22 Feb 2008 9 am eastern

Dear anonymous

Dear “New Yorker:”

It is snowing again in New York City. I’ll wait while you verify.

Presently the precipitation is recorded as 0.11 inches. But if you venture out, you may notice snow piles that are several inches high. How can we account for this discrepancy between the recorded height of snowfall and the actual height of some snow piles?

People shovel.

In this city, custodians and superintendents salted and shoveled sidewalks before 7:00 AM.

When people shovel, they push the snow into curbside banks that reach inches or even feet higher than the recorded snowfall level.

To see this, walk outside and look. The fresh air may do you good.

Sometimes after a snowfall, the temperature drops. Then those high banks of snow stick around.

Sometimes it warms just enough to rain into those frozen banks of snow. Then you get cold wetness that can reach into a toddler’s shoes (if she’s not wearing boots). And banks of old snow at the edges of curbs that, combined with freezing rain, can wet a small, bootless child halfway to the knees.

If you spent less time fact-checking other people’s blog posts and more time living, you would know these things about snow, and children, and weather reports.

And even if “halfway up to A—’s knees” were off by an inch or more, a person who is alive would say to themselves, “A father, worried about his child’s exposure to weather, sees conditions as somewhat worse than they are.”

A person who understands people might seek further evidence of hyperbole, and would find it: “My kid looked like she had been swimming in the East River.”

A parent, or a non-parent alive enough to imagine the anxieties of parenting, would recognize that this an exaggeration, intended to convey (and through the catharsis or writing, alleviate) parental guilt and anxiety.

Trying to prove strangers liars is no substitute for lived experience. You missed the point of what I shared, and attacked the reality of my story on petty (and false) grounds.

Let me tell you how your anonymous attack made me feel:

Blessed.

Blessed to have a meaningful life.

Blessed not to have to fill my hours poking around, looking for inaccuracies in other people’s websites, hoping to embarrass strangers.

Whoever you are, I hope your life grows richer than it is today.

Filed under: family, glamorous, guestbook spam, maturity, parenting, Publishing, wisdom, writing, Zeldman

67 Responses to “Dear anonymous”

  1. Rob @ CSSnewbie said on

    This article primarily made me jealous. For two reasons:

    1. Paternal jealousy – I don’t have a child yet, and now that the majority of my friends have reached that point in my life, I’m starting to realize that I’m really missing out on something.

    2. Meteorological jealousy – Hyperbole or no, your story indicates that it gets warm enough there to rain even in the depths of Winter. Here (in Des Moines, Iowa) it hasn’t been warm enough to produce rain of the non-frozen variety in a long time. :)

  2. Jonathan Snook said on

    This seems like more attention than the little troll deserves. For what it’s worth, I thoroughly enjoyed your story — especially having two kids of my own.

  3. Dean said on

    Reminds me of this cartoon:

    http://xkcd.com/386/

  4. Andy said on

    Agreed. New Yorker (anonymous coward) was being a bit of a tool.

  5. Rob L. said on

    Like Jonathan, as a father of two I really liked the original post. And while this follow-up is a most enjoyable smack-down, I’m afraid that New Yanker IS feeling his/her life is a little richer today just to have been addressed directly by Someone Important, and is feeling encouraged to repeat his/her asshattery. So, I’ll offer up a friendly reminder that the vast majority of your regular readers wouldn’t mind one bit if you exercised your WordPress-given right to click Delete Comment once in a while for that kind of flagrant trolling.

  6. Adam Backstrom said on

    Just delete his comment and ban the IP. Trolls don’t deserve this much attention.

  7. RayMcK said on

    Semper-Fi muther fuckers!

    Keep writing Jeffrey. We know what you’re all about and we love you for it.

  8. Nate T said on

    Poor New Yorker, someone give that anonymous tool a hug. On the other hand, a heartwarming Zeldman story is a fine substitute for a hug. It’s too bad New Yorker can’t appreciate them like the rest of us.

    Furthermore, I had snow above my knees in NYC today and I stand over 6′ tall. How is that possible with only 0.11 inches of precipitation? Lovely cabbies speeding down the streets spreading slushy goodness to all crossing the street.

  9. Rex said on

    What is the saying? “Don’t feed the troll”? It’s unfortunate that some people don’t have lives, but… you’re Jeffrey Zeldman. Take the high road man.

  10. Anon said on

    I wouldn’t think one minor critique after 50+ idolatrous responses would engender such an outrage — perhaps the author’s ego would not allow such an offense? I’m afraid you can’t broadcast to a large audience and expect 100% blind acceptance, although you’ll get close to it here.

