One-Minute Book Reviews

April 25, 2010

‘Write a Blog Post That Took Weeks of Reflection’ – Quote of the Day / Jaron Lanier in ‘You Are Not a Gadget’

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:04 pm
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Virtual-reality frontiersman Jaron Lanier argues that sites like Twitter and Wikipedia are fostering the spread of collective views that drown out individual voices. How can you maintain a credible presence in cyberspace without becoming swept up in what he and other experts call the “hive mind”?

Here are three suggestions from Lanier’s new You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (Knopf, 209 pp. $24.95):

“Don’t post anonymously unless you really might be in danger.”

“Write a blog post that took weeks of reflection before you heard the inner voice that needed to come out.”

“Create a website that expresses something about who you are that won’t fit into the template available to you on a social networking site.”

Are We Hard-Wired for Conformity? Virtual-Reality Pioneer Jaron Lanier’s ‘You Are Not a Gadget’

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:14 pm
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The risks of defining ourselves by templates

You Are Not a Gadget Review: A Manifesto. By Jaron Lanier. Knopf, 209 pp., $24.95.

By Janice Harayda

Is the flowering of the Internet is turning us into a nation of container plants? Virtual-reality pioneer Jaron Lanier thinks so. In this polemic, he argues that we believe we’re expressing our uniqueness when we launch blogs, join Facebook, or leave comments on websites.

But too often, we’re pruning our personalities to fit programming decisions made decades ago and the software designed around them. And the cost is steep for people who give away much of their best work online – all those “journalists, musicians, artists, and filmmakers who are staring into career oblivion because of our failed digital idealism.”

Lanier at times wanders into abstruse topics such as the difference between Bachelardian and Goldingesque neotony or seems to be auditioning for a spot on Oprah’s couch next to Eckhart Tolle. But he salts You Are Not a Gadget with enough life-giving anecdotes to find an appealing middle ground between writing for science-fair winners and for owners of PCs for Dummies. Yes, he tells us, it’s true: Computers scientists really have figured out “how to hack into a pacemaker and turn it off by remote control” in order to kill someone.

Best line: “The phase of life we call ‘childhood’ was greatly expanded in connection with the rise of literacy, because it takes time to learn to read.” “Am I accusing all those hundreds of millions of users of social networking sites of reducing themselves in order to be able to use the services? Well, yes, I am.”

Worst line: “Consciousness is attempting to will itself out of existence.”

Published: January 2010

You can also follow Janice Harayda (@janiceharayda) on Twitter. She satirizes American literary culture, such as it is, on her FakeBookNews page on Twitter, www.twitter.com/FakeBookNews. bit.ly/DKTolle

© Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

December 8, 2009

WordPress Apparently Hacked Last Night

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:22 am
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[Update: WordPress Support sent me an e-mail message saying that last night's problems didn't result from a hacking but from a "small server glitch." I'm leaving leave post this up, anyway, both because we have to take WP's word for that "server glitch" and because you might still want to change your password.]

Many people reported having trouble logging on to their WordPress.com blogs, which were apparently hacked, last night on Twitter.  Some WP bloggers — of whom I was one — were redirected repeatedly to an unfamiliar site when they tried to log on. Others reported being hacked without saying why they thought their security had been compromised.

Some of the victims posted warnings on Twitter along the lines of: “Change Your Password NOW.” If you want to change your password, go to “My Account” (in the bar above the logo for your site), then go to “My Profile” or “Edit Profile.” At the bottom of your “Profile” page, you’ll see two blank spaces where you can type in your new password, then click “Update.”

One lesson of this slightly unnerving experience was that it helps to be on Twitter if you have trouble on a blog, because you can find out right away whether others are having similar problems: Search Twitter for “WordPress” (or “Blogger” or “Typepad”) and see if others are describing the same issues. WordPress also has a Twitter address, and you can try sending a message there. This brought quicker response than I’ve usually had by going to the WordPress Forums or sending an e-mail message to WordPress Support.

