<Y
Y>

(1) : Ramping Back Up To Work-Time: Last day of vacation. Went to the Guggenheim for the Kandinsky exhibit, then WD-50 for dinner (where we overheard a waiter disingenuously saying to another table that he doesn't know why people think it's a molecular gastronomy joint).

I could use another week to clean, declutter, mend, sort, and meditate. But Leonard has been trying to convince me that my vacation wasn't wasted. I visited three museums (New York Historical Society, Cooper-Hewitt, & Guggenheim) plus the old World's Fair grounds, had three fancy dinners out (Craft, Blue Hill, & WD-50), hosted a New Year's party, visited friends in Connecticut, spent lots of time with friends in Manhattan and Queens (including a storyreading), posted some blog entries, fiddled with my N900, recorded some video & played with PiTiVi, recorded an anthem for the International Year of Natural Fibres, read random RSS feeds/magazines/book chapters, listened to a bunch of podcasts, sorted email, donated to charities, put up a bunch of old interviews, socially bookmarked some misc links I had lying around, and watched One, Two, Three (again) and several Psych episodes. Most of this was quality time with Leonard, too.

Writing all that out assuages my anxiety a little.


: Simple Pleasures: Today's complicated pleasure: The Known Universe, a horror film about the end of the universe. OK, not intentionally, but Abbott's nonchalant narration seemed fine just until he got to the bit about what'll happen in a few trillion years. I'm really not used to hearing "this horrible doom approaches" without a "and therefore we should..." suffix.

The last few days, I've been enjoying simpler pleasures: Puzzlefighter (a game Mike Carns introduced me to eleven years ago) and essays by Andy Rooney. Yes, the stuff from the end of 60 Minutes. I loved them when I was a kid; a few minutes from the end of 60 Minutes, every Sunday night, my parents would holler for me and I'd run to catch his comments.

Upon reading Years of Minutes I begin to see as an adult what I adored as a child. He's really direct and honest about the little things in life, like a cross between Jerry Seinfeld and Mr. Rogers. He cares about details; over and over, he looks up statistics and puts them in context (especially about defense spending, taxes, and government in general), or goes somewhere, tries a whole category of consumer products, or experiments in some way to get at the experiential truth of things. He played football in high school, and served in the Army, which puts him on the other side of the jock-nerd spectrum from most writers I knew of. And now that I've done the weekly column bit, I find Rooney's consistency worthy of respect. I'll have to think more about his views & what I find in him once I've finished the book.

I find myself thinking of Rooney as an influence, alongside Dave Barry, Square One TV, Amar Chitra Katha, several teachers, Star Trek, my family, and P.G. Wodehouse.


: Some Recent Collabora Open Source Development: Has it been three months since I provided a snapshot of Collaborans' open source work? Too long! Here's a taste of our work from the end of 2009 & the start of this year (and there's a lot I'm leaving out, like a bunch of Maemo work, because otherwise this entry would go on forever! I'm already several days out-of-date): a few Collabora folks at dinner at Gran Canaria

The photos here are all from the Gran Canaria Desktop Summit last year, which was warm and fun. January (here in the Northern Hemisphere) is a good time to remember how nice that was.

Filed under:


(4) : My Worst Inhibitions: As a Christmas gift, Leonard got us the DVDs of the first three seasons of Psych. We're in season three or so. Some observations:

Wow the pilot feels way different from the rest of the show. Shawn's more hypercompetent, the tone is darker and less funny, fewer pop culture references, Detective Lassiter's nearly neutral evil (instead of the lawful good he turns into later in the show), Shawn's dad is "back" in town (instead of having lived in Santa Barbara continuously since working for the SBPD), Det. Barry is more skeptical than Det. O'Hara is, etc., etc. I like the general tone of the later episodes better, but Leonard and I both miss Barry.

Psych as Sherlock Holmes homage: Shawn uses keen observational and reasoning skills, J Watson & Burton Guster are both medical folk known by their last names, and they have a weird relationship with the legitimate police. Leonard also stretch-suggested that, just as Holmes was addicted to cocaine, Shawn is addicted to pop culture references. The constant stream of references, only some of which I get, is one reason that Leonard likes this show -- like Mystery Science Theater 3000, it provides quantity and variety in pop culture jokes. (Leonard also likes their episode titles.) For example, in Anupam Nigam's Season 1 episode "Game Set...Muuurder?" the tennis star is "Deanna Sirtis" which is a really obvious reference to Counselor Troi from Star Trek: The Next Generation. (Nigam tends to write interesting episodes that use characters well, and is Indian, whoo!)

Yeah, basically ALL of Psych fails the Bechdel test massively. Even when [Interim] Chief Vick and O'Hara talk, it's usually about one of the guys. "Who You Gonna Call?" made me cringe a bit in how it treated a trans character, and none of the show's treatment of non-hetero folk has ever struck me as especially winning. I think the show treats Gus's blackness in a non-fail manner but I may not have caught things.

Henry Spencer is, in the more formulaic episodes, basically Wilson from Home Improvement.

Leonard and I usually sing along to the theme song as though we are happy guinea pigs named Enthuse and Happy (way too bizarre and one-off to put in the slang dictionary). Leonard thinks the song's lyrics make very little sense. I've unsuccessfully argued that the song is from a true neutral to a lawful good, trying to persuade the listener to live and act in the fruitful ambiguity of method and purpose. Steve Franks (not to be confused with household favorite Steven Frank) created the show to have a nice light comedy feel, so I speculate that his song is also a message to darker, less referential & over-the-top shows.

I'd watch a version of Psych that was 90% Detective Lassiter. I am resisting reading all of Timothy Omundson's in-character blog, but found this four-year-old interview interesting (mostly so I can give thanks I'm not a worker in the Byzantine industry that is mass media entertainment). Lassiter likes to believe he's a paladin (Julia, Moss, thank you for showing me episodes of The Middleman), but he's more of a lawful neutral. I am in idle moments working on a taxonomy that compares and contrasts Lassiter, Fraser from Due South, the Middleman, and Captain Carrot from the Discworld novels.

OK, now Leonard and I are just going through all our old episode titles and deciding which ones could be Psych episodes. "Mentos: The Deathmaker," "java.util.Murder," and "Death With Jeeves" are all probably unsuitable for various reasons. "Part One: Mur" I still adore. A quiet Saturday at Gunlinghorn.

Filed under:


(8) : Nineteen Letters: Keep those name misunderstanding stories coming! From the comments: I'm especially amazed that "Sarah" turns into "Sharon" and thoroughly enjoy "Mir. Like the space station." Together with your wife Kat, you're a meerkat!

I seem to have neglected to mention my name hassles. When I was young, sometimes "Harihareswara" didn't fit on standardized test forms, so I imagine there are a bunch of 99-percentile algebra scores filed under Sumana Hariharesw. I also got very used to helping out substitute teachers by listening for a long pause after, say, Erin Griffith's name got called, and saying "That's probably me." I used to pronounce it "Hurry-hurry-sure-ah" to make it easy for USians, but now I pronounce it rather more authentically, basically as "HA-ree-ha-RAY-shwa-ra" but with enough nuance and trilling that I probably need to brush up on my IPA to do it justice. Best joke about my last name (old pronunciation): middle-school colleague and my-bus-stop-sharer Levi Tinney's "Hurry hurry rush me to the hospital." Best joke about the new pronunciation: no real contenders yet! Operators are standing by.

I used to spell out my name in letter groups of four-four-five, but this caused problems as people got confused about where the I and the E went, and whether my name was Hareswara and I'd misspoken. Then my mom or dad suggested I use "H-A-R [pause] I-H-A [pause] R-E-S [pause] W-A-R-A" and that works pretty well. I usually specify "S as in Sugar" to make sure people don't hear it as an F. When I was at Salon, though, Tom Fuhrman sat in a cubicle near me and mocked "S as in Sugar," saying I sounded like a breathy hooker. I switched to saying "S as in Salon" when he was around.

I like it when big names in US politics or media have names that news anchors have to learn to pronounce, like Blagojevich, Shyamalan, Sotomayor, or Stephanopoulos, because there's some part of me that identifies with them. If I have fantasies of fame, I can always put in that cinematic detail where a pretty face is getting its makeup done and chanting my last name thirty seconds before the camera rolls.

I basically don't care how people pronounce my first name -- where they put the stresses, what kinds of vowel sounds they use, whatever. Some people find it helpful to think of the "Suman" part as rhyming with the English word "woman" but native Indians often make more of an "ah" sound in the second syllable instead of an "eh" or "uh" sound. But really, I've gotten jokes about "Summer," "Sumer," "Somalia," "Sumeria," "Soma," and one gym teacher who wanted to call me Sue (better than the other gym teacher that year, who asked in frustration if he could call me "Hiyakawa" - some kind of Native American pastiche I assume?). So any good-faith attempt is fine by me.

But as I said, I'm not fussed about people pronouncing it "SOO-mah-nah" or "suh-MAH-nah" or "SUM-ah-nah" or what have you. It's more irritating when random strangers or customer service folks hear my name and take like two minutes asking about it and iterating pronunciations, even when I tell them it doesn't matter. This is one reason I prefer to use "Vikki" when I can -- when random waiters, or other people who will only ever know me for an hour, insist on taking my time to learn to pronounce my name correctly, I get irritated. It's a novelty to them; to me, it's just another reminder that I'm Different. Why are you placing your comfort over mine? These are often the same people who say "what a beautiful name! where's it from? what does it mean?" When Salon customers did this to me, I usually responded by answering, then exoticizing them right back. Where does your name come from, Jeff or Allison or Keith or Emily? What does your name mean?

Now, I don't want to make my friends worry here. If you actually know me I don't mind helping you learn to say my name. I just don't want to spend time every day teaching strangers about it. I'd rather be teaching them about open source.


(1) : For Smiles' Sake: Some things that have made me happy recently: the BBC's Ask About Britain podcast (straightforward 6-minute explanations of Eton, bargaining, choosing a husband, &c.); "The Sake Period" from the You Look Nice Today podcast; and Jonathan Corbet's predictions for 2010 in Linux.


: Tales of the Unexpected: Remember Thoughtcrime Experiments? A scifi/fantasy anthology that Leonard and I put together early last year and published in the spring of 2009?

The TE email address just received two submissions.

On the same day. About eleven months after the deadline.

I asked them where they'd seen the call for submissions, so I could go correct whoever needs correcting. One responded: the Bulletin of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

The SFWA Bulletin currently shows, as the only sample issue you're allowed to view, the February/March 2009 issue. About 1/3 of the three-page market report is a version of the TE call for submissions. It mentions a 2009 deadline. Either there's a more recent Bulletin that thinks we're open for business again, or the writer in question saw the market report, saw the date, and missed the year. I'm sure I've made that mistake before.

Anyway, I just thought this was odd enough to comment on. Kind of like the moment in the Amtrak station a few weeks ago when the escalator stopped with a jolt as I was walking up it. This is why they say to hold on to the handrail!

Thoughtcrime Experiments, published in 2009, is eligible for various awards; perhaps I should go through the criteria to figure out how people would nominate the various stories and art, categories we fit into, etc.


: Ask Your Doctor If Herring And Sweet Potato Pie Is Right For You: I actually knocked off work at a reasonable hour today, after some useful conversations with colleagues. Then I cleaned up a bit and decided to tackle a few clothes that needed minor mending. Beth came over earlier than I'd expected, saw my needles and thread out, and did some fixing of her own. Now I have two more pairs of slacks in my rotation and her coat is all properly buttonable. Lucian arrived, we ate Sac's pizza and drank wine and water and root beer, and we gabbed and watched Kiki's Delivery Service. Lucian hadn't ever seen an OK Go video (he's of my cohort, it makes no sense) so we showed him the treadmill dance, the side-by-side comparison with a high school talent show re-creation that's more faithful than a nun, "This Too Shall Pass", and "WTF?". And, for good measure, OK Go frontman Damian Kulash meeting Kermit the Frog.

They left, we played a bit of Puzzle Fighter, now it's bedtime. Before I retire -- this week I posted a new piece at the Geek Feminism blog: "FLOSS inclusivity: pragmatic, voluntary, empowering, joyous".


(2) : Upcoming FOSDEM & UK Travel: I'm going to FOSDEM, the Free and Open Source Software Developers' European Meeting I'm going to FOSDEM, the Free and Open Source Software Developers' European Meeting, the first weekend in February. (Something like twenty of my Collabora colleagues will be there, including some I've never met before.) I've been to England & to Russia, but you can waffle around as to whether those are really Europe. But FOSDEM is in Brussels, Belgium! Very European, and makes its own waffles. I'll be arriving in Brussels a day or two before the conference proper. After it ends, I'll ride the Eurostar train (!) to England and see my Cambridge colleagues for about a week.

This is a management discussion trip and a seeing-people trip; as helpful as occasional facetime is for developers, it's essential for a manager like me. So, if you live in a bit of Europe or England such that it's easy for you to visit Brussels or Cambridge, I'd love to see you. And if you're giving a FOSDEM talk I absolutely must see, let me know! I'm interested in checking out:

(I'll have to put together a list of all the Collabora talks soon.)

Family continuity note: Seven years ago, Leonard went to Belgium for the European Python conference. I helped him brush up on his French, he hung out with Jarno Virtanen & Taina Prusti, etc., etc., etc.

