Monthly Archives: August 2013

Copy-cat Highlighting on Kindle

A Flamingo Shade of Grey

A Flamingo Shade of Grey

Dear Reader:

Just going to write a quick post about a certain human behavior I found myself noticing while reading books and articles on a Kindle. You know how you are skimming along on your electronic device, your mind filling with images and ideas, caught up in a story-line or argument, and all of a sudden there is a dotted, lighter-gray line underscoring a particular sentence or paragraph?

Well, this line indicates a “highlight.” Not YOUR highlight. Someone else’s highlight. And all the copy-cats who followed suit. Somehow Kindle keeps track of these highlights and reports directly to each reader a helpful note telling her just how many fellow-readers have highlighted that particular sentence, phrase, or paragraph.

Now here’s my question: Why do so many people end up highlighting the very same phrases? Is it because these thoughts are so obviously important that everyone decides, on their own initiative, to highlight them? Or do many people highlight a passage simply because OTHER people have already highlighted it? I suspect the latter answer falls closer to the truth, and it is just another weird indication of the sheeple-like behavior of most humans.

Memes–an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person through a culture–have always been an aspect of being human. We used to spread ideas via storytelling and then via letters and books and magazines and newspapers. Even as we moved to the written story versus the oral, we were still able to experience the story in our own private heads, think our own private thoughts, and draw our own private conclusions about what we thought was important. Maybe we’d talk about what we read. Maybe we’d jot a private note in the margin. Maybe we’d share that book with a friend who happened upon those margin notes. But did that person underline your underline in his own pen and then pass it along to yet another friend who underlined it in her pen and so forth? Um, no.

What we are talking about here goes so far beyond your college roommate’s yellow highlighter in last semester’s American Literature textbook that you bought from her because you’d like not to spend $500 on something that will be obsolete by spring semester the following year. Now that we have technologies that allow us to share everything with everyone electronically, so that even the once-private reading experience has become hive-like, herd-like, the question arises once again. Are we people, or are we sheeple?

This morning, for example, I began reading short story by Jennifer Weiner entitled Swim. It’s a good short story, well-crafted, interesting characters, great internal conflict. I’m reading along, minding my own mind when, POW! A phrase with 68 (not much compared to some books I’ve read, but I’ll get to that) highlights. This must be a rip-roaring great sentence, I thought.

So I read it.

“…making my heart beat like a little girl who’s gotten just what she wanted for her birthday.”

I blinked. Really? Sixty-eight people thought that phrase was highlight-worthy on their own initiative? I growled at my Kindle and startled the dog. “No stinkin’ way!”

Here’s what I think happened. One person highlighted it, someone else saw someone highlighted it and so highlighted it as well, and then a third followed, then a fourth, and then twenty. I actually found myself compelled to drag my finger across the words and click “highlight” in the pop-up box myself, as if some weird internal synoptic hard-wiring connected a vestigial sheeple-lobe in my brain to my right index finger with nary a stop in the actual thought-processing centers in the frontal lobes.

And then I DID highlight it, just to see if the number of highlighters changed from 68 to 69. It has now. Experiment complete. Let’s see if I can un-highlight it. Yup. Just drag finger and hit delete. Voila!

Have I highlighted other books and articles I’ve read in Kindle? Yes, particularly for non-fiction stuff I want to go back and read again or wish to quote. These are my own highlights, though, irrespective of whether or not anyone else got a tingle of “aha!” while reading the passage. Do I hope other people see my highlights and chose to highlight it, too? Should I go back and look and see what kind of influence I’ve made in the world with my fancy-smancy highlighting skills? Shudder. That the thought even occurred to me sets off warning lights and danger sirens.

This is all beginning to feel a little bit too much like Facebook and how some people actually analyze how many “likes” their friends get on posted photos and shares–as if that is some indication of that person’s popularity or likeableness or something. Not to mention Klout–social media that calculates your influence on the social-media culture. I signed up for that for about a week, just to see what it was all about. Then I got outa’ there. What, exactly, was the point?

