If Google (or god forbid MSN) is still the first page you see when you open your web browser, it’s time to catch up with the Web 2.0 revolution. You can use that “Home” page so much more efficiently by loading it up with what’s important to you. And as TechCrunch just pointed out, if there’s one thing Web 2.0 is creating for you, it’s start pages, desktops, homepages… whatever you want to call them. I just started using Netvibes because they were included in the list of Best Web 2.0 Software of 2005. They’re incredibly easy to get started with, and so far I’m pretty happy. I think they could stand for a little more customization in appearance (I’d like to be able to play with font size, color, and spacing to increase readibility and affect emphasis), but in general, they’re as smooth as baby’s T-1 line. And I love that they have a flickr module so I can add a rotating series of photographs to brighten my day. But wait, there’s more. TechCrunch gives us the following list (these links will take you to more in-depth descriptions about the sites):

Go pick one and customize it with your news, weather, bookmarks, and favorite rss feeds. And say goodbye to someone else’s predefined portal to your web experience. Oh yeah, and of course, this is free.

I’m proud to announce the launch of (and my contribution to) the new sex advice website, DearAmy.net. Amy André is a San Francisco sex educator, and this site holds her weekly Q&A column for sex questions, from the most basic to the most outrageous. Amy herself has a range of self-taught web development skills, so she was a lot of fun to work with. She designed and built the site concept herself in HTML, and I integrated blog software so it would function dynamically. She even took the initiative to learn to edit some of the more advanced files and settings in the software so she can maintain it entirely on her own! Amy’s a great example of a strong, self-directed, and confident creative professional living her dream. Go check her out! (And feel free to ask her your anonymous personal questions while you’re at it…)

Occasionally, I run across a piece of literature that embodies the tone of a chunk of my life. I don’t go looking for these; they just arrive and surprise me. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about–that moment of recognition when realize your perception of reality isn’t isolated. Some writer out there went through it, too. This happened to me recently on The Writ. Nicole Elizabeth Chapin’s Tiger Chai describes my late teenage years–if not word-for-word, then at least in intention. If you identify at all with the path I took to get to where I am, you’ll probably see a piece of your own experience–genuinely inspiring and fashionably constructed as it was–in this reflection, too. I give you the piece in its entirety:

Tiger Chai There was a time in my life that I actually felt I had a little something special over the next person walking down the street.I drank my tiger chai. I read my Kerouac and Bukowski. I sang poetry in my room late at night.The smell of Nag Champa eases the burden of my discontent.Inquisitive, I was. I was a writer. I played guitar. I belted out sensual blue from the depths of a bari sax, man. I wrote at his computer with my legs crossed. I smoked cheap cigarettes. I had to smoke to write. And smoke the other so sleep. I drank cheap beer. I wrote cheap lyrics. Wasn’t I nineteen?I spoke Japanese in the park. I studied symbols and people, nestled deep in my special cafe booth. I was invisible. I served coffee in that cafe. I had a red bow and a black apron. I loved tips.I loved road trips. I loved a late afternoon drive to a polluted lake with a thousand other people watching. I loved changing in the car. And a cooler full of snacks. I miss getting lost. On purpose.I am lost. Without purpose. I work. I play. I get high.I have lost me. A cloud of smoke, my memory, me. Exhale. Go drifting by, bye.I stopped reading. I stay at home. He took my guitar and the sax and her car keys. I have a real day job; I don’t think. I still smoke. I smoke too much. I stopped to think; stop thinking. No inquiring mind here.I think I’ll go read. Get me my wine. —Nicole Elizabeth Chapin

[Cartoon removed as a result of a very friendly Cease and Desist Notice from Gary Larson.  Woops.]
Do you remember this Far Side comic by Gary Larson? I saw it as a young kid on the secretary’s wall at the veterinarian’s office. I thought it was hillarious, and somehow, it stuck with me. Whenever I find that I can’t understand (or I’m just not paying attention to) something I’m hearing, I’ll repeat in my head, “blah blah blah GINGER blah blah blah GINGER…”But I thought I was crazy for doing that, so I kept the inside joke to myself. Recently, though, in one of my classes, someone brought this up in perfect context. We were looking at examples of work that was hard to understand, and someone casually babbled, “blah blah blah GINGER…” Even more to my shock, most of the class chimed in!It’s beautiful moments like these when I realize that, even though some of us may think we’re crazy, the rest of the world is often up there with us. (props to redbrik.cu.ie for archiving these comics.)

Allow me to wax philosophical for a moment. I’m in my early twenties, and I’m experiencing daily surges of hope that I can make a positive impact on the world. These surges often arrive coupled with elaborate plans for how I can devote my life to large-scale contributions to the cause of my dreams–a cause which changes every few weeks.Nearly anyone in their forties could take one look at me and say, “I remember that phase. She’ll grow out of it.”Thus, I think I need to focus my energies less on scheming, and more on building a life that encourages rather than discourages more scheming. Because if I can hold onto my idealism for at least the next ten years, I should at some point in that time become adequately equipped to pick a scheme and carry it out full force.In the meantime, I’m collecting creative idealists to help me build my future Ethical Empire. Send me your résumé and personal statement for consideration.Or just tell me you’re in.

