balanced, here's a study by the Heritage Foundation that teenagers who have sex are more likely to be depressed ad commit suicide. This sounds a lot like all those 1950s thinly veiled sex ed movies about kids who were 'fast' and then died in car crashes.

In the end, I have to agree with the Media Project's web site on teens and sex. It notes: "Young peopl
e have the right to sexual health information & services." As much as parents don't want to admit that their kids have sex, I think it's better to be informed all around. Perhaps good information can reduce problems.

And I have trouble spelling abstinence, so glad that my smart friend is doing the research -- she also knows more spelling rules than I do.

November 13, 2007

50,000 words in a month...with notes on the Hillary problem

I decided to try out the National Novel Writing Month program in which you try to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. So far I am nearly 10,000 words into it. The best part is being part of a group of writers. I sometimes have found the blogging world rather disconnected unless you work hard at connecting.

I have also been spending some time on Gather, which I got on through the website I got onto that by listening to the podcast of the APR radio show Splendid Table. I love listening to podcasts about food while cooking. Something inspirational about it. Unfortunately, the one recipe I have tried from Splendid Table, a pumpkin curry soup, was only partly successful. In general, I am struggling with how much curry to put into anything.

Ok, I am just going to tuck this in -- What if I wrote a website that was about pros and the obvious cons related to Hillary Clinton? Would anyone be interested? How many of those websites are there out there? I guess I will have to count. Well, just typing in "Hillary Clinton" and "critique" on Technorati leads to more than 470 posts.

I particularly liked Alison Owing's piece on Nov. 12 in the Huffington Post on her problems with Hillary. Here's a good clip:

Even after years in office, Hillary's wide-eyed oh-it's-you!-here-at-my-rally look seems, to me, practiced. So, for a wider check, I called another old friend in New York to ask how she likes Hillary these days. She said she could not bear her. Personality, huh? I asked. No, she said, she doesn't care about that. It's her votes. For the war in Iraq. For confirming Alberto Gonzales. For building the wall along Mexico. And now the vote that may lead us to war in Iran.

Ah, yes, the votes. They are part of my Hillary problem, too. So is the maneuvering of positions, the being maybe not so pro-choice after all-ing. And there is the cattle-futures trading. The Whitewatering. The Walmarting. The stand by your man anyway-ing.

That is how I am feeling. Like older feminist women are forcing me to like Hillary, and really, I just don't want to. I don't trust her. She betrayed many of her liberal friends, I particularly think about Marion Wright Edelman, and seemed untroubled by that. Maybe that's how politicians work. But it seems she could try harder to get people to work together, instead of just her way.

October 25, 2007

Designer clothes for girls

When I was in junior high, I remember what is was like to not having the right sweater. Somehow I always connected that with not being friends with what seemed liked the 'in' crowd. They were the girls whose parents bought them the right sweaters from Marshall Field's. A Wall Street Journal article Fashion Bullies Attack - In middle school suggests that the right sweater is even more desirable now.

But it's nice to see a few programs trying to address the extreme meanness that many girls exhibit, and which I think are allowed by the school. After all, these girls then keep everyone quiet in the classroom, set an example to do homework, wash their hands, speak softly, etc. Teachers love the good girls.

But to any middle school girl caught in this vicious circle, I can only say that often those popular girls don't always turn out to be the best friends to have. They were the ones who had the big drinking parties early on and drove drunk home from the city. Well, some of them. I know those girls can be mean, but they're often lacking something in their life and compensating for it, too.

October makes us all think of sweaters. And it's probably time for me to get back to blogging, too.

August 03, 2007

Disney buys Club Penguin

Yesterday, Disney announced that it was purchasing Club Penguin. This was a great newspaper article to get our young CP fan reading the New York Times. Which leads me to my continuing amazement how the old-style media complains bitterly about how young readers don't read their newspapers and yet really don't seem to comprehend how to connect with younger readers. The CP newspapepr is a must read in our household every Thursday morning. Why? Because it contains information that a younger audience wants to read. Most newspapers I read these days are geared for white management-types who are over 40 and are only excited by albums, oops CD's released by old hippie types or promoted at Starbucks. They barely get what anyone under 30 is interested in reading in the newspaper anymore. I have lots of ideas.

Disney gets it by purchasing Club Penguin, but I hope that they don't mess it up. Good things could come out of this.

The avatar worlds are just starting to increase in popularity. This Globe and Mail article points the way to where things may be headed. Here are a few other selected opinions about Club Penguin, which seems to be a puzzlement to many writers without kids. Motley Fool points out how this is a good deal for Disney. The Washington Post has a photo of the founders and includes negative authorities on kids on the internet. Tech guru John Dvorak writes that he's never heard of Club Penguin, which suggests to me that the world is changing a lot faster than he understands.

I want to sound bemused here because I sense there's lots of money to be made. But the guys who tried to sell us 'synergies' a few years ago are unaware as they count the exorbitant sums of money they made through speculations while others got burned. Let's just hope Disney figures out how that too much synergy is a bad thing.

