Tuesday, May 31, 2011

More, after the break

I'm experimenting with a new (well, new-to-me) feature on Blogger: the jump break.  People who are just casually glancing at one of my posts might think "Gosh, he's being unusually short-winded," but I assure you this is nothing of the sort.

All shall be explained...

...after the break.

Royal Highness, first flush 2011

My Royal Highness rosebush has been going through its first flush of roses this past week.

Royal Highness (main bush), May 29, 2011

Monday, May 30, 2011

Scrapers and scammers and big shots

I started the blog NEPA Solar ten days ago with a few things in mind. First, I wanted to be able to find relevant information about what's going on in the solar industry in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and I was frustrated at my inability to find a good, centralized source with information and/or links to other sites with information.  So I decided to create one, at least create a site that provided links to the sort of information I was trying to find.

It seemed so easy.  I have some experience in the solar industry, from my days working at a now-defunct company called AstroPower in Newark, Delaware.  But quickly I realized I was in a little over my head. The best I could hope to do for a start was post links to solar distributors and suppliers that I found in three different Yellow Pages (along with the ones I already knew about), links to sites with information about solar power, and links to interesting stories about solar power with general relevance or relevance specifically to solar power in Northeastern Pennsylvania.  So I started to do the most basic of Google searches, for terms like "solar NEPA" or "solar northeastern pennsylvania" or even just "solar pennsylvania." And I started to find sites. A lot of sites.

Which brings us to the issue of scrapers.

As you may recall, a few weeks ago I came across a "scraper blog" while searching for blogs to add to NEPA Blogs. What this blog - now removed - did was republish entire blog posts from other blogs, but have both the blog title and blog author links point back to the scraper blog, creating the appearance that this material was actually written for the scraper blog in the first place.  Also, all ads were removed from the original posts, which were now heavily salted with ads that would pay money to the scraper blog. Stolen posts, misappropriated credit, misdirected advertising clicks - pretty low in terms of the blogosphere ecology.*

One of my friends and former co-workers is also very interested in the solar power industry, and he regularly posts links to interesting solar articles on his Facebook page.  I had read one of those articles one day, about a promising technology that combines photoelectric solar conversion into electricity with doing something with the heat of sunlight itself.  It was published in a respected cutting-edge online magazine and contained appropriate sources and credits.  But as I was searching for informational websites to add to NEPA Solar, I came across that same article several times, with the author's name replaced by the name of somebody associated with the site hosting the article and all sources and credits stripped out.  The article had been scraped.

I began to notice odd things about some of the sites I was visiting.  One had many interesting articles but used peculiar language: solar panels would be referred to as "gadgets," for example.  I realized this was similar to something I have seen in spam comments on blogs, where the same comment is posted with slight variations in language used: "I am the sort of person who is interested in new things" could become "I am the type of fellow who is intrigued by new gadgets" or "I am the kind of guy who is fascinated by the latest inventions", to quote an actual example. It's as if this statement was sent through a program that had multiple values for key words, and these values could be arranged randomly to create seemingly different statements.  It would not be a huge leap to use this to create a program that could copy a block of text and then use a sort of thesaurus function to change the words enough to escape immediate detection by someone hunting for plagiarists.

Meanwhile, other sites took a different approach: offer a large number of articles with only a small amount of information for each, but load up the site with ads.  In these cases, as with the scraper blogs, the most likely motive was to get advertising revenue by drawing traffic with minimal effort and presenting visitors with a plethora of ads. The sites were only nominally about solar power, or solar power in Northeastern Pennsylvania. They are, as far as information content goes, a scam designed to generate advertising revenue.

Which, in a sense, was the same as my second reason for starting NEPA Solar: to generate specific, solar-focused ads that visitors might be inclined to click on.

That's one of the problems of putting ads on a "life" blog like Another Monkey.  The ad programs don't know what to make of my writing.  One day I'm focused on writing, another on politics, another on gardening, another on stargazing.  What kind of blog is this? What sort of ads would work best? With Another Monkey it's a crap shoot day after day, ad-wise.  But with a site like NEPA Solar, the ads can be very specific to the solar industry.  And once I start drawing traffic to that site, some of those ads might generate some minuscule revenue.

Now, it turns out that the "scraper blog" that had been stealing content from numerous bloggers throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania had been around, apparently, for a long time.  Maybe five years.  Five years of quietly stealing content without anyone noticing.  That doesn't really suggest the blog resulted in a big advertising revenue stream. So why do it at all?

Well, the most likely answer seems to be: prestige.  If this individual could point to this blog and state  (or, perhaps, imply) that all of these bloggers worked for him, toiling away generating content for him to post on his site, that might be impressive to someone, someone inclined to be impressed by that sort of thing. He creates the illusion that he is a big shot, and then convinces others that he is a big shot, and thereby becomes a big shot.

Which is the third reason behind NEPA Solar.  In that sense, the scraper blog inspired me to create a blog that might allow me to define myself as a big shot - the driving force behind Northeastern Pennsylvania's foremost (read: only) website focusing on solar power and how it relates to the region.  Yessir, you're interested in finding out more about solar power? Come to my site and you'll find all sorts of helpful information at no charge whatsoever. Oh, and while you're there, be sure to take a look at a few of our sponsors' ads.  Yes, indeedy, fine upstanding advertisers on our site... That must be worth something, somewhere, right? Perhaps even another line item on my résumé, or a discussion point during job interviews.

As I'm gathering information for this blog I'm learning things.  Things like the solar farm planned for Nesquehoning, and the collapse of Pennsylvania's SREC market due to an oversupply of solar energy on the market (state-specified targets have been met and exceeded) as well as Pennsylvania HB1580, a piece of legislation intended to prop up the solar market by both raising the targets for solar energy and closing off Pennsylvania's borders to out-of-state SRECs, something that is already being done in many other states.**  Unfortunately, if this bill does not pass, Pennsylvania's fledgling solar industry may crash just as it is starting to stretch its wings - and NEPA Solar will actually be a documentation of the death of the solar industry in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

*Google Reader and similar services do sort-of kind-of the same thing, except clicking on the post title and/or author's name would take you to the original post. But by using Google Reader it is possible for someone to read every post from a blog without ever actually visiting that blog.

**I'm also discovering that  someone seems to be poisoning solar information sites with viruses, including several sites hosting articles that are linked to directly by the website of the State Representative who authored HB1508.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Where I've been

Heh. I've been around. Really.

