Web Hostess Live: The latest from the Web

Apr 04, 2013

A weekly chat about the best ways to kill time online. Our Web Hostess, Monica Hesse, sifts the Internet so you don't have to, searching for meaning, manners and the next great meme.

Afternoon, everyone, and thanks for stopping by. I may have to lave a bit early today, depending on how an interview gets slotted, but until then, we chat. (At 2. We get started at 2).


The New Yorker and several other publications had articles this week on the Bitcoin Boom -- Bitcoins being an entirely virtual currency, existing only online. I'm curious to know if anyone here uses them.

Also: From time to time, I read debates about the usefulness of handwriting in an increasingly digital world. Here's a Jezebel essay, exploring whether we still need cursive. Since this chat often draws a healthy mix of Internet geeks and written-word geeks, I thought we might have spirited debate over the usefulness of cursive writing.

Also: There was supposed to be a new teaser trailer for Hunger Games sequel "Catching Fire" out yesterday. Instead, what we got was a teaser for the teaser -- 18 seconds instructing everyone to tune into the MTV movie awards, where the full teaser would premiere.

I'm exhausted by the long online walkup to movies.

Are there any good resources to learn about promoting a new blog? I've played with blogs for years, but I've never been serious about it. I'm not trying to be the next big thing, but I do want to make sure I'm at least doing the right basic stuff to find kindred spirits in the online world.

I'll post this early, so we can get some responses from the crowd coming in. My gut reaction is that, rather than seek out general "how to promote a blog" guidance, you'd do better to seek advice from people who have blogs in the same genre that you're seeking to kick off, and get advice from them. The strategy for a parenting blog might be very different than the strategy for a crafting blog or a cooking blog.

I think cursive should still be taught, if only for sentimental reasons. Let's put aside my gripes with poor spelling and grammar (which has gotten worse with recent generations). Many students don't know how to sign their own names, because they don't know cursive. A great deal of people cannot read my notes or letters, because I tend to use cursive more than print. Technology is a great thing, but it doesn't mean that cursive no longer has its place--many wedding/formal invitations are written in script (hey, Edwardian ITC, I see you). *steps off soapbox*

Hmm. But there are so many things we could have held onto for sentimental reasons. Sentimentally, it would have been great for me to know how to, I don't know, skin a deer, since that skill was once germaine to survival in many parts of the country. I guess the question is about when practicality outweighs sentimentality. I'm glad I know cursive, but I can't say I use it much, except for...actually, I can't remember the last time I used it.

I took to a keyboard some 20 years ago and have done the world a service by barely handwriting anything anymore. My writing was rubbish, despite the beatings of nuns in the first grade. I'm also living proof that it doesn't get better by not practicing it. I can now barely finish handwriting a Check; have to stop, rest and practice twice... But, I'm fine with this; I've never viewed fine cursive as some sort of aesthetic ideal. It's a means of communicating ideas, and there are more ways now than ever that don't involve a nub some indigo, and some type of papyrus...

A check -- another object that's fast becoming an artifact. Takes me years to go through a single book these days.

I'm older than you are by a fair stretch and never learned cursive properly. It's nice, but so is calligraphy - it's an art, not a basic tool. Like other arts, there should be time for it, but it has no place in the core of education.

Really? Cursive was something we spent a fair bit of time on when I was in grade school. Maybe we were old-fangled.

Hi Monica- This really was for yesterdays' chat but I didn't realize you'd be on it! For celebrity cookbooks, do you think it's fair to review them 'straight' (as in, judging them against cookbooks of real chefs), or do they need the 'yeah- but Gweennnieee face makes these!!!' caveat to justify their existence? I think I worded it poorly, but basically was curious about how you came to review the cookbook rather than one of the Food section people. I consider you more of a socialmedia/fad/celebrity/etc writer (not your talent- just your niche at WaPo), and aside from the recipes included (cashew moment?!) thought it read & felt a lot more like a style profile piece than a cookbook review. Not a criticism- it was entertaining- just felt weird to be reading in the Food section. Gah- I've gotten wordy & possibly off topic. Thoughts?

Thanks for writing. I think I understand what you're trying to say. The background on the Gwyneth story was that I heard of the cookbook and knew I wanted to write about it, to take advantage of my copious Gwyneth knowledge. I simultaneously contact the food editor, the book editor, and my editor in Style -- because frankly, the piece could have gone in any of those sections and made sense. We decided to run it in food, but I'd always planned that the piece would be a meditation on Gwyneth Paltrow, through the guise of the cookbook.