(This post is turning out to be anything but “quick.” Sorry about that! I didn’t realize I had this much to say on the topic, which is kinda part of the fun of writing, isn’t it? It’s a new discovery each and every time.)

But back to the egregious example of copy-cat highlighting. After resisting for as long as I could, I gave in and bought Fifty Shades of Grey on Kindle. I really didn’t think it would be any good, and it wasn’t great. However, I readily admit that I was curious about why this erotic novel sold so spectacularly well, spawned a slew of copy-cat novels, re-invented a genre which now fills entire shelf-displays in bookstores, and has even been picked up for a movie adaptation. Pretty good stuff for the author, I have to admit. She must have done something right. I wanted to see if I could find out how she did it.

So, yes, the writing was pedestrian, the sex scenes were so-so and there were way too many of them for my taste, and now I have my own theory about why women like this book (which I may or may not share in a later post), but there was one aspect of reading this on Kindle that really amused me. I knew the story wasn’t exactly gripping my attention (no matter WHERE Christian Grey was gripping Anastasia at the particular moment) when I began paying more attention to the highlighting.

“My belief is to achieve success in any scheme one has to make oneself master of that scheme, know it inside and out, know every detail…” 1,761 people thought this was highlight-worthy.

“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.” 3,962 highlights.

“A man who acquires the ability to take full possession of his own mind may take possession of anything else to which he is justly entitled.” 8,586 highlights, and who am I reading? E.L. James or Ayn Rand?see Reading Atlas Shrugged in my 40’s

“Oh, f___ the paperwork, he growls. He lunges at me, pushing me against the wall of the elevator.” 2,349.

And so on. The funniest thing is that there is never just a highlight with 50 highlighters or 10. Just thousands. Does Kindle only report the top-scoring highlights of each book or article? Yes. “We combine the highlights of all Kindle customers and identify the passages with the most highlights. The resulting Popular Highlights help readers to focus on passages that are meaningful to the greatest number of people. We show only passages where the highlights of at least three distinct customers overlap, and we do not show which customers made those highlights.” (http://gigaom.com/2010/05/03/amazon-starts-sharing-what-youve-highlighted-on-your-kindle/)

I’m so glad to know that two-thousand people thought Christian pushing Anastasia against the wall of an elevator was wicked important, aren’t you?

What Amazon doesn’t address is why. Why so many people highlight particular passages. Is it based on true personal preference or is there a copy-cat quality?

I will continue to watch with great interest the highlighting trends in Kindle editions. I’m wondering how this feature could be used and abused–both from sharing information about what certain kinds of readers highlight and also from influencing what readers think is important by artificially amping up the supposed highlights (hello: pay or otherwise ask 100 readers to highlight a certain passage thus causing more people to pay attention to certain ideas and to also copy-cat and highlight that passage than would happen organically.)

What do you all think?

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Dinner From the Garden Boxes

Dinner From the Garden Boxes

So, late summer cooking has begun! Here is a stir-fry of summer squash and onions from my local CSA farm, Piper’s Knoll in Newfield, Maine. I added kale and herbs from my garden boxes plus some frozen shrimp (not local). Served over couscous, this made a scrumptious, 75% local meal.

Localista At Large: Shopping, shopping, and more shopping!

At San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art

Dear Reader:

I have now spent many hours trolling through gift shops and wandering in that aimless touristy way that is at once relaxing and exhausting in equal measure. The Teen and I managed the public transportation options yesterday, starting out with the MTS express bus, the 150, from just across the street in La Jolla down to Old Town. There, we procured a couple of Compass passes from a vending machine at the trolley station–three-day passes that would allow us unlimited bus and trolley rides until Wednesday.