    Here is how this post came off: “how dare anyone actually analyze my story and not simply praise my genius! my life is much better than yours because I don’t waste time actually thinking about what I read.” Do you really need blog comments from strangers to alleviate your ‘parental guilt and anxiety’?

    New Yorker may have been ‘prov[ing] strangers liars’, but your response seems to be proving strangers fools, which seems hardly superior.

  11. Catskills Grrl said on

    Aside from being a bit of a d*ck, New Yorker can’t puncuate.

    “Nice, story.”

    I’m lame at it, too, but in no reading I can imagine did that need a comma.

  12. Sarah Bourne said on

    For many years I believed that we got more snow when I was a child. And then one day, I found a photo that illustrated the source of my misconception. There I was, all 20-something inches high, standing in a freshly shoveled driveway. The snowbanks were quite clearly over my head … but the adult taking the picture could see over them and see that the actual snow on the ground was much less than that. By the way, I was wearing waterproof boots. And snow pants. And a big winter coat And a hat. And two scarfs. And at least two pair of mittens. In fact, there was so much clothing, I wondered if I was actually able to move on my own – where’s the fun in that?!

  13. Mark said on

    ZING

  14. Pioneer said on

    Your daughter wasn’t wearing her boots, you had no umbrella, you didn’t know how to work the stroller, you didn’t know how to pay for public transportation etc. You were ill prepared to take your daughter to school. You suck as a father, Zeldman; suck, I tells ya.

    Do you think this will prepare you to do better in the future? Forget it. Wait until she becomes a teenager!

  15. Mau said on

    Jeffrey…
    Well said.

    New Yorker…
    Get a life.

    Anon…
    Criticism is OK… but when someone calls you a liar, and then use passive aggressive comments as mockery… that’s a different story.

    my concern was not the weather, but the accuracy (or lack thereof) in your story. A nice story, i’ll admit, but, like most stories, complete fiction. [...] But, then again, I don’t know how tall your daughter is, so you might be right (if she is roughly 9 inches tall). I apologize if I’m wrong.

  16. Kevin P. said on

    hahah, great stuff Jeffrey!

  17. spinhead said on

    Yet more proof that anonymity breeds stupidity and rudeness.

    In other news, I loved the story, and I couldn’t care less if it’s literally true or just ‘fatherly’ true. As G. Chaucer didn’t say, “I’m a writer; I give the truth scope.”

    I got around to checking recently, and, the day I was born (12/25/59) it was not 40 below in Wisconsin, as I’d always thought. That was actually five years later (and again two years after that.) Still not gonna change my story which includes lines like ‘cold as Siberia’ and other well-placed hyperbole.

  18. Matt Radel said on

    Good one Jeffrey – a nice tasteful shot at someone who clearly needs to double check their priorities. Keep the daughter stories coming – they’re a fun read!

  19. Greg said on

    I suspect you just made his day.

  20. Don said on

    I loved the story and identified with it, being a father of 4 year old myself. I had enjoyed reading it so much; I passed it on to my daughter’s mother to read. She enjoyed it as well, and pointed out how lucky we are not to have to deal with mass transit on top of parenting. I agree with Matt Radel, keep the daughter stories coming, because they are a fun read.

  21. Mike D. said on

    I must also correct you on your daughter’s name.

    I know your daughter. I’ve met your daughter. And she doesn’t have any em dashes in her name.

  22. Rob said on

    As one of my friends always says, “oh snapsicle”

  23. RayMcK said on

    Came across this image from another story making it’s way around our little community. I’m sure some kids feel this way about thoughtless adults.

  24. krystyn said on

    Dear Rob,

    I am concerned not about your post or borrowing your friend’s phrase, but the accuracy (or lack thereof) in your usage of the word “snapsicle.” A nice word, i’ll admit, but, like most of today’s lingo, not really a word.

    Here’s a source for checking whether or not the word you’ve used is in fact part of the English language :

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/snapscicle

    But, then again, I don’t know your friend, so you might be right (if he likes to butcher the English language). I apologize if I’m wrong.

    Another possibility is that you are confused about the word, and your friend says actually says Snapsack or Snoop cycle as suggested by the source I provided.

