Blue Ridge Entropy

That class I never took on “Entropy in Roosevelt-era National Park Service infrastructure”… just some random photographs from a January walk through the Rocky Knob picnic area hiking trails on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Floyd, Va.

The picnic area roadway and restrooms are closed for the season, but the weather is warm enough that the parkway itself has not had any “closed because of ice and snow” notices this month. Knock on wood… fortunately plenty of that around, as well as wonderful views from the parkway overlooks.

The view from Rocky Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway, January 16, 2023.
Posted in 2023, Appalachia, Blue Ridge Parkway, Floyd, photography, Southwestern Va, Virginia, weather, winter

The Weather

The joys of the “heat pump” in a cold snap…

Decoratively inlaid copy of an early 20th century ukulele, with an oval plastic case inserted between the strings to hold a damp sponge inside in cold dry weather. It hangs on the wall next to calendars from a musical instrument repairman, Bob Smakula of Elkins, W.V.
The kitchen ukulele has its own humidifier pod between the strings. Muffles the strumming a bit.

AccuWeather says lunch time temperature is 12° outside, after dropping to zero overnight.

Thermostat set at 63

Living room thermometer reads 57
(Dressing in layers.)

Adding a third humidifier has brought the living room relative humidity up to 36% after an overnight drop to 30.

Oops, temperature rose to 58 while I wasn’t looking and humidity gauge dropped to 32 again.

Next, replenishing the damp-sponge style humidifiers inside all of the musical instrument cases… except for the two instruments that are made of metal, mostly.

Good wood deserves more moisture. Skin, too.

Maybe I should just put all of the instruments in an upstairs closet with a bucket of water and a circulating fan. And climb in next to them in my down sleeping bag until the temperature is back in the 40s.

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Posted in 2022, Music, weather, winter

Rushkoff, Doctorow, Civilization, finding lights in the darkness

It’s Christmas Eve. I’m listening to a Team Human podcast episode from a month ago (again) in which Cory Doctorow demonstrates why host Douglas Rushkoff calls him “my smartest friend.” Technology, culture, business and economics have never been as entertaining. How *do* they think so clearly and talk so fast?

Here it is:

The episode starts with Rushkoff’s monologue about Elon Musk’s early wrong steps at Twitter.  His conversation with Doctorow starts with Taylor Swift doing good for other recording artists, meanders through financial-industry mindsets, programmers with good intentions, and people on the right and left flirting with mystical eschatology and civilization’s collapse. They still seem so cheerful! To see if I can understand why, I’ll have to listen two or three times.

Doctorow is most recently co-author of “Chokepoint Capitalism”; Rushkoff of “Survival of the Richest.” Maybe I’ll read them both in the new year.

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Posted in 2022, books, Business, civics, Digital Culture, hope, informationoverload, Internet, podcast, podcasting, Social media, socialnets, Technology

17th Century Pamphlets as Social Media

The Atlantic has just alerted me that the leaders of Twitter and Facebook should know more about the history of pamphlet publishing in the 1600s:

“The extraordinary ignorance on questions of society and history displayed by the men and women reshaping society and history has been the defining feature of the social-media era. Apparently, Mark Zuckerberg has read a great deal about Caesar Augustus, but I wish he’d read about the regulation of the pamphlet press in 17th-century Europe. It might have spared America the annihilation of social trust.”

— Stephan Marche, in The Atlantic

It dawns on me that my own media law and media history classes didn’t spend much time there either. So WWGD? (What would Google do?)

Here are the first few readings a quick search suggested, from a list of 81,200,000 results, with some font-size irregularities from the cut and paste process. I haven’t read them yet… but maybe if we get a big snowstorm or something:

Pamphlets, Commodification, Media Market Regulation, and … › mij ›

by P Verhoest · 2016 · Cited by 2 — The regulatory regime of the media, which was at first characterized by repressive censorship, gradually transformed into a market-regulated media regime.