I believe I’ve solved the problem here and everything is fine — unless you were redirected to a suspicious site repeatedly when you tried to get to this one …

October 26, 2009

Getting Lucky at Harvard — Ben Mezrich’s Tale of the Founding of Facebook, ‘The Accidental Billionaires’

That red lace bra on the cover is the first red flag

The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal. By Ben Mezrich. Doubleday, 260 pp., $25.

By Janice Harayda

A new art form may have emerged in this heavy-breathing, sensationalized account of the founding of Facebook: pulp nonfiction. Ben Mezrich warns you up front that he wrote The Accidental Billionaires without interviewing Mark Zuckerberg, who created the first version of the social networking site by hacking into Harvard University computers, downloading students’ photos, and posting them online.

With no access to the prime mover of Facebook, Mezrich tells his tale through techniques such as “re-created dialogue,” scenes set in “likely” settings, and “imagined” descriptions. He also draws heavily on talks with Eduardo Saverin, who helped to bankroll the start-up as a Harvard undergraduate and later successfully sued for the right to be listed as a co-founder of the site. You know all those “disgruntled former employees” you used to read about before a lot of newspapers banned both that clichéd phrase and stories by driven their views? Mezrich doesn’t use those words — and Saverin wasn’t an employee but a partner — but The Accidental Billionaires suggests why the technique has fallen out of favor.

You get a fine sense of the book from a bathroom sex scene that has Saverin undressing a “tall, slender Asian girl” at Harvard who wears a red lace bra under a white shirt. Men, how often have you fantasized about finding yourself in such a situation only to discover to your regret that wearing a red bra under a white shirt is something that women never, ever do? Have you been forced to conclude that for far too many members of the other sex, this particular sartorial blunder makes visible panty line look like chump change? Are you wondering if that “Asian girl” was simply displaying an admirable loyalty to her school by wearing its colors for sex in a bathroom stall and that you haven’t seen it because you haven’t dated enough Harvard undergraduates lately? Or do you think the woman didn’t wear that combination but that someone decided that a red bra would work best on a book cover? Perhaps Mezrich believes people won’t mind his failure to answer questions like these. Or perhaps he thinks, as he writes in another context, “they’d hopefully see the humor in the situation.”

Best line: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s business card has a line running across the center that says, “I’m the CEO – Bitch.”

Worst lines: No. 1: “the end was really a foregone conclusion.” No. 2: “the moment itself became historical only in retrospect.” No. 3: “Thankfully, the Phoenix leadership hadn’t traced the fiasco back to Eduardo yet — though even if they did, they’d hopefully see the humor in the situation.” No. 4: “Eduardo had spent many evenings in the stacks of Widener – poring through the works of economic theorists such as Adam Smith, John Mills [sic], even Galbraith.” No. 5 “[Lawrence] Summers shook his head. His jowls reverberated with the motion, like fleshy waves swirling in an epidermal storm.” No. 6: “Slowly, Summers leaned forward, and his chubby hand crawled across his desk.” No. 7: “Both had bright red lipstick and too much eyeshadow, but they were damn cute — and they were smiling and pointing right at him.” No. 8: “His hands roamed under her open white shirt, tracing the soft material of her red bra, his fingers lingering over her perky, round breasts, touching the silky texture of her perfect caramel skin. She gasped, her lips closing against the side of his neck, her tongue leaping out, tasting him. His entire body started to quiver, and he rocked forward, pushing her harder against the stall, feeling her writhe into him. His lips found her ear and she gasped again –”  No. 9:At nine a.m. in the morning, in the Eliot dining hall, he had walked right up to the hottest girl he knew – Marsha, blond, buxom, in reality an econ major but she looked like a psychology major.” No. 10: “Maybe feeding the chicken chicken was a mistake; how was he supposed to know what chickens ate? The thing hadn’t come with a manual. Eduardo had gone to a Jewish prep school in Miami. What the hell did Jews know about chickens, other than the fact that they made good soup?”