Filed under:


(1) : Like The Producers Even Care What I Think: New season of Project Runway is happening. Last week's challenge (make a nice party look OUT OF BURLAP SACKS) provoked decent innovation, which pleases me. But I predict that no more than 20% of the challenges this time round will make the designers make clothes for real men and women with healthy normal bodies. As I've said before, that's just dumb.

I find the majority of clothes created on the show unwearable and ridiculous. Zillions of overly revealing skirts and dresses, nearly no pants, forget about pockets, and evidently menswear is some dark continent. On the rare occasions that designers serve as models, and therefore must create clothes for men, they and the judges commiserate over how rare and difficult it is. That sounds like utter crap. Please e-mail me if it isn't.

Here's an idea: just learn to make pants, and menswear. Then you'll learn a skill that no one else evidently thinks is as important as frippery for like 3% of the women in the US (much less the world), and you can carve out a niche as the magical wizard who can make clothes for the majority of humanity!


(2) : Turn Style: "Is that your MetroCard?"
"Yeah, it has 50 cents on it."
[examining magstripe] "Oh, I didn't know you could put music on these now."

Filed under:


: Like A Focus Group, But Useful: Rachel, Kevan, Holly, other Londoners - Canonical will pay you to come by and test a chat program this week or next.


: Working And Thinking Together: Karl Fogel's essay on "the transformative effect that good tools can have on a team's ability to collaborate" informs my hesitance to respond to this Ask Metafilter question.

What is the point of thought experiments in moral philosophy? The violinist and the IV, the cable car and the fat person, the pharmacist and the sick spouse. One commenter calls them an intuition pump, which feels right to me.

Filed under:


: Tacky, Metacity, Encryption, tp-qt4, and Maemo: A few things Collabora folks have been working on recently (along with the constant stream of Telepathy-related releases):

Daf Harries released tacky, a simple python-based paste web app. Basically it's like a simpler version of pastebin, and you can install it on a private server in case you're talking about something confidential in private chat/IRC.

Thomas Thurman is looking for new contributors to mentor to help with Metacity (a window manager).

Cosimo Cecchi posted his TODO list for "a Telepathy implementation of the XTLS protocol, an end-to end-solution to crypt communication over XMPP". Cosimo and Eitan Isaacson are both working on encryption; Eitan has been plugging away at interactive certificate verification.

Andre Moreira Magalhaes is blogging to raise awareness of Telepathy-Qt4, a convenience library for people who want to use the Telepathy framework in their Qt applications.

And we've all been playing around with our N900 devices (Collabora company gifts). Tollef Fog Heen provides scripts & procedure to move SMSes and contacts from iPhone to N900, Felipe Zimmerle wrote an inclinometer, Jonny Lamb released a file transfer app and extra goodies to help you chat with people on lots of networks, and Thomas asks for testers for his new version of robotfindskitten.

Because we're hacking around, some of our apps you won't find in the default software repositories in the N900's applications manager. Here's a short guide:

Maemo Extras contains quality-controlled applications written by the community. It's installed on the device, but disabled by default.
To enable: Within App Manager, select "Catalogues" from the menu, find "maemo.org", and untick Disabled.

Maemo Extras Testing contains the applications developers are preparing to update. There are lots of applications here and all need help in testing and validating. People can vote good applications up by visiting the application list; once enough people do that, an app moves to the regular Extras repo.

Still, these are not quite ready for prime time, so be cautious! One colleague offers this tip: "if you want to just find good quality applications within Extras-Testing, review this packaging list and find those with the most QA votes."
To enable: Within App Manager, select "Catalogues" from the menu. Click "New" and add the following details:

("Fremantle" means Maemo 5, the version of the Maemo operating system that the N900 runs. "free non-free" tells the manager that you want both open source and closed source applications; change this if you want.)

Maemo Extras-Devel: contains untested and wildly variant applications that might harm your system. Use this repository sparingly since the applications are unstable.
To enable: follow directions on the maemo.org wiki.

Filed under:


: A Reminder: Amanda Marcotte, thinking about the phrase "pro-life" (the rest of the post is much more controversial):

...Life, for most people, is about being in this world. It’s about enjoying food, enjoying sex, having goals, making plans, creating relationships, loving each other, developing beliefs, thinking thoughts, learning, enjoying a good night’s rest, listening to music, enjoying drama, enjoying quiet, kicking your feet up and petting the cat, diving into your work, making a difference, helping others, selfishly hiding away and doing for yourself, falling in love, grieving a loss, the thrill of winning, the sorrow of losing, the ambiguities of the human spirit, the bright light of reason, the joy of discovery, the curiosity inspired by mystery, a walk in the park, a Christmas with family, a loud concert, a good book.


: Grace: Comfort music: Tally Hall's Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum, They Might Be Giants' "Thunderbird" (from Spine). There's a moment in "Thunderbird" that always snatches my heart and holds it up to the light -- Linnell's "am" in

Man oh man my throat is dry
Man are you thinking what I
am
well what about it then

Comfort TV: InfoMania, Rotten Tomatoes Show, Psych, Leverage. Eitan and I stood in toe-numbing cold for hours yesterday to get standby tickets to Colbert, and got in. You can hear me in the audience, the only one clapping when Arthur Benjamin reveals why 2520 was his childhood favorite number. I thought more people would be with me on that one.

N.K. Jemisin's third gripping sample chapter for her upcoming fantasy novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is up, my ex-boss is spreading the gospel that software testing is a neat career for nonprogramming geeks, Erin Ptah's "Castle Down" is highly entertaining magical Colbert/Stewart slash, and John Darnielle is (as always) passionate and enthusiastic about something:

Well, I stumbled across it somehow, I'm not sure how, and I watched it, and I had one of those experiences you have sometimes with a band you've never heard playing a song you don't know. One of those transformative reaffirming experiences, which you then get religious about, even if religious isn't exactly the word you'd use but trust me it's the word you actually mean: you start thinking, everything should be like this all the time, anything that's not like this is a ridiculous waste of time, I want peak experiences and only peak experiences because life is all about peak experiences and people who consent to have less than constant peaking epiphanies all the time are missing out, etc., etc., all infantile nonsense of course but as feelings go a bracing & pleasant one. The permanent reoccurring 19th summer is a nonstarter as a governing aesthetic stance, but as a tool in the kit it's not without some merits.....

...[the song] becomes a radiant source of self-regenerating power and wonder and lights start to go off in corners of the room where a guy didn't know there were actually any lights, and the guy goes, wow, this is so cool, I didn't expect to run across anything this cool today and I'm so glad I did, I'd really love to run across more things like this during my daily walk down toward the grave.

Filed under:


: "Of The Other Insectoid Worlds, I Shall Say Nothing": Just finished Olaf Stapledon's Star Maker after a year or two. I was reading it at about two pages a day. But more happens in two paragraphs of Stapledon than happens in most entire novels. Entirely ordinary example (Ch. 8, "The Beginning and the End," Section 2, "The Supreme Moment Nears"):

The supreme moment of the cosmos was not (or will not be) a moment by human standards; but by cosmical standards it was indeed a brief instant. When little more than half the total population of many million galaxies had entered fully into the cosmical community, and it was clear that no more were to be expected, there followed a period of universal meditation. The populations maintained their straitened utopian civilizations, lived their personal lives of work and social intercourse, and at the same time, upon the communal plane, refashioned the whole structure of cosmical culture. Of this phase I shall say nothing.
Filed under:


(2) : Insta-RSS Feeds: A Case Study In Freedom: If you use Google Reader, now you can subscribe to any webpage as though it had a feed and thus automatically get alerted whenever it changes. When the Colbert Report free tickets page opens up new dates, or my slang dictionary adds items, you'll know.

Leonard started providing a version of this service years ago with his Syndication Automat. Now he only needs to use it to generate one feed: new publications from Dover. Sites have gotten sensical and started providing their own feeds. If you want something to run on your own server to make RSS feeds for pages that don't have them, you can use his free Scrape 'N' Feed code.

(I learned of this Google Reader feature via Matt Cutts, and his readers imply that there are paid services the change will undercut. Just another reminder that packaging up a free open source script with lovely UI can make you some cash -- for a while, until it turns up as a free feature in a popular app or OS. That's the S-curve of innovation, or temporal arbitrage.)

An RSS feed gives you data in an easy-to-mess-with format. For example, it would be easy enough to plug an RSS feed into a version control system so you could track diffs, reading the change history as easily as if it were a wiki page. Or you could use it in something like the Launchpad bug tracker's remote bug watch. You can enter a bug in Launchpad and if it's a duplicate of a bug in someone else's bugtracker, Launchpad uses that other bugtracker's API to keep an eye out, and lets you know when the remote bug's status changes. Enlarge your scope from software to something like MediaBugs (an RSS feed is basically the simplest possible RESTful API) and you can set up your system to automatically watch for particular journalists citing the same sources over and over, or calculate the proportion of an e-publisher's new releases that come un-DRM'd.

If you want to do forensic economics like Suresh Naidu, then the ability to get an RSS feed of any random webpage is especially cool. And do you remember the people who used Leonard's Beautiful Soup code to catch an international arms dealer? Quote from the lead investigator:

Anyway, the ViktorFeed is a development of basic python scripts I've been using for some time to collect data on certain aircraft movements through Sharjah and Dubai Airports. Both of these place all movements on the Web, but neither of them provide anything like an RSS feed, which is why I began scripting, in order to save checking them myself.

Whether it's deliberate or negligent, making a webpage without an RSS feed is a way of disempowering readers, and of making it slightly harder to vacuum that data into the market-flattening maw. It's like how certain archives will keep a controversial document in a room and only let people read it in that room, no cameras, no notepaper. Google plays nice with these kinds of restrictions, so site owners can opt out and then Google Reader users won't be able to make or read feeds for those pages. Not an antifeature, per se, but definitely a technical restriction on the user to enforce other people's whims. Scrape 'N' Feed has no such scruples, of course. If you don't want me to know what's on that page, don't put it on the web.


: Change of Plans: I'm not going to FOSDEMImage nicked from Leo Antunes. (I thought about creating some sort of Belgian-waffle-with-a-NO-sign-on-it but this services.)

I'm not going to FOSDEM this year; change of plans. Perhaps next year.

Filed under:


(2) : Another Change: I'm no longer working with Collabora Ltd.

In the first several months after I joined Collabora in April 2009, I served as lead project manager, got the new website up, and started putting some new project management processes into place, especially in research and development. Then I shifted to personnel management, and created and began implementing a performance assessment system. All the while I gardened the wiki, aggregated and edited weekly internal reports to keep the company on the same page, blogged about our work, and generally gave people the information and the nagging they needed to make informed decisions. (In retrospect, I played facilitator, historian, and journalist a lot, plus mentor to 50+ Collaborans.)

Collabora's a different place than it was ten months ago; I helped move them from a startup to an enterprise footing. Management structures change as needs and capabilities become apparent, so the directors and new hires (including the awesome Martin Barrett) will carry this work forward, and I offer them my best wishes. I'm happy to talk more in detail about what I did at Collabora, especially if you're interested in what I can do for your organization.

In the near future, I'm taking some time to relax and take care of existing obligations before I incur new ones. Then, starting in late February or early March, I'll be volunteering fulltime on some open source/free culture projects for several months. I haven't yet decided which ones, or in what capacity, so feel free to recruit me.

Filed under:


(1) : Travel Plans: I'm setting up travel plans for the rest of the year. I'm about 95% certain I'm going to WisCon in Madison, Wisconsin in late May, although I need to find someone to room with (anyone have some spare floor at the Concourse?) and buy tickets. I submitted a talk to OSCON (Portland, Oregon, July 19-23) and I'll find out next month whether that got accepted. (OSCON is right after HOPE in NYC, which I really should check out.) I'm also thinking about going to WorldCon in Melbourne, Australia in early September, because I have a number of friends and acquaintances there, and when else will I have time plus multiple reasons to visit Melbourne? Since DebConf in early August is in New York City, I'll probably be there at least for the social bits.

And there are a metric zillion other events I'm at least somewhat interested in, from LibrePlanet to the Netbook Summit to QuahogCon to Open Source Bridge and the Community Leadership Summit. So this coming week I have to suss out what's quality, think up some strategy, and prep a bunch of talk proposals. If you want to suggest anything, please email or comment!

Right now I'm in Washington, DC, visiting my sister and enjoying the snow. Yesterday & today I accidentally visited ShmooCon because various DC-area geek women inveigled me into dinner, then some sort of "party," then oh Metro is closing early because of the snow, oh look, this person's hotel room has an empty second bed! And then breakfast and more hanging out and it's afternoon already? In more short-term travel plans, I'm hitting various promising sites to help me figure out whether I can get back to New York City tomorrow.


(2) : Sometimes Things Get Turned Around And No One's Spared: I made it back to New York City just fine, and in time to catch our own snowfall. Leonard & I have again been using the infinite uploads of the mysterious bobtwcatlanta for entertainment.

"This theme song for Mr. Belvedere is really heavy on the slapstick."

"Yeah, it doesn't convey the sophisticated wordplay that characterized the comedy in Mr. Belvedere."

Pause. "Did it?"

"No!"

We recently switched to commercials rather than opening credits/theme music sequences. This means that twenty-year-old jingles have like dormant infections reawakened in my brain. "Bonneville!" may now replace "YEAHHH!" for me as a non sequitur suffix.