On Tuesday I stopped in at the Wilkes-Barre CareerLink for their weekly Job Club meeting.  The Scranton office has a Job Club too, but it meets monthly and usually has single-topic sessions - so if the topic is something that doesn't apply to your job search, there's not much reason to go.  The Wilkes-Barre group was more free-form, and covered a lot of topics - including the ultra-depressing one of the political roots of the local employment situation.  (Bottom line: the local job market is intentionally kept depressed to allow existing employers to retain their current staff at current pay levels.  If some employer tries to set up shop in the area and threatens to hire away all the established employees with better work and better pay, the local political machine grinds into action and discourages said employer from moving into the area.)

(Fun fact: Back when I was employed at Cinram in Olyphant, it took me approximately 40 minutes to make the thirty-six mile commute from Nanticoke under ideal conditions.  When I went to the University of Scranton, we estimated travel time at thirty minutes to go twenty-five miles. The trip to the CareerLink in Scranton takes about forty minutes, even though it is only a few blocks past the University of Scranton; downtown traffic makes a huge difference.  The trip from Nanticoke to the Wilkes-Barre CareerLink, a distance of roughly eight miles along secondary roads, takes over twenty minutes.  Damned traffic lights.)

I've also been puttering with my Machine of Death story. For anyone who has read it, I've decided to modify the ending to make it symmetrical with the beginning. I plan on sending it in next week, so if anyone has any feedback, please get it to me soon.

Yesterday I mowed my lawn, in small chunks. It's hard to believe that there was snow on the ground just over a month ago, and it was so cold and rainy earlier this week that I was calling it (in response to a comment made by Francesco Marciuliano) the Ceaușescu Summer - taken away and executed so quickly that no one got a chance to film it.  The last two days have been stiflingly hot and miserably humid.  Tonight a line of thunderstorms - and possibly a few small tornadoes - ripped through the area. Still, compared to what is going on weather-wise in other parts of the world, this is nothing.

Today there was a mass for my father held at the chapel of the nursing home where my grandmother spent her final years.  It was my first visit there since the Diocese decided to discontinue regular Sunday masses at the center back in 2004. A lot of things seemed the same, though a few things have changed - mainly, most of the pews have been removed from within the chapel, to make more room for wheelchairs.  It always drove me nuts when most of the residents had to sit in the hall outside during mass while perfectly ambulatory non-residents sat in the pews inside.

I've also been puttering a bit with NEPA Blogs, while Michelle Hryvnak Davies has been doing the heavy work.  I've been playing around a bit with blog headers.  Here's the one that's displayed as I write this:

(This image is a detail of a much larger photo.  I love that lion/dragon/demon/monster/whatever.)
Meanwhile, Michelle has been working on getting us an interview on a local TV program.  That's pretty major.  I'd better invest in some make-up.

Oh, I've also been putting a little effort into finding content for NEPA Solar. In fact, this weekend I'm planning to visit a friend's place, a friend who also just happened to install a major solar array recently.  I'm hoping to get some good photos.

All this blogging isn't just an act of idleness or distraction.  In a sense I'm trying to polish up and round out my résumé by firmly establishing my blogger credentials.  It's one thing to contact a local solar sales and distribution company about maybe signing on as a technical writer or something like that; it's another thing to approach them as the driving force behind NEPA Solar, Northeastern Pennsylvania's centralized source of information for what's going on in the world of solar power, and letting them know that they're really lagging behind their competitors in terms of web presence, and would they like to change that?  We'll see if this makes any difference.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Machine of Death

Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories about People Who Know How They Will Die is...well, best explained by the people who conceived of it in the first place.  From the "About" page of the Machine of Death website:
Machine of Death is an anthology of short stories edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki!, inspired by this episode of Ryan’s Dinosaur Comics. From January 15, 2007, through April 30, 2007, Ryan, Matt, and David invited everybody in the world to submit short stories for the book, without fee or prejudice. Hundreds of writers from five continents took them up on the offer.
To read the rest of the back story, including the part about how they accidentally trod upon Glenn Beck's ego by outselling his latest book* (which was released on the same day as Machine of Death,) go here.

Machine of Death is a story anthology where all of the stories share a common concept, though not necessarily a common universe.  The rules are simple: there exists a machine, not necessarily called the Machine of Death, which can, by means of a simple blood test, reveal to you your cause of death. Results are always accurate, and are always repeatable.** But they may not be expressed in the clearest manner, and may actually be whimsical or ironic.  As T-rex stated in the original proposal, the machine delights in ironically vague deaths. "Old Age" could mean that you will be killed be an old guy, while "Natural Causes" could mean that you will be hit on the head by a falling koala. Even nearly-identical deaths could be expressed in different ways.

Because the stories don't share a common universe, there is no "bible" for the book, no set of rules (other than the ones already mentioned) and no official creation/invention/discovery story.  Machine of Death contains at least three different and contradictory stories of how the machine came into being, and numerous stories contradict each other on specific points.  (One story states that a blank result card is an impossibility; two others are written around the consequences of receiving a blank card.)

The book is available in numerous formats, including an ink-on-paper softcover for $17 (U.S.), an e-book version, and a free pdf download containing the complete contents of the softcover.

The stories are a mixed bag.  Some are quite good, some less so.  Cleverly, the name of the author of each story does not appear until the end, unless you read through the table of contents, so you are not prejudiced by any expectations based on the author - and sometimes you are surprised to see who has written what.  Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki! each have stories in the collection, and I believe Malki! has two.  My favorite story, "WHILE TRYING TO SAVE ANOTHER," is an occasionally gut-wrenching tale of love in the face of certain death with the most powerfully placed final four words of any story I have ever read - and was written by Daliso Chaponda, a comedian who was once deported from Canada.

I didn't find out about Machine of Death until shortly before it came out, so I was several years too late to write and submit a story.  But a few weeks ago a call for submissions for the second volume went out, and I immediately began blocking out my own story.  Each author is allowed to submit three stories for consideration, but I only have one - so far. (Anyone who would like to critically review it, please let me know.  A friend did an out-loud reading of it for me yesterday, and I heard at least one line that just sounded ridiculous and needs to be changed.  Surprisingly, he read many of the passages exactly as I had heard them as I wrote them.)

I might have two more stories in me, but I don't know.  There are two three forms of story that I would love to see included that were not in the first volume, but that I don't think I'm capable of writing. 