Editor: Bill Thomas

Published: July 2009

About the author: Mezrich wrote Bringing Down the House, made into the movie 21. He lives in Boston. Kevin Spacey is producing a movie version of The Accidental Billionaires called The Social Network.

Janice Harayda is a novelist and award-winning journalist who has been the book critic for the Plain Dealer in Cleveland and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

October 25, 2009

Tomorrow — Getting Lucky at Harvard, a Review of Ben Mezrich’s Tale of the Founding of Facebook, ‘The Accidental Billionaires’

Filed under: News,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:33 pm
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Is Ben Mezrich turning into the male Danielle Steel of nonfiction? You might wonder after reading passages like this one from his new The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal (Doubleday, 260, $25):

“His hands roamed under her open white shirt, tracing the soft material of her red bra, his fingers lingering over her perky, round breasts, touching the silky texture of her perfect caramel skin. She gasped, her lips closing against the side of his neck, her tongue leaping out, tasting him. His entire body started to quiver, and he rocked forward, pushing her harder against the stall, feeling her writhe into him. His lips found her ear and she gasped again –”

Does The Accidental Billionaires have more going for — or against — it than this sort of purple prose? A review of the book will appear tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews.

August 6, 2009

A Casualty of the Twitter Denial-of-Service Attack Speaks

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:47 pm
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Update, August 8, 2:17 p.m. Eastern Time: Still can’t post on Twitter with Firefox 3.0 and must use Safari.

Update, August 8, 12:20 a.m.: After successfully posting a test tweet, I couldn’t post a real tweet when I went back to the site. The Twitter “Status” page said: “Some users are unable to update on the web using Firefox 3.5.” I was unable to tweet with Firefox 3.0. I switched to Safari and was able to post a tweet for the first time in 35 hours.

Update, August 7, 10:11 p.m.: I was finally able to post a test tweet on Twitter, about 33 hours after first noticing the problem.

Update, August 7, 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time: I’m still unable to post tweets on Twitter, and the service has finally admitted that many people are unable to do the same. Twitter posted this message about 10 minutes ago: “Due to defensive measures we’ve taken against the ongoing denial-of-service attack, some Twitter clients are unable to communicate with our API, and many users are unable to tweet via SMS.” Jan

For about nine hours I’ve been able to to sign on to Twitter but not to post, apparently because of the denial-of-service attack launched against the site. The Twitter people haven’t posted a status update on the attack since 4:14 p.m. and don’t give a time zone for that hour. They say coyly on their “Status” page that some people “may” be unable to post, although some people clearly are unable to post. You can read what appears on the Twitter “Status” page below. I’ll post again on Twitter as soon as I can after service is restored. Thanks so much for your patience in the meantime. Jan

“Updates on the status of the Twitter service.

“Ongoing denial-of-service attack 10 hours ago

“We are defending against a denial-of-service attack, and will update status again shortly.

“Update: the site is back up, but we are continuing to defend against and recover from this attack.

“Update (9:46a): As we recover, users will experience some longer load times and slowness. This includes timeouts to API clients. We’re working to get back to 100% as quickly as we can.

“Update (4:14p): Site latency has continued to improve, however some web requests continue to fail. This means that some people may be unable to post or follow from the website.”

December 30, 2008

A Review of ‘WordPress for Dummies’ — A ‘Certified WordPress Evangelist’ Tells How to Use the World’s Most Popular Blogging Software

Filed under: How to — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:21 am
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Is it worth it for WordPress.com bloggers to pay $25 for a book that has 50 pages for them when, at the same 50 cents-a-page rate, you’d pay $250 for John Grisham’s The Appeal?

WordPress for Dummies: First Edition. By Lisa Sabin-Wilson. Foreword by Matt Mullenweg, co-founder of WordPress. Wiley, 384 pp., $24.99, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

It’s no secret: The CIA uses WordPress. So do the New York Times, CNN and millions of other people and groups, who have made WordPress the world’s most popular blogging platform.