Speaking of reactions to entertainment: Danny O'Brien, if you're reading this, Brian Malow is to nerdcore comedy what They Might Be Giants is to MC Frontalot. A few minutes into Brian Malow's Wonderfest act he mentions that tic I have that I think you have too -- instead of laughing at a joke, nodding once you've parsed and compiled it and judged it sound. We're in a great tradition, you and I. Around 9:20 in this compilation is an ad for...life insurance? a real estate company? no, Benjamin Moore paints. "When something means so much, see your Benjamin Moore dealer." Instantly Leonard and I took this literally.

"Bob! I just asked her to marry me! It just meant so much!"

"Bob! My dog just got hit by a car! It means so much!"

"Bob! Ulysses! Just look at this text! It means so much!"

"Bob! Encyclopedias! All those sentences and articles! They mean so much!"

"Revised commercial: 'When something means so much and could conceivably be paint-related, see your Benjamin Moore dealer."

Tough room. TO PAINT! (Bonneville!)

Filed under:


(2) : Lazyweb: I'm thinking about buying a new laptop computer to aid in my volunteering and consulting. I'd run some flavor of Linux on it, probably Debian, Ubuntu, or Fedora. I welcome suggestions for laptops with the following characteristics:

I don't really care about its weight or looks. Thoughts?

Update: Ended up choosing ZaReason (reasons here).


(1) : Happy Silly Day: I went to high school for four years. Each of those years, I wrote for the high school newspaper. And each year, for the Valentine's Day issue, I wrote a separate, all-new anti-Valentine's Day opinion piece.

Leonard and I started dating in 2001. Somehow I'd gone through eight Februaries with Leonard without telling him about these editorials. Specifically, until yesterday, I hadn't told him that one of them was a glimpse into a utopian future in which Valentine's Day was merely a historical curiosity. Children in school were learning about this custom and found it astonishing. I'm certain I'd already read "The Fun They Had" but I can't remember whether my piece was a deliberate homage.

Yesterday we also came up with the name "Guns N. Butter" (for a girl, no?) and we realized that my ninth-grade biology teacher, Courtney Porter, could easily have doubled as Batman stenography villain "Court Reporter."

Leonard's sample dialogue:

Batman: "I'm taking you down!"
Court Reporter [fingers madly clattering over keyboard]: "I'm taking everything down!"
Filed under:


: 23 Links: If you live in the Bay Area, think about listening to Scott Rosenberg on Tuesday March 2nd -- he'll be talking about MediaBugs.

Remember the Yes, Minister episode called "Open Government"? The Obama Administration either doesn't, or doesn't care. Also, Indians EVERYWHERE!

James Vasile and Will Kahn-Greene talk about whether and how to turn non-contributors into contributors, and to increase the number and quality of their contributions. Teaching Open Source, "How to Destroy Your Community, and Dispatches from the revolution seem like good places for James & Will to start. And let's not forget to think about all the barriers there are to lower, the most troubling one being that people don't realize their own capacities and options.

The Koha library app is cool. When I see its featurelist mentioning OPAC, it reminds me of working on the OvidSP demo video (Chapter: Ovid Universal Search). "Even your OPAC!" I learned what "OPAC" means about eight times and each time immediately forgot.

My ex-boss seems to have decided that Fog Creek will hire people who don't have programming experience. Seems reasonable, although the company culture sure will change (if it hasn't already). (Ha, they still have at least one picture of me on their site!) Speaking of company culture, I'm interested in how Damien Katz's vision will turn out. I'm especially curious about how the anti-manager bias and the allergy to performance/productivity criteria will end up working.

Sarah Haskins's "Target Women" segments for Current's "Infomania" are no more. She's moving on to screenplays and whatnot. At least we have the archives, and she hints that another woman may take over TW.

More Sumana links in delicious.


(1) : A Song Lyrics Post More At Home In LiveJournal Syndication Than On My Own Site: Other than the Mr. Belvedere theme song, the main song that's been stuck in my head recently is "Oh Lately It's So Quiet" by OK Go, because This American Life: 2010 used it to fine effect. More:

Why bother
It's gonna hurt me
It's gonna kill when you desert me
This happened to me twice before
It won't happen to me anymore

- "Why Bother?", Weezer (awesome 8-bit tribute/cover version from Weezer - The 8-bit Album). I know these lyrics sound resigned, but in the song, especially the I Fight Dragons cover, the sound feels energetic and kick-ass. I'm taking control. The next time I try this, it'll be on my terms.

Consider [the] possibility
That you've been had, but not by me

- "Just Apathy," Tally Hall. "Welcome to Tally Hall" is a more astounding song, lyrically, melodically, harmonically, but the singer sings this one line plaintively and playfully. It sticks with me.

You say they taught you how to read and write
Yeah, they taught you how to count
I say they taught you how to buy
and sell your own body by the pound
I think you like to be the simple boy
I think you love to play the clown
I think you are blind to the fact
that the hand you hold is the hand that holds you down

- "Everything to Everyone," Everclear. I've had this album for ten years? This song is arguably an argument about product differentiation in established multiline corporations. (But it's not.)


(2) : Life Update That Might Very Well Do Better As A Bulleted List: Sorry, I haven't blogged in the past week (except microblogging & linking). Since last Sunday, I:

visited the Merchant's House Museum with Beth, went to a fun storyreading and met new Dan, had a lovely talky dinner with Rupa, gossiped and saw a Jane Austen exhibit with Julia, breakfasted with her and Moss and Mirabai, submitted a conference proposal, met Elizabeth Yalkut, visited Yahoo! Labs New York to hear lightning talks by Yahoo! researchers, bought Diana Abu-Jaber's Origin, tried stout-based hot chocolate, went to McGinty's to celebrate a peer's escape from an abusive situation (and ended up talking Python & PostgreSQL with her sister & Beth), ate a jar of pickles (and drank the brine) while reading in Union Square Park, talked with Joe and Elisa and Brendan on the phone, introduced Leonard to new Dan, walked around Astoria with Pat and helped him find no-kill mousetraps and explored the Socrates Sculpture Park and brought him home to Leonard (where we all squeed), there's probably more but it's not in my calendar.

I remember reading Gordon Korman's Zoobreak and Maureen F. McHugh's Mothers and Other Monsters, and a bunch of TVTropes (won't even link! admire my civic responsibility) and some Lassiter Psych fanfic. Also watched several episodes of Psych. Is there a more intertextual dramedy on the air?

Thanks for the McHugh, Julia! And for warning me about the DESPAIR NOOOO in "The Cost To Be Wise" and the BLATANT FANSERVICE in Psych: "Death Is In The Air." Although no warning is quite enough.

Filed under:


(1) : Milestone: Yesterday I soldered for the first time.


(2) : Making The Hard Look Easy, Feminism, and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: Mary Anne Mohanraj recently wrote about sprezzatura, the nonchalance and easy grace that make all one's accomplishments seem effortless. She mentions that she's trying to cut down on that behavior, because she thinks its deception causes harmful expectations and self-loathing in others.

Mohanraj's post instantly reminded me of an ex. He told me of a compliment he'd once received: "You seem to be gliding through life." What does it say about me that I'd think of that as an insult, not a compliment? My take was: If you aren't visibly struggling, you're not working hard enough, your life is easy, and you're probably spoiled, lazy, and uncurious. How much of that is my workaholism? How much is insecurity, or resentment of privilege, or ignorance of my own privilege? Stupid female-socialized insecurity and self-sabotage for the sake of fitting in is, as I stipulated, stupid, and harmful both to the speaker and the hearer. But there's a difference between struggling to appear effortless and batting away compliments with a stick. I'm gonna quote myself from a column I wrote a few years ago:

There are people who say there's no such thing as arrogance, who would see nothing wrong with saying they're awesome, to whom humility, embarrassment, hubris, etc., are useless concepts that get in the way of efficient markets....

There is this thing called kindness, and it includes not eating a Snickers bar in front of a hungry person, and it includes not bragging about your skills in front of people who are trying valiantly to accomplish what you attained, especially if you got there without much effort....

Am I an expert at anything now? The larger my realm of experience gets, the more insignificant my tiny efforts seem.

What do I deliberately practice? What skills have I mastered? And what did my parents give me, in nature and nurture, that let me leap ahead?

I have no perspective on my own expertise, and no expertise on gaining perspective.

When something great happens in my life, I tend to think it's because of luck and discount my own effort. I aw-shucks my own accomplishments. And then I envy successful people instead of admiring them.

Envy comes from impotent desire. Role models get admired, the admirer assuming that he can get there too.

That's the difference, too, between destructive and constructive acknowledgments of one's accomplishments. Compassion, and hope.

Related essays that sprang to mind included some notes on protection and mentorship by Bitch Ph.D. She says that her strengths include calming students' and junior academics' anxieties by telling them the profession's unspoken rules, such as "No one reads everything they cite." I might turn her paragraph below into my new anthem:

I don't believe in unwritten rules, or at least I don't believe in not telling people what they are; I don't believe in meritocratic bull****; I don't believe that making people paranoid is the way to get them to do good work; I don't believe that competition need be cruel. I'm an extrovert, I'm honest, and I don't like to lie.

(Some thinking on meritocracy, in case you take reflexive umbrage at Bitch Ph.D.'s dismissal.)

When you're perceived as successful, you can more credibly criticize the system you've mastered and the game you've won. For example, because she takes the effort to look femme and stylish, she can awaken students to how much work goes into performing femininity: they "think more critically about why they spend so much time on their appearance, and what the costs and benefits of it are." This goes back to Mohanraj's hope that she can use others' compliments as an opening to encourage them, rather than discourage.

These days, I just keep trying to expose the work under the beauty.... I cheated and used a pre-made sauce for the base -- let me show it to you. Exposing the hard labor (or the clever workarounds) that are necessary to trying to do it all, for the sake of family, of profession, of self, of community. I believe that labor offers a different kind of grace.

Speaking of labor: On the difference between labor and work, via Dara. "What is your work now?" may go into my toolbox of party questions, as "what are you reading?" and "what are you obsessed with?" aren't surefire conversation-starters.

Mohanraj is Guest of Honor at this year's WisCon (feminist science fiction/fantasy convention, late May, Madison, Wisconsin). So I can barely segue into talking about some speculative fiction that's caught my eye.

"Sundowning" by Joanne Merriam is a little bit like "The Second Conquest of Earth" by L. J. Daly (both good, same magazine, five months previous): interesting female point-of-view character trying to outwit or outwork a terrifying antagonist.

Got an interesting fictional take on the Ramayana? An anthology is seeking submissions.

I got to go to the launch party for The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Book One of The Inheritance Trilogy) a few nights ago. And then I inhaled the entire book over the next 24 hours. To quote another reviewer, it's "full of danger, sensuality, and wonder." And it works as a self-contained book, by the way.

Reasons I wanted to read this book:

So it was overdetermined that I'd read the book. I'm glad to have loved it as well.

Filed under:


: Bleg: I have a little free time, so I'm thinking of spending a day at New York City's Paley Center for Media (a.k.a. the Museum of Television and Radio) to watch old television or listen to old radio. I'm specifically charged with watching the 1985 "Scenario" episode of Benson because it's arguably the first TV show ever to mention the Internet. Leonard wants me to transcribe the relevant bits of dialogue.

It costs a schlub like me (read: someone not affiliated with an educational or research institution) USD25 for a day of access, so I'm open to suggestions for other things to check out while I'm there. For example, they have an episode of Gung Ho, an eighties sitcom about lean manufacturing that starred Scott Bakula and that doesn't seem to be available on DVD. Search their collection and tell me if the Center has some other recording that piques your geeky or obscure interest, and what mystery needs solving. I'll take notes and try to answer you here on my blog.

The Paley Center also archives old TV and radio commercials. I can't think of any old ads I've been aching to watch, but maybe you can.


(2) : Sewing, Debian Packaging, DIY Electronics, And My Love Of Old Systems: A few weeks ago I organized a sewing lesson at Ivy's place. A few friends got together and learned some basics of machine sewing and hand sewing. (My family had bought me a sewing machine a few years prior, for which I was very thankful, but which I put away in frustration when I couldn't figure out how to get the bobbin thread to properly get caught by the needle.)

Ivy was a great teacher. Over and over, I was astonished to see the system of the thing resolve before my eyes; millions of people have worked through fiber arts issues before I ever arrived, and have developed tools and practices that make sense. Every button and lever and outcropping on the face of a sewing machine has a function. Starch spray, hot iron, water, pins, spool, bobbin, rotary trimmer, foot pedal to leave both hands free to guide the fabric, and different stitch types for different purposes (like backstitching or stabilizing initial knot) just make me feel so glad to be arriving in a well-explored problem space, in a millenia-old community of practice.

We were all women. We talked about:

So, in case you're trying to pass the Bechdel test, there you have some suggested topics. I successfully hemmed some raw shirtsleeve edges!

Then the next night I went to a Debian packaging workshop that Richard and Daniel put on. Thanks for the kind and informative instruction! Again, I marveled at how many tools the community had already built to check for traps, format output nicely, and generally smooth the processes of patching and packaging. tree gives you directory listings, formatted as a tree! You can report bugs to the Debian bug tracker from the command line with reportbug! Like Mel says: "It's not that these things are hard, it's that you don't know how they're easy."

I was the only woman. Better than none.

A few nights ago I learned to solder, thanks to Ranjit, NYC Resistor, and BugLabs. (That's me in the background!) I brought some materials and creativity and got free light-emitting diodes, wire, tools, and instruction. Half the participants were women. Everyone's lanterns were pretty.