- First would be historical fiction: How would various historical figures react if they knew how they would die?  If Attila the Hun got a result that said "NOSEBLEED," or Alexander the Great got "CAROUSING," or William Henry Harrison received "LONG-WINDEDNESS?"***
- Another would be a story in the steampunk genre: Victorian attitudes overlaid with advanced technology with a Victorian design sensibility, and characters trying to deal with this machine that spouts vague but infallible predictions.
- I'd also like to see the Machine of Death in the context of a literary pastiche, or even a mash-up of literary pastiches in the style of Kim Newman's Anno Dracula series or Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen stories.

The second volume promises to be at least as interesting as the first.  This time around, authors have seen the stories in volume 1, and may be thinking "I can do better than that" or "Hmmm, there's an idea I can build on." If you think you might have a story in you, go through the stories in volume 1 and then get writing! Deadline for submissions is July 15, 2011.  Complete submission guidelines can be found here, with additional helpful information here and here.

*Side note: On a trip to the local not-closing branch of Borders this weekend I noticed that Glenn Beck's book and Keith Richards' autobiography, both of which released on the same day as Machine of Death, were on a table just inside the store marked "50% OFF PAST BESTSELLERS" - aka "NEXT STOP, REMAINDERVILLE." Machine of Death was not on that table.  Truth be told, I couldn't find it anywhere, though the Borders book locater computer advised me that it was "Likely in store."

**At least one story - "NOT WAVING BUT DROWNING" - suggests that results may become more refined with repeated tests or the passage of time. Another rule is that the title of each story must be a Machine of Death result; not necessarily the result given for any character in the story, and not necessarily a result that is stated within the story.  "DESPAIR" is an example of the latter.

***Then there is the one about the Oracle at Delphi:
Another story is the answer to the Lydian king Croesus asking the Oracle is he should attack the Persian king Cyrus. The Oracle said that a great empire will fall if Croesus would cross the River Halys. Stupid enough Croesus did not ask which empire will fall and assumed that it was the Persian empire.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Six years ago

I have a blog post thought through, one that I've been meaning to do for a few weeks. I decided I would do it tonight, and I still might.  But I was reminded earlier today that this is a somber anniversary, one which may seem darkly ironic with respect to the thing I was - and am - planning to post about.  Today marks six years since the death of my uncle, and six years since the death of my dog Haley.

I don't want to write much more about that.  I've already written plenty, and I'm reliving those final hours in my mind right now, over and over. If you're interested, here are some posts from those final days, and what came after:

On death and dying, part 1
Saturday, May 21, 2005
The beginning of the end. Haley had stopped eating the day before. Also, a scheduled visit to the vet gives us the final bad news we were expecting.

Two old dogs
Saturday, May 21, 2005
(Written Friday, May 19, 2006)
The last photo of the two of us together.

Movie paranoia
Sunday, May 22, 2005
On the last full day of Haley's life, I go to the movies - forcing my mom to abandon her place in the deathwatch at her brother's bedside and instead spend a few hours with Haley.

Haley is dead

Monday, May 23, 2005
An account of Haley's final hours, written a few minutes after I found Haley dead in her bed.
And I want no part of any Heaven that will not admit dogs.

A parable
Monday, May 23, 2005
A story from The Twilight Zone written by Earl Hamner Jr., by way of my priest's sermon-writing service.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005
We live through a lifetime, and the aftermath.

I miss you, Haley.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

New blog: NEPA Solar

OK.  I'm gradually coming to terms with my situation.  I'm realizing that manufacturing is dead in this area, or very nearly so, and the skills I learned in Statistical Process Control, Continuous Improvement, and Total Quality Management may be of less relevance to prospective employers than I would like. Same with my more than nineteen years of experience in industry. And my degree in Physics is only a B.S., and more than twenty years old.

But I can write. And I can blog. And I think I can communicate scientific ideas to people with non-scientific backgrounds.  So that's something.

From March 1990 through August 1991 I was employed by a company called AstroPower in Newark, Delaware.  We made solar cells and solar panels.  I started off in the "surface prep" department, and later moved on to grading and processing silicon wafers - scrap purchased from the semiconductor industry - into raw substrates for the manufacture of solar cells. Eventually I was put in charge of the grading and processing group.  It was fun, it was interesting, and it barely paid enough to cover the rent.  After my second year's lease was up, I left Delaware to return yo Northeastern Pennsylvania.

I've retained my fascination with the photovoltaic industry, and I would love to get involved with it again.  In the past I lobbied Senator Specter and Representative Kanjorski to bring solar manufacturing jobs to Northeastern Pennsylvania, but to no avail.  I doubt they even heard me.

Even though we don't have any solar manufacturers in this area, we do have quite a few solar distributors and suppliers, and a lot of people looking for information about solar energy.  We have college professors specializing in the subject, and people involved in the profession who would love to expand their knowledge base. But, frustratingly, there's no good centralized source for information on solar energy in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

I decided to change that.

I started off this blog with an introductory statement and some links to solar sales and installation companies throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania.  I intend to add information on things like SRECs (Solar Renewable Energy Credits) as well as links to solar energy forums and other sources of information on solar power. I have plans beyond this - I mean, if gas drillers can have the Marcellus Shale Alliance, why shouldn't solar power providers have a similar industry group? Maybe with connections to those academics who specialize in solar energy? I think I need to start making some phone calls...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Outlaws, hats, and the new interview paradigm

My friend Bill has been trying to work out the solution to a logic problem. Neither he nor I can arrive at an unambiguous answer.

UPDATE: I think I've worked it out.  See the comments.

There was a sheriff in a town that caught three outlaws. He said he was going to give them all a chance to go free. All they had to do is figure out what color hat they were wearing. The sheriff had 5 hats, 3 black and 2 white. Each outlaw can see the color of the other outlaw’s hats, but cannot see his own. The first outlaw guessed and was wrong so he was put in jail. The second outlaw also guessed and was also put in jail. Finally the third blind outlaw guessed and he guessed correctly. How did he know?

Here's his original post, which contains the purported answer and our attempts at reasoning it out:


Now, why should this silly little problem be of concern?

Well, if you Google chunks of the text, you'll find this problem repeated dozens, maybe hundreds of times online, usually collected onto sites that list popular logic questions being asked during job interviews. If you haven't been sticking your toe into the job market lately, you might not be aware that logic problems have become part of the new paradigm of job interviews. Now, this is purportedly so that interviewers can assess the reasoning and critical thinking skills of interviewees. But I suspect that this is giving interviewers too much credit, and it seems more likely that they are pulling a question out of the Big Book of Logic Questions for Interviews and seeing if the interviewee is able to arrive at the "correct" answer. In this case the answer is easy enough to find: it is listed along with the question on numerous sites, each one using the slight variations in language familiar to anyone who has dealt with plagiarism. I suspect that the question is simply being copied from site to site, and the answer is being slightly rewritten so it can appear that each site owner has cleverly arrived at the answer independently.

