Friday, June 29, 2012

You need a blog: Why Facebook and Twitter are not enough

How are your friends doing? Your Facebook friends, I mean. Have you seen their updates lately? Are you sure? Are you sure you're not just seeing "Top Stories," despite having specified that you want to see all of your friends' updates, over and over again?

How about those groups and organizations you're a fan of? Are you seeing all of the updates?

The answer, in both cases, is probably not. Facebook routinely tinkers with what you see - or what the people you're trying to communicate with get to see.

I've said it over and over again: Facebook is Mark Zuckerberg's playground, he's just letting us play there. And the rules of that playground keep changing. Ask anyone who's been put in "Facebook Jail" for attempting to "Friend" someone who's been recommended to them by Facebook itself. Plus, Facebook reserves the right to censor what you've posted, and then punish you for posting things that Facebook finds offensive. Or objectionable. Or violate today's rules.

I've also said over and over again that Facebook is no substitute for having  a blog to promote your group, organization, band, or whatever. Neither is Twitter. Twitter is like being in a crowded party where everyone is shouting out little snippets of conversation, all given equal importance. You want to say something important, something you really want all your friends to hear? Too bad, it just got buried by three dozen people posting tweets about their lunch, their pets, their commute, and how much they love lamp. Buried, and never to be seen again, because in the next few hours there will be hundreds of additional tweets piled on top of that.

Blogs may seem quaint and old-fashioned to those neophiles who are constantly chasing the banner, for whom what worked yesterday is considered junk because it's...well, just so yesterday. But for those who actually give a damn about things that work, blogs and blogging are immensely valuable tools for getting your message across in a manner that has a high degree of persistence, even permanence.

Consider this: If you are an organization that wants to keep people up-to-date with the latest news, you could opt for the Facebook route, setting up a fan page and attracting subscribers.  If you're lucky, some of your fans will see each post (estimates vary from 16% to 25%, based on your "Edgerank"), though it will almost certainly be lost among posts from their other "friends." (They might have a chance to see it later, if they make the effort to surf over.) Of course, this visibility is only to your "fans," and only to those fans who are on Facebook. (Astonishingly, not everyone in the world is on Facebook.) You can also use Twitter and Tweet your news, but again, this will only go out to your "followers," and will quickly be lost amidst the noise that is 99.999...% of the stuff posted on Twitter.

So how do you make sure your message gets out?

The answer is simple: you need a blog. Not just a website, but an honest-to-goodness blog, with frequent updates, an RSS feed, and an easy setup for people to follow or get posts by email. This takes a little more effort, but the payoff can be much greater. What you post on your blog today will still be there tomorrow, and won't get buried by what other people post on their blogs. Your posts will be visible to the world, not just "fans" or "followers," and not just to members of a site like Facebook or Twitter. They will get indexed by search engines and show up in people's searches. And you can post links to your blog posts on Facebook and Twitter, and have your Twitter updates displayed on your blog!  So it's not an either/or situation. Having a blog is essential to having an online presence, and using it in conjunction with other social media is key to maximizing your visibility. On top of that, it doesn't have to cost you a dime. You can get a blog for free and completely manage it yourself, or you can pay to have the "prestige" of a top-level domain name or even hire someone to design and manage your blog for you.

It's up to you. Facebook is nice. Twitter is nice. But if you're serious about getting your message out, they're not enough. You need a blog to create a real web presence, a place where you can say what you need to say and your friends and fans can always come to hear it.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


It's a little to early to let the car out of the bag, but let me just say that there are some fundraising events that are coming up on behalf of the new and improved Vintage Theater in Scranton that are just amazing beyond words.  If you live anywhere near Northeastern Pennsylvania, YOU WILL WANT TO BE A PART OF THIS!!!

Details coming July 1!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

40 years after the flood

Until last September, if you spoke to anyone in Northeastern Pennsylvania about "the flood" they would know exactly what you meant. Some old-timers might remember the St. Patrick's Day Flood of 1936, but for everyone else "the flood" meant one thing.


Floods don't get names, not like that. Agnes was a Tropical Storm that, in June 1972, blew along the Eastern Seaboard up from the Gulf of Mexico on a meandering, lazy course that took it over land, over the Atlantic, and then back over land - through New York City and then up into upstate New York. Northeastern Pennsylvania got smacked with the outer bands (just like with Irene in 2011, which also hit New York City but then set its sights on New England), but the real damage was done when the remnant of Agnes parked itself over the headwaters of the Susquehanna (just like Lee a week after Irene last year - though Lee also dumped rain on Northeastern Pennsylvania for days, as did Agnes.)