Seventeenth-Century Pamphlets as Constituents of a Public … › doi › full

by P Verhoest · 2019 · Cited by 10 — From the 16th century onwards, the publication of religious pamphlets as a means of religious and political persuasion was illegal and subject to severe  …

Print: Media and 17th-Century Society › cpace › infotech › asg

For printed materials , regulations dating from the sixteenth century required an elaborate system of licensing: every prospective publication had to be …

scandalous and seditious pamphlets banned, 1643. – past tense › 2018/03/10 › yes…

Mar 10, 2018 — The new act presented the most detailed list of regulations for the press of the entire seventeenth century: all printing was limited to London …


From the 1580s pamphlets were a regular feature of booksellers’ stalls, and an increasingly important element in the economy of the book trade. Popular forms of …

27 pages

Printing Ordinance of 1643 | The First Amendment Encyclopedia › first-amendment › article › prin…

The Constitution framers were familiar with press licensing controls such as England’s Printing Ordinance of 1643 when they decided to protect press freedom …

Licensing of the Press Act 1662 – Wikipedia › wiki › Licensing_of_the_Pres…

The Licensing of the Press Act 1662 was an Act of the Parliament of England (14 Car. II. c. 33) with the long title “An Act for preventing the frequent …

Pamphlet wars – Wikipedia › wiki › Pamphlet_wars

Cheap printing presses, and increased literacy made the late 17th century a key stepping stone for the development of pamphlet wars, a period of prolific …

Pamphlet wars: Roger L’Estrange and printed polemic in … › blog › pamphlet-wars-ro…

Apr 5, 2019 — Spies were employed to search for seditious activities and older legislation concerning the regulation of the press was reinforced, demanding …

Print and Print Culture | Charles Herle and the First English … › …

During the 1640’s, control over printed forms of communication began to collapse in London. These printed sources included pamphlets, books, newspapers, and …

I guess that’s enough for a start, but I don’t think I’m going to read any of those articles myself… not even the Wikipedia page for John Milton’s Areopagitica, although a glance at it reminded me of puzzling through his 17th Century prose style in literature classes more than 50 years ago and at least enjoying some of the poetry and spectacle in Paradise Lost. I may even have glanced at that famous essay on freedom of the press again 25 years later in my one overstuffed grad school media law class, but I believe I had the flu that semester and wasn’t at my best… Coincidentally, I have a cold this weekend, my eyes are tired (they will be 75 years old soon) and I should cut down on this A.D.D.-inspired compulsive online reading and writing.

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Posted in community, Education, Government, History, International, Magazines, Media History, media studies, Social media

More social media? Is Mastodon a more-social medium?

Exhuming the First American Mastodon, 1806 painting by Charles Willson PealeYes, I’ve joined my [INSERT NUMBER HERE]th online network of human beings. This one has inspired waves of hope and nostalgia. Unlike Facebook or Twitter and several others I’ve used in the past, “Mastodon” is not owned by a media mogul billionaire or corporation. (The image is “Exhuming the First American Mastodon, 1806 painting by Charles Willson Peale”, via Wikipedia, also showing some collaborative human endeavor.) This Mastodon is an international network of independently owned and operated servers or “instances” that communicate with each other; the software is open-source. Owner/operators apparently can make their own rules (I’m still learning), including whether to block the connection to other servers whose rules contradict their own. The “federated” system appears to be advertising-free, which is a blessed relief from every other medium. People find others of common interests by littering their profiles and introductory posts with hashtagged terms, such as #science #banjo #Virginia #WorldPeace #AnarchoSyndicalist, which will turn up in other users’ searches.

I’m especially interested in whether this new system will lend itself to “hyperlocal” use, like the “We are (yourtown)” Facebook discussions that have grown over the past decade, but outside the “walled garden” of Facebook and its intrusive advertising and algorithm-promoted hierarchies that, like Twitter’s, are a mystery to me, but seem to encourage conflict more than discourse.

On the suggestion of another journalist-turned-professor, I’ve joined the “fediverse” through an instance called Newsie.Social, a crowdfunded site whose “About” page says the following:

Newsie.Social is a mastodon instance for journalists, news-people, journalism educators and comms professionals — although anyone who follows our rules and guidelines is welcome if invited.

