What is special about E2?
Age, Sex, Location (Swap)
A stunning piece of writing. The title leads one to expect some trivial anecdote taken from an AOL chatroom. Instead we get a wonderful commentary on sexism, on perception and on virtual interaction. The story is of huge relevance to all internet communities, both as a warning about relying on pre-conceptions and as a tutorial in how to pass oneself off as something different from the flesh-and-blood reality. This makes E2 special, because it is highly subjective, yet provides detail and commentary and puts a valuable mirror in front of our own selves.
1,340,666 women just like me (radlab0)
This one is well-chinged, and deservedly so. It really is the epitome of what E2 -- and its authors -- do best. It has all the facts, but it has so much more. It has pathos. It has passion. It has almost too much character to bear. The yearning and the disappointment and the pain shine through. There cannot be many who failed to weep at this writeup, its courage and its unsparing, unstinting, unashamed detail.
Cock McNuggets (Footprints)
Cocks and cunts and fellatio oh my! I guess this is not on everyone's list of 'things that make E2 special" But I love the innuendo, the extreme lack of political correctness and I admire the author’s ability to write something so crude, without being offensive. Above all I love the courage of the writeup. YMMV. And another thing, it is brief and it is funny. And I can't think of another site that would celebrate such a witty piece of writing.
The Return of the King (Walter)
Walter and other reviewers bring something quite unique to E2. This movie is one of the best-loved of geekdom, based as it is, upon one of geekdom's favourite books. But Walter's piece is not a fanboy review, it tells us what is good about the movie; how the movie differs from the book and what the difficulties are with the movie. It's all done in an intelligent way, with humour; with passion and with an awareness that people are bound to disagree, yet with a confidence that tells the geeky fanboys that this author knows the books and the movies just as well as they do, and yet offers a more intelligent analysis than fulsome praise for the scale and the CGI effects and the hot, hot Arwen.
I selected a LOTR piece there, but the same applies to Starship Troopers, Donnie Darko, His dark Materials and many other popular books and movies.
A man's salad (multiple authors)
Of the recent contributions, I think this one displays the current state of E2, in both good and bad senses.
It is about food. It is largely sanitised from political incorrectness and it has contributions by a number of different people: you almost need to have become familiar with the specific authors before you can appreciate the subtle humour of the node. Of course you can read it without knowing the authors, but it helps to know that borgo has been through a series of increasingly severe heart attacks. It helps to know that Maylith has written extensively on domestic science.
Writing on E2 has become increasingly safe. Fewer people are taking risks with their writing and more are content either to read, or to write only in a tried and trusted style. Whether this is in an effort to improve merit scores, or for fear of the editorial killing floor, I do not speculate. This piece is, for the modern day E2, pushing the boundaries, and for that, it needs to be celebrated. It also shows -- for insiders at least -- the complex interactions between the readers, the text and the writers.
Blowing one's own trumpet
Here are a couple of my own favourites, both of which I wrote specifically for E2. I think of them as old friends that have moved on and gone their own way. Although I know every word and every sentence, it still seems a little surprising to remember that, once upon a time, I wrote them.
Naked at 30 below, and loving it
This was my first-ever attempt at descriptive writing, and I'm not just talking E2. It is a factual, but I tried to give readers some kind of sense of the far Arctic region. I think it came out pretty well. I should do more of that.
This one came about as a result of my failed efforts to tell a 15-year-old about colour theory and explain about primary colours. She had asked me for help with her homework, and I had to bullshit my way through 30 minutes of explanation, spouting old, half-forgotten lines from textbooks. She got a good mark on her paper, but I spent the next few days thinking through exactly why we see certain colours and how we see them. Of all my 'science for the masses' nodes, I'm probably best pleased with this one. It needs better ASCII art, though.
New users and how to write for E2
There are so many different writing styles that it is hard to pick two or three as good exemplars for new users, but I guess that many of the people who come here arrive from slashdot, or are in their first few weeks of college, so I'd say to new users, spend your first few attempts doing simple, straightforward things, until you get the hang of the place. Obviously, the FAQ documents are helpful, but there is a heck of a lot to get through. My own level 1 is a good starting point, but that's not how to write for E2. That's how to avoid looking like a prat.
One of the easiest ways to get started is to pick something quite mundane and do a factual on it. Take my own pilot light for example. There's no controversy there. It's a simple, straightforward piece that has no hidden message and requires no fancy knowledge or writing ability. Simple, safe, quick and easy. An ideal approach for the first two or three writeups.