August 01, 2007

Second Life conference

My first conference in Second Life was lively and interesting, yet it also had those routinely boring moments, just like any conference. Over the weekened, I attended BlogHer's 07 conference in Second Life, instead of being in RL in Chicago at Navy Pier, which sounded quite appealing. But it was fascinating to sort of be at the real life conference via live video feed, and then be at our own SL conference with topics just for SL confenferees, particularly on Saturday.

Queen Tureaud and everyone at BlogHer's tech side did a good job of trying to get this conference going. There were many glitches, and a few too many complainers, I thought over the general IM about not being able to get the media feed. But oh well. The first photo is of Elizabeth Edwards as the final keynote on Saturday answering questions from the audience. Turns out she is a long-time computer user and keeps a blog on her husband's presidential campaign website. I was impressed by her candidness and her sense of understanding where the real problems are in the country.

The second photo is a panel with Esther Dyson and three other independent-minded, tech-smart women. You can see me listening in the audience.

Some other ways this was just like an RL conference: This conference had an exhibitors' area where I got a lot of SL bling. And some of the booths seemed appropriate and some were a tad off, like real conferences. I tried to IM a few people individually in the crowd while a session was going on via voice. This seemed ok, but it was interesting how we could privately have chats without anyone knowing or seeing us pass notes. I particularly enjoyed chatting with the new mother who runs her blog Toddler Planet.

But I feel lots of pain for her as she was recently diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer. I do hope she recovers well. Check out her link on the different kind of breast cancer she has, which is particularly hard to detect via mammograms. I had never heard of it before.

Another weird thing about an SL conference, is that you can click on people to see their profiles and learn more about them. I found out about a lot of interesting SL groups doing this. At an RL conference, you're rather anonymous besides your name tag.

I am eager to do another SL conference and to try to get a circle of some of my best, but now scattered, friends together in a chat in the fall in SL.

Well, haven't been writing much as we have been traveling to see all of our families. It was exhausting, but fun to drive 1600 miles in two weeks.

July 13, 2007

Nintendo's DS Opera browser doesn't quite rock

The Nintendo DS Lite is pretty cool, but the new Opera browser is rather limited. We were hoping to use it to be able to play ClubPenguin, but alas, this browser doesn't read Flash, so no CP. Webkinz might work, but it's rather slow. Essentially the Opera browser is good for checking email, playing very basic games and other minimal things. It's as limited as a lot of web browsers are for cell phones.

Also, it took awhile to figure out how to co
nnect the wifi on the DS to our Airport Express. After checking a few DS boards, I realized that I needed to type in a a rather long number WEP password, and not our regular password, which I changed a couple times in the process, too. Nintendo isn't really helpful on this score, suggesting to call the 800-number. But I hate calling 800-numbers for help. After one night's sleep and another hour or so of fiddling and research, I got it to go and now at least the wifi to the web works fine.

The Opera browser for the DS has been in Europe for at least a year. The Sony PSP has had a browser as part of it fr
om the start. So it seems odd that Nintendo has been slow in the U.S. to get a decent browser going. The ads I read beforehand made me think that it was a full operating browser, but that doesn't mean Flash, or some other things. Several obnoxious posters have noted that around the web; Flash is an add-on they keep saying. But Flash has become an integral part of most of our web experiences. In fact, so many web sites now require us to have Flash just to experience even the basics. So we have come to expect Flash has part of the basic operating experience, like it or not. Unfortunately, the word seems to be that Nintendo was reluctant to pay for Adobe's licensing of Flash.

My quick review is that the Opera browser is probably better for adults using the DS, than for kids.

We recently saw the DVD for Alex Rider: Stormbreaker which featured the DS as a cool spy gadget. We really liked the film and didn't understand the negative reviews in the U.S. It was a fast-paced, intriguing James Bond style film for tweens, teens and their families. Kids as young as 7 would probably like it. But it's not the laugh-fest like Agent Cody Banks. It's a little more like the Spy Kids series, but it has the cool, detached British style and high gloss European editing and cinematography. Some reviewers complained that it wasn't violent enough and there wasn't enough blood and gore. But maybe not all of us want to see that, and maybe it's ok to not have as much in a kids-oriented film. Did reviewers complain about that with the Men in Black series? Sometimes I think reviewers get too jaded. Definitely worth checking out, especially if you like the idea of James Bond for teen-agers.

July 09, 2007

Couric's re-dresses

The Couric drumbeats march on, this time somewhat orchestrated by the anchor herself. New York magazine's cover piece this week doesn't say a lot new that hasn't been covered. What I do like is how some in the cyberspace world are questioning whether a man could slap a female staff member on the arm repeatedly if he were mad at her, as Couric admit having done to a male staffer in a meeting. She's a smart woman, she should know how some are tightly defining sexual harasment these days. It's curious how Couric's problems have been turned into Slapgate already.