Wires twist easier with pliers, and hold together with solder. Electrical tape hides ugly wires and prevents short-circuiting (and "circuit" as a noun and a verb makes intuitive sense when you've wired one up). Voltage math on the level of 2-volt LEDs and nine-volt batteries is easy: four 2-volt bulbs in series light up nice, soaking up the voltage appropriately, but five bulbs get pretty dim, and three or fewer bulbs get dangerously hot and might pop.

Pliers, soldering irons, and electrical tape are manufactured to complement the human hand. These are tools we made. They, too, are instantiations of a jillion person-hours of thought and work and discovery. Every complicated system is like a city. It emerges from the work that goes on inside it. We shape it and it shapes us.

That's my awe of makers and making. Reading books, I get to hear from the dead. In crafting, I feel the touch of the vanished hand.


(2) : Some Books: Recently read, don't want to forget:

A Year Without "Made In China" by Sara Bongiorni: a quick read, finished in a few hours (long after receiving it as a gift, I'm embarrassed to say). The author gets caught up in edge cases and logistics, as you always do when you make a rule-based change to your lifestyle (sometimes that heightens your appreciation of the intention you're manifesting, and sometimes it fogs it). She makes it engaging, but don't look here for recommendations on finding non-Chinese-made alternatives. Much more a memoir than a how-to.

World War Z by Max Brooks: I started reading this before bed and had to finish it before going to sleep, or else zombies would haunt my dreams. Hard horror (like hard fantasy), first-class worldbuilding, grim satire, chills, thrills, relentless inevitability yet surprises and twists on every page.

The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach: seems to start out a family-scale fantasy, expands into space opera, epic in scope but always personal and believable. Empires fall and rise, investigators work on eons-old mysteries, and you see bits and pieces from several perspectives. Very good. Translated from the German.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin, as I mentioned a few days back.

I've also reread most of Bury the Chains and The Left Hand of Darkness. (Jo Walton's book reviews make me feel better about spending time rereading for pleasure or curiosity.)

Filed under:


(3) : Assortment: I keep hearing about cool people & events in Portland, Oregon. Punk rock mathematicians, Michael Schaub, and the Open Source Bridge conference, whose call for proposals closes in two weeks. (I should just decide whether to go to that, since I can't buy my WisCon plane tickets until I know whether I'm flying back to New York or westward to Oregon when WisCon ends.) And then in July Portland hosts the Community Leadership Summit just before OSCON. Brendan, Jade, maybe I should just show up and crash on your couch for two months. (Not really.)

I responded to Julia's questions, "Where do you find music? How has it changed over time? Do you have certain people to thank for helping you develop your musical palate?" in an excessively long series of comments on her blog, should you be interested.

A gripping quote for anyone who wants to lower mental barriers to growth:

The State is not something which can be destroyed by a revolution, but is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of human behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently.


(4) : Sweatshop-Free Linux Laptop Search, Part II: I got a few recommendations when I recently asked where to find ethically sourced laptops that come preinstalled with some flavor of Linux (Debian, Ubuntu, or Fedora). My notes are below; I ended up going with ZaReason.

I'm going to note here the research I've done so others can correct me or stand on my shoulders. To repeat, I was looking for laptops with the following characteristics:

I don't really care about a laptop's weight or looks.

So, I'm trying to make a reasonable effort to buy a sweatshop-free/fairtrade, green/sustainable, and Windows-free laptop. All those buzzwords together cause a bit of a problem if you live in the US and want to buy from a mainstream retailer. (And when you get down to the component level, it's probably impossible, but I had to try.)

Dell offers some Ubuntu laptops (the Vostro and Latitude), and they give at least lip service to greenness, but they're all assembled in China and at least one report says their plants don't treat the workers as I'd like them treated. ("Environmental Commitment Trumps Respect for Human Rights," notes the NLC report - backhanded praise of a sort. That same report indicts IBM/Lenovo, Microsoft, and HP.)

At least one comprehensive ethical-buying guide recommends IBM products, but I worry that it's out of date, since (as far as I can tell) IBM's PC hardware is no longer made directly by IBM, but by Lenovo in China. Lenovo Thinkpads are reliable and run Linux well. Collabora provided me an x200 when I worked there, and I loved it. But again - made in China, labor practices not so hot. And, as far as I can tell, all Lenovo laptops come preloaded with Windows.

Lenovo is or was partially owned by the Chinese government via Legend Holdings, until that stake got sold to the private China Oceanwide Holdings Group (my financial research fu is not strong). I'd be unhappy about supporting bad governments with my purchases, but it's not like any large companies have only benevolent stockholders, and who knows where the manufacturers are getting components! (This comes up in Sara Bongiorni's A Year without "Made in China": One Family's True Life Adventure in the Global Economy; to simplify, she decides not to look too hard at Chinese-made components.)

Other buying guides were incomplete. I rather wish the National Labor Committee had a stamp of approval. The Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition depends mostly on voluntary self-reporting, which isn't terribly trustworthy, although the third-party audit data might be good if it weren't at least a year out of date. The Treehugger.com guides are obsolete, greenlaptop.com seems to be an SEO site without specific & up-to-date recommendations, and Laptop Magazine's green buying guide is eight months out of date and only looks at environmental friendliness, not human rights. And of course it's rare that any of those laptops come without Windows preinstalled.

Stuart said he's had good experiences with EmperorLinux, and they do indeed sell laptops with Linux preinstalled. But they're reselling the machines that Dell, Lenovo, Fujitsu, Panasonic, and Sony manufacture. Dell and Lenovo are out as mentioned above, and I don't particularly want the Fujitsu tablets EmperorLinux has on offer. I started looking up Sony and Panasonic manufacturing locations (mostly Japan, I think?), but was discouraged to see that EmperorLinux offerings from Panasonic and Sony started at USD1750. I'm willing to pay extra for what I care about, but $1,750 was several hundred dollars more than I'd budgeted.

Then, thanks to a pointer from Leigh Honeywell, I looked up ZaReason, which seems to be the end of my search. ZaReason builds Linux laptops in Berkeley, tries to monitor its Chinese component factories/sources for fair labor practices/greenness, and is run by Cathy Malmrose ("The Un-Scary Screwdriver," GNOME Journal, November 2009). Their prices are reasonable, with laptops starting at USD599. And when I emailed them to ask where they assemble their products (Berkeley), Malmrose wrote me a long, clear, comprehensive, and thoughtful reply.

So I'll be placing an order for the Strata 2660 later this week. Thanks, Malmrose & Honeywell!


(6) : ZaReason Response: As I mentioned earlier, I wrote to ZaReason to ask them about their manufacturing practices and their CEO, Cathy Malmrose, wrote back. I asked her if she wouldn't mind me posting her response here, and she said "Go for it!"

Sumana,

Thanks for contacting us.

* Come without Windows pre-installed (I'm sick of paying the Windows tax)

Not only is Windows not installed, our hardware has *never* had it. Unfortunately, some vendors will make a "Linux-only" laptop by using older prepackaged Windows hardware, wiping it then doing an Ubuntu install. We get our components from the individual OEMs who manufacture the individual components (wifi, HD, motherboard, case, etc.) Since we don't have to build it to be compatible with both Windows & Other we have the freedom to select whichever parts are absolute best for a Linux-only system. No compromises needed.

* Most or all components ethically sourced

From what we can tell, yes, but I'm sure we could dig deeper. Generally we use MSI, ASUS, Shuttle, etc. They are the current standard suppliers. More below.

* Manufactured/assembled someplace with real labor standards.

In Berkeley!

We're governed by State Labor Law, Federal Law (EDD), and all sorts of other agencies. We even pay an Electronic Waste Recycling Fee. The money is funneled through the State of CA Board of Equalization to the recyclers like ACCRC who then follow best practices in recycling the hardware. (Although these regulations could stand a lot of improvement.)

Labor standards: Our pay is good but not great since we are still small. It's the going rate for a university town / Bay area. We try to compensate by giving our employees benefits that are meaningful to them personally -- home office work for research, flexible (very flexible) hours, etc. One of our dearest employees brings her infant with her and it adds a sweet element to the office. We are a small shop on Hopkins Street in Berkeley. We have 14 employees. We hire people who are good, kind, and highly motivated to build hardware specifically for free and open purposes.

We are growing quickly and hope to open a second shop soon.

* General laptop desiderata (sturdiness, battery life, thinner is better)
All of our components are the same as those used by Dell, HP, System 76 and other builders. The difference is:

1. We do not have to navigate around license agreements. Not only do we not use Windows, we also do not do deals with distros. Some distros approach hardware builders with a "Please pay us $x for every system you sell." When that happens the focus shifts from cool hardware to dollar and numbers sold. Not good. We do not have any strings attached other than to our office staff and our customers.

2. We are privately owned, no investors and the board members actually work in the shop. We put our laptops through a child-test, where we let a 7 yo (here he is: http://www.flickr.com/photos/9609130@N03/2929692722/ ) and a 17 yo use the laptop for a week. They are generally able to find any weaknesses in the case.

3. We have battery life equivalent to those of other builders. The ARM is coming out soon which could and should shoot netbook battery length up to 12-14 hrs, but it is a low power processor.

4. Thinner is better? We agree! Our Hoverboard is about as thin as the MacAir. The Hoverboard is approx 1/3 the price.

An acquaintance pointed me to you. I'm glad you sell laptops preinstalled with Linux and tested here in the States! But where do you manufacture/assemble the laptops?
We do our assembly / partial manufacturing in the US, but the base components are made in China. There are a few component "manfacturers" that have shops in the US but nearly all actual manufacturing is done in China. We have seen the factories in Shenzhen where they are made and we agree that there are many, many bad labor practices, but the OEMs we have chosen are fully compliant when we view them. (That's not to say they are compliant when we leave!)
Can I get assurances that the people who made the laptop were paid fairly, and that the assembly process is reasonably environmentally friendly?

Your message became a topic of conversation with a few of the builders when it came in. Several said, "I'll reply to that one!" saying that they would gladly reassure anyone that they have a lot of fun and are not only treated fairly, but fully respected.

I used to live in Berkeley myself so it would please me to get to purchase a computer from you. Please let me know -- I looked on your site but couldn't quite find any mention of the location where ZaReason computers are assembled.

Wow, that is an oversight. Thank you for mentioning it! We recently did a website redesign, went live approx 12 days ago. The part listing our actual location did not make it into the redesign... I'll chalk this up as yet another helpful comments from the community. We also need to have a section on the site, possibly in Our Story / About that addresses the questions you asked.

We are in a sweet little shop at 1647 Hopkins St, Berkeley, up the street from Monterey Market and across the street from Goioa Pizza and Hopkins Bakery.

Thanks for asking,

--Cathy Malmrose, CEO ZaReason, Inc.
www.zareason.com

I really appreciate her candidness; it's refreshing to hear a CEO talk openly about what needs improving. And of course this kind of personal response is something I was never going to get from Lenovo, Dell, or HP.


(1) : Dream Time: Dream last night: Other than the obligatory "why is Fog Creek having a meeting in my house?" scene, I mostly remember the time travel. I went back in time to some sort of "diamond rush" (like a gold rush, you see) and pretended to be a Russian woman who wanted her husband to take care of all this messy appraisal and trading. Nice to get some speaking practice in -- dreams count, right? I can barely believe my Russian convinced anyone, and upon waking, I had to wonder whether US residents 200 years ago would have believed a person with my skin color could be Russian. Fridge logic.

Within my dream, I read an amateurish webpage with tips for time tourists. "Read this Dave Barry piece about how annoying it is to carry a DiscMan when you're used to an iPod. Think ahead about how you'll deal with that," it advised. Right next to that, the author cautioned that you might alarm the natives by asking whether particular genocides have happened yet. "Don't ask, 'Have millions of people died recently?' or ask, 'Is such-and-so still alive? Is such-and-so still alive, too? What about such-and-so; is she still alive, too?'"


(1) : Some Fanvids I Like: I was just telling a pal about Archive Of Our Own, and then I was explaining why an episode of Psych mentioning "Shassie" was fanservice [0]. And Kirrily just linked to a feminist fanvid sampler. So I decided I should publicly bookmark some of my favorite fan fiction and fanvids.

First a few vids:

Fics later.


[0] "The Head, The Tail, The Whole Damn Episode" also featured a Leverage shoutout and guest appearances from Jeri Ryan (late of Star Trek: Voyager and Leverage) and Michael Hogan (Colonel Saul Tigh on Battlestar Galactica). Much as when I heard Obama had put Tufte on a panel, I'm feeling all pandered to.


(8) : Cautiously Opening That Door: A few weeks ago, another Indian-American and I were talking and agreed on one benefit of that particular childhood: if your parents are well-off enough to drag you to India & back a few times, you get used to long flights such that they're not much of a bother later in life.

This got me thinking about other advantages I got by dint of being born in the US to South Asian immigrants (educated middle-class ones, to be sure). That is, where did I get a leg up on children born to US-born white parents?

A few thoughts:

I had a hard-to-ignore set of lessons on intersectionality and multifaceted diversity. My parents aren't just Indian, they're Karnatakan Kannada-speaking Hindus from the Brahmin caste, and they didn't come from ease or wealth. And I'm leaving out some markers here: aesthetics, politics, culinary tastes, the places they've lived, the jobs they've had, their ages, what other languages they speak... I never could have believed that The Rest Of The World was a homogenous, forgettable mass.