Food is such an important part of any culture, and I think that the space where it intersects with entertainment, with nostalgia, with trends and entertainment, is a really interesting space. (And I bet if it had been in Style, people would have been asking why it wasn't in Food).

I am torn. As a lefty, whose writing was terrible as a child, due to having to slant my paper/move my hand in a manner that was completely foreign to how I actually wrote, I say do away with it. As an adult whose job frequently requires the use of quick note taking, I see value in it. These days I use a hybrid of the printing and cursive. And much like Billy Madison, I still haven't mastered the Z.

It's the Q for me -- hideous looking cursive letter.

And yes. Cheers to the pitiful, beleagured lefty. We can identify each other by the pencil smudges along the sides of our hands.

My brother was earning bitcoins as poker winnings for awhile, and at one point tried to talk me into helping him buy more of them. I turned him down, which in hindsight was kinda dumb because at the time bitcoins were only worth about $20 each I think. He also sold off all but one of the ones he had, which was also kinda dumb because now the price has skyrocketed. (for how long, who knows?)

Ever since I read the horrifying story of the man going to sleep and having his virtual wallet virtually robbed of Bitcoins worth $500,000, I have been terrified. Not that the same couldn't happen to an unguarded bank account.

My kindergartener can't wait to learn cursive. I don't have the heart to tell her she probably won't. Her printing is atrocious, so maybe I'll teach her myself (in all my spare time) and see if it's any better. That Hunger Games teaser stinks. I don't even really care that much about the movie, although I love Jennifer Lawrence, but that really just seems mean. I have never heard of Bitcoins, but the above mentioned kindergartener lost her second tooth this morning, so it makes me wonder what happens to the tooth fairy if all $ goes virtual?

I guess that then the kindergartner starts getting Hunger Games paperbacks and penmanship lessons?

I only got this far into the article before I started rolling my eyes: " When a child knows the mechanics of forming letters in cursive, they can better focus on their content". Huh? It seems more logical to me that learning cursive in addition to printing is taking time away from focusing on the contents of the writing! I do think it's sad that cursive is dying, but trying to save it isn't going to work. It's far more important to teach kids to type properly than teach them a second way to write. I do think we need to find a way to keep the skill of READING cursive alive though. I was grew up learning to write it and even I have trouble reading my own grandma's cursive words...

Definitely agree with the last part of this. It's fascinating to think of English-written letters from a few decades ago becoming the equivalent of foreign languages.

Has anyone studied if people who have not studied cursive are able to read and understand cursive? If they can, then I am not that concerned if it is no longer taught as I know most people write with keyboards. Yet, we will not always have access to our keyboards, so note taking is much better with cursive. I just hope others will be able to read the cursive notes. I should think it would not be that difficult to read them, but I have never actually studied this, which is why I ask: Has anyone studied this?

A natural follow up. I'm not sure there's been a formal study, but I have vague memories of looking at my parents' handwriting when I was wee and being able to discern at least bits and pieces of it, with no training. Others?

As a blogger who had some minor fame within my circle, the most important thing is to focus on your writing and your content and don't worry about self-promotion. If you have something worth reading, people will come. I think the best thing to do is simply create a username associated with your blog and then spend time reading/commenting on other people's blogs in an honest, non-self-promoting way. People will come to check you out if you seem cool or knowledgeable.

Can't stress the "comment on other people's works" advice enough. Reading and writing are reciprocal relationships -- one can't be greedy and expect followers and fans, unless one is willing to put the work into following, supporting, commenting on other people's works. I'm always surprised when I hear people complain that they don't have very many Twitter followers, when they themselves are only following 15 or 20 people.

Why is it that we have this idea that you can only sign your name in cursive? How many classic novels have we read where a character was illiterate, but still managed to "make his mark" on a contract when needed? We're not too far removed from that day and age; I think we'll be fine with printed signatures! In any case, the next step is the digital signature, which more and more contracts are starting to use.

Huzzah! (Not to digital signatures, necessarily, but to divocring "signature" from "cursive.")