Is the
New York magazine article evidence she's Couric falling? No I don't think so. Instead, she's repositioning herself in a public way so she can move on after the 2008 election. She doesn't seem to want the anchor job anyway, according to this piece and others. She doesn't mind blaming her problems on people who can't adjust to change, her huge salary, or her celebrity style. Plus, she needs to defend herself against articles like the recent cover story on National Enquirer. She's using the media in ways reminiscent of Princess Diana, perhaps.

Media Bistro asks a good question: "Did this slapping incident happen after the newscast? If so, that suggests that Couric isn't reading her copy before she goes on air..." The evidence is piling up that she is often just reading off the teleprompter. That's why the plagiarism story slipped through the large holes in the fact-checking seive at the managing editor's news desk (Couric's by the way).

Drudge thinks that if Hillary wins the White House, Couric will want to stay on, or CBS will perceive that women in power are a good thing, part of a trend, etc. I hope that women in power are thought of as just fine, thank you. But that's not a reason to keep Couric beyond the elections.

Finally, I want to comment on Couric's friends complaining about how others are complaining about Couric's clothes (they wouldn't do that for a man, etc.). Sometimes people do complain about men's clothes; Dan Rather's odd sweater vests come to mind, in relation to this case. More importantly, clothes do convey significant messages, unlike what some feminists want to believe. It is probably smart that Couric is rethinking her wardrobe for her role as a serious newscaster. Men's clothes don't vary as much, so there's somewhat less to scrutinize. Women have more options. Consequently, it's harder to dress as a woman. But you still have to try.

And then there's Second Life where I have been spending too much time recently and where it's hard to find clothes that aren't sexy. Curiously, many women dress quite suggestively. Is it because they feel safer? Are they revealing their true selves? Do they forget to change after a night out (because SL clothes don't need cleaning)?

June 27, 2007

Politics, then off to Club Penguin and kids media stuff

Matt Drudge was pontificating on his Sunday night radio show that he thinks Hilary Clinton is going to win the 2008 Presidential election. I hope it's too early to make such predictions. But perhaps Drudge has lots of contact ready to spill even more beans about the unsavory Clintons. He would relish exposing more of the Clintons' weaknesses.

Hilary does not appeal to me. Her position: "I'm a woman so all women should vote for me" is crass and perhaps a form of blackmailing. Anyway, women who have used that kind of thing previously don't necessarily help women out.

The New York Times has a front page piece on how younger voters seem to be more inclined to vote Democratic. I wonder what kind of impact that could have? Maybe more candidates in Second Life.

In response to two recent commentors. First, thanks for commenting!

We have had a few family dinner table conversations about why Club Penguin may not have worked for GDAEman. We have found that it's pretty easy to get conversations started if you first start talking to others. Or penguins will say "1,2,3 for a girl like me" Then others type in 123 and the penguins start talking.

When you log onto a server, go to one of the busiest servers if you're new to CP. That way you know there will be a lot of penguins. Try out different areas. Go to the pizza parlor and ask to be served pizza. Using their imagination and some cool pizza throwing moves, a penguin will come over. Also, get a tour from a Tour Guide. This is a good way to get around. Read the newspaper to see what's happening.

Club Penguin's newspaper has become a must read in our house. We know the exact date a new edition comes out and it's opened first thing in the morning, usually before breakfast. If only the regular media could figure out how to get kids so fascinated with regular newspapers. Maybe they should start reprinting CP's newspaper. Also, CP is fine for a seven-year-old, in my opinion, as long as that child can write and understand what's happening in CP.

Also thanks to anonymous for mentioning I have seen it, in fact I get its regular emails. I find it quite refreshing as it seems to take the media and parenting seriously, but doesn't take a conservative approach. Sometimes all the details about some of the charcters' actions seems excessive, but I can appreciate it. It's worth checking out. Looks like it has an article about CP, Webkinz, etc.

We recently saw Surf's Up, which was a sweet movie. The commonsensemedia review was pretty fair, fairer than some of the more mainstream critics. If you like surfing, you'll probably really like Surf's Up. And if you've been spending hours with Club Penguin, you'll probably like it, too.

June 19, 2007

confusion about parenting instincts

All I can say tonight is that one should always trust one's parenting instinct. Unfortunately, I didn't quite trust that. Or I trusted lots of other people who I thought were experts. Okay, I'm sure mad because now we have a child with a fractured lower arm. And we knew which ortho doctor to go to this time because DH had a fractured wrist two winters ago. That, in itself, was somewhat embarassing or frustrating.

So now we go on to Plan B for the summer. Which I guess is okay.

Club Penguin is really quite cooling and cool and so I guess we are going to be spending more time on that, too. It seems to change every week or so with new games, new characters. Check out YouTube and some of the RockHopper videos (here's another one) to see the frenzy when RockHopper the Pirate Penguin hops into Club Penguin world every 2 1/2 months or so. The Penguins go into a frenzy around him.
Kids can get obsessed with Club Penguin. But I think it has lots of good aspects. More girls seem to be playing on Club Penguin perhaps, in part, because it's quite verbal and requires writing. But boys like the game playing parts and are just as intrigued by the collecting aspect.