From the start, I've had a taste of what it's like to be Other, or at least an edge case. My name didn't fit on forms. A classmate pointed to Indiana on a map and said, "That's where you're from!" A logic tutee, astonished at my US accent, said, "But you're Indian! ... Didn't you ever think that accents were innate?" Back when I was writing my newspaper column, after I wrote a piece about Indian-American TV shows, someone wrote in and complained that all I wrote about was "not being white." My parents looked hard and fast for US flags to put on their car and house after 9/11. And before that was the jerk in the car repair waiting room who called my mom a Satan worshipper, harassed her because of her kumkum (red dot on the forehead), and made her cry. Being brown in this majority-white country has given me a zillion anecdotes amusing and bemusing, from little irritations to strange, nebulous frustrations to disheartening dismay. So, the seeds of my reflexive sympathy for the underdog and pain-in-the-butt edge-case pedantry, check.

My parents spoke English and an indigenous Indian language (Kannada) at home. My parents could easily talk with my teachers and friends, but I also got sensitized from birth to the possibility of other tongues, other orthographies, and other ways of thinking. I sometimes wish I could go back in time and take my parents' Kannada lessons more seriously, but I couldn't see the point in it. Silly me. I do have ready access to study materials and practice partners should I wish to get fluent.

Growing up Indian-American tends to correlate with learning to handle spicy food. I in particular also grew up vegetarian. I never quite understood how omnivores could stare at vegetarians and ask, "but what do you eat?!" until I understood that, in the standard late-twentieth-century US meal, there is one high-profile meat chunk surrounded by bits of starch and vegetable for flavor and texture. If you think "vegetarian = removing meat chunk" then of course the plate seems empty. I grew up with a cuisine that gives beans, nuts, grains, leafy greens and other veggies first-class status.

Timezones. I was used to hearing people talk on the phone late at night, and got used to looking at the clock and quickly calculating the time n hours away. That's come in handy since.

Those are all effects I can at least take a stab at articulating. But I can only begin to think about the giant assumptions I take for granted, like "of course we've travelled abroad" and "this is a country of immigrants, Exhibit A, us" and the positive (and negative) effects of the Model Minority, doctor-or-engineer expectation. And I'm trying to limit this list to stuff common to middle-class US kids of professional-career South Asian parents (Canada seems rather different). I'm working towards some reminiscences specific to my dad and mom, but that's divergent.

Other children of South Asian immigrants, tell me what I forgot.


(4) : Fanfic Recommendations: Some fics I've liked:

Erin Ptah's Colbert Report archive includes "The Thing With Feathers", the fifth time Jon terrified Stephen, and "In Time".
"Theories About Nuclear Winter" by hollycomb (continued in Part II), the best Calvin and Hobbes Susie/Calvin fic ever. The end still makes me cry.
"Second Verse (Same as the First)" by Friendshipper/Sholio. "The Marines call it the Planet of the Willing Virgins, you know." I don't know much about Stargate but this still kicked me in the gut (here's a warm-fuzzy chaser).

And recently I've tried out some Psych fic, most of my favorites centering on the relationship between Lassiter and O'Hara:

Elisa, these two reminded me of your discussion of useful vagueness in sex scenes, which reminded me of this analysis (caution, includes shoulder-biting).
Flirting. Possibly my favorite of all the tension-on-the-job stories.
Carlton almost majored in theater.
Someone has nothing to do on Christmas.
Buzz/Carlton? Sure.
There's a lot of schmoopy they-know-each-other-so-well fic. Exhibits A, B, C, D, E.
Do they comfort each other after trauma? Sure do!

Filed under:


: Huzzah: I offer my congratulations to Dr. Danielle Lee on her successful dissertation defense. It got streamed live on the web which would have given me pause at my oral defenses (for my master's)! Her blog, "Urban Science Adventures!", seems really cool too. (via BoingBoing)


: QuahogCon and Open Source Bridge: In the US style, the date is now 3/14, which makes it Pi Day. Happy Pi Day! (I'll have to remember to celebrate Mole Day on 23 October; I always forget, despite Mr. Marson's success in making me love chemistry.)

More calendrical news: I'm going to QuahogCon in Providence, Rhode Island, April 23rd-25th. They have infosecurity and DIY/maker tracks. I'm especially interested in a few talks:

but of course there's way more advanced stuff about SQL injection and WiFi vulnerabilities and bone-chilling madness, &c., &c. Let me know if you're going; I'm interested in splitting a hotel room with another woman. WILL YOU BE HER?

I've also nearly decided to go to Open Source Bridge in Portland, Oregon, at the beginning of June (right after WisCon, which may be a bad idea). I've submitted a proposal for one talk ("The Second Step: HOWTO encourage open source work at for-profits"), and plan on submitting one or two more.

Filed under:


(2) : Web: About eleven years ago, I saw a link from Slashdot to a geek humor site called Segfault. I started reading it, then started reading the homepage of one of the editors. Leonard Richardson. He posted something new nearly every day, like a diary. (I didn't know the word "blog" in 1999.) He shared funny lines from his friends, his mom, his colleagues. I kept reading.

About ten years ago, I started reading Joel on Software. Just a few years previous I'd discovered Gerald Weinberg, specifically his The Psychology of Computer Programming, and loved it. So this Joel guy was talking about things I found interesting, and was introducing lenses, metaphors, models that immediately spoke to me. Fire And Motion. Ben & Jerry's vs. Amazon. The Law of Leaky Abstractions. Managers as the developer's abstraction layer (I later heard the synonym "windshield"). Smart and Gets Things Done. The iceberg problem in software development. Five Worlds. Architecture astronauts. I could go on.

Almost exactly nine years ago, I saw a funny line ("Those guys are gods of applied physics!") in an article on SFGate, decided that Leonard guy would appreciate it, and sent it to him. He and I started corresponding, and then hanging out. I went down to Bakersfield with him one weekend to help his mom move. Eventually we started dating.

About four years ago, I saw another pivotal blog post. I was living in San Francisco, in my third year working for Salon, and realizing that I'd like to go into management, and this Joel guy announced that his company was looking for me. Well, for someone who wanted to lead geeks, not necessarily a programmer. I saw that post, then woke up at 3am the next day, thinking, "I have to apply."

I applied, thinking I hadn't a chance in hell. Joel phone-screened me. I'd been told to prepare a short lesson ahead of time, on a topic of my choosing. So I came up with my stand-up comedy lesson plan, which I still use today. He asked whether, if accepted, I could move out to New York the next month. I hesitated a second or two, then said sure. They flew me out for an interview. I got an offer and said yes. Fog Creek paid handsomely to relocate my household. Leonard, who had left Collabnet to work on Ruby Cookbook, came with me. He'd never seen New York before we arrived in January of 2006.

Leonard and I were unhappy that we were moving so far from his mom. Frances had been fighting HIV for more than a decade, and had lived far longer than the doctors had ever predicted, but her health was still perceptibly declining. So I told him he should fly back once a month to see her. But he didn't get much of a chance to do that, because her health started getting much, much worse a few months after we moved. Leonard flew back and spent several weeks with her as she died. I took some time off to go be with her; later I discovered that Fog Creek had quietly, kindly given me those days for free, and not counted them against my paid time off.

Of all the job perks I ever got at Fog Creek -- relocation, half a Columbia Master's paid for, lunches, Broadway tickets, unlimited sickleave, Metrocard, a great library -- that one sticks with me most.

Oh man, this thing is getting long. Anyway. I learned a lot from Joel, before, during, and after my time at Fog Creek. I appreciate his decisiveness, his straightforwardness, his species of eloquence and encouragement, his financial generosity, his entrepreneurial spirit, and his insight. Sure, it wasn't all roses and sunshine, but he changed my life, mostly for the better.

A few days from now, Joel Spolsky will retire from active blogging, ten years after he started. Leonard and I are married, and still live in New York, and will for the next year at least. We still miss Frances terribly. Segfault's been gone for nine years. My Fog Creek salary subsidized Leonard's work on Ruby Cookbook, then RESTful Web Services. I have a master's degree in tech management and am looking for my next job in that field. Fog Creek was 6 or 7 people when I arrived, and now it's thirty or more. All those articles of Joel's are up on the web, ready for us to reread or brandish or rip to ribbons.

And so are my archives, and Leonard's, and Frances's.

It really is a web, isn't it.

Filed under:


(4) : In Which I Offer To Do Research For You: So far, no one has suggested things for me to look up at the NYC TV/radio archive. Leonard and I added two items to my list. Frank's Place is a well-regarded eighties dramedy that used a bunch of great music and thus is unlikely to ever come out on DVD due to licensing issues. And the "Persistence of Memory" episode of Cosmos is up on Hulu, and has an anachronistic computing-related montage near the end. Specifically, although Cosmos dates from 1980, the montage includes a Shoemaker-Levy 9 webpage as viewed in Netscape. So Leonard is interested in learning what the original montage featured.

Any other suggestions?


: Predictions Come True: A French reality/game TV show has reproduced the Milgram experiment. You know, the one about giving a stranger electric shocks, even when he begs you to stop. (Why couldn't they redo the other Milgram experiment?)

About eight years ago, I was thinking of reality shows as psychology experiments that the Human Subjects Committee wouldn't let you do. Turns out I was really right.


(3) : In My Dreams, I Know Everyone: "I was friends with Jerry Seinfeld. We were just hanging out. He had a plot in a community garden so we went over and worked on that for a while...as he dropped me off at the train station, I told him I was worried that I didn't treat him enough like a regular person, because sometimes it was hard to get around how famous he was. He said, 'I think you do a pretty good job.'"

"Sumana's ultimate celebrity fantasy."

"And then I remember being worried about how to talk with my other friends about this. I mean, I don't want to be name dropping, but if it comes up in conversation, 'Oh when I was hanging out with Jerry the other day --,' and the other person asks, and I say 'Jerry Seinfeld,' then it's just coy. Like, either I'm name-dropping, or I'm pretentiously not name-dropping..."

"This sounds like a Seinfeld episode."

Filed under:


: Careful What You Wish For: Suddenly the daytime temperatures here have jumped to 75F and plateaued there. My body isn't adjusting well. I got a haircut from the barber on Crescent (and buzzed Leonard's hair myself), so at least I don't have that sweaty, brain-fritzing perma-hat feeling. But I'm still grumpy and look pale. Let me just add to the whining to fill up this whineglass: computer problems, communication problems with Leonard, procrastination, WOW health insurance companies hate us. I'm sure I could go on, but perhaps it would be more productive to drink some seltzer water and watch The Rotten Tomatoes Show and try to get into a more agreeable mood.


(1) : On Dreamwidth: I have an account on Dreamwidth, a social blogging service. It's neat! I can watch the Latest Posts scroll and see people writing interesting things. Who's hit hardest by the recession? What is fanfic for, and what can it be? Bleahs and yays, fanfic, pretty pictures, exasperated thoughts on education, and only a tiny bit of random childish spew. Dreamwidth is rather a place for people who make things, and it's good for me to virtually hang around people who make things, as the ambient role models/expectations/examples will inspire me when I'm waffling.

And they have the basics right, too: there's an active open source community around the DW codebase, DW is committed to outstanding openness principles and sticks to them, and the whole community is very woman-friendly.

If I post anything there, I'll link back to it here. If you've been looking for a free, friendly place to start blogging (Brandon, Dorée, and Jade spring to mind), here are some invite codes to start a free Dreamwidth account:

FNG6KDTSB44XDAAADYZU

9EH8VC2Y85KTMAAADDNR

QR27YMWHM2MF6AAADDNS

[A longterm goal of mine is to unify all the publicly accessible stuff I emit on the web into a metablog -- a lifestream or firehose, some people call it. Twitter (which is a copy of my Identi.ca microblog), my MetaFilter activity, and of course twenty comments a day on other people's blogs -- I'd like to have a unified feed of all those. Suggestions/tools welcome.]


: Cheering Things: Indeed The Rotten Tomatoes Show cheered me. Ellen Fox and Brett Erlich have great lines, great editing, and great delivery. They and the community reviewers point out screenplay cliches, muse bizarre casting coincidences, and get all nerdy about accuracy, as in Fox's roundup of rock-n-roll biopic accuracy:

Also, I cannot help but love when Fox moves her arms as she says "The Anticipatron!" or awkwardly rhymes "Weekend Peek...end." And I think Erlich has found his calling. Check out his informative and entertaining three-minute review of Tim Burton's career.

And They Might Be Giants' "My Brother The Ape" (from Here Comes Science) makes me sniffle the same way Dar Williams's "The Christians and the Pagans" does.


(2) : Less-Beaten-Path New York City Tourist Suggestions, With A Side of Whoo: Saturday: Got an Archive of Our Own account for encouragement in writing fanfic (today's awe-inspiring AO3 discovery: Oregon Trail fanfic!), got lovely orange roses from my husband, ate baked beans on toast, discovered that a member of the British Fantasy Society nominated Thoughtcrime Experiments for Best Anthology of 2009, talked with Mel, and took an out-of-town friend to Home On 8th and Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind for dinner and a show. Hmm, written out like that, it sounds pretty good (ignoring my failure to exercise, write more of my GNOME Journal article, or write conference proposals, or follow up on myriad errands).

Ah yes! I wanted to post a short list of some favorite NYC experiences I like to share with visitors. The Circle Line tour is great, the Met and MoMa and the main library and whatnot are good, but here's some more idiosyncratic stuff.

There's more that I can't cudgel out of my melon at the moment, but that's the current braindump.

Filed under:


(1) : Gussied-Up Link Blogging: I am accumulating draft posts as I focus my days on GNOME Journal work, errands, and preparing for conferences and other appearances. So, very little blogging; even my Ada Lovelace Day post will be days late. But I can at least mention some interesting links.