For me this is a weirdly pertinent topic, since I just read an article on a calligraphy artist's site about handwriting... the artist was of the opinion that so many people have bad handwriting because they write with their fingers rather than their full arms (not moving their fingers or hands to write, but using the shoulder and arm to move the pen). I was kind of astonished by this - who writes with their arms? I was never taught to do that, even when I was learning to write in cursive. But sure enough, full arm writing was the norm for teaching handwriting until the mid-20th century. So I'm wondering whether this is the reason for most peoples' distaste for cursive (I hate it). It's just plain harder to write when you write with your fingers instead of your arms - the writing is messy, your hand cramps up, etc. Of course I made an attempt at arm writing, and the result looks like a five year old did it. So my question to everyone is, do you write with your fingers or your arms, and if you write with your arms, who taught you?

This is astounding.


I would also argue this is obsolete. My guess is that the arm-writing means of teaching was due in part to the fact that fountain pens were the primary pen of choice -- and that 1) they were harder to push across the page and 2) they were leaky, and so you wanted to keep your arm off of the paper.

Furthermore: My handwriting is lovely and I have never done this.

Is it justifiable to drop a FB friend because they post something gruesome and it shows up in your news feed with no warning? I am specifically talking about the trolls who posted pictures of Kevin Ware's gruesome injury. Here I am, just sipping my coffee, checking on FB, and BOOM (no warning) a shot of the injury. I wanted to defriend immediately and with no explanation. My husband thinks that I shouldn't defriend because it is a close relative. Also the person was trying to be a troll, so defriending him would let the trolls win.

Well, no -- staying friends with a troll means you lose, more than unfriending him would mean he wins.

It's always acceptable to unfriend someone, for any personal reason you choose. One ill-advised injury photograph probably wouldn't do it for me, though, unless it was a contributing factor paired with several other Facebook irritations.

I am pretty sure the first time I saw a capital Q was also the first time I questioned something a teacher told me. Are you sure that's a Q? It doesn't look like a Q. It looks like a fancy 2...

Ramona Quimby has a whole screed on this.

I got my heart stomped on Monday night when I confessed my feelings for a good friend. Rather than shooting me down, I was told, "it's not that I'm not interested in you, but I've been single for so long and I don't know if I could make that shift to being in a relationship..." arugh..... so now, of course, everything feels unresloved and open and I am a bit more of a mess than I would like to admit. SO, tomorrow (FRIDAY!) is my night to curl up, eat gumdrops, and feel sorry for myself -- does anyone have suggestions for things to watch on hulu or ways to waste time/cheer msyelf up on the internet? Comedies would be great because although I am letting myself be sad for a while, I do want to cheer up and get over this person. Thanks! :)

Oh, I'm so sorry. I'm glad it's almost the weekend for you.

Chatters, I'll open this up to the floor. And poster, if you could give us a few ideas of what you like so that we can target our advice a little better.

Personally, I've been on a huge tear through The Good Wife, which was recently made free on Amazon Prime. It's not a comedy -- but it is a smart, sharp, engrossing drama about a woman pulling her life back together after romantic disappointment. And you'll want to grow up to become Christina Baranski, the fabulous supporting lead.

Do you think cursive will become a symbol of a sort of outdated, high-class culture like knowing all the parts of a tea service or how to address a duchess? Will parents send their children to cursive school to give them a boost in reaching the upper echelons of society? And people will write to Miss Manners asking how to hold a pen properly or whether it's polite to "arm-write" in the presence of the Queen.

Intriguing theory. I like this.

Are you a fan of the show? I watched Seasons 1 and 2 over the end of year holiday period, and even though I loved it, going on a binge like that made me feel guilty, like I was a glutton. Had never done the TV show catch up binge thing before but the show really lends itself to watching many episodes back to back. Very happy I didn't have to wait long for new material, but it feels weird not to be able to watch another episode right after.

This is a terrible byproduct of binge-viewing. You spend a week having all of the episodes at your disposal, but when you're all caught up, it seems most unfair to be stuck waiting. You should probably get addicted to some more television in time.

(And of course I watch GOT. Trying to decide who to root for this season. I was all about Dany for awhile, but I'm ready to move on. Tyrion is just too obvious).

Funny + Hulu = Arrested Development if you haven't seen it. Especially since there's time to catch up before the new episodes come to Netflix next month! And if you've already seen all of that show, there's always this: http://arrestedwesteros.com/

Two threads come together in perfect harmony.