Picture the trolley/bus station at Old Town. Two sets of tracks divided by concrete walkways and covered benches. A few bus lanes dotted with more benches with signage listing the various routes going north and south. An underground passageway between the bus and trolley lines–the walls of said passageway artfully decorated with red roof tiles and large stones in wavy shapes.

The trolley are like above-ground subway trains– bright, shiny red on the outside and very clean inside. Finding the right trolley and getting Downtown was no problem yesterday. Soon we were deposited a block or so from our destination, Seaport Village, a recreated seaport development of small shops and restaurants along the waterfront, not far from the giant ship museums and the Fish Market Restaurant.

We ended our day at the Kansas City BBQ where the bar scene from TOP GUN was filmed. This very casual rib joint was laid-back with checkered plastic tablecloths, styrofoam cups for our sodas, and really hot and salty fries. We didn’t order any ribs, but the smell was spicy and sweet wafting from the table behind us. In the bar area, people sat in close quarters at the worn bar over which hung Navy caps–I’m assuming they were donated by military customers over the years. Signed photos on the wall included Richard Dean Anderson and Brooke Shields and a bunch of athletes I didn’t bother to look at. Sorry sports fans.

Today, we intended to go to Balboa Park for some art & culture, but the thought of navigating the MTS again just made me feel tired before we even started. We opted for another foray into La Jolla Village where we did spend a good hour and a half at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art before shopping, refueling at the Brick & Bell Cafe, more shopping, and meeting Hubby down at the cove where the sea lions were diving and flapping and honking beneath a cloudy afternoon sky.

Dinner at the hotel “social hour” ended our day as we couldn’t seem to muster up any enthusiasm for dinner out. Early to bed. Sea World, hopefully, tomorrow.

So, here are the highlights from our last couple of days.

Hotel Suite Kitchen

Hotel Suite Kitchen

Our hotel suite kitchen where I’ve composed some good, fresh salads as well as pasta and even garlic bread. Avocado with everything!

Seaport Village Flag

Seaport Village Flag

Seaport Village: a cute shopping area, waterfront district.

Kites over the waterfront

Kites over the waterfront

Watching the kites flying over the waterfront park at Seaport Village was relaxing…and chilly!

Wax Candle Artist

Wax Candle Artist

Balls of wax are dipped into colored wax and become beautiful, one-of-a-kind works of art. We had fun testing out many of the wax balls beneath the handy spotlights before choosing a few to bring home. The artist was very friendly and agreed to pose for us after explaining her process. Can you see the colored wax buckets beside her?

Top Gun Hats

Top Gun Hats

Here are the hats hanging over the bar at Kansas City BBQ. Remember Tom Cruise singing “She’s lost that loving feeling?” Here’s where it happened.

Art meets sci-fi

Art meets sci-fi

At the Museum of Contemporary Art, the main exhibit featured art inspired by science fiction. This one was based on a mythological sci-fi story about slaves dumped overboard in the Great Lakes who created a lost world beneath the water. Note the eyeballs beneath the waves. Cool, I say. Sketchy, says the Teen.

Flower People

Flower People

Another artist created a world where people were able to genetically combine with plants. These are the flower people of her imagination.

Echoes Too

Echoes Too

Walking down the street with no particular destination in mind, imagine my delight when I spotted–tadaa–a resale clothing store in ritzy La Jolla Village! Echoes Too Resale Shop carried some pretty impressive name brands. I especially liked a slinky black jersey Calvin Klein cocktail dress and a nice white cotton shirt. However, I didn’t feel like trying on clothes. It was enough to have found the shop and snap a photo, I guess, for this Localista.

IMG_cafe

The Teen and I spotted the Brick & Bell Cafe from across the street and zipped right over. It sits on a quiet back street across from a shoe repair shop and dry cleaners…and a few locals were hanging out at the outside cafe tables and reading and chatting and greeting each other. We split a chocolate chip scone and drank cappucinos. It felt like Europe to me, somehow. Must’ve been a certain vibe. That and all the languages we heard on the street. La Jolla draws people from all over the world. I’ve heard snippets of French and strands of Italian, watched people of all shapes and sizes and ages and colors brushing past each other in and out of shops and restaurants. There is nothing like getting out of small-town rural Maine and into a large, metropolitan city to wake up one’s interest in culture and cultures!