"The reason this exists is because every time we watch Parks and Recreation we sing 'Jabba the Hutt' along with the theme. So naturally we had to make this video." I like the way you think.

This New York Times article on China's cyberposses, or "human-flesh search engines", was scary and enlightening.

Searches have been directed against all kinds of people, including cheating spouses, corrupt government officials, amateur pornography makers, Chinese citizens who are perceived as unpatriotic, journalists who urge a moderate stance on Tibet and rich people who try to game the Chinese system. Human-flesh searches highlight what people are willing to fight for: the political issues, polarizing events and contested moral standards that are the fault lines of contemporary China.

It also led me to feel less sympathy for an Encyclopedia Dramatica moderator.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, as often, eloquently states something that gets my head nodding:

But I think any sort of conservatism intellectual critique of liberalism and minority rights, really has to reckon with American conservatism's appalling record on that front...

Moreover they have used a skepticism of change, to mask a defense of institutional evil...

There is a fundamental problem here, one that can't be elided by pointing out the differences between "true" conservatism and Republicans. A bias toward time-tested, societal institutions almost necessarily means a bias toward institutional evil....

Derek Powazek's recent foolproof guide to nurturing houseplants reminded me of a heartwarming houseplant story he once wrote.

Filed under:


(1) : Multipass!: Julia, chief interviewer for the Outer Alliance, today posted an interview with me. Thanks, Julia! Outer Alliance is a group dedicated to education, support, and celebration regarding LGBT contributions in speculative fiction. Julia asked me about WisCon, diversity in Thoughtcrime Experiments, Creative Commons, my interest in trans issues, and tips for social confidence. I sneak in a hint on grad school.

Other links and observations:

Fred hits it out of the park again. This put a smile on my face all the way through, a YouTube effect most commonly reserved for OK Go. (via)

If Caldera was "Linux for Business," shouldn't Linux for mobile be Calder?

A memory from 21 January, 2009: Obama said, information will not be withheld just because I say so. And from March 1 last year: McCain stuff in a Washington, DC airport gift shop was on clearance for $1.99.

A pal, upon seeing me kvetch about misspellings of "Mediterranean": "Maddittiranian!"

Some vids I've loved recently: "Power Trekkers" (Star Trek Reboot Plus), "What About" (Multifandom), and "Grapevine Fires" (Star Trek, several incarnations). That last one embedded below so you can taste it, though it's best as a high-res download:


Find more videos like this on BAM Vid Vault

My wine tastes, as recorded in notes from a single Vesta wine flight: the Aglianico is bleh, I don't like the Rubio or Pinot Noir, the Molto Montepuciano is eh, and Orvietto is nice.

When I was last in India, I saw Vestige brand toothpaste for sale.


: Angie Martin: Last week, bloggers commemmorated the annual Ada Lovelace Day. It's a day to honor influential and inspirational women in technology and science. To quote one participant,

We are not Unicorns. We are everywhere. But our history is easily submerged, discounted and dismissed. Too easily forgotten.

Following the Women in Free Software blog aggregator today showcases how many women, living and dead, deserve this honor. Please excuse my belated post; this was hard to write.

Last year I listed some of my influences; now I'm realizing that every year I'll have the chance to celebrate at least one person in depth, so I'm going to speak about someone I deeply wish I'd gotten to know better.

mySociety core developer Angie Martin changed her name from Angie Ahl a few months into 2009, when she got married, and a few months before she died.

I'd met her on the Systers email list in October 2007, when she'd mentioned that she was up for a job with a UK org that created systems that helped facilitate government-public interaction and democracy in general. She doubted any Systers outside the UK would have heard of them, so of course I emailed her asking, TheyWorkForYou/mySociety? She got the job, and was "so chuffed": "I've been grinning for about 48 hours now," she told me, her morale sky-high that she'd impressed these people she respected so much. And she'd beat out an all-male field for the job:

Who says girls can't compete.

This was after she'd worked several years as one of a two-person web design firm, which was after hostmaster work at an ISP.

I mentioned that I knew Danny O'Brien, who was also in the UK digital-rights/participatory-democracy-tech scene. "...small world - I know him from years of reading need to know. I was jokingly going to wear my old battered NTK T-shirt to the interview... I should have done ;)", she replied. We talked a bit back and forth over the next few years. I'd hoped to meet her on a trip to London, but she lived in Cumbria (in the Lakes Districts), so we never met up.

She migrated the mySociety website to WordPress even while ill. She went on an org retreat, and got an Ada Lovelace Day shout-out from her colleagues.

Angie is mySociety through and through. A born perl hacker, never happier than knee deep in some grungy regular expressions, she's also gifted with an inate understanding of the possibilities of technology for democratic reform. At interview I asked her what change she'd like to see happen from the government side of our sector, and she replied that she thought the biggest possible win was to publish Bills in parliament in a proper format. You might have heard all this before, thanks to Free Our Bills, but Angie was commenting several months before we ever discussed the idea for the campaign with anyone else. She'd just looked at the world and the obvious problem had jumped out, clear as day.

She was eager to see Open Rights Group grow, and to see fair usage rights in the UK established properly. She loved the idea of Quinn's Symphonic Conundrum and wished it could be done. She loved Perl and jested that a bone scan that briefly turned her radioactive might give her superpowers.

In February 2009, Ahl learned that her cancer was terminal. She got married about a month later -- about a year ago. (Her widower, Tommy, is a photographer, and he loved to photograph her.)

Martin died of cancer in July 2009, having only begun the mySociety work she'd passionately wanted to do. Her partner, her colleagues, and friends and peers grieved their loss:

Angie was one of the true pioneers of the Lasso community.

Her contribution to the Lasso community was absolutely immense.

Angie and I often talked offlist about ways to move our programming ahead - about how to bring levels of functionality into reality that no one else was doing yet. Her level of understanding of the most abstract concepts, and how turn them into code was absolutely astounding.

She pioneered the error.lasso method, which so many people use today. She was also the first to figure out how to build search engine friendly URL's with Lasso. She contributed a ton of innovations, too many to list. Her contribution to the Lasso community is immeasurable.....

The fact that Angie was talented enough that she could have walked into a very high paying job with virtually any company in the world she wanted to work for (and could have named her own price salary wise), but chose to use her skills and her time to help a not for profit organisation like mySociety, speaks volumes about the immense depth of her character....

Given her habit of plain speaking, it is pointless to pretend that Angie was able to make the contribution to mySociety’s users or codebase that she wanted to. What she achieved in terms of difficult coding during recovery from chemotherapy was incredible, breathtaking – but she wanted to change the world. It now falls to the rest of us, and our supporters, to live up to the expectations she embodied...

What's that saying about the last full measure of devotion?

I hope this remembrance helps us appreciate all the tough, brilliant, geeky, dedicated women in our community, and work in memory of the ones who have left us, like Martin.

Filed under:


(1) : My First Seder: Yesterday evening, our friend Beth hosted a Passover seder that Leonard and I attended. She and Dara had created the haggadah by splicing together elements from three haggadot, including a few moments where (as Beth explained) "this page is in here because Dara wanted everyone to see this amazing illustration of the locusts with lion heads." When I mispronounced "paschal" as "Pascal," Beth suggested that we could call the matzoh "paschal's wafer," possibly the most awesome pun I've heard yet this year.

Lucian said that many Jewish holidays revolve around the theme, "they tried to kill us, they failed, let's eat." And in that context of prayer, remembrance, and celebration, there is something touching and amazing about hearing your friends sing a song, in a language you don't know, that people have been singing every year for thousands of years.

Filed under:


: I'm Looking Forward to Open Source Bridge & WisCon: I'll be at the feminist science fiction convention WisCon this year, arriving Thursday the 27th and leaving Monday the 31st for Portland, Oregon. I'll be in Portland till Saturday the 5th for Open Source Bridge. I found out while planning my tickets that at least two other women are also going straight from one conference to the other, so we get to fly together (although they will probably shout down my "matching outfits" idea).

As I mentioned to Julia,

This year, I'm of course interested in several panels, like "Facebook and Its Discontents," "Fighting Imposter Syndrome," the "Once Upon A Time" game-playing panel, and panels on small presses, worldbuilding, supportive artists' SOs, forgotten women writers, and fanfic. I hope I get to participate on a panel or two. I look forward to seeing friends I saw last year. I'll be seeing college pal Shweta Narayan again for the first time in years, and I'll get to meet Alexandra Erin, whose Tales of MU I've been reading for years. And Mary Anne Mohanraj, whose "Jump Space" appears in Thoughtcrime Experiments, is a WisCon Guest Of Honor, so I shall puff out my chest and bask in reflected glory.

Open Source Bridge received 197 proposals, of which three are mine:

    I'm Submitting a Talk to Open Source Bridge – June 1–4, 2010 – Portland, OR
  1. "Thoughtcrime Experiments": CC/FLOSS Lessons From A DIY Sci-Fi Anthology: Last year, two FLOSS enthusiasts edited a Creative Commons-licensed anthology of original fantasy and science fiction stories and art. We did it to give back, to give readers more choices, and because documenting and sharing are in our blood. Here's how we published a great anthology, why, and how you can do it too. (Culture track)
  2. Blocker Talk: confessional-meets-Scrum: What are the three highest priorities for your FLOSS project, what's blocking you, and can we help? A guided discussion. (Cooking track)
  3. The Second Step: HOWTO encourage open source work at for-profits: Even at pro-FLOSS businesses, logistical obstacles and incentive problems get in the way of giving back. I show you how to fix that. (Business track)

Three isn't that many, as you can see if you look at Josh Berkus's seven proposals. You can check out my incomplete list of proposals that look neat, like Melissa Hollingsworth on SQL vs. NoSQL and Liz Henry & Danny O'Brien on "Applying OpenStreetMap to the High Seas".


: GNOME Video Site, Mysterious Bugzilla Upgrade Patron, Mallard, Acire/Quickly, An Interview & A Goodbye: I'm an editor and the release coordinator for GNOME Journal, which just released its 19th issue.

This issue has six articles:

Paul, Jim, the authors and I put some hours into this and I think it's worth it. Check it out.

Filed under:


(1) : Omnibus: From conversation with my sister yesterday:

"So Greyhound has this new innovation called 'Reserved Seating' --"
"So you just said 'innovation' and 'Greyhound' in the same sentence. Let's just take a pause to appreciate that."
"No, no, it's sarcastic -- the end of my sentence is, this new innovation called 'Reserved Seating' where if you buy a ticket, then you will get a seat on that bus. You are guaranteed to get a seat on the bus at that date and time."
Pause.
"Wow. Greyhound. Um, welcome to....the twentieth century."
"I think maybe even in the 1800s, with train tickets? I think they had that."
"Yeah, seriously."
"Or even earlier than that. With, like, coaches."
"Let's stick with nineteenth. We can be pretty certain that trains worked like that."


Now that I recall -- Greyhound (at least in the DC-NYC-Boston routes) seems to have had something called "Reserve Seating" since late 2007 although I think it was more like what they're now calling Priority Boarding, which is where you get to board the bus first (but in practice I believe you aren't limited to the exact departure time printed on your ticket).

Anyway, beware of the Greyhound website's Reserved Seating dealie; I thought I was going through the right form to buy a Reserved Seating ticket, but the purchase process didn't mention Reserved Seating after that initial screen, and then the PDF I printed didn't have the magic words Reserved Seating on it. I'll report a bug to them soon.

And now I'm wondering how train tickets worked, back when the whole passenger rail deal was starting up...

Filed under:


(1) : Yahoo! Labs Research Presentations, February 2010: Two months ago, Maritza Johnson organized a trip to the NYC Yahoo! research labs for Columbia's Women in Computer Science. As a Columbia alumna, I snuck in. (Something like fifteen or twenty high-powered CS undergrads and grad students attended. Always great to be in a lobby full of smart geeky women.) I heard about some pretty keen things there, so here's my writeup.

Ken Schmidt, director of academic relations, told us about some of Yahoo!'s academic relations work. For example, academics can get a bunch of useful datasets for research via the Webscope program. Yahoo! hosts university hackdays alongside its other worldwide hackdays. The Faculty Research Engagement program provides funding, datasets, and visits. The Key Scientific Challenges program gives grad students money, secret datasets, and collaboration. And Schmidt noted that there's an active Yahoo! Women in Tech network, and that they'll be at Grace Hopper this year.

At Yahoo! Labs, you choose your office location based on what's convenient to you, and then collaborate with other people in your discipline across offices. I didn't get a chance to see their videoconference meeting rooms but I get the sense they're great.

Following are some idiosyncratic notes on the presentations we got from Yahoo! Labs researchers. We also got to talk informally with Duncan Watts, who thinks a lot about experiments, social dynamics and behavior, and Sergei Vassilvitskii, who is taciturn.

Dan Reeves has spent four years at Yahoo! Labs and works on a mix of things. He talked about Predictalot, the Yahoo! prediction game for March Madness (the US college men's basketball tournament). Reeves, who doesn't know much about the NCAA, showed us some sample bets and kept getting dismayed that they were coming up at 100% or 0% potential, until actual basketball fans pointed out that his randomly chosen bet put up a rinky-dink conference against a heavy hitter. Domain knowledge is useful sometimes.

A few lessons: running quintillions of simulations (in the web browser, when the user selects a bet to make, I think) is hard, and thus programmers took "ridiculous shortcuts." The programmers made it possible to make "weird bets" (like, math involving the sum of the seeds that would make it to the Final Four), and not too many people have taken advantage of that, which is a little disappointing. And though the prediction market is very flexible, it doesn't give you more accuracy than you get already from crude, already-known variables.

