Thursday, January 13, 2011

New blogger, old mac: Practical concerns

Student weblogging for fluency, skills, and integration.

The following was written in preparation for TESOL 2007 in Seattle: Student weblogging for fluency, skills, and integration. Demonstration, Writing IS, CC 3B, Sat. Mar. 24, 10:30-11:15. It appeared at until 2010 and was restored here in 2011. The homepage for this presentation now is here.

Practical concerns

There is much in this area that I don't know, since we mac users are a minority, and certain conditions that we take for granted do not apply to many people. The people who are in most trouble are the people with old macs, not receiving regular updates on operating systems, or people who for financial or other reasons cannot keep updating as the entire rest of the world seems to be doing; some people, most notably people who work at home, or people who work in isolated countries with limited resources, have trouble relating to anything said by the rest of us, who take fast connections and regular updates as a part of modern life, one we could not imagine living without.

Having said that, I'd like to point out a number of patterns that have begun to emerge in the worlds of computing and blogging that are worth noticing. First, though the dust has not settled on the copyright issue, Blogger has over half of the weblogs in the world, so I frame the question in terms of: to use Blogger, or not. It's a complicated question. We have used Blogger from the start, and would find it impossible to take old material and move it physically onto new weblogs, but it wouldn't be impossible to simply switch to another provider for all new ones. Yet we don't; we still consider Blogger the most user-friendly of the computers, and struggle to adjust to New Blogger as it imposes demands, especially on those who straddle New and Old, or those who for whatever reason have not upgraded fast enough.*

Patterns in computer evolution

1. Browsers grow, evolve, and adapt, but only when it's worth their while. Why did they not continue to upgrade IE for macs? Because there was a war of incompatibility that they couldn't win, I assume. Because Safari had taken over all its functions, and was so much better for Mac users. I have no idea; I can only guess.

2. As a corollary to #1: It's always good to keep your eye on other browsers, which might do a better job, unless you're a designer, in which case, you should keep your eye on every browser.

3. Macs and PC's converge; this has both advantages and disadvantages. Until recently we mac-users enjoyed relative freedom from viruses, etc.; we suffered, however, from having to convert all outsiders, particularly new teachers and new students, to a new interface. It was harder for students to slip into other computer labs, or have other people "help" them with their work. We had to explain how one unjustified right margins on pc's.

4. People come to accept being hopelessly behind technologically, fairly quickly. Of course I need an upgrade; who doesn't? This whole business is mighty expensive for somebody (one also says this in hospitals). One can only hope it will come back to earth.

Patterns in people's approaches to computers

1. Lots of people (quitters) give up early. Problems are inevitable; some people seem to seek them out; others don't have the patience to face them. They may subconsciously feel that, once they jump in, there's no going back. Who knows? Maybe they're right.

2. When there's a problem, usually someone is around who can fix it.

3. If no one's around, expand your definition of "around".

4. Some quitters may just need a role model, who will keep trying until he/she finds a way. Maybe if there had been more of those around, they wouldn't still be sitting there now?**

Blogger vs. other providers

I list out the advantages of staying with Blogger as follows***:

1. Joining a huge community is what we want, as opposed to joining smaller, more literary ones, or ones that tend to have a certain character given to them by large numbers of their users. Blogger will immediately put your weblog onto what I call a "carousel," meaning that anyone at any time can click on "Next Blog" at the top right of any Blogger blog; this carousel is both widely used by a huge and diverse audience, but also freely and easy generous with the same diversity of Blogger blogs. We don't hesitate to use it for a tour at any time, and enjoy being part of the general, huge, anonymous community of Blogger blogs.

2. Because Blogger is so huge, it is better equipped to deal with the language problems that accrue when our students write them requesting a lost password, or any other problem. We could give them all the same password, but we enjoy the sense of privacy they experience by having their own, and also believe that the necessity of their initiating contact with Blogger in these circumstances is probably good for them.

3. Its hugeness actually prevents major problems, since whatever we experience, is experienced a thousandfold in other places, and Blogger is certain to have heard about it already. We don't like being the first to find out, for example, about the incompatibility of some interface and our word programs. Blogger is big enough that we can usually find someone talking about whatever problems we're experiencing. Some exceptions are below, but I've come to believe that anyone who hadn't upgraded from 10.2 (as I hadn't until recently), or anyone still using IE with Macs, for example, is a hopeless anachronism anyway. I dislike the feeling that people in the third world, or even people in homes that don't have access to the kinds of upgrades that universities do, are being left behind, unable to see work that is basically simple text. Yet even now, we, with an operating system only a month old, open some web pages that are blank: because we don't have the newest Flash? Because a movie is supposed to load right up and we're so hopelessly slow that we don't recognize this? We're not always sure.