But unless I am missing something very major, the answers that are being given are all wrong. Yet in an interview, the interviewer will be armed with the "right" answer - not that they will know how to arrive at in on their own; they simply know that this is the answer provided to them, and that the answer is correct. So if you should find yourself in an interview where this question is asked, and you know the purportedly "correct" answer from prior exposure, how should you respond?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Susquehanna: Most Endangered River in America

Today the Susquehanna River Sentinel reported that the group American Rivers has declared the Susquehanna River to be the "Most Endangered River in America."

American Rivers: Most Endangered Rivers of 2011 Announced Today!

From the American Rivers announcement:
For the second year in a row, the most endangered river in the United States is a victim of natural gas development and the hazards associated with hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking.” We put the Susquehanna River at the top of this year’s list, citing the rush to develop natural gas reserves in the region without considering the significant risk to clean water and public health.

Of course, the fracking industry was quick to go on the offensive, as quoted in today's Citizens' Voice and cited by the Fracking Underground:
In a statement, Marcellus Shale Coalition president Kathryn Klaber said, "Despite the fact that the livelihoods of nearly 25,000 Gulf Coast residents are now hanging in the balance as the Mississippi River continues to swell at unthinkable rates, this organization - which ironically claims to stand 'up for healthy rivers so communities can thrive' - is seeking nothing more than to undercut the responsible development of clean burning, job-creating natural gas."

Klaber continued, "Our work can and must be balanced with the protection of our environment, especially our water resources. It's very sad and predictable, however, that some organizations will stop at nothing, disregarding facts and science at every turn, to thwart American energy production."
So.  Calling out the threat posed to the Susquehanna River by irresponsible fracking operations is, in the words of an industry mouthpiece, "nothing more than to undercut the responsible development of clean burning, job-creating natural gas."  True colors are showing here.  When the mouthpiece says "Our work can and must be balanced with the protection of our environment, especially our water resources," what does she mean by "balanced?" That a certain amount of environmental destruction must be accepted on a local level, an acceptable sacrifice that must be made so that - well, what?  I was going to say "so that America's never-ending hunger for energy resources can continue to be fed," but that's not exactly true: much of the gas extracted from Marcellus Shale using fracking techniques that threaten the local environment and the health of the Susquehanna itself is actually earmarked for overseas export. Indeed, much of the natural gas extraction being done in Marcellus Shale territory is being financed by foreign interests.  The only people who truly stand to benefit from this situation are the ones selling the gas and gas rights.  Everyone else must bear the cost and, like Atlas holding up the sky, shoulder the environmental burden brought on by irresponsible and destructive extraction practices.

We who live in Coal Country know how this story goes.  We've lived with culm banks, coal slag, mine subsidences, and poisoned waterways our entire lives. The coal companies long ago closed up shop and walked away from the damage they brought upon this area.  A few people became very wealthy, a lot of people toiled in the mines and the coal breakers to make them wealthy, and the entire region was burdened with a legacy of environmental devastation.

Two hundred and fifty-eight days ago, according to the counter on the Susquehanna River Sentinel, nearby fracking activity resulted in the a change in the Susquehanna in one region: methane bubbles began to be released from the floor of the river, bubbles that had never been there before.  Damage has already been done to the Susquehanna - perhaps irreparable damage.  The Susquehanna is considered the most threatened river in the United States because of the threat posed by irresponsible gas extraction practices, and because of a political environment that eschews regulation in favor of unrestricted exploitation.  What can be done to change this?

Congratulations to Don Williams, the Susquehanna River Sentinel, on his efforts to bring the attention of American Rivers and the public at large to the threats posed to the Susquehanna River.

Monday, May 16, 2011

NEPA Blogs

Heh.  So far I haven't posted anything here in my eighth year of blogging - at least, not to Another Monkey.  But over at NEPA Blogs we've been going into overdrive.

I started NEPA Blogs back in January 2006 with a few things in mind.  I wanted to create a sort of network, or list at least, of local bloggers the way that the blogger SuperG had (at that time) a list of bloggers in North Carolina.  (There seem to be an awful lot of bloggers in North Carolina!) I wanted to do something that showcased these local bloggers in a way similar to but different from the then-idled group called NEPA Blog. NEPA Blog was actually a group of bloggers writing about Northeastern Pennsylvania.  I didn't want to be doing content generation in that sense - I already had a blog, and I really didn't want to be writing for another one at that time. So while we might write about the blogs listed on NEPA Blogs, the main idea was to get them listed - and linked.

The linking was the main idea, or at least the one at the heart of things.  I wanted to generate more hits for Another Monkey, and/or improve my Google rank.  Because...well, I wasn't running ads at the time, so I guess those things just seemed important.  Pure, unenlightened self-interest. I had a vision for creating a network that would allow everyone involved to benefit from connecting to everyone else, without having to have everyone add hundreds of links to their sites.  The idea was that there would be a central site with links going out to many individual sites, and all of those sites would have links going back to the central site.  Everyone would then be two links away from everyone else.

That's how NEPA Blogs was born.  I sat down, found a few local bloggers, and linked to their sites.  One of them, Gort from Gort42, had already linked to dozens of local political blogs, so since I would probably be swiping a lot of his links anyway, I asked him to come onboard as a co-blogger.  Later we brought on Michelle Hryvnak Davies as another co-blogger because of her boundless energy, technical expertise, immense social networking skills, and her connections throughout the local blogging world.

Things went pretty well from there. Gort, Michelle and I sought out and added local blogs.  Some people actually came across NEPA Blogs and asked to be added.  Everything went pretty well except for one eensy detail: I sort-of forgot to ask people to link back to the site - or even to tell people they had been linked by it.  So the one-to-many-to-one idea kind of fell apart there.

Things gradually dwindled down over the years for various reasons.  2010 saw two months with more than three posts, two months with three posts, three months with two posts, three months with one post, and two months with no posts at all. 2011 didn't start out any better: January and February had one post apiece, while March had none.

Then Michelle kicked things into high gear.  She went on a publicity tear, reviving the NEPA Bloggers Facebook group, putting NEPA Blogs on Twitter, and publicizing the Spring 2011 NEPA Blog Fest across and beyond the blogosphere.  She also began adding site after site to NEPA Blogs.  In April 2011 there were twenty-two postings to NEPA Blogs, five fewer than in all of 2010.