There are even rumors that Sony might be interested in Club Penguin, which had 4.5 million visitors. Perhaps News Corp. is interested, too. Curiously, ClubPenguin is stickier than YouTube.

We have also opened up the Diner Dash game box. The game for PC's seems to be a time-wasting, but good diversion.

Parenting can really make me mad at myself and others. I need diversions for balance. perhaps more second life at the beach cabin.

June 18, 2007

The avatar life

Yep, I have been out. The Katie Couric thing bummed me out, I must admit. She can't take responsibility for her mistakes, so my impression of her zipped down quickly. Even Dan Rather has not been saying nice things about how the CBS Evening News is turning out, even tho he was trying hard to be nice to Couric.

Just to note, why does it continue to be perfectly plausible to keep calling Couric 'perky,' but Rather can't say that his old show has been 'tarted up' without being called a sexist? Maybe Couric is 'perky,' but the constant use of the term is a insulting. Maybe that is the point, she can't rise above the cheery morning wake-up chick.

Instead, I have been spending too much time in virtual worlds. First, we started out going that route through Nicktropolis, which we found interesting but a tad boring. So I researched lots of kid options for online. We could not find a webkinz in our town, even tho we saw them a few places around Christmas time. So we couldn't go that route.

I thought would be a good option. It offers in-world imbee email, imbee blogging, groups, and picture posting. It's probably great for slightly older kids than the ones in our house. But, I do think that has lots of great aspects to it, including a high degree of parental involvement and overview.

Instead, the hit of the household has been ClubPenguin. Who would have thought that being a penguin online would be so filled with so much fun? After only a few days we went the membership route, because it actually is more fun. I am rationalizing this because it does help writing skills. And it is a good way to learn how to interact with other kids. Curiously, it's based on Flash, which I used to be able to do pretty well.

Completely jealous, I decided to join Second Life.

For GDAEman, who kindly chided me for not posting, I will mention that I haven't found too much political stuff. Check out his cool photo. I am not quite sure what Deviant Art is, but I found it intriguing on my short visit there. I have heard that John Edwards has a spot somewhere on Second Life, but I have not been there yet. So far, though, it hasn't been quite has cool as I had hoped. But I do have a wonderful cabin on a beach, with a fireplace and radio, in Great Spaces. It's a great place to rent.

We did have a nice dinner last weekend with some of our good friends. They told a good anecdote about meeting Barack Obama in Hawaii where he was having an enjoyable dinner at a fancy restaurant. They said he was very pleasant. I always like hearing about politicians in the off politico theater in positive terms.

In researching stuff for this, I found it funny that the Northwestern U winning lacrosse team did not wear flipflops to meet the President. No matter what people think, fashion makes lots of statements, even when you think you're not saying anything at all.

May 01, 2007

Couric's attempt to break the glass ceiling shatters

Instead of posting, I have been busy on other stuff including -- watching how Gail Shister's Philadelphia Inquirer column on Katie Couric's woes has played out in the media. Thanks GDAEman for commenting and noting my continuing frustration. I think that the Tribune article that appeared that same Sunday should have had a little more play, as it was her first public quotation about the plagairism issue. But the more sensational Shister column gets the press.

During the last week, the Couric case has also been discussed on WGN radio. She was interviewed later in the week by a sympathetic friend, dj Steve Cochran, as a promo for doing the news from Chicago and then appearing at a major cancer benefit on Friday. She said that she thought it was important to continue to do "good journalism" on her newscast and that that will attract viewers. She said something like "people still need someone to sort out all the news that's going on and to drill down into news stories beyond the short headlines that you get in many places." This is not a direct quote, just a paraphrase as I remember it. Anyway, how much can even a good television reporter 'drill down' (a phrase she did use) during a 22 minute newscast? Isn't that more of the role of newspapers, magazines, and now the infinite depth of the internet?

Curiously, she was joined on the interview with her new producer who was more long winded and who Couric cut off a few times, taking the conversation in a different track.

Susan Estrich also had a nasty column on Fox concerning Couric and about how women should not attack women who break through the glass ceiling. You know what? I think that women should be held to the same standards as men because only then will we have truly broken through the glass ceiling. When we are given passes because we're-women-(or minorities)-and-they-need-us-for-affirmative-action-or-related-window-dressing, then we haven't really broken through. Guys know this. Smart women know this, too.

I am beginning to think that Couric was given a wide pass on the plagairism issue because she is a woman. If she was a guy, perhaps she would have been raked over the coals. But CBS needs its peacock showcase woman and they don't think it's appropriate for the Managing Editor of the CBS Evening News to defend or apologize for mistakes on the newcast. The Managing Editor, consequently, has been demoted to a perky Talking Head.

April 23, 2007

More media players write about Katie Couric's problems

Over the weekend, media writers for the Chicago Tribune and Philadelphia Inquirer the analyzed the Katie Couric problem at CBS. The results were divergent and fascinating. Phil Rosenthal at the Tribune is the first person that I can tell that has interviewed Couric since the plagiarism incident. Her comments seem to have made a sidebar but they don't say too much. Rosenthal's column is mainly Couric speaking to Rosenthal in rather general terms about the difficulties of finding her way at CBS. (it's also at PopMatters, in case you don't want to go through the Tribune's website.)

