July 2011

Kevin Kelly was cutting-edge in his youth and with the passage of years he seems to just get sharper.  Highlights of his bio include editing and publishing the Whole Earth Catalog which, to refresh my your memory, is a compendium of the best tools for self-education.  He later co-founded and edited Wired magazine.

Lesser known (to me) products of his free-thinking mind include the All Species Foundation, dedicated to identifying all living species, and the Long Now Foundation, which “fosters long-term responsibility as an antidote to the extremely short-term horizon of most contemporary organizations.”  (Ya think we might need some of that?)  And he’s edited and written a bunch of books, one of which is available for free right here.

Look, Ma, no college!
Kevin freely – nay, proudly – admits that “My educational background is minimal. I am a college drop-out. Instead of going to university, I went to Asia. That was one of the best decisions I ever made.” Elsewhere I found this, written in the third person.  “He is married and has three wonderful children. He was born in 1952. He has no college or university degrees.”  See what I mean?

Then when he returned to the U.S. he traveled a lot more before starting a mail order company called Nomadic Books, selling budget travel guides.  Which ultimately led to those other publishing successes.

To me it’s no surprise that a smart, inquisitive person probably learned much more as an world-traveling auto-didact than he ever could have sitting in classrooms.  (I was too meek to drop out of college myself but at least spent some of it bumming around Europe and picking up enough college credits there to satisfy the parents.)

The story of Kevin’s religious conversion
I was surprised to find this intriguing note tucked away in his long bio:  “On an even more personal note, I told my story of a religious conversion many years ago to Ira Glass, host of This American Life, a public radio series that features long narrative stories…You can find an audio file on the ‘This American Life’ web site. It is the second story on the program called ‘Shoulda Been Dead‘”.  I’ve downloaded it to my iPod already.

Kevin’s Cool Tools and a lot more

Upon entering Kevin’s home page the reader discovers:

  • Two blogs about technology trends (as best I can tell) – Lifestream and The Technium.
  • True Films, which carries short reviews of his favorite “documentaries, educational films, instructional how-to’s, and what the British call factuals – a non-fiction visual account.”  (Hope Netflix has ‘em!)
  • Screen publishing, most of which is beyond me but I DO understand this link to 7 quick rules for e-publishing.
  • Quantified Self, which is “a place for people interested in self-tracking to gather, share knowledge and experiences, and discover resources.”  Honestly, even with that definition I’m left at “Huh?”
  • Street Use, which features “the ways in which people modify and re-create technology.”  I’ll be exploring that one.
  • And finally, Cool Tools remind me of turn-ons, though tool contributors are multi-generational.  Here’s how Kevin explains them:  “As my children began to leave home I wanted to give them each a box of tools and a book containing ideas of tools and possibilities that they might not encounter otherwise. I started to keep a list of tools plus my comments. Some of those reviews appeared in issues of Whole Earth Review a magazine I used to edit.”   The tools cover 41 different categories, everything from crafts to workplace to something called “consumptivity”, most of which I’m unqualified to judge, but gardening tools I know a bit about and you know what?  They ARE cool.  So worth a lot more browsing – or even contributing to.

Hat tip to Steve Brown for turning me on to Kevin’s world.

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I’m collecting happy-making, mood-elevating music from my own memory bank and taking recommendations from friends, too.  You  never know when you need some of that action, right?  The taking of actual drugs gets complicated with the passage of the decades but mood-altering music is safe and still legal!

So I’ll start with a tune that always gets me up and dancing – and not JUST because it’s by the wonderful Mary Chapin Carpenter and features the awesome Cajun sounds of BeauSoleil. But guess what!  I remember the Twist and Shout nightclub right here in the Maryland ‘burbs of DC (until it was shuttered in the late ’90s).  And the video for the song was filmed in the Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo Park, where I’ve danced a few hundred times!   And the dancers in the video?  Recognize ‘em!  Absolutely everything about this video makes it a mood elevator for us locals, but I bet it’ll do the job wherever you live.