    (laughing)

  25. krystyn said on

    Just to be ABSOLUTELY CLEAR, the comment I left was a joke, and I am not or am in no way affiliated with the subject of Jeffrey’s post. ;)

  26. George Girton said on

    Go figure! I put up a recipe for making pancakes from scratch and said the pancakes were delicious. I actually got email from someone who made the recipe and wrote me to say he thought they weren’t delicious, they were just so-so, and how could i dare say they were delicious! People will complain about the veracity of absolutely anything; I laughed my head off when I got that email. Make your daughter some pancakes, carry 9 quarters, and forget about the whole thing.

  27. Ed Finkler said on

    Sometimes it’s important to call out bullshit. Nicely done.

  28. Kim Siever said on

    I believe that’s a simile, not hyperbole. :)

  29. Stephen Hay said on

    Well said.
    I would say don’t feed the troll, but if you do, why not poison it?

  30. Mau said on

    I think it’s a ‘hyperbolic simile’.

  31. Schmelding said on

    Right on, Z, right on.

    Write on, Z, write on.

  32. Ben Kimball said on

    I would like to suggest that every web developer who adds comments to their site use a common classname for the div that contains all of the comments. class="comments", or class="zrgflt", it doesn’t matter, so long as we all standardize.

    If we did, see, I could use a user style sheet to set display: none on that div, and I would have found a difficult technical solution to a simple personal problem: I spent way too much time reading comments and getting mad at them.

  33. Justin Skolnick said on

    New Yorker’s pedantry suggests Asperger’s. If that’s an accurate reading, I also hope his or her life grow richer, because even the mildest case of autism makes basic human interaction excruciating. Not to mention trying on one’s listeners, who expect other intelligent humans to socialize at a “normal” level. The over-literal comment doesn’t read like it came from “A person who understands people,” and I’d wager that deficiency is cognitive.

  34. phil said on

    @Ben Kimball: Seconded! I have the same problem. It’s the very worst part of “Web 2.0″ IMO.. I know we’re supposed to be all touchy-feely read/write social blah, and it works for a handful of sites – ALA being one, and usually this site too – but honestly I’d probably not miss them if they all went away tomorrow, and we went back to “Letters to the Editor”, or some semblance of it. We’d have to live without the snow-measuring fun of Zeldmangate, but I think humanity would survive.

  35. Josh Stodola said on

    Crap- I hope I don’t ever say something here capable of triggering such a post!!

  36. Jesse said on

    Flame on!! While I enjoyed the story, my irritation at New Yorker is kinda tempered by my pity and now sympathy. This little argument is pretty ugly and imo not really up to the classy standards of this site.

    Also, everyone rallying around ol Zeldman (right or wrong – right in this case) is all to the good, but this continual deriding of New Yorker, whose original comments wheren’t particularly offensive – maybe just dumb, isn’t really to mature or kind. I dunno, I guess I instinctively root for the underdog. Keep it classy folks.

  37. Steven Clark said on

    well said jeffrey.. an old friend of mine (quite infamous) had a saying… “never let the truth get in the way of a good story”… such as the exact factual measurement of the snow. The guy who says that is a best selling author and has published about 12 books.

    Are we expected to publish “fiction” and “non fiction” on post?

  38. Stephen said on

    I may disagree sometimes, and we all may disagree sometimes. The New Yorker was certainly out of line, but what’s worse is that you dignified his comment with an equally inelegant response. I have to agree with jesse: this is entry not up to the classy standards of this website.

  39. matty said on

    virtual high 5, mr. z.

  40. John Lascurettes said on

    I had a good chuckle at myself when I read New Yorker to mean New Yorker Magazine – completely changes the dynamic of the story when you look at it that way.

    “Nicest fuck-you ever” indeed (see the news feed). Bravo.

  41. bowerbird said on

    the snow is 27 feet deep in watertown. really!

    -bowerbird

  42. M. Jackson Wilkinson said on

    Late to the party, but New Yorker (and most others) probably don’t realize how snowfall measurements and statistics are taken. That is to say that there are a number of different snowfall measurement methods, few of which are accurate in the long term.

    Typically, records like that on wunderground are based on a 24-hour measurement, not on continuous measurements. So, once a day, the measurement on an electronic snowboard, or simply the measurement on some observer’s ruler, is recorded as the 24-hour snowfall measurement. This is also usually the factor that contributes to the snowfall total for the season.

    In the all-too-common Mid Atlantic situation of a Wint’ry Mix, a given location could receive six inches of snow, followed by an inch of sleet or rain. That rain can completely rid the area of its snow, and if the 24-hour measurement is taken after the rain has done its work, little or now snowfall could be recorded.

