Introducing… the Internet

“I well know what temptations are, and that one of the greatest of them is to put it into a man’s head that he can write a book and have it printed, and thereby earn as much fame as money and as much money as fame.” — Miguel de Cervantes (Don Quixote II, prologue)

I have been haunted lately. Haunted by an idea, or set of ideas. It goes like this: I can simply write text, upload it to this thing called the World Wide Web, and anyone searching for the key terms in the text can very well find. It’s amazing, and only recently in my life have I really discovered this.

I mean, I guess I knew it was there all along, but only after learning some basic HTML and CSS code and working in content management did it occur to me just how text-based the Internet is. It still amazes me that on my brother’s old disability blog, I wrote a ranting post about Apple OS’s then-terrible on-screen keyboard, and it got disproportionally more traffic than all the other things I wrote. Basically, a bunch of people were frustrated by the same problem, searched the Internet just like I had for a solution, and, there being no solution, they were left with my rant.1 It amazes me that I write a bunch of articles every day in the summer for a retail company, and consumers find my articles and buy the stuff I’m promoting. It amazes me that anyone can post a news story online and almost overnight become a real competitor for the big newspaper corporations.

I’m not writing all this to say it’s all about traffic, “conversions” or anything necessarily related to money. For some reason or another, only now in my life have I realized how much quality and potential there is to be enjoyed on the Internet. Maybe it was going back and reading about the beginnings of the Internet, especially before the World Wide Web and the dot com bubble. The Internet started out as primarily an academic, text sharing enterprise, and I suppose it is the more serious or at least “old-fashioned” uses of the Internet that are suddenly interesting to me.

Take blogs for example. On thinking about Internet history of the past decade or two, I can remember a time when it seemed like blogs were the way people were increasingly going to express themselves, find friends, connect, write, share, sell, etc. I remember the days of Xanga and blogrolls with nostalgia. Forums also provided cool spaces for niche dialogue, even if they could be clunky. Something just seemed better, more hopeful, more sane about those days, even if it was not as — shall we say, sleek? — looking as Facebook is now. I won’t go in to a diatribe about why Facebook is terrible, because I don’t need to. We all know it. Blogs or even personal websites provided our true friends with a place to bookmark should they ever wonder what we’re up to. And it tends to be higher quality, deeper, longer information. I won’t say I don’t find my friends’ pithy photos interesting and fun, but I believe blogs and personal websites can take the same kind of information and make them even deeper and more meaningful for readers/friends. Usually, I would rather see a friends’ photo album with descriptions or funny stories that they might post on their blog every once in a while than be able to see it literally in the moment it is happening. Even the people who blog every day usually do not feel pressured to make it short, if they don’t want to, but with Facebook and Twitter, people tend to say less, ironically.

I’ve gone on too long, but this is all just to say, I think you should start blogging. Or even make your own website if you care to learn just a few programming basics. It’s not that hard, really. Of course, there are a million other things you could do. For instance, I just made the best HTML version of Don Quijote currently online with more books to come in the future. Offer a service of some sort. Set up an online storefront. Give stuff away, especially information or expertise knowledge. Publish your own books. Publish other people’s books. Find valuable sources for good reading and weed out all the useless stuff on the Internet you don’t need to read. If you concentrate and don’t get distracted, the Internet is a pretty cool place, after all.

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  1. The page still gets, like, five to ten views a day, apparently. If you Google “apple keyboard viewer shift”, it’s the No. 3 result. If I could get away with it, I’d slap an advertisement or affiliate link or something on that sucker and see what happens. Apparently, WordPress.com allows it! Maybe Keystrokes’ AssistiveWare would give me a deal? …

Matt
June 10, 2015, Byram, Miss.

We should bring back… liquid sweetener

They say aspartame can kill us. I’ve always loved the blue packet myself, especially after I came down with diabetes in the summer of 2010. That was the same summer my Grandma, who lived with us, was cooking pound cake every day in a feverish attempt to see if she could reconstruct an old recipe she had lost. I ate pound cake for breakfast every day for two months and got diabetes in the fall. That sweet tooth can be a bitch sometimes. However, I can now say I’ve tasted about every artificial sweetener there is, and I proclaim that the best one is probably … [drum roll] …

That’s right! Liquid saccharin! The powdery saccharin, aka Sweet’N Low, can be kind of gross, but the liquid version pictured above is awesome. Truth be told, I have not had it since I was a kid . I have sweet memories, though, of licking the saccharin off the lid and practically drinking the stuff straight. It dissolves better in cold drink than any powder ever could. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find these days, and I am slightly inclined to think that the reason for this is all the distrust and conspiracy theories going around about artificial sweeteners. In other words, if the packets in restaurants might be give us cancer when we’re 75, then drinking the stuff in liquid form should surely kill us on the spot.