Launched and initially funded by Jeff Brown of the Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corporation to give reporters and journalists trusted, fast and well moderated place to call home as part of the ‘Great Twitter Migration

The idea of an ad-free distributed social network without big-tech ownership or tracking sounds great, but it is hard to maintain. That’s why we’re working hard on making Mastodon more widely adopted so you can enjoy its unique features without any interference from big-tech networks or their servers – which are often opaque about what data they collect in order for them operate effectively.

My name or handle or whatever you call it at Newsie.Social is the same as I’ve been using on Twitter for years, just one syllable short of my full name — — and for now it also uses the same artistically Photoshopped picture of me playing the mandolin that I’ve also used on Twitter and Facebook.

I haven’t closed my Twitter account, since it’s still where I keep in touch with a few old friends — including a (1999 colleague) media historian and an IBM programmer (1984 colleague) who share their Wordle scores daily, and two college friends from the 1960s — one took me to the 1968 Newport Folk Festival, and I married the other one.

On Twitter I was promiscuous about following professional journalists, musicians, personal friends, my students and teachers, a few government officials, deep thinkers, and people who made me laugh. When Elon Musks’ takeover started to include layoffs, including a friend of mine, I reduced the number of strangers I followed, just to see if my own number of followers would decline. So far, it hasn’t much. My “Followers” peaked at 1,520 or so back when I was teaching and more actively following, tweeting and retweeting. I was never sure why. My “Following” list approached 4,000 at one point. Copied from my profile page today:

2,850 Following


Over at Mastodon, which I joined Nov. 13, exploring the new network on a slow week at home led to a lot of verbose posting on my part, experiments with hashtag-marked keywords about things I’m interested in, posting questions about the operation of the network and Mastodon instances, and “boosting” of posts by other people doing the same thing. The result:

365 Posts | 109 Following | 155 Followers

(I’m curious how those links, copied and pasted from my profile page, will function once I post this to my blog.)

In a surprising sideline to all this social-media introspection, I saw a mention that Tumblr is adopting some aspect of Mastodon. I haven’t really absorbed what that means yet. Except for noticing when a musician friend or two used the system, I haven’t paid much attention to Tumblr, dismissing it years ago as “yet another blogging platform” when I already had other online spaces, including blogs on WordPress ( and Blogger (

But today I felt nostalgic, and dredged up the password to a Tumblr blog I whipped up as a classroom demo during my last year teaching a Web Production course before I retired from the university. I don’t know whether I’ll add to it, or just leave it here as a Web cobweb. I think I chose the name as a reflection of my “too many blogs” situation:

Meanwhile, this post here on WordPress is an experiment with using the “Block” editor in ways I haven’t before. It may look a mess, and it will be a while before I get back to repair things. I’m hitting “Publish” and going off to celebrate Thanksgiving. Happy holidays!

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Posted in 2022, blogging, communication, community, International, j-heroes, Journalism, Online-Only, Social media, socialnets, Twitter, WordPress

Team Human? More podcasts? TikTok!?

Listening to Douglas Rushkoff, who is listening… A recent addition between his usual “Interviewing an author, artist or activist” episodes, these “Kibbitz” ones are less overwhelming. Like call-in-radio for people who have read his books and Medium articles, stumbled onto his website, followed his Twitter feed and Team Human podcast, subscribed with some cash, maybe watched his PBS documentaries…

Topics in this episode range from bitcoin and billionaire “preppers” to overcoming cynicism, and the role of kindness… face to face encounters with people you have no rapport with. Structural analysis… “Denaturalization…” Media studies… How to read deeply…

Maybe this is where to start, on my next trip to the library? But he has written so much since then!

Great critique of colleges’ online education platforms in response to one of his callers. Long term thoughts of “teaching in public a la carte forums.”

Another caller crossreferences another podcast, “Your undivided attention,” with a recent critique of TikTok, to ask about how we find hope. (I went out and found it, but haven’t listened yet.)

Rushkoff has abandoned Facebook (or so I read on Twitter) for its lack of ethical tech support when accounts and data are stolen or hacked, including a “fan” account related to his work…. but in answer to that caller he mentions his daughter using Tik-Tok, which I hope he goes into more in a future podcast… Or maybe he has already.

