Wednesday, April 27, 2005


Virgin Mary of the Viaduct
I received an e-mail from someone affiliated with theVirgin Mary viaduct, the Chicago highway underpass that has alife-size water stainresembling the mother of God. They wanted advice on setting up a web site.

I'm a firm believer in the idea that all religious iconography that develops naturally upon either surfaces or food should have its own site. This is exactly the kind of thing for which the Internet was invented.

Because of the visual nature of the underpass and the community that has developed, the ideal place for its web presence isFlickr.

Flickr's a terrific photo-sharing community that was recently purchased by Yahoo for 5.2 bajillion dollars. You can create an account for free, upload your photos for public viewing, and add tags that describe the subject of the shots.

Every time I find myself on Flickr, I get lost in the photos, most recently in the work of Justin Hankins. His pictures of theBridge of Lions,Night of Lights celebration, andIntercoastal Waterwayare some of the best shots I've seen of St. Augustine.

Flickr photos can be grouped into sets and viewed as slideshows. Somebody should hire Robin Jean, the photographer doing thisRockstars set, to take column mugshots for newspapers.

I've Been X'ed
I did an interview yesterday withAVNOnline, believing the"AV"stood for audiovisual, like theA.V. Clubentertainment site published byThe Onion.

I liked the final piece, although I thought it was odd for the reporter to quote another papal domain registrant talking about"nipples and snatch."That kind of talk hasn't appeared much in the media since the end of the Clinton administration.

When I showed the story to my wife, she noticed that the ads around the piece were forX-rated sites and products(warning: link advertises X-rated sites and products).

As it turns out, AVN stands forAdult Video News, theleading trade publicationof the adult entertainment industry.

Supporting Modest Needs
A funny thing happened today:Modest Needsreceived more than five times the normal donations from people coming fromBenedictXVI.Com.

I'd like to think it has something to do with my understated good looks, which were revealed to me in an e-mail from aToday Showviewer this morning. But I suspect that people are simply gratified that I am not a pornographer.

I will never be a pornographer, so please keep helping Modest Needs.

I sent an e-mail to Pope Benedict XVI'snew e-mail addresstoday asking if the church wants the domain. I am concerned that my"Subject: Free Domains"email might not get through the Holy See's spam filters.

While I am waiting to hear from the Vatican (which has to be the strangest phrase I have ever written in my life), I am donating the pope domains and my site's ad revenue from this crazy week toModest Needs. I'm working together with founder Keith Taylor to host them. His unique one-emergency, one-family-at-a-time charity has helped1,500 individuals and familiessince its launch in 2002.

Thanks, everyone. And to answer the questions from Tina in Fort Myers, Florida: 1. Clubman Art-Rim glasses. 2. Yes that is my real hair. 3. No I will not send you a lock of it because it would be a great color for your guest bedroom.

Fame or Something Like It
I wasn't prepared to be famous for 24 hours, but now that myweblog traffichas subsided to normal levels, I can relate some of the experience. The rest has to be filtered through therapy first.

For anyone wondering how I became a television personality as well-known for a day as theVirgin Mary grilled cheese, my friendMatt Haugheyhas digitized the interview on theToday Showwhere I talk aboutBenedictXVI.Com.

After theToday Show, I began receiving calls from TV producers. Almost to a person, they were fast-talking, Type A females who sounded likeAngelina JolieonLife or Something Like Itbefore she learned you don't have to become Stockard Channing to be truly happy. One even berated her assistant while talking to me, effortlessly switching the tone of her voice from sweet to"that better be a double shot espresso or you're on the next bus to Topeka."

These women are relentless; they will not take no for an answer. My friendJonathan Bournehas produced several talk shows, and he said I could have gotten some free swag from the programs by playing hard to get.

I caved too quickly for even a singlecoffee mug-- one flattering remark about my hair and I was asking where to show up. I had to disconnect my phone that afternoon, afraid of what else I'd agree to do.

I've saved avoicemail messagefrom Maryam Ayromlou, the MSNBC producer who asked me to appear onCountdown with Keith Olbermann.

This isn't the recording of Ayromlou I wish I had. I love Olbermann's show, but a few hours after agreeing to be on it, I called her to chicken out.

"I've spent money,"Ayromlou responded, referring to the en-route Orlando TV crew and a conference room booking for the remote. In the nicest way possible, over a several-minute call, she gave me the impression that if I backed out, there would be no place on Earth I could hide from her. I've never been more frightened of a person in my life.

I appeared onCountdownas planned.

Holy See, Holy Do
I'm getting a lot of comments like this one by Concerned Canadian:

I think it would be in your best interest to use this site to better humanity. Use it to donate to some sort of Catholic charity, or use it to write about the history of the Catholic church. Cashing in on it would be very typical, and if you have any personality at all, you won't want your 15 minutes of Internet media fame to be seen as typical.

I haven't decided what to do with thebenedictxvi.comdomain -- my goal was to keep it away from pornographers, not grab a domain for some kind of papal superstore.

But now that my weblog has 120,000 new readers, just counting yesterday, I'm using the opportunity to promoteModestNeeds.org, an organization that's like a charitable eBay: They match up donors with people who have short-term, under-$1,000 emergencies (such as repairs to the family's only car), helping them get out of the crisis.