Another easy thing to do is to pick your home town and describe it for us. Take Dar Es Salaam by KandiMon. It is a far better piece than Pilot Light, full of images and smells and sounds. That's a piece straight from the heart, with no hidden message, but a lot of descriptive detail. It's the kind of piece that makes you want to go visit the place.
And it's the kind of writing that makes you want to come back to E2.
The same applies to your college, or your workplace, or a favourite sports stadium, or a treasured possession. I picked that last link, turtleneck because it is something everyone has come across, yet many would disregard as being too mundane for a good writeup. Vixen extracted more interest and history than I would have thought possible from such unpromising material. So even the most everyday thing can be the source of a great writeup. All you have to do is give a fresh perspective on something everyone else has overlooked.
E2 likes the personal touch, but it likes detail woven into the fabric of the writeup. Try to get both together and forge them into 500 or 1000 readable words, and you have the perfect E2 writeup. Later on, you can experiment a bit more. And E2 should encourage experimentation. Today, my feeling is that the reward systems -- XP, merit, votes -- tend to discourage experimentation by producing negative feedback as an author attempts to break out of their familiar style of writing.
In the light of some of my comments above, I'm not sure it's helpful to show newcomers too many examples of what -- and how -- to write for E2. That road tends to lead to writeups which mimic existing contributions and are over-safe. What E2 needs more than anything is challenging writeups, and editors who have the courage to let them stand, and to defend them in the catbox. E2 writeups need more energy and more enthusiasm. I cannot say that recipes for pasta and sauce are in any way challenging or energetic.
My suggestion to newcomers would to go ahead, write what you like. Put in the passion and the detail and the fun, and then -- if you are confident -- submit it direct to the E2 community. Or -- for the less confident -- find an experienced user whose work you have read and enjoyed, and ask them to look it over.
It does no harm to offer the suggestion -- and I know it has been made many times before -- that newcomers should be offered a sub-section of the E2 environment, where only those who have proven themselves kind, compassionate, and capable of positive, constructive criticism are permitted to view and to vote. This would go a long way to resolving issues of the thoughtless and cruel users who downvote on the smallest transgression of E2 culture.
Subject expert, or not?
Some people call me an expert. I've written a lot about rubber and tyres and roadholding and the auto business. I guess you could call me some kind of expert on that stuff. The BBC calls me to speak about it and I've written for the FT, the Economist and other publications in those areas.
I'm not bad on engineering and other science-type stuff. I'm not talking pure book-learning although I've done as many academic courses as pretty much anyone here, but I mean more the practical side of explaining how stuff works and how to fix it when it gets broken. Yeah I can do a lot of that. And I've read widely in the sciences and history and philosophy of science and the inter-relationships between science, faith, religion and thought. The philosophers call it epistemology. I'm just fascinated by the different meanings of the phrase, "I know that." I wouldn't call myself an expert, but I know enough to realise when someone else knows more than I do.
And writing. Yeah, The Man pays me to write. I make my living from it, so perhaps you could call me a subject expert there. And editing. I can do some of that too.
Am I a joiner?
No, not any more. I wrote the Usergroup FAQ. I even wrote the What is E2 FAQ. Once upon a time I asked the users what they thought of E2, and got some good feedback, but the resulting essays have long since gone the way of all mortal flesh.
Nope, not a mentor either, at least, not officially. I was in the past, but anger at the (then) management's decisions made me walk out of E2. That left a mentee in the lurch. I decided at that point never again to join the formal mentoring programme as a mentor.
Much much later, I took on a new persona and re-joined the mentoring programme, this time as a mentee, to see what the experience was like. My mentor did not do a good job. Questions were ignored, there was no advice or help and it left me as a user, feeling rejected and unwelcome. Contrast that with the help and advice offered by a wonderful friend, who helped me out and answered my every question with patience and enthusiasm. That person is not on the mentor programme, but she did a far better job than my official mentor. So my approach now, if I have one, is to select people who look as though they are having a hard time here, yet who also show promise as writers, and then try to help them through the first, difficult phase of getting to know E2.
All I will add is that the admins on this site need to have more care for the people and the writing. If you have to delete something, then tell the author why and try to persuade them to agree, before taking action. The nuke-first-discuss-later approach creates enmity and anger. Not what you want among authors who volunteer their time and skills.
No, this is not a bid for a $. That idea is completely absurd. Brawl made a suggestion. It is a good one, so I'm following it. I can think up more and better reasons than you why I should not join that particular usergroup.