    Other times, snowfall is measured as snow precipitation, which is the amount of water contained in a column of snow the size of a standard rain collector. An inch of water can be a foot of snow or more, depending on the water content of the frozen precipitation.

    In other words, if this is the case, you needn’t even qualify your response, Jeffrey. You could have had the amount of snowfall you perceived AND the records could still reflect snowfall as they do. He probably just doesn’t have a clue how to read the figures to which he’s referring. Lies, damn lies, and statistics…

  43. Niels Matthijs said on

    Love the post. Not for any meanings or reasons behind the postbut simply because of the stylish fuck-you. Very nice read, you should do more rants :)

  44. krystyn said on

    I don’t think it’s out of line that Jeffrey responded. It was done tactfully, and in his defense, the person left a comment on a post about his daughter, which in my case, brings out the mama bear.

  45. Helen said on

    I’ve been reading literature books very little recently and I felt kinda sad about that. Instead, I’ve been reading other people’s blogs on regular basis. And thanks to posts like this one, I don’t feel bad anymore…

    Will go spend time living now :)

  46. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    the person left a comment on a post about his daughter, which in my case, brings out the mama bear.

    Thanks, Krystyn. That’s it exactly.

    I take my lumps when people write critical comments in response to a post about design or technology. (For the past several weeks I’ve been getting creamed by people who strongly disagree with my acceptance of IE8 version targeting. Their comments are passionate. Many are well reasoned. Some are harsh, and unpleasant to read. But I respond as little as possible, because it’s about hearing them.)

    But a personal story is different. I know when I write a personal story that I’m exposing myself to other people’s judgement; I’m okay with that. But if anyone takes shots at my child, they are going down.

  47. Pennsylvanian said on

    This lot amuses me something fierce. You target out an anonymous critic for not praising you and pointing out your tall-tale.

    “But if anyone takes shots at my child, they are going down.”
    Nobody actually took any shots at your child. Perhaps you need to reread New Yorker’s post. He only implied that your measurement abilities were off; insofar that if your daughter was 9 inches tall, then yes, the snow would be up to her knees. The only way you could see this as an insult is if your child (emphasis here) is 9 inches tall.

    Should one be to say “ha ha, t’was a goodie, Mistah’ Zeldman, milord”; or is one allowed to critique your writing ability? Apparently, they’re not. At least not without getting blasted with another amusing anecdote.

  48. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    “Pennsylvanian,” “New Yorker” phoned. He wants his I.P. address back.

  49. phil said on

    Funny, I just checked back to see if New Yorker had responded. It would have been classier to post under the same pseudonym at least.

    Still, they’re right; there were no shots being taken at your child. I’d totally understand the defence mechanism coming out if that were the case. Re-read the comments.. he (I’m guessing it’s a guy) simply called BS on your story.

    He was also wrong – thanks to the magic of tagging and filtering, we can easily see that there was indeed sidewalk slush, in NYC, on Feb 13.

    Storm in a teacup though really, eh?

  50. Peter said on

    Let’s look at what has actually happened:

    “New Yorker” DID call Mr Zeldman a liar.
    “New Yorker” did NOT take shots at Mr Zeldman’s daughter.
    “New Yorker” did NOT criticize Mr Zeldman’s writing – in fact, he complimented it, indicating that he always enjoys it.

    On the other hand:

    Mr Zeldman DID react at being called a liar.
    Mr Zeldman DID insist that he was telling the truth (apart from obvious hyperbole).
    Mr Zeldman did NOT “target out an anonymous critic for not praising [him]“.

    I do not claim to know whether Mr Zeldman is telling the truth, because I do not live in America, let alone New York. But “New Yorker” claims to know, simply because A) he lives in New York, and B) he checked the average level of snowfall in New York on a weather report website. Mr Zeldman has already explained why that is not necessarily a good indicator of actual snow depth on specific sidewalks in specific parts of New York. His explanation was based on common knowledge and common sense such as “people shovel”.

    It’s not that “New Yorker” couldn’t be right or that Mr Zeldman couldn’t be wrong. It’s that “New Yorker”, in his arrogance, never even stopped to consider the possibility that the information avaiable to him was not sufficient to prove Mr Zeldman a liar. He insisted that he knew all he needed to know – thus, Mr Zeldman must be lying.

    Pennsylvanian: If I give you the benefit of doubt and assume that you’re not just “New Yorker” under a different name: Why do you insist, even after Mr Zeldman’s explanation, that his story was a “tall-tale”? Do you have any further proof? Were you there when it happened? Are you trying to claim that people do NOT shovel, that snow does NOT stay on the ground if it is cold enough?