Michelle's flurry of activity provoked me into activity, too.  I began putting more effort into seeking out new blogs, and accidentally discovered that the work of many local bloggers was being copied and reposted without attribution by a "scraper" blog (which has since shut down, apparently.) I also did a redesign of the site, more-or-less by accident - while messing around with a new template, I discovered that the old template was no longer available, so I was stuck with using one of the "new" options from Blogger. Michelle redesigned our header using a photo of a sunrise I took over my neighbor's house one morning, and this inspired me to design several new headers using photos I had taken around Northeastern Pennsylvania. I've also tried to make up for my earlier mistake by designing a button that NEPA bloggers could install on their sidebars informing readers that they are listed on NEPA Blogs, and directing traffic back to  the NEPA Blogs site.

Recently we've introduced one other innovation: every new post to NEPA Blogs gets reposted to Facebook, bringing in additional traffic from our Facebook group. And traffic is up: yesterday's visits were two to three times the typical number from the latter half of April, and April's visits were up about 40% over visits from the previous eleven months. Requests for listings are coming in every day now, through email and Facebook. This weekend alone we had ten new posts, with eleven new blogs added.  And people are becoming aware of the networking possibilities, and are asking for help with ways of linking back to the NEPA Blogs site.

So where do things go from here? I have no idea.  Honestly, I'd love to parlay this into something bigger, but I know there are practical limitations with how far you can go in the blogosphere, especially when you are by definition restricted to a specific locale - in this case, the upper right quadrant of Pennsylvania (more or less.) But with each new blog added I'm getting a message: Blogging isn't dead. And as long as there are bloggers in Northeastern Pennsylvania, we'll be looking to add links to their sites to NEPA Blogs.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Seven years

My first official blog post is dated May 14, 2004.  I actually had a placeholder post up before this, one that just said "Coming soon..." that I had put up that morning before going to work, but it's gone now.

Most of the people who I linked to when I first started blogging are gone now, at least gone from the blogosphere.  Sammie.  Camilla.  Bill still blogs once in a while.  Sammie I keep in touch with, sort of, and hints of Camilla's life leak out to the outside world now and then.  But Sammie's beautiful layouts and long, thoughtful posts, and Camilla's almost spastic design changes and telegraphic, link-heavy missives are gone.  Fran and Jen are gone, too. Have been for a long time.

Even a lot of the people I linked to after I'd been blogging for a while are gone.  Not like I'm the last blogger standing or anything, though.  Mark and Michelle had blogs before I (or most of the rest of the world) had heard the term.  Gort and Dave Yonki and Jennifer D. Wade have been blogging almost as long as I have.

My life has gone through a lot of changes since I started blogging.  Deaths.  Births. I bought my grandmother's house. Friends have come and gone.  I've met some amazing people. I've lost my job, twice.

I've been trying to capture it all here.  For a while I was trying to force myself into the discipline of posting once a day.  Ironically, I've stopped doing that at a point in my life when I routinely have enough time to do it. But there are other more serious matters pressing on me, and even when I do have the time to blog, I feel like it is a frivolous waste of time relative to the things I have to do.

But it's not a waste.  This blog is my external memory.  I've watched my father and my grandmother on my mother's side slip away into the Great Forgetting.  I worry that someday that will be my fate as well. And all my memories, all my stories, all my ideas and opinions, all the rainbows and sunsets and dogwalks and long drives to work in miserable weather will be gone, forgotten, nothing.  By externalizing them at least there is a chance that some of them will live on.

For a while yesterday it looked like that wouldn't happen.  Blogger went down hard, longer and harder than it ever has before, even in the bad old days when I first started. Even after it came back it came back to a "restore point": anything posted after 7:37 PM (not sure which time zone) on Wednesday was still gone, for several hours at least.

And what was missing was a post I wrote on Wednesday night about my discovery of what I now know to be a "scraper blog," a blog that harvests content from other sites and reposts it.  It's not the theft of content, or the theft of traffic, or the repurposing of my content as something to bring in advertising clicks for another site, or even the almost complete lack of proper attribution that gets me.  No, it's the implied notion that I am actually blogging for somebody else, just an unpaid lackey working to produce content for someone else's site. I'm not.  Nor are any of the other local bloggers whose content is being reposted without permission or proper attribution.

I don't know if this guy will continue to steal our posts, my posts and the posts of the other bloggers I know.  Maybe he will. Maybe he'll try to salvage his reputation and correct the error of his ways.  Maybe we'll have to take this to the next level.  But I can't let that stop me from continuing to post.

I've been blogging for seven years now.  Tomorrow I will begin my eighth year. Thank you for coming here, and thank you for reading.  I hope to continue to produce something that will make you want to come back and read some more.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Scranton Blogs: Content thief?

We're always on the search for local bloggers to link to from NEPA Blogs.  There are lots of blogs out there, and new ones getting started all the time.  One of the ideas behind NEPA Blogs is that if we create the right degree of linkability - many blogs linking to a central blog which links back to all of the other blogs - everyone will benefit.  The little blogs will benefit from being linked to by a site that is linked to by the big blogs, and the big blogs will benefit from being linked to by a site that is linked to by lots of little sites.

The structure of NEPA Blogs is designed to encourage posting activity.  The most recently updated blogs appear at the top of the sidebar, if those blogs are equipped with an RSS or Atom feed.  The more often you post, the more often you will be at the top of the sidebar, and the more easily readers will find your site.

We find blogs in all sorts of ways:  People can send them in, or we can come across them accidentally, or find them on another NEPA Blogger's blogroll.  Sometimes we go out and do brute-force searches on terms like "nepa blogger" or "wilkes-barre blogs" or "scranton blogs."

One of those last returned a hit for scrantonblogs.com.  It advertises itself as "A Blogging Network For Scranton Bloggers!"  Great, I thought, someone else is doing the same thing.  I'll just link to them and...

The content on Scranton Blogs looked a little familiar.  Very familiar.  Heck, I had written a lot of it.  And so had NEPA Mom, and Mark Cour, and Stephen Albert, and Andy Palumbo, and...

It was pretty unnerving to open up someone else's blog and see my own work looking back at me.  And it's not like someone was saying, "Oh, here's an interesting post from anothermonkey.blogspot.com." If it weren't for the fact that I had coded in a slug at the end of my posts during an aborted attempt to set up reposts to Facebook, no one would have known that I wasn't a blogger writing for a site called Scranton Blogs.

So who is responsible for this?