Wow, wow, wow. I was getting to the point where I didn’t think a site like this could possibly exist. But it does exist. So that must mean there’s adequate good things happening every day to fill its quota.HappyNews.comMy world just got a whole lot brighter.

Everywhere I walk on campus, I see signs saying “Save Stan ‘Tookie’ Williams!” Just from that bombardment, I’ve gathered three things:

  • He’s about to be executed.
  • He’s written books that people want to share.
  • The campus Socialist organization is his biggest supporter.

So I ignored the signs, mostly because the campus Socialists are a little creepy. And if they weren’t going to spell out why he’s being executed, I wasn’t about to listen to why he shouldn’t be. Yeah, okay, I live under a rock. The SF Chronicle cleared it up for me, though. Here’s the deal with Tookie:Why he’s being executed: He started the Crips, an LA-based gang, 35 years ago. The Crips have killed a whole lot of people and destroyed the lives of many of their gang members. Tookie, himself, was responsible for many, many murders. Sounds like your typical death row case, as justified as you can get.Why he shouldn’t be executed: Since he’s been in jail, he turned his focus toward stopping gang violence. He’s written numerous books to that end (including children’s books), has negotiated truces between rival groups, and has generally been an avid opponent to gangs. Granted, he’s just trying to undo what he started, and with some futility at that, but if you kill him, he can’t be on your side anymore. That, and a big chunk of LA — both gang and anti-gang — will try to riot. And we all know what that’s like.My thoughts on the death penalty? Execution isn’t the problem. Cutting it out won’t change the fact that “hardened criminals” exist and need to be removed from society if we’re to live somewhat peacefully. The problem is a system that creates a need for “crime.” Psychologists have found that no one does anything without feeling like it’s justified at the time. If so many people feel justified in commiting crimes against society, isn’t it time we considered what kind of life circumstances would drive these people to such desperation that they could feel that way? And start there? We put the mentally insane in institutions to help take care of their minds. We put products of abuse and neglect behind bars to show them they’re horrible people. And then we get mad at them when they ban together to become angrier and more dangerous than before. Seriously, America, there must be a better way.As for Tookie, let the man speak. I’m with the Socialists on this one.

Well, wasn’t that lovely. In the middle of the most stressful week of finals, some computer geek who likes to use his powers for evil decided to hack into my website via a security weakness in this b2evolution blog software, and use my server to send spam. My hosting providers–who are some of the best at their job that I know if–immediately recognized the situation and suspended my account to stop the hacking. The result? My site’s been down all week, and I haven’t had a moment to upgrade the blog software until today. Sorry for the inconvenience, and no, you’re not supposed to be “403 Forbidden” from viewing these pages. To all the hackers out there, I send you bad vibes, angry mojo, and tri-fold retribution via karma.

I’ve been involved in the secret beta testing for Squidoo — the latest and greatest Web 2.0 project, spearheaded by Seth Godin. But I wasn’t allowed to talk about it, or they would kill me… at least until today. What the Heck is Squidoo?It’s an organized collection of lenses, which are simply webpages devoted to introducing and explaining specific topics–any topics–like an information-based gateway to the web. Think Wikipedia meets Google.Their philosophy? Everyone is an expert on something. Anyone and everyone should build a lens. Their incentive? Cash kickbacks based on how much traffic and affiliate clicks your lenses draw (and you can choose to donate that cash directly to your favorite charity). Their contribution the web? A better, more humanly-maintained way of finding things and learning about them. Give Google a run for their money! Squidoo’s still in beta testing, but it’s public now, so go check it out. Start with a few of my lenses:- Ani DifrancoThe Open Source Movement…and then start making your own!

Last night, Ivan Zimmerman, a 21-year-old student at SFSU fell from the fourth floor of a dorm and died. I didn’t know him. As of now, it seems they haven’t yet established whether it was a suicide, accident, or result of a fight. Regardless, he’s gone. The week before finals, no less.I learned about this through an SFSU community on LiveJournal. The person who posted the article included a link to Ivan’s MySpace account. Interestingly, people are already leaving public goodbye comments to Ivan. They speak to him, not about him. They grieve in the presence of others, but they grieve directly to him. danah boyd wrote about this phenomenon also, recently. She’d noticed it on both MySpace and Friendster. It’s a poignant and strange occurance, and it doesn’t seem to be an isolated event. Online community accounts live on after sudden deaths. It may be a little creepy, but it seems to also help (at least initially) with the grieving process. With the tenacity online communities use to get and keep members, I wouldn’t be surprised if these accounts lived on for another fifty years. So strange…