New blogger, old macs

I have two macs, not really old: one, at work, is a G4 with an OS X 10.2; it was replaced with a much fancier one but that one wouldn't start up last January, and is still spinning its wheels for all I know. Getting out the "old one" - the one I'd used from about 2004 to October 2006- caused various problems, not least of which was having trouble with software that has basically moved on, past 10.2. At home I have a 10.3.9, which seems a little better, but nevertheless the "New Blogger" has thrown everything into chaos, in both places.

I've generally used Safari; IE on mac seems hopeless and has been generally terrible with Blogger for a long time. Its worst problem is that it centers entire new blogs, making them look terrible and throwing their templates down at the bottom. Is this part of an ongoing incompatability war between anything Microsoft, and anything mac? I don't know. I can't take IE though.

That leaves Opera and Firefox, which I don't know well, and possibly a few more.

But why should I leave Safari? It always seemed made for mac, suitable in so many ways- but in recent days it's given me so many headaches. I am now being forced to use "New Blogger"- not only at home, but at work, where there are many macs, G4 and higher, and a few lower- on almost all of which people are more or less trained to use Safari. But the problems are mounting, and I'm running out of patience. Let me count the reasons I should leave- or are these also just part of the system's intolerance for mac/safari?


My weblog allows long url's to overflow into the template, covering up links and making the template unreadable, until my posting has jammed the guilty url's down the body. What's up with that?

I have no idea. Can anyone help?

On 10.2, I can't post in New Blogger. I get about two-thirds of a "Publish" button, and a message below says, Run Script void(0)- then nothing happens when I try to publish; the system sometimes freezes.

I call this the "void(0)" problem- the system is clearly stuck on some script and can't get out of it. If I see it coming, I just don't post, or switch over to IE, which I detest- but neither of these options is acceptable. And more often I, or students, fill out a whole post box before we realize that we are in a dead end of New Blogger- because of "void(0)," nothing's going to happen, not now, not ever. I don't know who the genius is that allowed this to happen, but I'm not enjoying it.


IE centers many weblogs on newer templates, making them hideous-looking. It does not know how to handle pictures.

This particular problem could be dated; we hadn't been upgrading our IE-for-macs, lately, and I understand that that was because IE for macs was so bad that many people simply gave up on them. In other words, IE itself has given up updating its mac version. But I only hear this stuff, and have no real knowledge. I can only say that the six months or so that IE has been terrible, might as well be a lifetime. IE is virtually forgotten as being virtually useless on a mac- in only six months!

I was told once that originally the problems with IE were probably Microsoft trying to make mac look bad, by screwing up IE and forcing IE-for-mac to update so regularly that nobody could keep up with it. But is the New Blogger in Microsoft's corner? I have no idea. These so-called incompatability wars gave me a headache. Worst, I feel like I'm caught in the backdraft- an area that the war has long ago moved beyond, but where the devastation continues to ruin the lives of everyone around it.

(10.2, 10.39) IE does not have a publish button, just an orange strip.

That's ok. Just click on the orange strip. The gray one is "Draft"- it just doesn't say it.

IE does not allow me to "Edit Post," because it won't show me the posts.

This is very frustrating indeed. Never had this problem with the old blogger, either. What, are they assuming that we all upgraded long ago?

*In my own situation, I was given a fairly new computer, which then froze in about its third month: no explanation, no reason that we could find. Fortunately, my old one still had everything on it; I lost basically only three months' work and e-mail. But I fell behind on upgrades; having old 10.2, it turned out, was crippling in so many ways! Being only three months behind in upgrades turned out to almost render me unable to use any blogs at all, let alone "enjoy" the new conveniences!
**I owe these observations to TESOL CALL-IS' Electronic Village, where I watched people wrestle with software almost every year as I volunteered. As an old guy who often can't get the vcr off of shining its 12:00 noon, I saw myself frequently in people's frustration. How critical one can be, of people who have one's same faults! Then, I realized how quickly I'd be showing my age, if I were to fall back into that old habit. Now, I just get young people to change the vcr clocks for me, as if I could do it, but just don't have the time. In fact, it's ironic that the world now considers me a "techie": I feel somewhat like a man on a beach who puts one foot in the water, only to find everyone calling him an expert swimmer. But, if you're wetter than the people around you, you can be said to have "experience."
***There are also disadvantages, but I haven't listed them. The New Blogger is an added layer of complexity in a complicated life. Google (owner of Blogger) is a monster politically, but, it's not clear to me whether, or how, we're helping them, by using their free service.

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