Spies and reporters can turn to in-house webmasters when they have trouble writing or publishing their posts. But the rest of us have to rely on the online support forums or erratic e-mail help provided by WordPress. If those don’t do the trick, there’s WordPress for Dummies, written by a blog designer who has used the software since its inception in 2003.

Lisa Sabin-Wilson notes upfront that WordPress comes in three versions or, as she calls them, “flavors”:

“Vanilla” — the free WordPress.com blogs, hosted by WordPress, that don’t require you to download software.
“Chocolate” — the free WordPress.org blogs, hosted by others, that do require you to download software.
“Neapolitan” — the WordPress MU blogs, designed for and paid for by corporations or organizations that want to have a network of blogs with same domain on one server.

These distinctions matter in part because WordPress for Dummies has about 50 pages for WordPress.com bloggers and more than 300 for WordPress.org or WordPress MU users. If you use WordPress.com and buy this book for $25, you’ll pay about 50 cents a page for the material written specifically for you, much of it unnecessary because you’ll know, say, how to log in. (At that rate, you’ pay about $250 for John Grisham’s 496-page The Appeal.) You’ll also get a book published in November 2007 and based on WordPress 2.3. Many of its facts went out of date with the launch of 2.7 and new features such as polling and a revised dashboard or changes in other functions.

You can’t blame Sabin-Wilson for the WordPress upgrades, many of which will appear in the second edition of the book due out in February 2009. But she calls herself a “Certified WordPress Evangelist,” and you’d better believe her: Sabin-Wilson earns part of her living “providing design solutions for WordPress clients.” And she’s so bullish that her book is less objective than some — maybe most — in the “For Dummies” series: At times, it reads like a public relations vehicle for WordPress. Sabin-Wilson offers only one timid criticism in her WordPress.com section: The software has redundant categories widgets, a point so trivial you could blog for years and never notice it.

Clearly a book called WordPress for Dummies is going to attract a lot of people who are just getting started with WordPress.com blogs. And what’s the first thing most beginners want to know about? All together now: Support, a subject that gets a barebones discussion made worse by a flawed index (usually compiled by someone other than the writer).

Look under “Support” in the index, and you’ll find listings only for support for WordPress.org and WordPress MU, leaving the misimpression that none exists for WordPress.com. Look under “WordPress.com,” and you’ll find a listing for “Support” that refers you to a page that mentions support for problems with widgets only. Look under “Help” and you’ll finally find the correct section. But you get no explanation for why WordPress calls support for WordPress.org “support” for and support for WordPress.com “help.” And the pages that deal with WordPress.com “help” have only a skimpy table that refers you first and inadequately to the WordPress.com Forums (which make you choose from a list topics that can seem impenetrable if you have no idea which technical terms apply to your problem).

If all of this seems confusing, that’s the point. Imagine going through this search process when you can’t publish a post or think you’ve lost a big chunk of vital text. At the very least, this book needs more advice how to search the WordPress forums. Better still, there should be a smaller-sized (and lower-priced) guide just for WordPress.com bloggers so you don’t have to pay for all the advice you can’t use.

Given all of this, why would you pick up WordPress for Dummies at all? First, it was more useful than the older and more profusely illustrated WordPress 2: Visual Quick Start Guide (Peachpit, 2006). As outdated and cheerleader-ish as much of it is, WordPress for Dummies has a lot of material that’s still current and helpful. Until now I’ve never filled in the title-and-description bar that appears when you upload images to a post: Why bother if it takes time and people can’t see it? This book gave me a reason to start: It helps with search engine optimization.

WordPress for Dummies also corrected a few misimpressions I’ve had almost since starting One-Minute Book Reviews. Early on, I learned that if you want to convert a URL to a hyperlink, you add the prefix http:// and a slash for a suffix. So if I wanted to link to my site for my novels, I would type http://www.janiceharayda.com into a post, select that address, and paste http://www.janiceharayda.com/ into the link box, which would create a highlighted hyperlink that looked like this www.janiceharayda.com. This technique got you to the right place but led to many long links.