SmartMobsdescribes how the charity got started in 2002:

The founderKeith Taylorbegan Modest Needs by giving 10 percent of his $350 a month earnings as a way to return a no-strings kindness paid to him when he most needed it. He told me,"Those who need help can always ask for it at Modest Needs, absolutely for free. How much money we raise matters less -- to me, anyway -- than simply providing a vehicle for human kindness."

Here's thelatest donation-to-expenses reporton Modest Needs from GuideStar and the charity'sfull financial statistics, for people who want to research the group before contributing.

Jumping Over the Lazy Dog
In another story about theno-holds-barred cage matchbetween journalists and bloggers, Samantha Israel writes that she only has been corrected once by a reader.

Let's go for two.

Israel writes:

More than arrogant, some old-time reporters think bloggers are plain old lazy. Former CBS news correspondent Eric Engberg made himself clear in his"Blogging as typing, not journalism"article on CBSNews.com last November."Given their lack of expertise, standards and, yes, humility,"he wrote,"the chances of the bloggers replacing mainstream journalism are about as good as the parasite replacing the dog it fastens on."The dog certainly bit back when it revealed that Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, who averages more than 350,000 visitors a day to his Daily Kos political blog, was paid US$12,000 to promote Howard Dean's campaign for the Democratic nomination.

The mainstream press didn't reveal that deal. Zunigadisclosed it to his readersin June 2003:

I spent this weekend in Burlington, VT, where we officially accepted work on behalf of presidential candidate Howard Dean. Dean joins a Senate candidate in our still small but hopefully growing roster of clients.

He also put a prominent disclaimer on the home page of his site,"I do some technical work for Howard Dean,"linking the word disclaimer to a full description of the financial relationship. You can see this yourself in the Internet Archive's June 2003 copy of theDaily Koshome page.

I'm not aware of a single mainstream media web site that displays its conflicts of interest as prominently and permanently as Zuniga did.

The only thing journalists revealed about this deal was an inability to do even cursory fact checking, misleading people into thinking that a fully disclosed financial relationship was shady Armstrong Williams-style payola.

In an article where she offers a derisive"sor-ry"to the only reader to correct her, Israel continues this trend. The fact that this slanderous falsehood lives on in the mainstream media, even turning up in a high-minded academic review of journalism, demonstrates one reason that readers might turn to bloggers for information.


David Raynes has releasedWorkflow, a plug-in for Movable Typethat adds fine-grained editing capabilities to weblog authors. As Anil Dashexplains:

Workflow lets you limit control of publshing rights to certain authors in your Movable Type installation, allowing other people on the system to act as editors and review entries before they're published. Administrators can control who has rights to any of these levels of permissions. Plus, authors can transfer ownership of a post to other authors and they'll be notified by email when the transfer happens.

The most remarkable thing about this release, which is supported by a free personal license and$250 commercial license, is that the Workflow plug-in can be extended with plug-ins.

I'm skeptical that third-party developers can be profitable creating add-ons to weblog software, even a product as popular as Movable Type. As the author of books onRadio UserLandandMovable Type, I'm finding it difficult when the pool of potential customers is limited to a single weblog tool, though I greatly enjoyed writing the books.

But I'd love to be proven wrong.

I'm Totally Straight, But ...
A few weeks ago I invented a new game dubbedgooglemilking-- looking for a phrase in search engines that lends itself to hilarious, off-color, or unintentionally self-revealing results.

The game was covered by theScotsmannewspaper yesterday, and you can find players by searching for the first googlemilk:"I'm totally straight, but ...":

Just as you know that any sentence beginning with the words"I'm not one of those racialists but ..."will end in a diatribe about immigration, it is obvious that the closing part of a statement beginning"I'm totally straight but"will be something along the lines of"I'm not totally straight". Some of them are hilarious. Some are shocking. All are entertaining.

The phrase turns up a lot ofinteresting (and obscene) results, the greatest of which is the totally straight guy struggling with his attraction to Aragorn fromLord of the Rings:

I'm totally straight, but even I admitted the [blank]ability of Aragorn. Seriously, check the guy out. What a total badass. Doesn't mean I'd actually [blank] him, but if I were the type to [blank] guys, he'd be on my list.

My favorite googlemilk so far isso I decided to do something about it, which catches people right as they turn a long repressed desire into action, getting the hair, breasts, insemination, or teddy bear manufacturing business they've always wanted.

As a side effect of the game, I'm now the top result on Google for"totally straight,"which ought to finally put to rest those rumors back in college.

I've Stumbled and I Can't Get Up
I discovered several hundred links fromStumbleUponthis morning in my referrer logs, a multi-browser, multi-platform toolbar for reviewing and recommending web sites. Installing the toolbar as a Mozilla Firefox extension took less than a minute.

The toolbar has"I like it"and"Not-for-me"review buttons to rate the site being viewed, using these ratings to find sites that people similar to you have liked. A"Stumble!"button sends you to one of these recommended sites.

StumbleUpon also provides a chance to do some egosurfing, even without the toolbar: Users write site reviews, which areshared publicly.

These review pages provide a new place to argue about web sites, as you can see on theSaveToby,Daily KosandAndrew Sullivanpages.

Each user's reviews and comments form a weblog with its ownRSS 2.0 feedand another feed for comments. Here's one forJanah, a user who enjoys cats, gardening, Led Zeppelin, Robert Heinlein, andme me me!

The end result looks like the out-of-wedlock love child of LiveJournal and de.licio.us. I can't decide ifor the site's, but you could do cool things with that data if the developers offered an API.

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