The Susquehanna rose and rose, threatening to overtop the levees that had built in the wake of the flood of '36. A heroic effort was made to augment the dikes with sandbags. Mandatory evacuations were ordered for the flood zone. Many complied. Some refused to leave.

And then, in a horrific moment, the sandbags gave way. The river came through. Photos captured the terror of people who had moments before been fighting to hold back the river with sandbags now running for their lives.

Very few people died in the flood itself, and mostly from heart attacks and things like that. Those who refused to evacuate had to be rescued by boat, sometimes from upper stories, sometimes from rooftops.

I had  a relative who lived in the flood zone - my father's mother's sister's mother-in-law. She didn't think the river would break through the levees. She didn't think she would be affected. She was wrong. She had to be evacuated from a third story window.

I was just four when Agnes hit. Now it would be considered crazy to take a four-year-old into a flood zone, even a month or more after the waters had receded. But things were different back then. And the visit to this relative's house left a memory that has stayed with me forever.

Even at that age I loved books. Comic books, paperbacks, hardbacks, books of all sorts. What I saw broke my heart.

We were in a large empty room. Cleanup had obviously been going on for some time at that point. But some things just couldn't be cleaned. Like the stains on the ceiling.

The room I was in had probably been their living room. Maybe their library, even. It was where their books had been. And when the floodwaters came through, those books were knocked off their shelves, caught up in the water, and floated up to the ceiling.

The water didn't stop at the first floor. It chased my relatives up to their third floor. So the first floor was filled completely. The books rose to the top and were pressed against the ceiling, at least until they absorbed enough water to sink. In the meantime, they had left an impression.

The ceiling of that room was tattooed with the colors of the covers of hundreds of books that had been pressed against it.

It was a strange and beautiful sight, and horrifying at the same time. I knew that all those books that someone had once read and loved enough to buy were now garbage heaped in piles along the streets. Just like everything else that these people had ever owned.

Thirty-nine years later it happened again. Not in Wilkes-Barre or in Kingston, where my relatives had lived. They were protected by a levee-raising project that was completed in response to Agnes. This time it was in West Pittston and Shickshnny and other places. People lost everything because of the power of a flood.

I wonder if in thirty-nine years people will remember Lee the way we remember Agnes?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Bowie is missing

UPDATE, 6/23/12: Bowie reappeared overnight. She must have been hiding somewhere downstairs. She wasn't making any sounds down there or showing herself at all. I left the basement door open and in the middle of the night she showed up in front of the closed upstairs bathroom where she usually spends the night - without her collar. This morning I found her collar in an obvious spot on the kitchen floor, complete with bell. So either it was sitting there all this while and she was without it, or she was wearing it all this while and pulled it over her head when she came upstairs.

Bowie has gone missing.

We're not sure when. This has been a chaotic week. My sister has been up, my mom was in the hospital, and I'm working a 3:45-to-12:15 shift. I haven't actually kept track of all the cats amid the running around. My sister says she saw Bowie yesterday morning or the night before.

Now, there's a good chance Bowie is hiding in the house. She's good at that sort of thing. But she also has had some opportunities to slip out of the house, not that she's ever shown any inclination to do so. Possibly when my mom was coming back home from the hospital yesterday, or possibly when I was getting some help bringing in groceries - the door to the garage was inadvertently left open, and at least one cat found his way in there, and it's possible that the inner door may have been left open at the same time that the garage door was open. So she may have slipped out then, or may be hiding in the garage, or may be hiding anywhere else.

If anyone reading this is in the Nanticoke area, she might be in the area of Kosciuszko street. She's a female brown tabby with irregular stripes, wearing a purple collar with a bell. If you spot her, contact me at databoy142 at hotmail dot com.

An older picture showing her stripe pattern

Note the unique back pattern

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Zine Festival report

After my writing group broke up today a few of us decided to hike a few blocks across town to the Scranton Zine Festival before taking our traditional late lunch. I quickly met co-organizer Brian Fanelli and made my way around to local zinesters Rachel Goetzke of Word Fountain and the semi-anonymous author of Progression and Progression: Part Two (and the companion blog, bareing skine.) I also met Kenny Luck of the blog The Luck Report (which appears to be down as of this writing.)

Afterwards, as I enjoyed copious amounts of sushi and assorted other food at a buffet, I realized that I had forgotten to take any pictures! So I made a quick detour on my way home, got back to the Zine Festival minutes before everyone packed their stuff up, and grabbed a few quick photos.

The Scranton Zine Festival featured other things in addition to zines: used books, handcrafted bookmarks, arts and crafts, handmade buttons. It was really a celebration of artistic and creative expression. While the majority of zinesters in attendance were from out of the area - mainly Philadelphia, but there were a few from other places, including Canada - I was glad to see Northeastern Pennsylvania well-represented. And I walked away with a few zines to read, and at least one new blog to add to NEPA Blogs!