From WordPress for Dummies I learned that you can just select a word or phrase and paste a link to it into the link box on the toolbar. This will put the HTML tag around the text that will create a highlighted hyperlink to a URL. So instead of writing out the address for my other site, I can select my name and paste the address into link box so you can click on Janice Harayda instead of www.janiceharayda.com. This tip will make my life easier — and my site cleaner — every day and might alone have justified time I spent with the book. It also suggests why, in a sense, World Press for Dummies is just like WordPress: When it’s not driving you up a cyberwall, it’s great.

Best line: “If you don’t want to share a picture of yourself in fear of shattering computer monitors worldwide, you can choose not to upload any picture at all or upload a picture of something that reflects the essence of you.”

Worst line: All of the lines that are outdated or that buy heavily in WordPress jargon, such as WordPress.com is a “hosted solution”; WordPress.org is “self-hosted solution” and WordPress MU is a “multiuser solution.” Whatever happened to the words “option” or “service”?

Published: November 2007. Second edition due out in February 2009.

Furthermore: Gung-ho as it is, this book oddly ignores some of great WordPress.com tools that apparently far surpass those of Blogger, Typepad and other platforms. Among them: stats are updated every three minutes.

About the author: Sabin-Wilson’s personal blog is Just a Girl in the World. Mullenweg’s is Ma.tt.

Janice Harayda is an award-winning critic who has written the One-Minute Book Review blog on WordPress.com since October 2006. She was named one of Virtual Woman’s Day’s 25 Women Bloggers to Watch in 2008. One-Minute Book Reviews has ranked among the top 10 growing Blogs of the Day on Word Press and appears on Best of the Web’s list of best book-review sites. It has received praise from around the world, most recently in the print and online editions of the Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s largest newspaper on Nov.17, 2008.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 12, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda – Video on All Wikipedia Pages Next Year?

Filed under: Late Night With Jan Harayda,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:19 pm
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More notes from WordPress’s Oct. 5 New York WordCamp 2008 …

After lunch we heard an interesting talk by Shay David, co-founder of Kaltura corp.kaltura.com/, the first free open-source platform for video creation. David said that Kaltura has joined forces with Wikipedia and that, next year, we’ll see video on every Wikipedia page. Kaltura had announced the partnership with Wikipedia in January, and Craig Rubens reported then on NewTeeVee:

“Following Wikipedia’s original idea of having the world co-edit the most comprehensive encyclopedia, Kaltura will move those textually two-dimensional pages into the video-enhanced age of rich social media. In other words, the wisdom of the masses just got a webcam and everyone gets final cut
newteevee.com/2008/01/17/wikipedia-to-get-its-video-on/.”

Rubens added that you’ll be able to contribute to Wikipedia by clicking on “edit this video” or “add to this video,” and nothing in David’s WordCamp speech contradicted this earlier report. You can download Kaltura for free now corp.kaltura.com/download.

Kaltura is also working with the New York Public Library to make available the library’s database of more than 600,000 historical images corp.kaltura.com/press/the-new-york-public-library-and-kaltura-team-to-enhance-online-collaborative-rich-media.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

October 8, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda – The Most Important Thing Every Blogger Needs to Know (Quote of the Day / Aaron Brazell)

Filed under: News,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:29 am
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Tonight I was going to wrap up my report on WordPress’s New York WordCamp 2008 by writing about what the speakers said about marketing your blog and using video on WordPress. But in going over my notes, I realized that I had too much material about these for one post, so I’m going to save some of it for later this week or early next week.

For now I’ll just quote perhaps the most memorable line of the Sunday meeting, which came from Aaron Brazell, the editor of the popular Technosailor www.technosailor.com, in his talk on “Making It Into the Big Leagues”:

“Remember that readers don’t care about you – they care about what you can give them.”

Brazell didn’t say that is the important thing every blogger needs to know – only that it’s vital to moving beyond the long tail — but what point comes close to this one? (Does anybody care what the creators of I Can Has Cheezeburger? think about the bailout en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Can_Has_Cheezburger%3F?) Thanks for the reminder, Aaron.