Here's just the Rosenthal side bar for those of you who don't want to be members at the Tribune.
NEW YORK -- CBS News chief Sean McManus is vowing reforms for after Katie Couric's Notebook on the site included a plagiarized commentary, mostly written by a since-fired Web producer.

"People have the right to expect, if your name is on a product, that you wrote that," McManus said.

Couric does five commentaries a week with help from a staff.

"I'll usually edit it or I'll say I don't feel comfortable with this or I don't like the way this ends," she said. "So this was a very unfortunate incident because the person who did this is a lovely person, but clearly inexperienced about the tenets of basic journalism."

Couric said her own memories were incorporated, but the fired producer copied mostly from a Wall Street Journal piece.

Couric also contributes to a blog on the CBS News site, which she says she writes on her own.

"The blog can and should be much, much better," McManus said. "It's a great opportunity for Katie to express herself, and I'm not sure any of us have spent enough time focusing on that. It's an area we need to make better and we will."

Two points trouble me about what Couric said . 1) "this was a very unfortunate incident because the person who did this is a lovely person, but clearly inexperienced about the tenets of basic journalism." How could a woman who is 32 years old, has a bachelor's from Wesleyan and a master's degree from Columbia (in journalism? not sure) and who has worked at CNN, and the New York Times and is going to be teaching a class at Media Bistro not be experienced? Altho she looks like Anne Hathaway in a photo, this woman was not the young, naive girl from Devil Wears Prada, but it sounds like that's the angle CBS is taking. If that is the angle, what does it say about CBS News? (ok, and how could Hathaway's character be so naive anyway. she had a journalism degree, too.)

" Couric also contributes to a blog on the CBS News site, which she says she writes on her own." One of the areas that seem disputed is what she is contributing to the blog. It looked to me that the blog post was usually the same as her videocast.

Read Gail Shister's Sunday column in the Philadelphia Inquirer for a different angle. Shister, a long-time media columnist, connects the dots with the problems at the CBS Evening News. The plagairism incident is only one of many problems.

Karen Von Hahn, in the Toronto Globe and Mail, sees the CBS plagarisim issue as part of a bigger problem of attribution in her column in Saturday's issue.

Hamilton Nolan writing in PR News on April 17
posted the essay "Halfway approach to blog was CBS' error." He ends the piece this way: " "The ethical implcations of Couric's secondhand commenatries are murky - people understand that news anchors have writers - but the blogosphere is about forging a more personal connection. A Couric-branded blog should either feature her very own thoughts, or take her name and picture of the masthead."

When the public relations community has problems with plagairism, then you know you have problems.

The only writer that I have found that links how children use libraries with the CBS case has been Gary Rotstein, of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in his April 19 article "By the book." He writes: "The association's annual study said the number of visits to public libraries increased 61 percent between 1994 and 2004, to nearly 2 billion." The complete American Library Association report "State of America's Libraries 2007" can be found at the ALA site.

A few pullouts from the press release: "Overall circulation at public libraries in the U.S. rose by 28 percent during the decade, partly driven by significant growth in circulation of children's materials, which grew by 44 percent. Attendance in library programs for children was also up 42 percent for this same period." ... 'The 2007 State of America's Libraries reports that while use of libraries continues to increase and while the general public supports strong funding for libraries, many school library media centers are experiencing budget cuts resulting in staffing reductions, shortened hours, and even closures. The new federal requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act are cited most frequently as the reasons for these funding cuts."

So, in the end, children are using libraries a lot more and they are reading books. Unfortunately, they may not be able to do this as much as they used at their own school libraries. Maybe Laura Bush, who's advocated for libraries, should see how school libraries fit into the mix of No Child Left Behind.

Finally, here are a few more links to a variety of comments on the plagairism case.
Will Femla on the MSCNBC site., who had to read about the Couric plagarism at Drudge (!)
Violet Blue's post on blog "Tiny Nibbles," which can usually get more steamier.
And the website It doesn't mention this case, but sums up what plagiarism is all about.

Hope all the colors on this page aren't too much. Thanks for reading!

April 18, 2007

Reflections on the Virginia Tech massacre

Even though I saw the news unfolding, I found it difficult to stay focused on it at that time. I just didn’t want to follow it closely at first, as I used to do when I worked at newspapers. The Virginia Tech story comes too close and its reverberations echo in my community.

A few years ago while on a journey East, we decided to stop for the night at in Kent, Ohio, the home of Kent State University. We were ready to find a motel and we have had good experiences staying in college towns as there are usually lots of motels, good places to eat, and something interesting happening. It is hard not to think of the killing of four students May 4, 1970 when you are there. But when we visited the campus, we couldn’t find too much that memorialized the students. Maybe things have changed. But we had such an empty feeling as a result. At least, the campus has memorials and observances each May 4. Still, we just wanted some way to pay our respect and reflect better than talking about it in a rather sterile motel room later.