Heh, that's the fun part.  There's no "About Us" for Scranton Blogs.  There is, however, a little note at the very bottom that says "Copyright for all content is attributed to the original author, and their respective websites."  Not that they go out of their way to point to the original authors or their respective websites.  Clicking on my name points to http://scrantonblogs.com/members/d-b-echo/ - making me look like I'm a "member" of Scranton Blogs who writes for them.  (I am not, and I do not.)  Clicking on the post title for my most recent post points to http://scrantonblogs.com/2011/05/10/weekend-update/, rather than to http://anothermonkey.blogspot.com/2011/05/weekend-update.html.  So the copyright thing at the bottom is just lip service.

Fortunately, a whois search turned up some answers:

Artz Group Inc.

515 Center St.
Scranton, Pennsylvania 18503
United States

Registered through: GoDaddy.com, Inc. (http://www.godaddy.com)
Created on: 13-May-09
Expires on: 13-May-12
Last Updated on: 30-Apr-11

Administrative Contact:
Group, Artz dns@artzgroupinc.com
Artz Group Inc.
515 Center St.
Scranton, Pennsylvania 18503
United States

Technical Contact:
Group, Artz dns@artzgroupinc.com
Artz Group Inc.
515 Center St.
Scranton, Pennsylvania 18503
United States

Domain servers in listed order:

Registry Status: clientDeleteProhibited
Registry Status: clientRenewProhibited
Registry Status: clientTransferProhibited
Registry Status: clientUpdateProhibited

I think I'll have a word with them. Though those email addresses don't look very functional.

In the meantime, I'll cross-post this on NEPA Blogs and Another Monkey.  And if this works the way I think it does, this post will automatically be displayed on the Scranton Blogs site as well.  Let this be their top story for a while.

UPDATE, 5/12/2011:
Now my posts aren't displayed there anymore, but the other bloggers' posts are. I've already let several of the other content theft victims know, and I can just work through the rest of the list.

The proper thing to do, if the person running Scranton Blogs wanted to do something like this, would be:

- Post excerpts from blog posts, rather than repost the whole things
- Include links to the original posts, both as a title and a "Read the rest here..."
- Give full attribution to the bloggers and blogs from which these posts are being taken
- Remove any language or architecture that gives the impression that the blog authors are actually working for Scranton Blogs

Not that it should be necessary for anyone to explain all that to this person. But apparently he still doesn't get it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Weekend Update

This was an eventful weekend.

1. Saturday morning we had a First Holy Communion party for a cousin's daughter.  It was a pleasant time, with many kids in attendance.  I was able to distract one in desperate need of distraction with my "magic camera" (setting my camera on the table to take pictures using the timer) and my ability to make the water goblets sing (something that is much easier with wine glasses, and doesn't work at all with orange juice.)

Partway through the party the skies opened up, dumping punishing amounts of rain on us.  We got out during a slight abatement.  I then hopped in my car and headed for...

2. Free Comic Book Day.  Held annually on the first Saturday in May.  The weather got nice again by the time I got there.  Unfortunately, I found very little of interest at the store.  When I got back into comics two years ago it was during Marvel's "Dark Reign" event, in which the normal order of things was upended: good guys were on the run, bad guys were in charge, and the new President had been duped into officially sanctioning this. Like most "events," this one came to an end a year later; the bad guys were put in prison (and for the most part, promptly escaped), and the good guys went back to being heroes and dealing with...well, comic-bookish situations.  The great social commentary of "Dark Reign" has ended, and I find myself focusing primarily on two comics ("Secret Warriors" and "S.H.I.E.L.D.", both written by Jonathan Hickman) that have retained the good-guys-on-the-ropes sense of heroic desperation.  After this visit I got back in my car and headed to...

3. Franco Kossa's funeral.  I approached the funeral at a dead march, never exceeding the speed limit all the way down Route 11 and all the way up Route 309.  I watched the minutes slip by:  2:00 became 2:15 and headed towards 2:30.  I made the turn off 309 onto the street that would take me to a street that would take me to the parking lot.  And as I parked, I  realized that the sky had opened up again.  The rain was coming down so hard that I could not imagine striding across the parking lot and into the funeral home without becoming a drenched mess.  So I sat in my car with a stack of free comic books and read about the further adventures of Adam West until the rain had slowed down a bit.

I entered the funeral home and was directed to the sign-in area.  I wrote my name in the register and turned to see the knot of sideshow folk in the back:  Michael Kattner (a.k.a. Professor Fountain) and James Taylor, and James Mundie, and Tyler Fyre and Thrill Kill Jill.  I don't think I had ever spoken directly to Tyler or Jill before, but I soon remedied that situation.  I made my way past the casket - Franco in a felt bowler and tie-dyed shirt over a t-shirt promoting one of his shows, and a knot of lanyards at his feet, all-access passes to previous Gatherings - paid my respects, and then expressed my regrets to Kim, Franco's widow. I then returned to the sideshow folk, who graciously allowed me - a non-performer, non-historian, essentially a "normal" - to associate with them.  Several veterans were there, including Al Stencell and a bearded man whose name I do not know, but they sat in chairs, chatting with each other.  The rest of the room was filled with people I did not know, people from other aspects of Franco's life: people who knew him through his tattoo shops, or his game shops, or through any other moments in his life.  Soon we were joined by local magician and Sideshow Gathering regular Pat Ward, and then Chris Longo, the "Mayor of Tattooville" arrived, resplendent in a powder-blue suit and mayoral key.  Later, while I was reading over some of the memorial collages assembled to celebrate Franco's life, I saw that John Spitzer (a.k.a. Professor Sprocket) and his traveling companion had arrived.  I wandered around the room, noting the many lovely floral arrangements, including one from The Olde City Sideshow.

At 4:00 the funeral service began.  It was a lovely service, and after the Reverend had performed the Christian formalities he invited members of the assembly to speak about Franco's life.  First up was Chris Longo, whose tribute to Franco choked himself up - as well as the assembled crowd.  Then a man I did not recognize spoke, and he identified himself as Franco's father, and the resemblance was immediately obvious.  I was briefly confused because one of the obituaries was worded in such a way that I believed both of Franco's parents were deceased.  Franco's father, also named Frank Kossa, spoke briefly of his love for his son.  Next Tyler spoke, with all the eloquence of a professional talker, a touching statement about Franco's place in the afterlife in this world, measured by the shadow in which all that come after him will walk.  Finally, one of the kids who spent much of their time at Franco's game store playing Magic: The Gathering spoke,explaining how Franco was like a second father to many of those kids - or a first, in some cases.

Tattoos, family, sideshow, and gaming: four aspects of Franco's life represented.  It was beautifully balanced, wonderfully structured.

