Trackbacks and Other Puzzlements

Mrs. Squirrel of Dewey’s Treehouse posted a request in one of the comments below. She wants to know what trackbacks are. I know somebody else is wondering about that, too.

I learned about trackbacks from these two posts:

Mudville Gazette’s Everything You Wanted to Know About Blogging But Were AFraid to Ask.

La Shawn Barber’s post on her pet peeves about bloggers.

You can get the same information by clicking on those hyperlinks and reading the posts. LaShawn explains the why of trackbacks and gives a couple links to trackback enabling downloads. Grayhawk at Mudville tells how, and he has a simple little tutorial walking you through a trackback, and gives another link or two to some downloads to permit trackbacking. Those links are both great resources for new bloggers, but some of us still won’t be sure what a trackback is and when we should use them. That’s what I’ll try to cover in this post. Then if you want to know more, click on the above links. They are both great sites that should be in your favorites, anyway.

A little while ago JennyAnyDots wrote a post about the regency dresses she made. Kathryn at Suitable for MIxed Company liked that post, and she mentioned it in her blog. She took the time to post in our comments section, and she told us that she was going to link to our blog, which pleased JennyAnyDots very much (btw, you can see pictures of her dresses here, just below the picture of Clark, our late and unlamented spider).

We like to know when other blogs are paying attention, when they have something to say about one of our posts, and when they send visitors our direction. It’s just… nice. Trackbacks can also send extra traffic to a blog. Blogs that have trackbacking enabled automatically list those sites that have trackbacked to a post. Readers interested in pursuing a topic can look at the list of blogs tracking back to that post and click on any link that interests. Basically, Kathryn took the time to give us a hand-made trackback. REgular trackbacks automate the process. If we had trackbacking enabled, it would have been simpler for her to let us know she’d linked to our post.

Not every blog has comments enabled, and not every blogger likes to comment or has time to post comments. Trackbacks are an automated way to notify a blogger that you have linked to one of his posts. Blogs with trackbacking automatically ‘ping’ each other when the trackback program is used.

Better blogs than ours have trackbacking enabled, but not all blog services have a trackbacking program set up. Blogspot doesn’t have trackbacking yet, and since we are blogspot site, we don’t either. You can download a program to provide trackbacks from Haloscan. Haloscan will handle the comments section and allow trackbacking. I haven’t done that yet because, well, I just haven’t gotten around to doing that yet. Also, I understand that when you download Haloscan, you lose all the old comments made before you had Holoscan. I’m not sure I want to do that, but eventually, we probably will, just because we like the concept of trackbacking so well.

Meanwhile, there is no way to trackback to one of our posts. We only find out that a blog has linked to one of our posts if somebody takes the time to notify us, we read it while reading that blog, or, in the case of larger traffic blog, our tracking system tells us we have had one thousand visitors coming to us from Hugh Hewitt’s blog (yes, that happened one day, and it was very exciting!).

However, we can give trackbacks to other blogs that have trackbacking enabled, and I like to do that (so we give rather than receive trackbacks for now). I use Kalsey’s Simple Tracks, which I learned about from LaShawn Barber. Mudville mentions at least one other.

If you are interested in pursing this topic, you can click on the links to their sites which I gave at the beginning of this post. Incidentally, if you came to our blog from a link on another website, our tracking system tells us which website that was. So when Samantha, for instanced, referenced us in her blog, I knew something was up without even reading her blog, because we had so many visitors come to us from Eclectic Domestic that day. So when you click on one of the links in one of our blog entries, you are notifying the owners of *that* blog that you came from The Common Room, and if enough people do that, the other blogowner just might click back over here to see what we’re about.

Now we blog because we like to. It’s a fun family activity for us, and some of us like to write very much and all of us like to air our opinions on just about everything under the sun (There Are Limits, However, which is why we have not permitted the first year students to post to the blog!) We started it for fun.

I knew that large blogs like instapundit and others bring in blogmoney- but I didn’t think ours would ever be a financially profitable venture. I still don’t know if it will, but I’m dreaming. Since we started our blog we’ve learned that there are ways that even blogs like ours can bring in some income, too, and we’re rather hopeful that one day our blog can help the Headmaster cut back on his outside work schedule. Increasing our traffic is one of the steps toward that goal. I presume other bloggers wouldn’t mind an increase in traffic, either, so that they might also one day work toward a blog that brings in at least a little income (for those interested, so far I have earned approximately five dollars on Amazon purchases linked to from here, so we won’t be growing rich on Amazon links, but we already knew that). This is one of the reasons I like to link to other blogs that I think have quality content- I’d like to help them out if I can. It’s also one of the reasons I appreciate it when our readers share our blog with others.

So that about sums up everything I can tell you about trackbacks, with plenty of extra information you never knew you wanted to know.