Oh hell. I didn't even have a chance to read the chat before I told you that I was in the middle of a project and had nothing to contribute. I love cursive. I loved learning it and using it and I still use it as often as possible. I write the heck out of things. I make lists in cursive and doodle in meetings and have even ordered instruction manuals online to learn DIFFERENT KINDS of cursive... Spencerian is gorgeous. Do I think it should be taught in school? Absolutely. Learn how to write, nerds. You're in third grade. Spend some time learning about fancy Qs!!!!

You are my favorite chatter. (No, of course I'm kidding. You are all my favorite chatter. But "It's me again" is my favorite chatter just a tiny bit more than everyone else today. Unless someone else ups the ante).

In my son's third grade class, he was taught a more modern cursive capital Q. Looked essentially like a cursive O, with a tail added. So, I think Ramona has prevailed.


I just print an "O," then make a printed "Q tail" which leads directly into the "u" (other following letter, in the case of, e.g., Qatar).

Confirmation on this new Q. I am flabbergasted, and should like to know when the switch happened.

A+ on the Ramona reference (I always loved the cat she turned Quimby into), but I am afraid I must share that the youth are not learning your cursive. Cursive was revised in time for me to learn it in 1997. They changed a lot of the letters in small ways (lines instead of loops on the entry into the letter, like the H) and they made the Q look like a Q. I then went home and gloated to my mother about my better looking cursive standards. I was a strange child then, am strange young adult now.

The mystery continues to unfold, piece by piece. I think I learned cursive about five years before you. I can't believe I've gone this entire time not knowing there was a better way.

Go old school and watch the Marx Brothers films! Belly laughs can be physically as well as mentally therapeutic!


My boss has seemingly put me on a schedule where my days off are Wednesday and Thursday! So I can finally be here when the chat is live! YAYAYYYYY!! Sorry if I'm filling up the chat with my comments, I'm just excited.

We are so excited to have you!

is ActressesWithoutTeeth.net which is exactly what is says it is.

I have seen it. It is horrifying.

I loved the line in your Gwyneth book report about "lemons and lawn." Been thinking about it since I read it. That's all.

Thank you so much!

There are precedents for this change, though!

Excellent find. I love when this chat give me something to look forward to reading later.

There are benefits to writing by hand instead of typing, and some benefits that come specifically from cursive:  Plus, if people aren't taught cursive, they'll have a hard time reading it, which means they can't read documents written any time before recent history. Maybe we don't need to spend so much time on it or be graded on it anymore (is that still even done?), but it should be taught, if only the basics.

Spectacular find, thanks.

Sorry, but after that, the Apocalypse is Nigh.

Not true. The most frivolous subjects are the ones most deserving of meditations, which help us understand our culture and figure out why we have use for these frivolous items to begin with.

I believe that the greatest benefit derived from learning cursive penmanship is creating those synaptic connections that allow for smoothly-controlled manually-dextrous maneuvers to be performed. It's not an end in-and-of-itself, so to speak; it's the process of learning that's important, and the secondary skills gained by doing so. For those whose formative years ended before the advent of typewriters, it was vital to employ (young!) people (primarily women, but not at first) who had been trained to have that level of dexterity. Similarly, in our current timeframe there is a very evident level of difficulty in learning advanced typing skills if one's initial education did not include hunt-and-peck painfully practiced over a drab, germ-laden keyboard. It's arguably much more vital to learn typing skills than to learn cursive handwriting these days, but I think it would be quite pathetic to lose all contact with actual tangible examples of literary effort.

Thank you, this is wonderful.

I seem to recall tech-security guru Brian Krebs mentioning these once-upon-a-time, back when he was in the employ of The Post. It's hacker currency, too.

I'm sure they've gotten several mentions -- been around for a few years, just entering the broad public consciousness now.

I was on vacation in Horta, on the island Faial in the Azores, and stopped by the main public library to visit friends who work there. The director proudly showed me their collection of English-language books donated by the previous US Consul to the Azores -- and what should I espy in the collection but several of Beverly Cleary's classic children's books. Not only did many of us read them as children (checked out from our elementary school library in Berkeley, California), but we took pride in the fact that at the time Mrs. Cleary was living and writing in Berkeley!

In my fantasy, she and Lois Lowry and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor get together for tea.