But we already have an efficient and computation-assisted prediction market, and it's called gambling. Millions of dollars change hands every year as people bet on college basketball, and metrics for success and failure are clear, so I don't find it surprising that we're already very good at predicting outcomes from known variables. Perhaps a prediction market would lead to a greater increase in accuracy in a lesser-known sport.

That same slight disappointment came up in Sharad Goel's results. Goel thinks about homophily vs. influence, which seems intriguing to me, as does his "Anatomy of the Long Tail: Ordinary People with Extraordinary Tastes". To our group he spoke about what search can predict. That blog entry has all the details. Some key points:

You can use data from people's search queries to "predict the present." For example, people are all gaga about Google Flu Trends partly because it works around lags. GFT gives you results with a tiny lag, maybe a day; the CDC can't tell you results till it's been a week or two.

But can you use search to predict the future? And how well would that compare to alternative prediction methods? Well, you can check queries in the weeks leading up to a movie release and that'll give you pretty accurate predictions for its box office numbers, but "more mundane indicators, such as production budgets and reviewer ratings, perform equally well at forecasting sales." Specifically, there's already a Hollywood Stock Exchange. Again, where there's already a well-honed prediction market, you're not going to be able to swoop in and compete all Moneyball-style right off the bat...

Sihem Amer-Yahia researches social data management. She spoke with us about relevance algorithms for social surveys. You can construct implicit networks based on shared data preferences -- for example, rankings on delicious -- or shared behavior. (Yeah, remember, Yahoo! owns The Web Site Formerly Known As del.icio.us. Over and over in these talks I was reminded that Yahoo! is making a lot of hay from their datasets: Flickr, delicious, Yahoo! Games, Yahoo! Sports (including fantasy sports), Yahoo! Mail....)

How alike are two people, based on what they tag or rank? Well, it's hard to systematically check this sort of thing via tags, because tags are sparse (whooo, folksonomy). Researchers looked at tags on Yahoo! Travel, like "family" or "LGBT." They parsed the tags and their usage to create "concepts" and to build "communities" around those concepts.

As I've known since Leonard created the Indie Rock Peter Principle, recommendation systems suffer from an overspecialization problem. As Amer-Yahia puts it, how can you incorporate diversity into the system's recommendations without hurting their relevance? Well, they have a lot of heuristics. One: use a greedy algorithm to pick the first K most-relevant results. Find which of those K results has the most similarity to that set. Then compare that most-similar result to the K+1th result. If the K+1th result is less similar, then swap it in. Continue to trade off diversity against relevance till you reach the lower acceptable bound of the relevance range (a range whose threshold you may have to discover empirically). It's a species of affirmative action.

Once you personalize recommendations (especially based on social networks), the indices you create and have to deal with get huge. I have a note here about "Storing like things together" and "Returning a composite of relevant items, validating with user's network" -- I assume those are partial solutions to the performance problems.

Another fun thing Amer-Yahia worked on: take Flickr photos and turn them into itineraries (longer paper at author Munmun De Choudhury's site). (Factoid: about 10% of Flickr photos come with automatic geotag stamping, and about 40% have semantic user-added tags that you can use to get some geographic data.) As the abstract says, "Our extensive user study on a 'crowd-sourcing' marketplace (Amazon Mechanical Turk), indicates that high quality itineraries can be automatically constructed from Flickr data, when compared against popular professionally generated bus tours." Oh yeah, the researchers love Mechanical Turk!

Amer-Yahia also spoke on homogeneity in structured datasets with strict ranking. Her demo used Yahoo! Personals as an example, which led to many subsidiary guffaws.

Basically, it's the diversity vs. relevance problem again. If you say you want to see college-educated white women aged 25-34 within 5 miles of New York City, you'll get a big dataset ordered by some characteristic. You can either rank by distance, or by age, or by level of education, but in any case you have like 100 nearly-identical results on the first several pages before you get to the first difference. It's hard to explore.

So instead we have subspace clustering, which sounds AWESOME. You cluster combinations of attributes in a rank-aware way, label them, and make sure that your resulting clusters of results have adequate quality, relevance, etc. Amer-Yahia explains this as dimension reduction to help users explore [results] more effectively.

John Langford works on machine learning. He pointed out a bunch of spots where Yahoo! sites use, or could benefit from, machine learning. He works on a "fast, scalable, useful learning algorithm" named Vorpal Wabbit. Langford demonstrated it and indeed it seemed plenty fast, although I haven't any baseline for comparison. Key phrases I noted include "linear predictor," "infrastructure helps it go & learn fast," and "plug in different, lossy-or-not algorithms?" and I assume interested folks can go check out the tutorial. A niche tool, but sounds invaluable if you're in his target market.

Jake Hofman showed us some more machine learning goodness. His tool (an implementation of vbmod, I think) scrapes the To: & CC: lines from your email to see who gets emailed together, and from that constructs a pretty graph showing the nodes & clusters in your social network. He tried it on a colleague's real mail, and indeed five distinct clusters sprang up. "That's my soccer buddies...that one's my in-laws...that's my college pals..." You can use this to have the Compose Mail interface auto-suggest recipients you might have left out.

I talked with Hofman a little after the presentations, whereupon he revealed that he hearts Beautiful Soup and Mechanize for screen-scraping login-protected or otherwise complicated websites. Evidently he got into Bayesian fun as a cell biologist getting software to automate the tedious task of classifying images from microscopes, slides, etc. Oh, there it is on his resume: "Applied machine learning and statistical inference techniques for high-throughput quantitative analysis of network and image data" and "Developed software platform to automate characterization of cell spreading and migration". Cool!

Siddharth Suri researches social networks and experiments and data mining. He presented his "Behavioral Study of Public Goods Games over Networks." He did an experiment on Mechanical Turk. Econ professors would challenge him on how representative of the population that sample is, to which he would rightly reply that they tend to experiment on university undergraduates, who aren't exactly hella representative either. Boo-yah!

Suri asks how we might get people to change or sustain socially beneficial behavior in a tragedy-of-the-commons situation. For example, how do we encourage energy conservation, discourage littering, and encourage donations to charity? I appreciate that it's a tough and important problem. However, he also said that the same question applies to online communities: how do we get people to upload photos to Flickr or write Facebook updates so everyone can enjoy them? He then investigated via a social dilemma game/experiment via Mechanical Turk, where strangers had the option to give or keep amounts of money, sometimes a "subject" was a plant who moved norms towards selfishness or altruism, etc., etc.

I find this question and approach a little bewildering. People write and share and upload online for many of the same reasons we knit scarves as gifts, host and go to birthday parties, and gossip and volunteer in the physical world. These are interpersonal, social actions that we do to bond or amuse ourselves or gain status within specific communities that have meaning to us. Experimenting on this phenomenon with strangers exchanging money on Mechanical Turk -- because that's where you can get experimental results -- seems weak.

Since this experiment was an initial pilot project, we suggested that future iterations allow the subjects to make friends with each other, or get pre-existing groups of subjects to join (e.g., have an experimental group composed of coworkers). Another attendee worried aloud that these measures might allow a "false sense of community" to arise and throw off the results. But who are we to call any sense of community false? And community is the answer to the social dilemma, anyway, isn't it?

Overall, a thought-provoking and enlightening way to spend a few hours. Thanks to Johnson and Schmidt for setting it up. I also thank Yahoo! Labs for the lunch, USB drives, pen gadgets, and fleece scarves. Let me know if I'm wrong about anything!

Filed under:


(2) : A Little Seltzer Down Your Throat: I didn't get the hint when the heat made me really cranky and tired.

I didn't get the hint when I got headaches.

I didn't follow all those directions printed and spoken in every health advisory ever.

Today, when I went to a doctor for an overdue checkup, the nurse tried to draw blood, and it flowed far too slowly for her liking into the needle. She said this was a sign of dehydration ("your body's way of saying 'I don't wanna give up my liquids, I don't know when I'm gonna get any more'"), and aborted the procedure, adding that I was the first person she'd ever seen who'd been so dehydrated that she couldn't draw enough blood.

OK, I'm going to try to drink more water.


: Hours Of The Wolf: I am up at 3:45am because from 5 to 7 am Leonard and I will be on Jim Freund's longrunning scifi radio show, "Hour of the Wolf," on WBAI. We'll be talking about the Thoughtcrime Experiments anthology and Leonard will read his story "Let Us Now Praise Awesome Dinosaurs." You can stream it live on the web, listen to 99.5FM live if you're in broadcasting range, or listen to the archive for the 10-ish days it's up. Oh, and there's a call-in portion!


: Galen The Annoyinger: Leonard & I are watching the Babylon 5 spinoff series Crusade which, like The Middleman and Firefly, got cut short at the one-season mark. And, as with Firefly, the recommended viewing order is substantially different from the as-aired order. We've already seen both of archaeologist/anthropologist/comic book writer Fiona Avery's great episodes. She wrote a script for the second season that included Bester; I wish I could see it, but Leonard tires easily whenever telepaths show up.

Captain Gideon is played by Gary Cole, a.k.a. Lumbergh from Office Space. He's fine and believable, but whenever Gideon drinks something or makes a certain face, Leonard and I say, "Yeahhhhhhh, I'm gonna have to..." This also works for his turn in Psych as a SWAT team hostage negotiator ("Yeahhhh, I'm gonna have to ask you to release those hostages").

We're just getting into it, with about four episodes left. Wahhh. Well, that's why there's fanfic.

Update: How could I forget to mention that Crusade features an entire episode parodying The X-Files?


(2) : My Lawn And The Children Upon It: The amazing penetration of the Do-Not-Call list and cell phones means that kids growing up in the US these days will never know how annoying telemarketers used to be. They also won't know how pervasive those AOL floppies and CDs were. And as Leonard points out, since they all use GMail, they'll never know how bad spam used to be.


(1) : Ever Since You've Been Around: Leonard, Not-My-Ex Dan, Jacob and I saw the always-fun Kevin Geeks Out curated talk-video-slideshow-quiz fest last night. Towards the end, we saw an enticing trailer for next month's alien encounter-themed show, the soundtrack to which was "Top of the World" by the Carpenters.

As I listen to the lyrics, the immediately spooky one that grabs me is "Something in the wind has learned my name." If licensing fees for lyrics quotations in fiction weren't so impossibly high (I could be wrong), someone like Aaron Sorkin or J. Michael Straczynski would have grabbed that for an episode title.

Not to get all Leonard's six-part meditation on how video game titles work on you, but there is a fairly common type of title for a short story or a TV episode that quotes a song lyric, line of poetry/Shakespeare/the Bible, or other well-known phrase. Leonard and I were looking at the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5 episode lists to find titles we liked and disliked, and we saw a lot of references. For fairly obscure references ("And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place") a big long phrase is good. But if your audience is already familiar with the cliche, you can just excerpt the evocative bit ("Passing Through Gethsemane," "And Now For A Word," "Distant Voices," "Favor the Bold," "Sacrifice of Angels," "You are Cordially Invited," "In the Pale Moonlight," "When It Rains..."). Unfortunately, for some phrases, even the excerpt is already a cliche ("By Any Means Necessary," "If Wishes Were Horses," "Nor the Battle to the Strong," "Once More Unto the Breach," "'Til Death Do Us Part," "Strange Bedfellows"). You can kind of get away with Latin ("Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges") or translations from Greek ("The Exercise of Vital Powers") whilst staying classy.

This comes up in short story titles as well. Leonard was just reading a story called "I Pray the Lord My Soul to Keep" or some other line from that prayer, and we batted around "My Soul to Keep" as a better title -- still a cliche, though.

I was just looking at Sorkin titles (Sports Night, West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) and talked with Leonard about them for about ten minutes, less actually arguing and more lining up topics for future discussion. (Examples: why do we disagree on "Evidence of Things Not Seen" and "Mr. Willis of Ohio," what's interesting about "We Killed Yamamoto," when do we like and dislike numbers in titles, and is Leonard's pro-science bias leading him to like "Eppur Si Muove" better than other non-English quote titles?) But overall, we like non-remix evocative phrases -- originals, of course, as well as quotes.

Some more thoughts on episode titles. Yours? What do you like and dislike?


(3) : A Few Tech-ish-Related Observations: New Work City is a Manhattan coworking space/group that charges $25 for a desk for a day.

Floatleft: an international two-woman Drupal consulting firm that provides web development services to NGOs and nonprofits. Neat!

A similarly focused webdev firm is looking to hire.

KML or Keyhole Markup Language: an XML variant you use to mark up Google Earth or Google Maps.

Hierarchical Data Format: a file format that acts like a filesystem, for use with large & complicated datasets.

Unfortunately, when you do a Google search for [gnome source control] or [version control gnome], instead of git.gnome.org, the first hit is the obsolete Subversion site (although it prominently calls itself OBSOLETE and directs you to git).

Filed under:


: Out the Door: Off to QuahogCon in Providence, Rhode Island. Say hi if you're there! I have some free time this afternoon and welcome sightseeing advice.

Filed under:


(2) : Thoughtcrime Experiments, One Year Later: Today is the one-year anniversary of Thoughtcrime Experiments, the free scifi/fantasy anthology Leonard and I edited last year.