There will not be a quiz. However, let’s consider this as a practicum class. I’d like to see other bloggers new to this medium put into practice what you’ve learned today- comment more on the blogs you read, link to other blogs, use trackbacks when you can, and share the blogs you like with your friends. Enter a few of your blogposts in one of the many Carnivals. Help other bloggers you like by sending one of their posts to the Smarter than I Carnival. Share the love.

Until next time… class dismissed.:-)

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Open Trade or Trade Blockades?

Imports Threaten U.S. Economy– “The nation’s insatiable appetite for foreign-made goods has joined energy as a brake on the economy.”

Because everybody knows that imports hurt a country while exports help?


Blockading Ourselves:

“… it is curious that nations at peace regularly blockade themselves by pursuing policies which restrict imports…”

“…exporting without importing is counter to a nation’s well-being; it reduces the availability of goods and services to the inhabitants.

From the time of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, economists have carried the torch for free trade. It is common to hear people say that economists have won all the formal debates on the subject, but have been steady losers in the political arena. Curiously, economists have not trumpeted the fact that governments’ wartime actions are consistent with the free-trade doctrines of Smith and Ricardo….”

Bonnet Tip: FEE.

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Equuschick, Equuschick! Forty-Two!

Do I have your attention? Then read this.

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an attempt to memorise the quadratic formula

x= -b +/- the square of b-squared – 4ac

You get your variable quantities from the quadratic equation, which is (of course :-P) ax(x squared)+bx+c=0. C is the constant.

This enables you to do problems like x(squared)-10x+18=0. Factoring does not work in this problem, so you must use the quadratic formula. The answer is: x=5+the root of 7, or x=5-the root of 7.

I’m not great at math, but I can appreciate it (from a great distance). Ockham’s Razor comes into play. What is that? Also known as Occam’s Razor, this principle states: “one should not incrase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything.” (from

It works when your four year old is telling you a convoluted story about why the window was broken, it works when simplifying a math problem, and it works when contemplating the origin of the universe. Handy little principle, isn’t it?

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Horrible Warnings & Bad Examples: Why We Need Them

horrible warninghorrible warningThis is Books and Character, Part The Third.

In a previous post I said that the bad examples in literature are at least as important as the good examples. I think this is particularly true for my children. In some ways, we live somewhat sheltered lives. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Some aspects of that are deliberate. Other aspects of that are consequences of other choices we’ve made for other reasons. We once lived in a town with a population of 299- you don’t get a broad range of human experience in such circumstances. Currently don’t live in a town at all, but on a dirt road in the country. Our nearest neighbors are one mile away. We could not get television reception if we wanted it.

So, sometimes for deliberate reasons and sometimes as a side effect of our homestead lifestyle, our younger children are sheltered. I want to protect them, yet I also want to look ahead to a time where my children will be adults. Gradually, as they grow, they will have more responsibilities, just as their oldest siblings, now in their twenties, do.

I want to look ahead to a time when my sons in law will be able to trust their wives’ wisdom, and my daughters will be aware enough of the world so that they can wisely do their families good and not evil. I want to look ahead to the time when my children will be interacting with other young adults in the world, or might be parents.

So I use books with characters who behave in less than admirable ways, who sin, who do wrong, who serve as bad examples and horrible warnings. While a smart person learns from his mistakes, a wise person learns from other people’s mistakes. I’d like it best if my children if my children can learn from the mistakes of characters in books, rather than from people who could really harm them physically or emotionally.

This surprises some of my Christian friends. Of course, I am not recommending gratuitously evil examples. But I do suggest that many Christians are too quick to dismiss valuable books becaues they expect their books, unlike real life, unlike the Bible, to have only well behaved, admirable human beings in them.

Some of us want books written like 19th century Victorian morality tales, where the boys who don’t go to Sunday School come to sticky ends and lament their lack on their death beds. We think it’s a good story, however badly it’s written, if the maidens are so virtuous they faint rather than play a folk song on a Sunday. In these types of stories the hardest questions rarely get asked, the solution to any problem is often so unrealistic that we ought to laugh at it rather than to admire it.

I lost my faith in these trite banalities quite young. When I was a child our Sunday School had little moral Sunday papers with stories in them for us to take home and read during the week. I vividly remember one story about a nice, Christian child dealing with bully at school by simply being sweet, and telling the bully about the love of Christ. The bully was immediately repentant and even grateful to the sweet Christian child. I tried it, and the bully’s response was so unpleasant that I henceforth scorned those moral tales as snares and delusions.

Real life is not always so simplistic, and we do our children a disservice when we offer them books that pretend otherwise. It is not enough to write a trite and sticky sweet tale where all the bad people come to a bad end and all the good people are rewarded, slap a Bible verse on it and call it Christian.