And then it was the end.  The minister made some parting remarks, and then the crowd prepared to file past to pay their final respects - to the tune of the Grateful Dead's "Ripple." It was also appropriate, a cheerful song accompanying a somber procession.

We gathered afterwards in the back of the funeral home, again in individual knots - sideshow folk, tattoo folk, gamers, family. We noted that the miserable weather had turned beautiful, and made our way outside to take in the cool air and bright sunshine.  The Snowdon Funeral Home is separated from Route 309 by a small creek, and we stood on the shore of that creek and laughed and told stories.  Then some of the gathered crowd headed across Route 309 to a small repast at an Asian grill in a nearby group of stores - but I had somewhere else to be, though I could not remember where.  I made my farewells, expressed hope that I would see everyone in November at the Gathering, and made my way back down 309.

I was going somewhere, but I couldn't remember where.

4. Oh, yeah, the annual informal gathering of bloggers at Mark's Pub for the Kentucky Derby.  I was almost on 81 when I remembered this, and immediately got lost trying to get there.  It wasn't the first time I had been lost that day, as I had gotten lost going to the Communion party. But I realized that I had completely lost my sense of where Mark's Pub was.  My first exit was completely wrong, putting me in Kingston, though my second attempt was also wrong, landing me near General Hospital.  Finally I fought my way to the exit that put me in the right place, and found Mark's very easily.  Gort was there, and Mrs. Gort, and several of Gort's friends, and a blogger whose existence I had only recently discovered, Cheri Sundra.  We caroused a bit, and watched Animal Kingdom easily beat the frontrunner, the favorites, and the rest of the race leaders to take the trophy or the roses or whatever. Cheri had to excuse herself after the race, and I decided to wash down my two beers with a dozen hot wings.  As I ate them I realized that the vague pain that had been building in my right jaw joint for several days was getting markedly worse.  Chewing and biting became a chore, and against my Catholic upbringing I may have allowed some pieces of chicken to cling to the bones that were discarded.

5. After that I stopped by my cousin's mother's house, where I joined my cousin and several other people in watching and deconstructing the end of "The Bourne Ultimatum" and the beginning of "Body of Lies" - Leonardo DiCaprio's makeup job reminded me of nothing so much as the "actor" from "Team America: World Police."

6.  I slept in a bit and headed out to church Sunday morning, vaguely aware of my increasingly painful jaw.  Afterwards I returned home and presented my mother with what meager Mother's Day presents I could afford, and realized that my jaw really, really hurt.  My sister suggested that it might be an inflammation due to TMJ, and recommended cold compresses and Ibuprofen. So I spent the rest of the day popping Advil and pressing cold packs against my jaw, and trying to get nutrition through foods that didn't need to be chewed.  I also made a delicious turkey soup out of the frozen leftover bones from a turkey breast that we had a few weeks ago.  By Monday the pain had abated somewhat, and by today I can say that the pain is effectively gone.

So.  How was your weekend?

Friday, May 06, 2011

Will bloggers save book publishing?

Eh, probably not.  But it is fascinating to note how many bloggers have translated online success into published work.

I could probably stock a bookshelf or two with books that I own that have been spun off from blogs.  Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy and Death From the Skies!, Jen Yates's Cake Wrecks - soon to be joined by its upcoming holiday-themed sequel.  I have the LOLcats book How To Take Over Teh Wurld culled from the I Can Has Cheezburger? site.* I have the book Schrödinger’s Ball by Adam Felber - not spun off from his blog, but written by a blogger nonetheless, as was his run on the comic Skrull Kill Krew Vol. 2. Ryan North has two books based on his Dinosaur Comics, and was responsible for the inspiration for the anthology book Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die and its upcoming second volume.

One interesting aspect of this:  With the exception of Adam Felber's books, almost everything in these books was already available for free online.  This is only partially true in the case of Phil Plait's books; while all of the topics covered in both books have been discusses at one time or another on his Bad Astronomy blog, the exact text of the books was created specifically for the books.  It is, however, literally true with Machine of Death: at the time of the book's release, the entire book was also released as a downloadable pdf file -at no charge.

So what is the value of publishing these books?  And why do people buy them when they can already access the content for free?  I don't know.  I think it's psychological:  people want to be able to see, feel and smell the thing they're buying, not simply have it available as images on a screen.  There are also issues of convenience, and of permanence - Cake Wrecks or I Can Has Cheezburger? may come down next week, or next month, or next year, but as long as I have the book, the content is available to me.

Now one of the most fantastically successful bloggers around today is putting out a book.  Allie Brosh of the wildly popular (and amazingly good) blog Hyperbole and a Half announced today that she will have a book coming out in the Fall of 2012.  She thinks it will be about half previously published content, and half new content. Already the regular readers of her blog are salivating, dreaming of the day that they can hold the fruit of her labor in their own hands.  I expect it will become a best seller as soon as it comes out.

Maybe someday I'll jump on the bandwagon and finally follow the advice friends have been giving me for years, and see about publishing some of my own original work.  But until I get around to that, I'll be happy to keep reading books written by my fellow bloggers!

*Not really a blog, I realize.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Why you should break up your Facebook friends

I have a lot of "Friends" on Facebook.  Some of them, I even actually know.

Okay, that's a bit snarky but also somewhat true.  A lot of my "Friends" are actual friends, people I know.  Some are people I knew (more or less, from case to case) in high school and have only just reconnected with.  Some are friends I met through college, or through work.  Several are friends I've met online, and in some cases have gone on to meet in the bricks-and-mortar world.  A surprisingly large number of them are people I've met through the Sideshow Gathering.

When I was first starting out on Facebook things were simple.  Fire up the computer, grab a cup of coffee, check my email, open up Facebook.  Scroll the updates my friends had posted since the last time I was on.  Move along.

Now, even just scrolling through the updates my friends have posted in the last hour or two can be overwhelming.  Hundreds of people, all posting, some stuff I want to see, some that I don't really care to know about.  Important news gets lost in the crush.  Oh, and it seems that Facebook occasionally arbitrarily decides that I'm not interested in what one or another of my friends has to say. What to do?

A few revisions ago Facebook provided the opportunity to group your friends into lists.  Using this feature, you could elect to only view updates from friends on a given list.  So I created a sort of inner circle of friends, the people I really knew and wanted to know about.  But this list quickly grew unwieldy, too large to read through.  So next I created smaller lists:  "Family," "High School," "Work," "Sideshow." Now if I wanted to just know what members of my extended family were up to, I could click on that.  If I wanted to see what the chatter was among my high school friends, I could do that.  If I wanted to see what my sideshow friends were doing and saying, I could do that, too.

