March 2009

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    “A writer publishes to be read; then hopes the readers are affected by the words, hopes their opinions are changed or strengthened or enlarged, or that readers are pushed to notice something they have not stopped to notice before. All my reporting life, I have thrown small pebbles into a very large pond, and have no way of knowing whether any pebble caused the slightest ripple. I don’t need to worry about that. My responsibility was the effort.” – Martha Gellhorn

I’m in the throes of a last-ish minute throwdown, getting all my ducks in a row for a weekend in NYC. I’ve got a week to go, and I’m feeling a little under-prepared. No plan. No accommodations. No budget. No idea!
All I know for sure is that I’ll be meeting an old friend for fun and hijinks in less than a week, in a city neither of has explored.

Sitting on the couch this evening, I starting to sweat a little, but then I remembered a few other epic weekenders in my past, trips that had some key points in common with this upcoming one. There have been other weekenders and road-trips to visit more friends and places, but it’s the really random and unforseen trips that stand out.

There was the classic Fraser Lake Grad Weekend: Months previous, I had met a traveling highschool drama group from a tiny northern BC town, some members of which I had staying in touch with, and who subsequently invited me to attend their graduation. I hitched and ‘hounded my way north, and spent a crazy and memorable few days in the company of these near-strangers. I crashed at different houses, met great families, enjoyed immense hospitality, and witnessed Trooper in a school gym (?!). I had no idea what sort of experience I’d have once I got there, and frankly I’m still amazed at how wonderful it turned out.

Then there was the Toga Party. I’d been a patron of a (then) new restauarnt in Kamloops a few times one summer, and gotten to know (or at least be recognized by) a couple of the staff. One of them had casually thrown an invite my way, for their inaugural staff party. Staff Toga Party, that is. I hitched back to Kamloops later that week with a toga in my backpack. Got tipsy. Swam clothed across a backyard pool. Was loved by waitresses, hated by boyfriends, and traded joy with all.

And of course, Hallowe’en in Squamish. Again, befriended by travelling students… months later, hitching to Squamish to show up at this party where I was unknown to 7/8 of the other attendees. My costume: Clean-Cut Guy; shaved the wooly ‘burns, got a crewcut, lost the earrings, wore pleated khakis and a Gap turtleneck. Strangers wondered why I didn’t have a costume, while the folks who’d met me before said I had one of the best costumes there.

All three times, I had no idea where I was going to stay, how I’d get around, or what would happen on the ground. Each time, my experiences so outstripped my expectations as to make them inconsequential.
NYC is bound to be a little big, but I have to remind myself that the city is the backdrop, not the event; the experience is bounded only by the friends I’ll meet and make, the good times I’ll have, the tall tales I’ll live to tell, and the simple unexpectation of the epic weekend.

John Prine + Bob Wills = Dan Hicks.
A former Rolling Stone cover model, and there’s probably zero chance I’ll find the new album locally. Somebody send me a copy, willya?

There’s been all sorts of knee jerk whiny criticism leveled at the “new” facebook interface. At first, the new interface was a generally annoying, but I decided to dig a little deeper and figure out what exactly does and doesn’t work for me. The “new” layout, like any website layout, is pretty much a matter of personal taste; what ultimately matters to me is functionality.

The Good:
Notifications, Applications and Chat are all still one click away on the bottom Bookmark bar. The left Applications sidebar makes for less clicking; the Photos, Links, and Videos pages are a single click away and seem optimized for quick publishing, fixing my one big nit with the “old” Facebook; ie., previously to upload pics from the Home page, I’d have to go to Photos, then to My Photos, then to Edit Albums, then, blah blah, blah… Now, I just hit the Photos sidebar button, and I’m faced with an upload box.
The “old” way is still available: the Applications Bookmark Photos tab still returns the “old” Photos page. Filtering the newsfeed by friend groupings feels more intuitive now, although I doubt many people have gone through the hassle of setting up friend groups…
I like how almost anything can be Commented, Liked, or Shared.

The Bad:
The newsfeed. It sucks. The only line-item filtering option is now to hide/unhide all feeds by friend, whereas the “old” had options for seeing less/more/none/all of particular news story types from all/individual friends. Now you just get everything, all the time.
Your current “Status” is missing from the Home page. The “What’s On Your Mind” tag is vague; I understand that it’s an attempt to move away from a tweet-like status to a more general mini-blogging, but it’s not obvious. I liked when FB removed the compulsory “is” from the status line, but this last change is too random. Also, carriage-returns in this Share box actually return a line break, instead of submitting the field; I don’t generally type out multi-line Status entries.
The right Highlights bar should have some filters/settings options; so equipped, this sidebar could be great, but now it’s just another unfiltered catch-all feed.

Overall, I think many of the complaints are coming from people who never had a great grasp on the “old” interface in the first place, and/or had never/seldom really gotten into the Options and Settings. I’m reading many complaints that you “shouldn’t be able to see private conversations between other friends on your Home feed”; this is entirely up to the settings those other friends have enabled, and generally taken as being a feature of facebook.
In my opinion, the “new” facebook is okay, but it’s just okay. Rather than being a wholesale improvement or worsening over the “old” version, I feel it just shifts the problem areas around a bunch. At very least, I have to give the people at facebook credit for their progressive thinking and attempts at a guided evolution of a service that many of us are becoming increasingly dependent on.

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