The community of Virginia Tech will probably handle its memorial events differently as Tuesday’s tragedy reflects a different kind of tumult in society. Our culture has changed in how we react to these extraordinary tragedies and perhaps that's particularly positive. Whenever I hear Neil Young sing “four dead in Ohio” I cringe with sadness. To transpose those lyrics to “thirty-two dead in Virginia” is extraordinarily sad and disheartening. I pray for the families and the university and that some positive windows can open somehow.

As a high tech parent, the discussion of how to contact students in the age of cell phones and email is enlightening. Blacksburg is trying to be one of the most connected communities in the U.S., so the VT' administration's inability to understand that the easiest way to contact students is through text messaging to phones seems rather sad. If this community that is quite high tech still had problems, what does it say about how technology could work for the rest of us? The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article probing this question, “Texting when there’s trouble.”

Universities need to rethink security issues as well. Parents and students (and maybe even faculty and staff) have different expectations concerning safety than just ten years ago. We know technology exists to enable only electronic passholders to enter dorms or any building on campus. We know that high schools use metal detectors, but rarely see them in colleges. We know cameras exist all over highways, but are they on campuses in appropriate places?

Even though Hope College is near a somewhat unsafe neighborhood, when I stayed in a dorm for a conference a few summers ago, I felt particularly safe. The reason: to get into every dorm and many other buildings on campus everyone had to have an electronic pass card. I couldn’t even get into the main library until I asked for special clearance. I think this is in the future for colleges and universities.

April 16, 2007

Twins plagiarizing. Fired CBS producer's twin did same.

The CBS plagiarism story continues in a weird twist and commentators continue the dialogue. First, the CBS producer who was fired for plagiarizing has a twin sister who was also caught plagiarizing. The New York Post reports her sister “as canned from Woman's World after being caught plagiarizing from Self magazine in January, a source told the Post.” Whoa. Did they both think they could get away with it? They are both 32 and are graduates of Wesleyan University and have master's degrees from Columbia University, according to the Post and other bios.

Second, a few media commentators are weighing in that CBS Evening News shouldn't be left off the hook so easily. Scott Collins, in his column Channel Island at the LA Times, writes about the seriousness of the CBS Evening News plagiarism case.

Broadcasting & Cable magazine has an op-ed about the problems with plagiarism in broadcasting

Katie Couric Must Share Blame in Plagiarism Case, Says Media Ethicist Bob Steele '69”
from DePauw University news bureau. Steele works for the Poynter Institute.

The Deeper Fakery of Couric’s Plagiarism from Slate by Timothy Noah.
Note: I disagree with Timothy Noah about Jeff Zaslow’s writing. One of the reasons the Couric piece stuck in my head was because Zaslow’s plagiarized writing was clever and intriguing. Noah gets somewhat off track.

Putting Words in Her Mouth, from the Weekly Standard. This is my husband's preferred interpretation.

Thanks to Beth Kujawski's blog for pointing out the New York Post article and the LA Times.

I am beginning to have trouble spelling plagiarizing.

Couric's friends? + CBS changing Couric's incorrect Obama essay

So far only one of Katie Couric's friends, and this one is anonymous, has supported her on the web in regard to her plagiairsm case. Read the tip on Media Bistro about someone how heard from a "dear friend and former colleague" that Katie did write the first line from her April 4 video essay "I remember my first trip to the library..." This post, only so far seen on TV Newser on Media Bistro, seems like a very weak support of Couric.

Also...CBS's significant changes to Katie Couric's April 11 video essay about Barack Obama is just starting to surface. Television news never really has had an ombudsman, like print newspapers have, so they never really have to confess to mistakes. From a media observer's point, I'm finding it curious that CBS is now in the print business and has had to correct print mistakes, something they probably wou
ld never have to do in radio or print reports. Clearly they're uncomfortable about it.
Here are a few links:
Huffington Post: More Katie Couric Trouble: Updates Notebook Again After Spreading Debunked Obama Rumor
Couric's "Notebook" rehashed debunked Obama rumors
Wizbangblog on initial problems with the Obama essay spreading material that was proven false.
The GDAEman blog has been following the story closely. I love the graphs from Technorati showing the posts on Katie Couric vs. Don Imus.

Plus, read Couric's January 27 video essay in which she debunks the Obama rumors and
says "Obama was never enrolled in a madrassa." She ends with "Let's resist the temptation to repeat unsourced gossip. Let's fact-check first and broadcast second." Yet, on April 11 she said "That background sparked rumors that he had studied in a radical madrasa, or Koranic school – rumors later disproved . Obama is now a practicing Christian." (this is the changed version) So she is not really following her own advice.

On a ligher and more fun note (away from plagiarism and taxes) ... last night we saw The Decemberists in concert with My Brightest Diamond opening. The first band was ethereal and beautiful: like a cross between Bjork, Jane Siberry, Tori Amos and her own original concept.