Localista At Large: Life’s a Zoo

Driving in Point Loma

Driving in Point Loma

Before heading to the San Diego Zoo yesterday, we drove over to Craig’s work at the Point Loma Naval Base so he could pick up some tickets. It is so weird to see palm trees and cacti and things like giant aloe vera lining the roads. The homes are definitely in a southwestern stucco style with red tile roofs and dry-climate landscaping on their sloping house-lots situated on the hills rising up from the Pacific. I find this architectural style/attitude restful somehow. I imagine siestas and late-afternoon mojitos and entertaining around the hot-tub in the evening.

Local Weeklies

Local Weeklies

Just wondering what kind of work I could do around here to support my deluxe lifestyle dreams. Maybe write for one of these local weeklies? Nah, I’d miss the Reporter too much. (Speaking of which, I’m still waiting for SRC-TV to get their video problem fixed so I can watch the propane tank hearing!)

Life's a Zoo

Life’s a Zoo

Balboa Park is an arts and culture mega-complex that include the San Diego Zoo, a cultural arts center called Centro Cultura de la Raza, the Mingei International Museum, the Museum of Photographic Arts, a science center, an air & space museum, the San Diego Art Institute, and more! I can’t even begin to imagine how this is possible–the closest I can imagine is the Mall in Washington D.C. If I had my way, I would spend the rest of our trip here…but when I say as much to the Teen I get a pained “Mo-o-o-o-om!” I get it. Shopping is much more exciting when you are some-teen-years-old and on a long trip with your middle-aged parents. Still, I will insist on at least one day here other than our zoo day. Mom’s pick day. I better chose with care. [Looking at one hand]History. [Looking at another hand]Art. History. Art. History? Art? Arghhh! How will I decide?

Flamingo Yoga

Flamingo Yoga

Maybe if I make like a pink flamingo and get into some really good yoga poses, I will become much more zen about the whole thing and just take life as it comes.

Of two minds...or two giraffes about it.

Of two minds…or two giraffes about it.

I’m really of two minds about it.

Carvings on the bamboo

Carvings on the bamboo

Anyone can take photos of the animals–but how about the little details like all the graffiti carved into the bamboo lining the pathways? I thought it looked kinda artsy, if delinquent.

Skytram across the zoo

Skytram across the zoo

We ended our zoo day with a really zippy trip across the park on the Skytram. I had lost my ticket (why did I think putting it in my pocket with my iPhone/camera/recording device was a good idea?), but they let me on after a quick glance at Hubby’s credit card receipt which he was smart enough to put in his wallet. Love that guy. So happy to be out here with him and the Teen. I wonder if this will be our last big family trip before graduation in a few years?

So anyway, after walking around at the zoo all day yesterday, the Teen and I took it easy and decided to hang around the hotel today. We spent an hour at the gym on the elliptical and treadmill and used the free-weights. Then we did some reading and sunning beside the pool, hit the hot tub, and came home to change for dinner.

Hanging Around

Hanging Around

I read all those weeklies and caught up on all the local news, views, and happenings. Also checked out the real estate. Yeah, in the term California Dreamin’ the operative word is, indeed, “dreaming.” That’s okay. I’m enjoying a glass of sangria in our living room area, writing up my blog post for the day, and waiting for everyone else to finish getting ready for dinner.

Maverick

Maverick

Can’t wait to head out to the Embarcadero tomorrow, San Diego’s waterfront district with ships and shopping…and the Kansas City Barbeque–the restaurant made famous in TOP GUN. I had no idea when I watched that movie last week that this excursion was “on the menu!” I might even get Hubby to drive me out to Miramar.

