Always a Workaround, by Elayne Riggs
Last Friday I took my first PTO (paid time off) day since starting my new job, as I’d slightly injured myself the previous Wednesday evening (thank goodness I’d already been to the comics shop by that point). As the injury involved my leg, and as I knew I’d be doing a lot of driving on Saturday, I planned to schlep to and from the office rather painfully on Thursday to take care of needed business, then treat myself to a non-commute day on Friday, which I’d devote to blogging on my home computer.
I don’t blog as fervently as I used to. My priorities have changed a bit in the last year. This past year when I’d devoted myself largely to finding a new job, a number of friends advised me to get back into the fiction writing I’d abandoned as my former job had sucked up my creative soul, observing “You may never have this chance again!” But I was too anxious over income, and the practical side of me won out. I know I’ll write until I no longer have the capacity for independent thought, even if that writing only takes place in my head. However, my desire to live the rest of my life in the style to which I’ve become accustomed (paying rent and bills, having a well-stocked fridge, etc.) overruled my second favorite hobby — like many writers, my favorite hobby is reading, not writing — and I fell into different patterns.
At the moment my newfound routine is still being worked out. For a number of reasons both in and out of my control, I do not blog at the office, and I haven’t been writing all that much in the evenings and weekends. But I feel that’s going to start to change (the latter, that is), and not just because the Yankees and Mets really ought to be doing better at this point in the season and thus I often turn off the TV before the game’s even official. I’m starting to feel the drive again. I’m finally happy and comfortable both in my work life and my home surroundings, a confluence that hasn’t existed as such in over a decade. And on Friday, despite the injury, I was jazzed to write. By gosh, I was going to tackle all those unread posts from my friends’ and acquaintances’ blogs and then Get To It! Heck, I might even post all those photos I took of the All-Star parade up 6th Avenue a few weeks ago!
So I went onto the edit window for Pen-Elayne on the Web, and that’s when the trouble started.
I was all ready to post my daily Silly Site. I always make sure I post at least one piece of new content a day, and since my late best friend Leah Adezio came up with the concept of a Link o’ Silliness, I ran with the idea and have made that my excuse to write a little something new every day. I started Pen-Elayne in September of 2002, and since then it hasn’t gone a day without new content in I can’t remember when. Like a number of bloggers, I fancy myself something of a Cal Ripkin Jr. of blog updating.
But this time I stared uncomprehendingly at the edit page as it flashed an error message. My blog was among the thousands that had been tagged by Blogger’s zealous bots as a spam-blog, and I was locked out until further review.
There was a time when this would have sent me into a tizzy. A decade or so ago none of these things existed — blogs, cell phones, wireless mice, DVRs — and yet they’re so integrated into many of our lives now that if the least little thing goes wrong with them we fly into the kind of panic mode erstwhile reserved for the household electricity or water suddenly going out. Yes, modern tech not working properly 100% of the time can be a bloody nuisance, but very rarely is it a life-or-death situation. I haven’t been able to properly load Gmail on my new PC since I bought it, I have to switch to HTML mode which means I can’t immediately delete my spam wholesale or do a number of other things. I deal with it, mostly by reading Gmail on my Macbook now.
If there’s one thing you learn on the internet, it’s that there’s almost always a workaround. Not unlike what I’ve found with most Microsoft programs! In the case of the Blogger spam-bots gone loony, I took to once again posting to my backup blog on LiveJournal until such time as Blogger let me back in again. I’d set up the LiveJournal years earlier when it was fashionable for people with too much time on their hands or far more energy than me to blog in more than one place. It made sense to have another base of operations in case the primary one was compromised, and just about any blogging software, no matter how user-friendly and reliable, is fairly susceptible to becoming snafu’ed at any time without much warning. Case in point: at the same time as Blogger’s bots went nuts, Site Meter sprang some kind of leak, disallowing many pages that displayed it to even finish loading properly on Internet Explorer.
I have to figure most people take this in stride. I was happily surprised that I didn’t come across anyone indignantly “threatening” to take abandon Blogger in favor of WordPress or elsewhere, as though these other places never had blips in their service. What seemed to happen was that a number of my fellow bloggers affected by Blogger’s false positive spam-blog labelling took to their backup places, as word spread that the problem could take up to a week to fix. Blogger users could still get into their templates to change them, so a lot of us altered the top of our sidebars to alert and redirect readers. Of course, that doesn’t work with whoever reads blogs strictly via their site feeds, as I do. Just as no internet app is 100%, no workaround is 100%. But it really did seem good enough for most.
The most amusing aspect to me was the conclusions to which some people immediately jumped when this situation manifested itself. Skippy detailed one conservative blogger’s reaction: “Online activists thought to be loyal to Barack Obama are once again using Google’s software tools to target rival political blogs for elimination as spam blogs.” I love the prisms through which everyone views their little corner of the blogosphere. While I’m not thrilled with much of Obama’s centrist political positions, I did wind up voting for him in the NY primary, so even if this paranoid fantasy were true (and I don’t immediately discount this kind of talk because political bloggers are a strange breed and this is how many of them think — they can be as overzealous as, well, Blogger spam bots) I highly doubt his supporters would have targeted Pen-Elayne, which is more a general-Elayne’s-interest spot than a political blog anyway. But in much the same way that, if you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail, to a political blogger the entirety of the blogosphere is strictly political, and not about any other subject like comics or music or sushi or cats or knitting or what-have-you.
Blogger knew they’d screwed up and, to their credit, had the problem fixed on a lot of blogs (including my own) by Friday evening. So as it turned out, everyone who did panic looked a bit silly in retrospect. But the blogosphere does often attract the silly, the passionate, the committed (or should-be-committed). The kind of people who demand immediate self-gratification, early and often. Not at all like many comics fans! Seriously, this is something that our over-commodified, hyper-capitalist society has encouraged ever since the days when “citizens” suddenly turned into “consumers” and “spending a bit less than the usual markup” became “saving money.” We want our stuff, and we want it idiot-proof and working perfectly right from the 1.0 version. We don’t have time to wait until something’s fixed! If it’s not exactly as advertised in our imaginations, we’ll just do what any proper ‘Murican does — we’ll throw it away and get a new one! That’ll show them! God bless planned obsolescence! So perhaps one can’t blame people raised with this kind of mentality to exhibit a little patience with buggy software or hardware or swimware.
But you know, it would still be nice if I could just open my Gmail normally on my new PC…
Elayne Riggs mostly blogs at Pen-Elayne on the Web, except for a few hours on Friday when she blogged at Pen-Elayne on the Web Too, and she used a workaround to post the illustration accompanying this entry.