Another nice feature of these lists was that you could use them as email lists.  So when, for example, a situation like the one that happened yesterday comes about, I could just email all of my friends on my sideshow list.

...in theory, at least. Turns out Facebook has an arbitrary limit on their email system: a message can be addressed to only twenty people at a time.

So now I'm faced with the need to create sub-lists of my lists in convenient twenty-name packages.  But who should be grouped with whom?  Should I make the lists hierarchical, with an inner circle of twenty, and then a first ring of twenty more, and so on? Should I make the lists functional, with the swordswallowers here, the talkers here, the fellow fans here?  Ehhh, maybe I'll just make them alphabetical, with the first twenty names here, the next twenty here, and any new additions getting added to the last group until it fills up.

And then after that, I'll have to do the same with family, and high school friends, and former co-workers.  This is starting to sound like a lot of work...

Monday, May 02, 2011

Franco Kossa, founder of the Sideshow Gathering, is dead

UPDATE, 5/3/2011:  Funeral services for Franco Kossa will be Saturday, May 7 at Snowdon Funeral Home in Shavertown, PA. Friends may call from 2-4pm with the service following at 4pm at Snowdon. The full announcement will be in Thursday's papers.

UPDATE 2, 5/3/2011: This is from Thrill Kill Jill, via Michael Kattner:

Dear Friends,

With a heavy heart we deliver this sad news.

Franco Kossa a.k.a. Franco Zoob died on Monday May 2, 2011.

The Viewing will be held this Saturday May 7, from 2pm-4pm. Followed immediately by the Service at 4pm to be held at:

Snowdon Funeral Home
10 Machell Avenue, Dallas, PA 18612-1611
140 N. Main St., Shavertown (across from Burger King)
(570) 675-3333

Franco is the founder of The Sideshow Gathering which takes place along with the Inkin' The Valley Tattoo Convention in Wilkes-Barre, PA.

Franco's friends and family plan to continue the Sideshow Gathering and the tattoo convention this year as a memorial to Franco. This year will be the 10th Annual Sideshow Gathering and will continue as scheduled the first weekend in November.

Franco's body is being cremated and he will continue to be with us at the Gathering.

Franco leaves behind his wife Kim, and countless friends from the tattoo and sideshow communities.

He will be missed dearly by all who knew him.

Cards and Flowers can be sent directly to the funeral home.

Please pass this along to anyone you believe would like to know.

UPDATE 3, 5/5/2011: Franco's obituary has been published.

Frank ‘Franco’ S. Kossa
May 2, 2011

Frank “Franco” S. Kossa, 45, of Sugarloaf Township, died suddenly Monday, May 2, 2011, in the Hazleton General Hospital.

Born in Pierce County, Washington, Frank was a son of the late Joann Falvo Kossa and Frank J. Kossa, Wilkes-Barre.

He was a graduate of Bishop Hoban High School, Wilkes-Barre, and Luzerne County Community College, Nanticoke.

Frank was a member of Boy Scouts of America, and he was proud to attain the rank of Eagle Scout.

He was the founder of Zoob Productions, former owner of The Game Studio, co-founder of Inkin’ the Valley Tattoo Convention, founder of its SideShow Gathering, and owner of Marc’s Tattooing and Body Piercing, Luzerne County.

Surviving, in addition to his father, are his wife, the former Kim Hogans, Sugarloaf Township; brother, Rick A. Kossa, currently serving in the U.S. Navy in Afghanistan; and beloved pets, Max, Fester, Spanky and Thomas.

Funeral Services will be held at 4 p.m. Saturday from the Harold C. Snowdon Funeral Home Inc., 140 N. Main St., Shavertown. The Rev. James A. Wert will officiate. Interment will be made at the convenience of the family. Friends may call from 2 p.m. until the time of services Saturday at the funeral home.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to Hazleton Animal Shelter, 101 N. Poplar St., Hazleton, PA 18201.

I received word tonight that Franco Kossa, co-owner of Marc's Tattooing, the driving force behind the annual Inkin' the Valley Tattoo Convention and Sideshow Gathering, and the man responsible for bringing the greatest collection of creative and performing artists to Wilkes-Barre each year, has died.

Franco Kossa (center) is surprised to receive one of the first annual "You're Amazing!" awards, given to those who have
 gone above and beyond to make the Inkin' the Valley Tattoo Convention and Sideshow Gathering a success.

I'm still trying to process this, still full of selfish thoughts as to how his death will affect me.  I never spoke to Franco much, just a few nods and grunts in passing, but we did connect online, first on MySpace and then on Facebook.  (I think I might have actually given Franco my entire "Sideshow contacts" list of friends when he was just getting started on Facebook.) I now regret not going to the Spring Fling Tattoo & Arts Gathering at the beginning of April, one last chance to bump into him and nod and grunt.

As you can see from the photo above, Franco was not a large man. But he was a giant.  I know almost nothing about the world of tattoo art, so I can say nothing about that side of things, but I know in the Sideshow world he brought together the greatest collection of acts ever gathered under one roof, an ever-changing lineup of performers who had the opportunity to meet and gather, see and be seen.  For the performers it was a chance to gather and meet friends and fellow performers from all over the country, to show off acts and maybe pick up a few things from other performers, to learn from the veterans and teach the up-and-comers, to swap stories (or "cut up jackpots," in sideshow parlance) or to just hang out in the scenic beauty of the Wyoming Valley each Fall.  For fans like me it was a ridiculously fantastic deal to see all these performers and all these performances stretched out over three days for one amazingly low price.  The service he provided to the performing arts* community and to Northeastern Pennsylvania was simply unbelievable.

And now he's gone.  I hope he knew how grateful we all were to him for everything he did.  And I hope we can carry on his legacy and continue to gather together the performers he loved so much.


Weekender Interview with Inkin' the Valley promoter Franco Kossa 8/30/2006
Not just a side dish The Weekender, Northeast PA, 10/27/2009
Inkin' the Valley and Sideshow Gathering a perfect pairing The Weekender, Northeast PA, 11/2/2010

*The technically correct term here is "variety arts," I have just been reminded.

Osama bin Laden is dead

I have never "Like"d so many Facebook statuses in one night before.

"If it was snowin', I'd say it was Christmas." - Nick Fury

Keep in mind, bin Laden always could have chosen another way out.  This was proposed back on October 1, 2001:

Diplomacy by Funkninja (Must click "PLAY" to play.)