Localista At Large: California Dreamin’

La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove

Dear Reader:

The Teen and I joined Hubby on the West Coast this week, and are immersing ourselves in the laid-back California lifestyle as much as possible, staying in the seaside community of La Jolla which is home to the University of California San Diego, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, and the Salk Institute. La Jolla also offers a quaint art & shopping village, sea lion watching, impressive sandy cliffs leading down to sheltered beaches, great restaurants (avocado is in just about everything–I’m in dining heaven!), and perfect, and I mean that literally, weather. Every day has been in the low 70’s, with morning fog clearing to blue sky and bright sunshine.

Mormon Temple

Mormon Temple

The Mormon Temple simply glows and looks more like a castle than a church. Wikepedia tells me that the exterior is made of marble chips in stucco which is why it shines so ethereally against the sky. The Teen and I saw it from the parking lot of a shopping center where we had gone to stock up on some groceries for the week.

Sea Lions at La Jolla Cove

Sea Lions at La Jolla Cove

The next day, we hopped on the hotel shuttle to La Jolla Cove where we stood watching the sea lions basking on the rocks. There was ample opportunity for people-watching, too. Snorkeling, diving, and swimming are all favorite pastimes here. We walked the pathway along the ocean and Scripps park, watching the waves and enjoying the breeze. Heading up Jenner Street, we left the ocean and headed into the village for some shopping and lunch.

Arugula Salad

Arugula Salad

I hate to admit this, but I can’t remember the name of the restaurant–it was on Girard Avenue, not far from Cody’s, and above a Thai place. My credit card says “Stella,” but I can’t find it on Google.com. Anyway, we had an amazing arugula salad with hearts of palm, avocado (naturally), and shaved parmigiano. Yum! Later, we stopped into a juice bar for some healthy and hydrating smoothies.

The Teen found a pair of great crocheted shorts at a clothing store. The clerk was a woman who grew up in New York City and moved out here awhile ago. Her family moved out with her, and she says she’d never want to move back east. The Teen also mentioned that everyone seems really happy here. Is it because of the climate or, as I suspect, because we are in La Jolla–a very well-to-do community in San Diego?

You know, when you don’t have to worry about where your mortgage payment is coming from and you don’t have to chose between medications or electricity for the month, you might experience a bit less stress. A for-sale sign on a condo in La Jolla Village listed the price as $800,000! Okay, having money might not make you HAPPIER, per se, but it certainly takes the edge off, doesn’t it?

Our first evening in La Jolla, Hubby drove us over to Torrey Pines where we climbed down the stairs built into steep sand cliffs, ended up on the sheltered beach, and did a little jogging, a little sprinting, a little walking…and I practiced tree pose while looking out at the Pacific. I saw my first nudist–unfortunately. Not a fan of public nudity. Also saw people practicing paragliding up on the cliffs at the Torrey Pines Gliderport while a guy played guitar, providing a soundtrack for the graceful, floating gliders.

palm trees galore

palm trees galore

Walking everywhere provides plenty of time for looking at the different types of palm trees, cacti, and flowers that are so different here in this dry climate.

Statue outside the Museum of Contemporary Art.

outside the Museum of Contemporary Art.

San Diego has alot to offer if you are into art and history. This big guy has a mechanical arm raising and lowering a hammer outside the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla. I hope to talk the Teen into checking out the museum…maybe later today!

Outside Kate Spade

Outside Kate Spade

For you fashionistas out there, here is a shot of the Teen in front of Kate Spade. I’m sure we’ll be shopping some more–I’m hoping to find some consignment shops while I’m out here that I can share with you. That pretty much covers days 1 & 2 of our California Dreamin’ adventure. We spent Day 3 at the San Diego Zoo. Post coming soon!

Pelicans at the cove---they have their own gliders attached!

Pelicans at the cove—they have their own gliders attached!