The Decemberists are fabulous! Funny, creative, curiously inventive. Rather dark, too, with lyrical long songs about butchers, chimbley sweeps, and pistols. They just don't do a rock concert, they put on a show, complete with a person-eating whale at the end.

Let's just hope the hungry whale isn't a metaphor for things to com.

April 13, 2007

Couric's Obama podcast altered in web version

Katie Couric's April 11 podcast essay about whether the U.S. is ready for Barack Obama because he has prayed in a mosque has been significantly altered on the website version. The changes that were made are noted in bold. The text was edited by Greg Kandra, a seasoned writer and producer at CBS News who is now the editor of Couric & Co.

The controversial Obama essay aired the same day that the news was widely distributed that Katie Couric and her staff had plagiarized her April 4 notebook podcast.

Here is the piece as it now appears on the web. I have put the original text in orange. The orange text does not appear on the web.


Is America ready to elect a President whose connections with Islam were the subject of rumor and innuendo? who grew up praying in a mosque?

Barack Obama has arguably the most diverse religious background of any candidate, ever. He was raised in Indonesia by a Christian mother and Muslim stepfather, and attended a Catholic school, but while growing up, also studied Islam. That background sparked rumors that he had studied in a radical madrasa, or Koranic school – later disproved . Obama is now a practicing Christian. rumors that his campaign denied declaring that Obama is now a practicing Christian. l

Last month, the Los Angeles Times interviewed a person people who grew up with Obama. In the LA Times article he said, "We prayed in the mosque, but not seriously," noting that Obama also prayed with his Catholic schoolmates. In a later Chicago Tribune article, however, the source said he was not certain whether they prayed together. this sentence was not aired

It's too soon to know what America will decide about Barack Obama or his background.

But it's not too soon to wonder if America will see that background as an asset...or a liability.

Also note that the website is now handling the podcasts differently. Before April 4, the complete text of the podcast was posted. After that, the only podcast post that has the complete text is the one from April 11 with the corrections.

Is CBS scared that more people will check the text of Katie Couric's podcast with other materials? Kind of weird. This action seems to reflect the rather weak and defensive action CBS has taken throughout this problem.

April 12, 2007

Couric does not admit essay was plagiarized

The way the Katie Couric plagiarism issue has been playing out is fascinating. Pundits are ready to spear Don Imus, but at least he has acknowledged and apologized for his vile comments. Couric is the managing editor of her program, but she has yet to say that anyone on her staff has done anything wrong. She has not acknowledged that she didn't have the 'thoughts' she was supposed to have when she read her notebook video blog, "In the Stacks," on April 4. She is completely silent. Maybe this is how CBS thinks the story will be buried.

A few women bloggers have thought that reporting Couric's plagiarism is symptomatic of a male dominated culture going after the first woman who has anchored the evening news. This is not true. Couric is a journalist and should be held up to a journalist's ethical standards, which are the same for men and women. I think women who hide behind that kind of feminism don't quite get it.

Why didn't other people who are interested in books, libraries, and children wonder where Couric got her information? Radio and TV journalists know that their stories evaporate into the media ether the moment they're aired -- for most of the people listening. So maybe no one else thought to check out her facts. Wouldn't a librarian somewhere -- even at the American Library Association -- want to at least read the study so they could be prepared respond to it?

My husband says that no one cared to bother to check out Couric because everyone is just listening and reading their own stuff. Okay, we're all guilty of that. But was no one else in this case curious about where information is coming from, who is gathering it, and who is interpreting it? That is a bigger issue here.

Also, did the CBS producer think that she could get away with plagiarizing because the Couric video blog is not aired on national network television? Instead, it's sent out to affiliates and plays on some radio stations as well. Those of us in the heart of the heart of the country only count when it comes to ratings..?

When I was editing an alumni magazine, we had to spend hours proofreading and checking material. It's critical that no one's name is misspelled. But occassionaly there was some grammar error by mistake. On a rare occassion, I'd hear from an older alumni who would call me to task for that error. Maybe all those eagle-eyed readers are fading and being replaced by hecklers, rather than thoughtful critics or curious media consumers.

My experience on print publications is that people rarely ever write to praise articles in an issue. Praise would be nice, too.

So, I'll commend Couric for pursuing the network anchor position. I just wish she had the journalist's sensibility and writing ability that I once thought was part of the job description.

April 11, 2007

Couric's library piece sounded odd to me

Katie Couric’s "In the Stacks" notebook commentary from April 4 about children and libraries intrigued me, since I’m interested in children reading, public libraries, and technology. After hearing the piece on the First Light radio program early in the morning, the commentary stuck with me while I was more awake. I try to keep up on information about these topics as a library advocate and patron, high tech parent, and reviewer of children’s books. Since I was not familiar with the study she mentioned, I wanted to find Couric’s source. I checked the web looking for it. After viewing the video on the CBS website, I noticed she didn’t cite a specific study. In further research, I found Jeff Zaslow’s column, "Of the Places You'll Go, Is the Library Still One of Them?" which mentioned similar material.