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How to blog – a beginner’s guide

by Susan Harris on July 12, 2011


I’ve been blogging since 2005 and helping others with blogs for almost that long, and I’m frequently asked to talk to groups about it.   Based on my own experiences and researching the experts, I’ve compiled this summary of blogging basics, intended to not only answer the questions I hear over and over again about blogging, but to offer answers to questions that nonbloggers don’t know to ask.  Lots to cover, so let’s get going.

What IS a blog?
It’s a type of website that uses a blogging program to:

  • Display articles (called “posts”) in reverse chronological order, so the newest is always at the top of the home page.
  • Allow readers to leave comments on the articles, though individual bloggers sometimes disable that feature (and find themselves being boo-hissed for doing so).
  • Archive older articles by date.
  • Display all sorts of things in the sidebars, usually a “blogroll” of links to other sites and blogs, but also graphics and lots of other features.
  • Allow readers to subscribe to new articles on the blog either using email sign-up or an RSS feed, both of which are explained in this article.

Why blog and what to blog about

There are blogs about every topic under the sun and increasingly, the most interesting conversations about any subject are found on blogs – because they’re updated more frequently than other types of websites and because thanks to comments, real conversations can take place on them.  Academics increasingly blog on their topic, and for writers it’s become de rigueur (on pain of not getting a publisher – that’s how important blogs and other social media are now to selling books.)  And millions of people just blog for their own enjoyment and that of a few friends and family members.  Many gardenblogs are used as journals or records of the garden, with no intention of attracting thousands of readers.

So if you want to blog as a personal journal for people who already know you, just go for it.  But if you’re considering blogging about a specific topic, start by reviewing the prominent blogs on that topic.  That’ll help you decide not only if you want a blog but what features you might want to include in your own blog – or not.  You can find these blogs by putting “music blogs” into Google, substituting your topic for “music”. [click to continue…]

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DC Hand Dancing on the National Mall

by Susan Harris on July 7, 2011

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is happening in DC this week and last for the 44th year in a row, this time highlighting the Peace Corps, Colombia, and as you see here, Rhythm and Blues – good times!  (And by the way, the Folklife Festival has a shockingly good website – it’s a government agency, after all.  It even has a blog.)

Each of the three themes are chockful of music, dance, storytelling, crafts – terrific stuff – but the event I timed my trip around was the demonstration of DC Hand Dancing, which I’d heard about for decades but never actually seen.  According to the D.C. Hand Dance Club, the dance is a “regional and time-period specific version of the swing/jitterbug” developed in the Washington, D.C. metro area in the 1950s.  It’s known for “smooth footwork and movements, and close-in and intricate hand-turns, all danced to a 6-beat, 6 to 8 count dance rhythm.”

The dancers performing here are from the National Hand Dance Association, and we were told that they typically go dancing six nights a week in this area!   Some of these dancers, especially the couple in the photo above who’ve been married for 50 years, are probably older than Boomers but God love ‘em, I could watch them all day.  They have great style and they’re moving at a tempo that’s more relaxed and sensual than the frenetic jitterbug this dance descended form.  Great for any age but perfect for us.

Some of the same dancers appear in this 25-minute documentary.

In the short video below, the sole man is dancing with a whole line-up of women just waiting to be his partner, and the comments tell us what’s up with that.  It’s his birthday, and it’s just what this club does for birthdays – what a fun tradition!  I wish I’d known and been dancing with these folks since I moved here in the early ’70s.  I bet I’d still be at it, like they are.

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Celebrating Independence

by Susan Harris on July 4, 2011

And still singing “Give Peace a Chance.”  Now which makes my patriotism more suspect – the flag or the turfgrass-free yard?

Here’s a 16-second video of the mosaic of groundcovers growing where the lawn used to be, inside this fence.

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