Friday, June 08, 2012

Scranton Zine Festival is this Saturday

The Scranton Zine Festival is this Saturday from noon to 6 PM at the New Visions Studio and Gallery at 201 Vine Street in Scranton, with a poetry reading to follow from 7 PM - 9 PM.

What's a "zine," you might ask? Zines are sort-of first cousins to blogs. They share the same pedigree but have diverged in execution: whereas blogs are creations that exist in cyberspace for the most part (until the blog hits the big time and gets published as a book,) zines are ink-on-paper creations that have a real presence in the physical world (except when the zine creator, or "zinester," decides to create an online component to the zine - sometimes in the form of a blog!)

Zines are at once more permanent and more ephemeral than blogs. Permanent in that they have a real physical presence as an object, rather than as a website that exists only on some server somewhere; ephemeral in that zines are always "limited editions," while a blog can exist in any numbers anywhere that the blog site can be accessed.

I first became aware of zines during my college years in the late 1980's, assuming we don't count the comic books that my brother and I hand-drew in limited editions of one. The only zine whose name I can recall was called "Whose Opin-yun?" and exists to this day as a single reference on the internet. (That will change once I publish this post.) But I forgot all about zines for something like twenty years, until a conversation with blogger, hiker, and zinester Erin Delaney reminded me that such things exist.

The Scranton Zine Festival is an opportunity for zinesters from Northeastern Pennsylvania and beyond to meet, mingle, and share their creative work. Well, not literally "share;" if you're going, take along a supply of small bills to purchase zines you find interesting - and help keep the zinesters in paper, toner, and whatever other materials they need to practice their craft. (For a list of zinesters and others taking part in the Scranton Zine Festival, go here.)

I'll be in the area this Saturday anyway - my writing group meets in Scranton every Saturday, so it's just a quick walk to the New Visions location. I'm planning to take a stack of blog cards with me, both for Another Monkey and NEPA Blogs. Who knows what sort of connections I'll be making!

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

A gift fit for a Queen

I must have accidentally caught too much coverage of Queen Elizabeth II's diamond jubilee on Sunday. Monday morning I dreamt that I was in a panic because I had forgotten to get the Queen a present. So I grabbed the comforter off of my bed, folded it once lengthwise, then rolled it up neatly and secured it with black bands. Then I used a Sharpie to write "HAPPY 60th, QUEEN!" on it and shipped it to her. I woke up all upset because I had given away my comforter.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Transit of Venus TOMORROW, Tuesday, June 5

Tomorrow a rare alignment of the orbits of Earth and Venus will take place, allowing people who happen to be on the right spot on Earth a chance to see Venus pass across, or transit, the face of the sun.

Unless there are some breakthroughs in longevity in the next few decades, this will be the last Transit of Venus in our lifetime. The next one won't take place for over one hundred and five years. The last one actually took place just eight years ago, and the last one before that was in 1882.

For all the details on when, where, and how you can see this event, go here:

Bad Astronomy: Everything you need to know about next week’s Transit of Venus

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Scenes from the Arts On Fire Festival, Saturday, June 2 2012

As I left the house to go to the weekly gathering of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Writers' Collective, I realized I had forgotten to grab my camera, just in case we decided to head out to the Arts On Fire Festival in Scranton afterwards. "That's OK," I thought. "I can just use the camera in my phone!"

So. Sorry about the poor quality of these photos.

Some of the vendors and the crowd.

Professor Jared Jaffe of Keystone College and some of his RAKU ceramic creations. On the left are ladybug and chicken whistles, while on the right are "RAKU Rocket" teapots. I thought the blue one in the front row resembled one of Lovecraft's Elder Things, while the green one brought to mind a stirge!

One of the most popular exhibits was an interactive art booth. For a few dollars you could buy a hexagonal blank mold made of soft brick. You could then scratch a design into it with a nail, and then molten iron would be poured into the mold, creating a positive image of the negative you had created. On Sunday, all of the cast iron hexagonal tiles will be assembled together into a collective art project! 

Pouring the molten iron into the molds.

Some of the molds. The one on the right in the second row was made by NEPWC member Laurel.

Pouring molten iron into a larger and more complicated mold.

"Arts On Fire," literally: after the molten iron was poured, impurities continued to burn off the surface of the iron for several minutes. This image captures a small flame on the left edge of the rightmost mold.

Who needs Instagram when you have a low-resolution phone camera with a dirty lens and low-light conditions? This old-timey-looking scene was just across the street from the iron furnace.

The Arts On Fire Festival continues through tomorrow, June 3 2012, and will run from 11:00 - 5:00.