I guess I’ll have to search his archives. Maybe it’s time to become a paying member? He still talks so fast with so many ideas that my head spins. Maybe he has an article about that somewhere too… Possible title: “I am not a cult: How to join.”

Any Team Human members out there?

Anyone else trying to figure out how much money to contribute to it and how much to contribute to Get Up in the Cool ?

(Or Old Gods of Appalachia, another podcast I just became aware of, but one so deep and dark that I do not think I will be joining myself, although I did enjoy the live show the cast put on at Radford University last weekend… and I might tempt myself with a few episodes in the spirit of Halloween. If there were only more hours in a day, days in a week, etc.)


Footnote: I think I need a Dumber telephone to put on my bedside table, maybe one that can play MP3 files but does not have a full range of smartphone apps. This entire blog post, and a Facebook version that precedes it, was created on my Android phone without getting out of bed. I really should get out of bed. But kudos to the WordPress app for Android on making all of this embedded linkage and cross-posting possible!

Posted in 2022, communication, Digital Culture, informationoverload, media studies, podcast

College news sites recover from COVID, or not

I’m emerging from my guilt complex about not using this blog very often, or just using it as a photo album or diary unrelated to the “Other Journalism” title I gave it 20 years ago. Here’s an actual journalism question for a change: How do you revive a student newspaper that has fallen on hard times?

Specific case in point, the Radford University Tartan. Each semester for the past several years it has appeared to have to smaller staff. I’m sure the COVID pandemic hasn’t helped. And there may have been problems with the software or hosting of its website, which is full of stories that are a year old, or older. (One is about me, of all people, based on a Zoom talk I had with a friend’s journalism class a couple of years ago.)

I don’t see the print newspaper often because I’m not on campus regularly. But I’m told it still publishes weekly during the fall and spring semesters. I’ve been noticing other colleges where student journalists take a “digital first” approach and publish daily or weekly online, then do a “best of” version in print, presumably showing off their skills at page design and digital editing, weekly, bi-weekly or monthly.

A confession: When I was teaching at Radford I stayed away from The Tartan. My intentions were good, based on other colleges I have known where the student newspaper was proud of its independence from the journalism department. My undergraduate alma mater even bought its own off-campus building, although that was long ago and far away.

When I was there, the University of Connecticut journalism department consisted of two professors, teaching only a handful of courses. The department policy statement said students should not “major” in journalism, but in something that gave them knowledge to write from: Political science, economics, history, business, maybe even music or sociology — if they took enough journalism courses to escape the horrors of academic writing, understand news style, and write clearly for a general audience.

After those four or five news writing and editing classes, my professor felt his job was to turn graduates over to one of the newspapers in the state, where a wise city or state editor would teach them the newspaper business. Sadly, that doesn’t work in this century, when most of the wise old city editors and state editors have taken buy-outs, retired, or been fired. To fill the gap, UConn now has a fully accredited journalism major, the only one in New England. Accreditation is a hoop not many programs want to jump through. Sometimes it gets complicated, as in Chapel Hill. There are only three accredited journalism majors in Virginia, not including Radford. In fact, this fall I hear the university down to one long-suffering journalism professor.

Some of those laid-off newspaper journalists took a leap of faith into the new world of independent publishing on platforms like Medium, Substack and WordPress (which I use for this blog). I like the not-for-profit Cardinal News here in southwestern Virginia. Some former newspaper reporters have gone it on their own and hope to pay the bills with subscriber fees, tip jars or grants, or their own funds.

I was able to take an even easier way out after roughly 20 years as a reporter or editor, and a dozen years as a teacher (with a lot of grad school and indecisiveness in between), I decided to live cheaply on my retirement funds and give up entirely on the idea of making money. I write intermittently on Facebook and three blogs. On this one, I let WordPress post ads (which I don’t even see) and keep the revenue in exchange for my “free” webspace, while their team of engineers deal with software updates and security issues. When I really think I have something to say, I post it in more than one place and use Facebook and Twitter to alert anyone who might be interested. I’m a little more productive writing about old radio shows at

Anyway… For the editors of The Tartan to browse and be inspired, here are some other student newspapers, including the ones on other campuses where I have gone to school or worked, plus a few others. The first three are dailies at large state universities with substantial journalism programs. Quoted passages in some of the longer entries are from “about us” pages at the websites in question. I’ve added bold italics on passages I think student editors should think about.