If we do our job teaching our children the great truths of the Bible, the themes found over and over in Proverbs and in the beattitudes, they will apply the morals they have learned to the stories they read. They will filter their reading through their moral compass.

It is true that we want to go gently with children and not overwhelm them with evil. Nor do we want to sear their consciences by injudicious exposure to wickedness. Hebrews 5:14 says that strong food is for the mature. But how do we become mature? The same verse explains that the mature are those who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

Giving the children well written books to read is one way to give them material upon which to practice.

Children should be taught good habits of both action and thought from the cradle. Charlotte Mason believed that from their earliest moments children should be reminded of their place in the Kingdom of Heaven, that they were made for and must have God, and that they owed their Heavenly King much love and service. She taught that even our thoughts are not our own, but that we have a duty to think just thoughts of our neighbors just as much as we have a duty to deal justly in our actions. Parents who apply these principles will see their children employ what they have learned to judge their reading material.

It is my experience that children brought up already to have some idea of right and wrong in their own actions (and very few homeschooling parents fail to do at least this much) *are* able to judge right and wrong in their reading, even if it is not pointed out to them. Perhaps sometimes they judge even better under those circumstances.

A recent discussion of fairy tales prompted me to think further on this topic of children’s judgement and the stories they read. I was a voracious reader of fairy tales at a certain point in my youth. I hadn’t given much thought to whether I picked up any morals from them. I just loved the stories. But I started thinking about it, and tried to recall my childhood view of the stories. I realized that I had made judgements of right and wrong on my own, even when the story didn’t make them. And on occasion, when the story did seem to point to a moral, I was perfectly able to disagree with it if it didn’t line up with what I knew of right and wrong.

The Tinderbox is a good illustration of what I mean. For those of you not familiar with it, is the story of an out of work soldier who, in an Aladdin’s Lamp type series of events, comes across a magic tinderbox. Striking the box 1, 2, or 3 times will bring one of three different dogs to him to do his bidding, and these are no ordinary dogs. One has eyes as big as saucers, one has eyes as big as dinner plates, and one has eyes as big as the clock in the bell tower. There’s the usual princess in the story, and in the end, he of course, marries the princess.

It would appear that the soldier is the hero. However, although I always enjoyed the story, I never liked the hero. I didn’t admire him, and never felt there was anything about him I’d want to emulate or want my own knight in shining armor, when he came, to imitate.

Pipsqueak also loved fairy tales. When she was nine years old if she’d read The Tinder Box and what she thought of it. Here’s what she said:

“Oh, yes, I’ve read it so many times I’m sick of it! I like it, but I don’t like the soldier. He starts off by cutting off the witches head for not telling him why she wants the tinderboxes, and he doesn’t know she’s a witch!”

Yes, I agreed, that was what happened. “What,” I asked her, “do you think about the soldier in the rest of the story?”

“Well, he does do some nice things. He gives a lot of money to poor people. But he bothers the princess and he makes his dogs bite the king and queen. Then he marries the princess and the story says they lived very happily.”

She stopped there, but from the tone of her voice, it was clear that she didn’t see how such a beginning managed to end in a happy marriage.

My daughter used her conscience and judgement to make her own decisions about the actions of the ‘hero’ of The Tinderbox and whether they were right or wrong. I was impressed with how well she did judge. I asked her if she thought he was a hero of the sort she would like to imitate, and received a resounding ‘no!’

Charlotte Mason says that ‘reason, judgment, imagination, discrimination…take care of themselves and play as naturally and involuntarily upon the knoweldge we receive with attention and fix by narration as do the digestive organs upon duly masticated food-stuff for the body. We must feed the mind as the body fitly and freely; and the less we meddle with the digestive processes in the one area in the other the more healthy the life we shall sustain. It is an infinitely great thing, that mind of man, present in completeness and power in even the dullest of our pupils.” (page 259 of Volume 6)

Real books are food for the mind. Stories told with vigor and imagination were the proper mind food for children- not distilled moral tales, bereft of any spark of life. The plot need not be realistic, but the characters should be lifelike and the writing should be well crafted. The children learn to deal with literature by being given literature- suitable to their age, and at times judiciously edited- but still literature. Given the proper food, the child’s mind will act on it in the proper way, and the more of that proper food, the better the child’s mind would be able to deal with stronger meat.

Fairy tales are not quite solid food, but they are a fit food for young minds to begin working on as they train themselves to distinguish good from evil by constant use of their moral sense.

Part One
Part 2
Part Three

See also:
Books and Literature in The Common Room  (March 27, 2010)
Reading and Literature in The Common Room (March 20, 2010)

You may also be interested in some of our other posts on Charlotte Mason’s approach to language arts, grammar, composition, spelling, etc.

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