    If, on the other hand, I don’t give you the benefit of doubt: I believed that “New Yorker” wasn’t a troll, that he was just being a know-it-all. If you are “New Yorker”, though, I now believe that you are a troll. Your drama queen rhetoric is especially telling. Feel free to prove me wrong.

  51. Todd said on

    I’ve managed to get through this epic adventure with a few thoughts, which strike me funny and odd.

    1. What makes people pick apart others blog posts for the slightest tidbit of inaccuracy so they can comment to prove to the world how much of an intellectual juggernaut they are, when in fact, it only makes them look like and giant oaf who constantly checks their MySpace comments so they can reply.

    2. If you’re not a parent, you probably don’t understand, those with nieces or nephews need not apply. It is parental instinct when someone has picked a story apart to refute someones thoughts like the turkey at Thanksgiving.

    3. It is only words, meaning the comment(s) left. I’ve had comments on my blogs by the anally retentive trolls looking for fodder, only to ignore them. It’s not nor has it ever been worth the valuable time. I only wonder why I’m up on a soapbox commenting myself.

    4. I see people commenting on the author and his “holier than thou” attitude. I’d like to ask those, “how do you know?” Have you met with and conversed with the author? Probably not. I haven’t, but I’m sure this comment will be picked apart by someone with too much time on their hands. Me? It’s my day off, trump that.

    Point being, isn’t there more pressing issues in the world today to debate over? Rather than the amount of snowfall in NYC? Petty doesn’t even begin to describe the comment by “New Yorker” and ignorance is the only thing I can muster from the comment by “Pennsylvanian”

    Tsk… shame.

    Jeffrey, I can sympathize. With the snowfall in New England, and where I am… when stuff melted last week it only caused chaos. My children BOTH sunk to their calves in snow and slush when they ran out to catch the bus.

  52. Todd said on

    “Pennsylvanian,” “New Yorker” phoned. He wants his I.P. address back.

    I missed that… I guess we’re not dealing with an M.I.T. rocket scientist. Now it’s just comedic that the finger wagging has gotten that far.

  53. Wiley said on

    I believe the idea is something called “poetic license.” It’s not just for poetry anymore. My memory is that it was Mr. Twain who mentioned this to me, although by his own admission he was not the first to employ the technique.

    I’d also observe that a troll can be a good *foil* for more writing, which was exactly the case this time…

  54. Jose said on

    Person leaves a toolish comment trying to embarrass someone, tool gets served. Seems Fair. It was interesting while it lasted. Drop it and move on.

  55. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    Drop it and move on.

    Sir, yes, sir!

  56. Stephen Hay said on

    @phil: Storm in a teacup: that’s what comments do. Not the original posts.

    @Jose: Interesting enough to leave a comment, isn’t it?

  57. Bored said on

    Read every comment, proof that I’m bored, or that this IS somewhat entertaining? How long have we been on the web? Jeff, you and me have been on for a loooong time, and at the end of many many barbs, yet it still bugs us. Wonder if it ever gets easier. Imagine being someone like Brittney Spears, plastered across tabloids every day with stupider crap than being called a liar. I would go nuts too. It could be worse.

  58. Runa said on

    Good answer.

  59. Robin2go said on

    Bravo, Jeffrey. Your blog, your post, your words. I visit because I’m interested in what you have to say. The original post made my maternal heart ache, as raising three kids has taught me well the foibles and frailties of parenting, made all the more poignant by our best intentions. I value your insight, professional or personal, and will always return to read what you have to say.

    Your somewhat restrained redress of New Yorker’s braggart posting has my utmost maternal approval. Thank you for all of us. And by all means, let us move on.

  60. dan said on

    You give me hope when I need it. Thanks Jeffrey!

  61. Information Architects Japan » Blog Archive » Use Your Real Name When You Comment said on

    [...] posts, we need to double-check each time. If those supposed mistakes turn out to be a question of rhetoric, style, interpretation, pedantry or—as so often—not-reading-the-post we end up wasting [...]

  62. Information Architects » Blog Archive » Use Your Real Name When You Comment said on

    [...] posts, we need to double-check each time. If those supposed mistakes turn out to be a question of rhetoric, style, interpretation, pedantry or—as so often—not-reading-the-post we end up wasting [...]

  63. Information Architects said on

    [...] posts, we need to double-check each time. If those supposed mistakes turn out to be a question of rhetoric, style, interpretation, pedantry or — as so often — not-reading-the-post we end up [...]

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