UNC Chapel Hill:
UT Knoxville:

These next two student papers are at colleges more Radford’s size. Emerson has a large journalism department, larger than it was when I taught there; Wesleyan has none, but there were two Pulitzer Prize winners on the English and History faculty when I was a grad student there, starting with my employer paying the tuition while I took courses part-time.
“The Berkeley Beacon is Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper. Founded in 1947, the paper publishes content online daily and in print on Thursdays throughout the academic year. The paper is a chronicle of life at Emerson — covering student government politics, on- and off-campus events, and administrative initiatives and policies.”
The Berkeley Beacon is my favorite newspaper name, because the paper is not in Berkeley or at an institution called Berkeley — it is at Emerson College in Boston. Its name reflects the old location of the journalism department, on the corner of Berkeley and Beacon Streets, but the college sold that building and moved journalism to the other side of the Boston Common almost 20 years ago, the same year I left for Tennessee!
“The Wesleyan Argus is published by the undergraduates of Wesleyan University. The Wesleyan Argus was founded in 1868 and is the country’s oldest twice-weekly printed college newspaper. The Argus was named after the hundred-eyed, all-seeing giant from Greek mythology.”

Wesleyan (the oldest of many unrelated schools with that word in their name) is not as well-known here as it is in the Northeast, but here’s the weekly at a small Virginia university comparable to Wesleyan in relatively high selectivity and faculty salaries:
“It is the mission of The Ring-tum Phi to accurately, truthfully and thoroughly report news affecting the Washington and Lee community for students, faculty, parents and alumni. Our goal is to look deeper into news affecting campus life and hold those in positions of power accountable… published Mondays during the undergraduate school year.”

South of Radford, Ferrum College’s Iron Blade has a simple but quite up-to-date WordPress website, and print-images of past papers are archived on the university-controlled website.
The Iron Blade covers the daily life and culture of Ferrum College. We publish one print issue per month and distribute it to campus. After every print, we publish all of our articles in the online edition.”

Farther up I-81, here’s a state university with a larger journalism program than Radford’s…
“The Breeze has been James Madison University’s student-run newspaper since 1922. Since then, the newspaper has provided news and information to the university community.
“The Breeze publishes every Thursday. The Breeze has been named the best mid-sized non-daily newspaper in the state of Virginia by the Virginia Press Association, and it has received national honors from the Associated Collegiate Press.”

And a bit farther south, here’s a North Carolina university twice the size of Radford with a news site that has undergone some changes during the past two COVID years… going all-web-daily, then returning to print monthly.
“The Appalachian has been Appalachian State University’s student-run news publication since 1934. We publish a print publication monthly. We are the recipient of the ACP Pacemaker Award, the CMA Pinnacle Award and the NC College Media Association Best of Show award…
“Continuing off of the changes made last year, during the 2022-23 academic year, we will continue to print monthly and send out a fresh, staff-curated newsletter every week, along with new content on our website posted daily. “

Last, but not necessarily least, here’s a Connecticut college paper that I haven’t read in 40 years. I started my professional newspaper career in the small city where it is published, Willimantic, Conn. Since moving to Radford I’ve been amused by similarities between Radford University and Eastern Connecticut State University, formerly Willimantic State U. Both are in small cities and both were once state “normal schools,” predominantly teacher-education and only for women. Each had a bigger men-only state agriculture and engineering college 10 or 12 miles up the road, but all four eventually went co-ed. The former men’s colleges are Virginia Tech and UConn.

And now, adding to the comparison, both have student newspaper websites that appear to have problems this fall. I haven’t found an article where either site explains why. I suspect that COVID has been hard on all kinds of student organizations, but that things will improve with face-to-face meetings possible once again. Maybe, like The Tartan, Eastern’s Campus Lantern is putting more of its energy into the print newspaper than the website. Radford now has more than twice the enrollment of Eastern, so maybe its paper has more resources to draw upon. I’ll look back in a few months.
“Established in 1945, The Campus Lantern is the student-run campus newspaper for Eastern Connecticut State University. We publish bi-weekly, with issues coming out every other Thursday.”