You’ll find more WordCamp New York at wordcamp.info/2008/10/05/october-2008-upcoming-wordcamps/ and on the New York WordPress Meetup at wordpress.meetup.com/169/calendar/8858860/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 6, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda – FBI and CIA Bloggers Use WordPress and Other Things I Learned at New York WordCamp 2008

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:27 pm
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This is Part I of an interview with Jan Harayda, a journalist and the editor-in-chief of One-Minute Book Reviews, about yesterday’s New York WordCamp. Part II will appear on “Late Night With Jan Harayda” on Tuesday night. It will deal with bread-and-butter topics covered at WordCamp, such as how to market your blog and use video on WordPress.

WordCamp started at 9:30 on a beautiful Sunday morning in New York. Did anybody show up?
O, ye of little faith! About 100 of us spent more than 8 hours in a conference room at Sun Microsystems in midtown. Well before the day ended, some of the bloggers announced that they had found a bar where people could continue their education in the finer points of WordPress after hours. Those of us who had to catch buses back to New Jersey never found out how many were sober when their training was complete. Clearly WordCamp was a success.

A hundred people on a Sunday morning? Was WordCamp, like, free?
It cost $30. But that got you bagels and Danish for breakfast and a sack lunch: a sandwich, salad, fruit, and an oversized chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin cookie. And we got some nice stretchy orange-and-brown WordPress T-shirts that, so they would fit you even if you ate a lot of the mini cherry pastries at breakfast.

Why do you think so many people showed up for WordCamp?
I’ll quote Matt Mullenweg ma.tt/about/, founding developer of WordPress, who dealt with that question during his keynote address: “I believe WordPress users are smarter and more attractive than the general population.”

Was that Matt’s best joke?
No. Matt’s best joke was his entertaining imitation of how the CNN anchor Anderson Cooper almost got blown away while reporting on a recent hurricane. “They should get, like, a heavier person to cover hurricanes,” Matt said, leaning to one side. [Note: My notes say that Matt actually said: “They should put, like, a heavier person to cover hurricanes,” but my version sounds better, don’t you think?]

So Matt’s jokes were the best part of WordCamp?
The best part of WordCamp was that the program had something for everybody. At least a third of the participants said that they considered themselves Web developers or designers. Most of the rest were rank-and-file bloggers like me. A few said, in effect, that they didn’t have blogs yet but had come realize that this was a tragic mistake that they planned to undo.

What did you learn about WordPress from WordCamp?
WordPress is one of the largest open-source projects on the Web along with Firefox and a few others. It has about 4 million blogs, and version 2.7 will come out in November. The most popular page among bloggers on WordPress is the stats page. The most popular plug-in is Akismet spam protection.

WordPress also offers a lot of colorful, free themes, which combine display and plug-in features and help to determine the look of your site. Unfortunately, some con artists on the Web falsely claim to offer legal alternatives to these. If you download their fake themes, they put evil codes on your site that load it with spam or worse. So if you don’t like the free WordPress themes, you should buy a Premium theme from WordPress or have somebody you trust design one for you.

Another piece of bad news was that in China censors have sometimes removed as many as 80 percent of WordPress posts.

Did anybody mention that rumor that the CIA uses WordPress?
Isn’t that fascinating? It’s true, apparently. Matt said in his speech that the U.S. government agencies that have WordPress blogs include the following: the Air Force, the Army, the CIA, the Coast Guard, the FBI, the Marine Corps, the Navy, the Treasury, the Department of Homeland Security. And he wasn’t joking the way he was about Anderson Cooper and the hurricane. That so many government agencies use WordPress shows you how secure it is compared with some other blogging platforms. Will the Oval Office be next?

You’ll find more WordCamp New York wordcamp.info/2008/10/05/october-2008-upcoming-wordcamps/ and on the New York WordPress Meetup wordpress.meetup.com/169/calendar/8858860/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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