For his Wall Street Journal’s online Career column, Zaslow interviewed several people and referred to sources to back up his claim that children are using libraries less for books and more for technologies, but that they’re buying more books. I emailed him for the exact source connecting children, libraries and technology. He responded quickly with the materials.

I’m not in complete agreement with how Zaslow interprets the library focus group study cited in his column. But that’s ok. There’s another study that is a more solid report on how people are using libraries, which is even more revealing. Check out Households’ Use of Public and Other Types of Libraries: 2002 published by the National Center for Education Statistics out of the U.S. Department of Education published in January 2007. I hope to comment on it in another post.

Zaslow is a well-known reporter. His piece was on the Wall Street Journal website, not some obscure publication by an unknown writer. So it’s particularly odd that those who are putting together the CBS Evening News believed no one would see the connection between what they wrote for Couric and what Zaslow wrote. To be fair, since I never saw the written version of Couric’s piece until today, I didn’t completely comprehend how word-for-word it was. Just that it seemed quite similar.

Zaslow and WSJ have been gracious about noting the plagiarism, which is professional and impressive.

When I was a college journalism professor, I emphasized the serious nature of plagiarism to my students. Unfortunately, some of the students learned the hard lesson that I do take it seriously. I hope they were saved from worse problems later in life, like the one the unnamed producer is learning. I hope that person can recover with grace.

I am surprised at how much Couric, listed as the program's managing editor, trusts her staff.

Why isn’t an editor checking over producers’ stories? Someone should have asked the producer the source of the information. There are no definite sources mentioned, which was what clicked with me in the first place. I know the commentary is just over a minute, but that’s enough time to cite a source.

I appreciate how Katie Couric seems to be growing into her job at CBS. But this offense is both sad and revealing about Couric and the staff at the evening news. Maybe they’re short staffed. Maybe they’re not following up really well. I hope they can solve the problems. I want to support a woman anchor on the evening news.

Here's perhaps the most complete story on the Couric issue as reported in Newsweek/MSNBC.

Check out the "Finding My Voice" blog with a good perspective on why the CBS Evening News has a real problem.

April 10, 2007


Doing taxes involves mostly organizing. Even though I spent several months following the Fly Lady lifestyle, I am still not very organized. So the initial part of gathering everything together for taxes is hard. This year I'm back with TurboTax, which makes the math part and the forms issues much easier. Also, for the first time there's a program that calculates cost basis for stocks. Yeah! (my enthusiasm probably qualifies me for a finance I just need to make lots of money) Also, every time I open another one of the Important Tax Documents I am struck that the envelope has a direction on how to open it. Taxes are hard enough, so why do so many companies put extremely important information into oddly shaped envelopes which require a three-step process just to open them? I realize that these things save money and trees and are easier for printers. But who cares about the people who use the information? I am always terrified that I am going to tear a W-2 and have to send it in with lots of tape. Not red tape. Just tape, kind of like a Frankenstein W-2 with lots of seams that are fixed.

So I pull here, tear there, and then run my finger under another seam. Sometimes, then I cut myself and have to find a bandage. Who writes these directions? Who opens these things?

April 09, 2007

The Roots Below & Perfect Eggs

Last week, I spent some time preparing for the school's science night. This year, the parents decided to present many easy science experiments for the students to try out, instead of having kids do poster displays. This ended up being more fun and educational for the students than last year's pairing of older kids who took over the science projects from their younger partners. I am not so sure the current trend of partnering kids from lower and higher grades in school works as well as the educational experts and media are touting. I can list at least five examples where it didn't work for several students during the last year.

Other parents did projects on litmus paper, paper airplanes, mobius strips, water on pennies, gloppy stuff, bacteria from ears grown for a week, and more.

I put together a table on plants and herbs. Children and adults were impressed with the length and detail of the roots of two-week old bean plants. It's always a revelation to see what you've only sort of imagined. They all also took pleasure in smelling the 10 herbs I brought from my garden (which were growing even tho the temperatures have been below freezing). I found it interesting to talk with Japanese and Indian parents about their culinary experiences with some of the herbs, particularly Chinese garlic, lemon balm, and mint. One mother suggested lemon balm could possibly be substituted for lemon grass in recipes. That would be helpful as this herb that smells like extremely strong Lemon Pledge to me is growing somewhat like a weed in the yard. Lots of plants are growing weedy. Gardening is about controlling nature.

In my attempt to control cooking, I have found that using the Eggsact Eggtimer is the only way I have ever been able to get great (maybe not perfect) hard boiled eggs. I should have written about this before Easter. But thought I would put this in today for future reference. The egg shaped thing goes in with the eggs when you start cooking them. It gets a darker colorer as the eggs are cooked longer and the water gets warmer. When it has completely changed color, the eggs are ready. I also learned last week that putting salt in the water prevents the eggs from seeping too much, if they do crack while boiling. We had fun color Easter eggs. It was the first time my son figured out how to make two-colored eggs. He made a U.S. patriotic red, white and blue egg and a Mexican flag colored egg, too.