I don’t know about all the conspiracies, but I will say, I’m still alive. And it is hard for me to believe artificial sweetener is somehow more of a risk than eating insane amounts of sugar daily, which is pretty much what everyone who’s not diabetic does. I’m reminded of the time someone told me my blood sugar was high because of drinking diet drinks. When I pointed out that diet drinks had no sugar, this someone responded, “Yeah… That’s what they say.” At the time, I just thought this was an ignorant person ignoring facts, but I soon realized their theory was just a slightly more insane form of the Doctrine of Sophisticated People on Facebook that says that diet drinks can give you diabetes and/or raise your blood sugar. I’ve had people swear to me I’d be better off drinking regular, sugary sodas. I know they are wrong, because I have tried it. Objectively, sugary drinks have made my blood sugar rise more than non-sugary ones with artificial sweetener. I know, I should have been a scientist.

So ignore the warnings. Drink liquid sweetener and enjoy, if you can still find any.

Matt
June 8, 2015, Byram, Miss.

That awkward moment when… you give library checkouts as gifts

It sounds like a cheapskate move. I am aware of this, but let me explain.

I have gone back to college to get a Ph.D. It’s not that I’m poor and can’t buy something nice for my girlfriend like a gentleman on occasion. It’s just that said occasion usually takes place on the first of every month. Seriously though, money wasn’t an issue the day I went to the library to do this deed. You see, my girlfriend always asks me how much what I got her cost. Unlike many girlfriends, if it cost a lot she is just OK, but if I got it on clearance, she is completely dazzled and proud that I tried to be frugal like her. Furthermore, I was trying to think of something new and quirkily romantic.

There are many pros to checking out a gift from the library. You’re best bet is to look in the multimedia section. Because giving people a book to read is like giving them homework, especially if you say, “Hey, I gotta return this by the deadline stamped on the inside right there. Snap to it.”1 So my plan was to check out all the seasons of a Chinese drama of some sort. We had talked about watching some together to help me learn my girlfriend’s first language but had not gotten a hold of any. Sure enough, they could be easily acquired from the library. I spent a good hour looking for the best TV series and made a fairly decent choice, considering I couldn’t read any of the titles.

I brought two boxes of DVDs back to the apartment for a surprising evening of TV together time, and the conversation went something like:

Anna: “What are we gonna watch them on?”

Me: “Wow. I just remembered I haven’t owned a DVD player in at least five years.”

[Awkward silence]

Anna: “It’s fine. The best ones are on the Internet, anyway.”

Me: “Oh yeah, the Internet.”

Moral of the story: Check out library materials for gifts in very limited scenarios. And remember the Internet.

Matt
June 4, 2015, Byram, Miss.

Disclaimer: Checking out library materials to give to others likely breaks some rule somewhere. This author does not condone illegal activities. This story is fictional and any resemblance to real people or events is entirely coincidental.

  1. The Gorgas Library at The University of Alabama actually prints the return date on receipt paper instead of stamping the inside. To me this takes away from the fun, but the times are a-changin’. 

From those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away

Back years ago, my grandparents used to reminisce about the days when Pawpaw was a traveling ironing board salesman. I’m not sure about the details, since I wasn’t around back then, but apparently one of Pawpaw’s first jobs as a married man was to go around door to door selling ironing boards. It didn’t last long, and it doesn’t seem like my grandmother, whom I call Mimi, ever took it very seriously and was glad when he finally got off the idea.

It reminds me of the time my brother did his first website gig. Nowadays, Blake works for a just salary at the prestigious Mad Genius laboratory, but back then, when he was doing his first website, he was only being paid 75 dollars (and a self-published book of poetry) for weeks of labor. It was a website for a massage therapist, a friend of a friend, and Blake still doesn’t like to talk about it to this day. Blake never got his money. He didn’t even get the poetry book either. Not that he wanted it.

Apparently, this is a curse that runs in the Watson family. I like to tell people my first job after graduating from grad school was my lecturer position at Mississippi State. Those closest to me know this is not the truth. No, I have a dark past I don’t often discuss, but blogging about it feels easier. You see, around June of 2011, months before Mississippi State’s foreign language department called me up for a job, I was working for one cent per hour on Cloudcrowd (or Crowdcloud — I can never remember). I thought I was all savvy with my crowdsourcing, not to mention I was desperate for work. My brother had already learned to avoid this type of thing back when he had worked for the massage therapist/poet. He laughed me to scorn when I made 12 cents over a weekend. Especially when the 12 cents was taken away from me after the crowdsourcing judges, also making cents on the hour, erroneously critiqued my work and sent me to crowdsourcing hell, where my 12 cents was taken away from my account. I had never been so angry. It was only 12 cents, but that was about 12 hours worth of labor.

As my brother is wont to point out, “from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away” (Matt. 13:12).

Matt
May 17, 2015, Byram, Miss.

The first post

I hope you like my blog. I will post periodically and share on Facebook things that I am doing with my life and some creative writing.

Let me start by sharing the technical birth of this blog. As you’ll notice, it does not rely on any blogging software or service, such as WordPress or Blogger. This is probably a bad decision, but I could not resist the fun of making my own web log from the ground up. You can thank genius Blake Watson and my web design professor from my undergrad days, Dr. Kevin Williams. Both are responsible for kindling my love of taking the basic HTML I know and going farther with it than I really should. I have also been working part time as a content manager for a disability aids ecommerce store. This has forced me to get back into writing, as well as basic web development.

Matt
May 16, 2015, Byram, Miss.