The latest Pew Poll states a majority, for the first time ever, are in favor of legalizing marijuana. You may now resume discussions already in progress.

Thank you for this important interruption.

Become friends with benefits. He'll (assuming it's a he, otherwise this won't work) gradually fall in love with you through your physical interactions and eventually you'll get married after breaking up and faking an orgasm in a diner.

And when you get married, the sauce can be on the side because some people like things on the side. (This is terrible advice, naturally. Especially since the OP is so much better than her undeserving good friend, and will rebound from this almost immediately).

If you haven't seen the first "Hunger Games" movie, then the teaser ad ruins the ending of that movie. Of course, if you don't know how it ends by now, you probably aren't into "Hunger Games".

It does? I don't think it does.

My go-to movie for when I'm feeling bad is The Enchanted April. A great script about four English women who rent an Italian castle for a month. They are all going through bumpy times in their lives/romances and just need time to contemplate their lives. The ultimate message is that love does triumph after all, which is always nice to hear. And you can spend two hours looking at gorgeous 1920s clothing and beautiful Italian scenery. It's on NetFlix InstantView.


So you're married! I saw it in your Gwynnie book review. Congrats, even if it's old news! I must say though, this changes everything. Just like when it came out that the creator of the "I Effing Love Science" group on Facebook was a girl. I mean, a married Web Hostess?

Bombshell: I've been married the entire time -- years -- that we've been conducting this chat. But Mr. Cupcake is a shy violet, so we shan't speak of this again.

Apparently, the Postal Service had something to do with it:

Of course they did. Bless the postal service.

Were their similar protests and sadness upon the demise of short and long hand writing? Or are these still being used....somewhere?

I think we've given them a lovely buriel, perhaps at sea.

I literally have no idea how to write it. I forgot. At least I can still write my own name...

Apparently you can just make up your own versions of the Z, willy nilly, the way people have done for the Q.

The importance of cursive lies not in how frequently it is used, but in how the ability to use a fluid writing motion while simultaneously thinking about the topic you are writing about, and the fact that this leads to a better ability to organize thoughts, whether writing, printing, or typing. There is no expectation that one needs to write in cursive all the time. Learning to write cursive has lasting benefits. And then there is the fact that writing is faster than printing.

Except, well, isn't all writing a fluid motion? Granted, it's not all joined together, but it's not like in the middle of printing the word "BOOK," I think stop after the "B," and think, "I'm exhausted. Better go make a sandwich before finishing this word." And even cursive breaks after every word, so it's not like it's completely uninterrupted.

Loved seeing his line about "Cashew Moment" tasting like mashed-up Saltine crackers appear in your Gwyneth piece. Signed, Shy Violet

Oh my god. This is not my husband. Mr. Cupcake would never send this message. Nice try, imposter.

Thanks for the thoughtful responses. I was hoping that the organic, if you write it they will come way was the right way to do it. I hate the idea of blatant self promotion, but don't want to be naive about the basics of getting my stuff out there.

No, I think your instincts are the right ones. Write for yourself first. If you try too hard to write for others, it will become obvious and less interesting. Writing is a field in which "follow your passion" is really good advice. Your audience will find you.

The "Catching Fire" teaser ad tells you who won the "Hunger Games", and considering that was the man story of "Hunger Games", and they tell you who the two winners are...sort of ruins the ending of "Hunger Games". Of course, it does not take away from the plot twists and storyline itself....

Oh, I see what you're saying. Then again, in any trilogy, you would assume that the second book can only exist because the characters from the first book are still alive. So learning that Katniss and Peeta survived a deathmatch doesn't ruin things so much.

This is exactly what I did, because I thought a lot of cursive letters just looked dumb (at least when I attempted them). So I just made my own cursive Z, Q, S, F, f, and J.

My J's are very good. I will trade you several J's for a K or two.

well there goes all my Monica and Dan Zak fan fic! (Just kidding!)



Bring back hieroglyphics, cuneiform and other forms of symbol writing.

Next week we're going to do the chat in cuneiform. Actually, next week, I might not be here -- I have a day-long commitment for a story. We might end up moving back to the old Wednesday slot for a day -- keep your eye on the chat schedule for updates.


In This Chat
Monica Hesse
Monica Hesse is a staff writer for the Post Style section. She frequently writes about culture, the Web and the intersection of the two.

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