Posted in 2022, community, Education, Journalism, media studies, Newspapers, Online-Only, Radford, StudentPress, WordPress

A seasonal-photo blog?

The Smart View Recreation Area on the Blue Ridge Parkway is a fine place to watch the seasons change. This was the weekend of remnants of Hurricane Ian.
I knew oaks and maples before I came here for the first time a decade ago; now I know hickories, black walnuts and tulip poplars… And quiet a few spring wildflowers, which I hope to see again in 2023.

October 1 photos … just something to keep this blog alive, although it is hardly journalism or just about journalism anymore… I am posting this with the WordPress app on my aging Android phone for the first time in a long while, having had memory errors (the phone’s memory, that is) that kept me from using it for several months.

I still feel a bit guilty about writing mosly in Facebook, where I cannot share things with family members and friends who are not part of the Facebook fraternity, or community, or habit. So this is the latest in a series of attempts too share some of what I’ve had on Facebook and a little more.

Another seasonal marker, from a few days earlier… The last Wednesday in September is the year’s last old time fiddle and banjo centered old time music jam session at Market Square in Blacksburg. This last session of the June through September event was led by Mike Gangloff on fiddle and the band Eight Point Star. It was rather cold, and I joked about getting a heater installed in my new metal mandolin. I acquired the loud as well as shiny resonator instrument in hopes of continuing to play into the fall and winter at a mostly amplified blues jam, also on Wednesday nights, at the Rising Silo Brewery, about three miles west, in the countryside beyond Virginia Tech.
Posted in 2022, Blue Ridge Parkway, Floyd, Music

May 1 from Rocky Knob

Embarrassed that I haven’t used this blog in months, so here are a couple of pictures that I already uploaded to Facebook after a late Sunday afternoon saunter through the Rocky Knob Picnic Area and Rock Castle Gorge Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Floyd, Va. It’s just good to see so much green again, even if this old blog is starting to look like a report on the changing seasons… a rather low-speed level of “other journalism.”

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Posted in 2022, Appalachia, Blue Ridge Parkway, Floyd, photography

Atop the Blue Ridge in February

The old Appalachian Trail shelter at Rocky Knob, Floyd, Va., 02-12-2022 (Bob Stepno photo)

Snapped this photo with my smartphone on my first 2022 visit to the Rocky Knob area along the Blue Ridge Parkway — after enough January snow and ice had melted to make the trail friendlier. I also shot video farther up the ridge, exhausting the phone’s battery to the point that the screen backlight shut off. I had to snap my last few photos — including this one — looking at an almost black screen. But the old tree and shelter framed the image by themselves.

Friends on Facebook liked this picture so much that I’m putting it here where I can send links to my non-Facebook friends and family. The shelter has an interesting history — built in the 1930s for the first wave of Appalachian Trail hikers, but the official Appalachian Trail was rerouted farther west near the Virginia/West-Virginia line in the 1950s, where it could go through that area’s national forests. This trail section became part of the Rocky Knob Recreation Area on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and is less than a mile (uphill) from the parkway’s Saddle Overlook.

Looking approximately northeast from the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Saddle Overlook. The trail up to the Old-Appalachian-Trail shelter is at the southeast corner of the parking lot.
An interestingly lichen-covered tree made a good stopping-to-catch-my-breath spot about two-thirds of the way up to the shelter, whose angular roof is visible at the top center of the photo.

The shelter has a solid wall, two half-width side walls (entrance on the left; window on the right), and the eastern side is open to the sunrise. It did have a working fireplace, long sealed with stones and mortar. The floor is stone, and there is a long narrow bench attached to the rear wall. I’ve read one early hiker’s account of gathering firewood and bagging leaves to build a fire and pad his sleeping bag on a cold night.
These days, the National Park Service provides a campground about a mile up the road (the Parkway is a long narrow National Park), or travelers can exit in another mile at Tuggle’s Gap in Floyd to spend the night at the town’s modern motels, hotels or B&Bs.

Posted in 2022, Blue Ridge Parkway, Floyd, Southwestern Va
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