Thoughtcrime Experiments cover

Thoughtcrime Experiments got a bit of recognition in the form of award nominations. We made the British Fantasy longlist (voting closes 31 May). The Variety SF blog loved Ken Liu's "Single-Bit Error" and considered it one of the best short stories of the year. And Patrick Farley's "Gaia's Strange Seedlike Brood (Homage to Lynn Margulis)" has made the Ursa Major shortlist. We'll find out if he won next month.

Another form of recognition was the sharings, remixings and adaptations we hoped would happen when we released Thoughtcrime Experiments under a Creative Commons license.

LibrisLite, an ebook-reading application, includes our anthology as a free sample book. Marshall T. Vandergrift made a hand-crafted ePub edition, Arachne Jericho made ePub, Kindle/Mobipocket, Microsoft Reader, and Sony Reader editions, and manybooks.net provides the book in many formats. Andrew Willett's short story "Daisy" received a lot of love this way, including an audio recording read by Ian McMillan and an upcoming project I can't mention yet. A fan also read it aloud at a storyreading party.

Mary Anne Mohanraj and Sumana Harihareswara at WisCon in 2009(To the right: E. J. Fischer's photo of me with Mary Anne Mohanraj, author of "Jump Space.")

We were also gratified to see people thinking about, reviewing, enjoying, and linking to individual stories and illustrations.

"Jump Space" by Mary Anne Mohanraj got substantial thoughtful attention, such as Rachel Chalmers's review:

"Even cooler, the story they sort of chose for me is "Jump Space", which I purely love. It's a head-on collision between the Heinlein juvenile adventure stories I adored as a kid - the Have Spacesuit Will Travel or Space Family Stones - and a thoroughly 21st century set of attitudes towards love, sex, dating one's professor, marriage, faithfulness, jealousy, prostitution, slavery and even raising children (my main preoccupation these days and one that Heinlein tended to rather idealize...)

Erica Naone's review of "Jump Space", in part:

I think the anthology is trying to explore a wider variety of human elements and viewpoints than are seen in the typical science fiction anthology...

Mary Anne Mohanraj's "Jump Space" has some of the most fully realized relationships that I've seen in science fiction.... the theme of love's simultaneous strength and fragility was emphasized against the backdrop of space. Love and family seem even more accidental and precarious when the universe is so large.

Mohanraj wrote a post about what she did wrong & right in "Jump Space". Hugo Schwyzer posted about "Jump Space" and academic ethics (specifically, on initiating professor-student romance), to which Mohanraj replied.

Rachel Chalmers's review continued:

I liked "Jump Space" so much that I was startled to find a story in Thoughtcrime that I liked even better. It is "Single Bit Error" by Ken Liu. Can't tell you much about it without spoiling a rather excellent surprise, but wow, it's just a stunner. Weaves together theoretical computer science and existential philosophy in a way I've always thought could be done, but never quite managed to do or see anyone else doing...

You should allow for my extreme bias in favor of my friends; despite this utter lack of objectivity I recommend this anthology to anyone who's interested in the best and bravest modern science fiction.

Bio Break by Brittany Hague(To the left: "Bio Break" by Brittany Hague.)

Kit Brown wrote: "I really liked Daisy by Andrew Willett and Single Bit Error by Ken Liu. I also loved Robot vs Ninjas by Marc Scheff and snagged it to add to my desktop wallpaper rotation."

Erin Ptah's illustration "Pirate vs. Alien" also got some attention: "More silliness may be found in this picture by Erin Ptah, wherein a buxom pirate battles a well-endowed alien who appears to be preparing to give himself a shave."

Lynda Williams says of "The Ambassador's Staff," a short story by Sherry D. Ramsey: "Well put together, goes down smooth, and captures my feelings about too little sleep and too much coffee, to boot. Allegorically speaking."

Sam Tomaino calls Thoughtcrime Experiments "an anthology filled with stories that I enjoyed thoroughly". And Jane Irwin of Vogelein liked it, especially "Daisy".

Erica Naone's thoughtful reviews of several Thoughtcrime Experiments stories are another useful resource; I can't quote them all here or they'd take up half the post!

One manybooks.net reviewer says:

When I saw the "mind-breakingly" description, I thought to myself, "No way, that is just too ambitious." Well after reading the first five or six stories, I must say I agree. This seems to be another example of really good authors publishing under the Creative Commons. Welcome to the future.

Other readers posted about the Creative Commons and DIY facets of our project interesting:

rollicking....The anthology wears its DIY cred on its sleeve and even has a how-to appendix and all the source code for the website is gank-able. It’s available as a free download or POD book. Keep Circulating the Tapes!...

They're publishing because they want to give back to the community. They have no illusions about reaping financial gains from these transactions, and that's okay. We all do things for love that we would never do for money....

The point of Thoughtcrime Experiments is its punk/hacker ethic. You don't have to wait for Gardner Dozois or any of the other 'masters of the genre' to make an anthology for you, you can go out there and do it yourself. If you can't find a magazine publishing SF you'd like to read, and feel they're all publishing the same tired stuff, Much like their punk predecessors at 'Sideburns' they have an appendix on "How we did this". It's the three-chord diagram for a revolution in SF.

Now, it probably won't catch on. Just because punk happened, doesn't mean one can start a revolution every time one is needed. But imagine if it did. Imagine if the kids started getting together, and producing their own SF magazines. Imagine if SF became, for some small portion of the population, the new rock-and-roll, or at least the new indie-rock....

But it's not just the anthology that's interesting. Leonard used this entire project to better understand the editing process. His conclusions are quite interesting for writers. Basically, that we don't suck as bad as we think we do just because we get so many damn rejections...

Times Square by David Kelmer(To the right: "Times Square" by David Kelmer.)

Another author talked about our anthology while considering commodification, scarcity, and publishing. And Freedom to Tinker noted,

Still, part of the new theory of open-source peer-production asks questions like, "What motivates people to produce technical or artistic works? What mechanisms do they use to organize this work? What is the quality of the work produced, and how does it contribute to society? What are the legal frameworks that will encourage such work?" This anthology and its appendix provide an interesting datapoint for the theorists. (See Leonard's response.)

Jed's repost of our call for submissions, and his announcement once we were out, also commented on the ripples our project might send out: "So I'm hoping, as Leonard and Sumana are hoping, that in addition to providing a good read, this anthology will inspire others to embark on new publishing ventures."

If you want our thinky thoughts about the whole venture, you might be interested in Sharon Panelo's interview with me, my length anthology retrospective and thoughts on scifi publishing, more such, and Leonard's many interesting posts on the stories, the process, and what we learned about the field. And I hope we get that Hour of the Wolf radio show interview up for download/reading sometime soon.

To finish up the link roundup: Grasping in the Wind, BoingBoing, Tor.com, John Scalzi, Baby Got Books, and Locus also notified their readers of our existence, for which we are grateful.

The book's still up. Read or download it for free, or buy a paperback for USD5.09 plus shipping. I'm arranging to have about seventy copies for sale at cost at WisCon.

If I missed your review, please post a link in the comments!

Filed under:


(5) : Importing iCal .ics Files to N900 Calendar (Maemo 5): I have a laptop running Mac OS 10.4.11 and iCal 2.0.5 (ancient and proprietary, I know, that's why I just got the ZaReason Hoverboard running Ubuntu). I decided to move my calendaring over to my Nokia N900. iCal, select calendar in sidebar, File, Export, name it filename.ics, use Petrovich to send the file to the N900 over Bluetooth [Yay Petrovich! So great not to have to break out the USB cable], open the file upon receipt, Maemo Calendar automatically opens and imports, right?

Wrong. Only a few of my calendar items imported. I tried exporting a much smaller calendar in case it was choking on the number of items: nope. I tried diffing the file on my Mac and the file on the N900 in case it had gotten corrupted in transit: nope. And a hasty visual inspection didn't tell me the pattern of what had imported and what hadn't.

Evidently there are different versions of the .ics standard! vCalendar, iCalendar. Since I just wanted to move the content once and didn't need to set up a permanent sync solution, I started looking around for a simple clean-up importer. But then I ran into GPE Calendar, an alternative calendaring app that does properly handle iCal .ics files, before getting around to installing or running a standalone converter script. So I ended up doing this (thanks, talk.maemo.org):

  1. Install GPE Calendar ("GPE PIM Suite calendar application") from the App Manager on the N900
  2. Within GPE Calendar, hit Import from the main menu and import the .ics file
  3. Verify that GPE Calendar handles the import perfectly (behind the scenes, it moves the .ics data into the GPE database)
  4. Open a Terminal and type

    gpe-calendar -e export-from-gpe.ics

  5. Move export-from-gpe.ics to MyDocs/tmp/
  6. Open File Manager and open tmp/filename.ics to get Maemo Calendar to import the file
  7. Verify that all events have imported by checking visually against iCal
  8. Uninstall GPE Calendar via the App Manager and bask in the pretty UI and integrated alarms of Maemo Calendar
I know, installing another calendar app just for the sake of its import and export seem like overkill. I am uncomfortably reminded of "Excel as a database". But it worked.
Filed under:


(2) : The Fortress of LOLitude: I took the train from New York City to Providence on Friday morning. My first seatmate: a salesman who was discussing with a fellow sales executive why he should get a unified sales quota, rather than one for software as a service and one for permanent licenses. He then switched to complaining about a colleague. "He thinks he has territory? He doesn't have shit." His phone call was in several parts, like a miniseries or that one set of Taster's Choice commercials with Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, due to bad cell reception. I think he used every variant except "Can you hear me now?" out of cliche aversion. A man after my own heart.

He left at Stamford. My next seatmate phoned someone and complained about a daughter? daughter-in-law? whom she'd just visited. "She doesn't have any good breakfast food in the house," she confided. "She doesn't even have breakfast bars." I am unsure of the implication. Are breakfast bars the most essential component of a breakfast pantry, or the worst adequate choice?

Actual QuahogCon entry to follow.

Filed under:


: Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully GNOME: I am in Zaragoza, Spain for the GNOME marketing hackfest. One thing that came up over dinner: People who have heard about GNOME 3 may have heard about GNOME Shell (a new UI that makes work less interrupt-y) and topic-based help. They might not have heard that the switch from gconf to dconf will significantly reduce applications' and the desktop's response time and OS login time.

Tomorrow the hackfest starts in earnest. Weird hotel mattress sleep, here I come! (It's 2:19am, regardless of NewsBruiser's attempts to make me look like I'm going to bed at a reasonable hour.)

Filed under:


: GNOME Marketing Hackfest (Zaragoza, Spain), Day One: Yesterday we officially started the GNOME Marketing hackfest, centering on planning the release of GNOME 3.0 on 29 September 2010. Paul Cutler started us off by talking about goals for the week. He wants us to blog about what we're doing, and to take care to recap action items and follow up after this hackfest to execute them well.

Stormy Peters noted that we have a great, diverse set of skillsets in the room. The last hackfest did a lot of groundwork and generated a lot of ideas and action items. This time, we want to get a lot of immediately useful things *made*.

Andreas and Sumana (Then we did introductions.)

Paul recapped the November marketing hackfest, which Jason Clinton and Stormy Peters blogged at the time.

I asked for a reminder of the GNOME mission: accessible, free, localized. We offer free desktop (technology) to everyone. We say "technology" these days because of mobile, cellphones, and so on, but mobile is not really what we'll talk about this week. For instance, the GNOME Shell team isn't targeting mobile handsets as a platform.

So, in that light: GNOME 3. What's in it?

(One issue to address is GNOME panel applets. Everyone Vincent has talked with uses about three applets (out of about 20 available ones), but everyone uses a different set of three. So we need to work with the community to find a way to bridge that experience gap for GNOME 3.0.)

So here are some notes towards our marketing message for GNOME 3:

(As we talked about highlighting GNOME apps, we reminded ourselves of long-term marketing ideas, less for GNOME 3.0 than for future marketing work: a cross-platform App Store that senses your OS and shows you free GNOME apps to download. Another: tie together About boxes on apps to Friends of GNOME. Make it easier for users to realize that they can give back via cash donations. Store what app inspired them to give cash, and feed that app's About box with specific users' names, once donations pass a certain amount.)

In a sense, our list of audiences (in order of priority) is:

  1. current users of GNOME 2.x
  2. GNOME developers
  3. the accessibility community
  4. distributions (such as OpenSUSE, Fedora, Ubuntu, and Mandriva)

And a home for our GNOME 3 marketing message: gnome3.org. This will be a small, product-specific site that goes away (that is, redirects/moves to gnome.org) six months after the GNOME 3 launch (approximately). We're building the sitemap for it this week.

By the way, Paul and Vincent are going to coordinate on the improvement of the gnome.org website; evidently there's a relaunch in the works! Plone is involved somehow.

Stormy and Andreas in ZaragozaStormy then led us through deciding what we'll do this week in the hackfest. HIGHEST priority:

ALSO:

And we roughly scheduled it as follows:

So Tuesday morning we worked on those talking points (soon to come to the wiki) and the launch roadmap (ditto).

After lunch, we finished our rough roadmap, then spoke about some various other topics before diving into website and Ambassador work. Bharat Kapoor suggested that we think about SMS fundraising at conferences, and about corporate sponsorship/involvement with Ambassadors.

As a group, we roughed out some ideas for what GNOME Ambassadors is (materials/collateral that anyone can use to evangelize GNOME) and for the website. One question re: the website: will it be a Plone site? There are some dependencies here regarding the existing website infrastructure and a delayed reboot; Ryan and I will talk about getting a project manager to do the CMS relaunch. In any case, we're going to go forward assuming that it's a Plone site that we can localize, and that the marketing team will own the responsibility for coding it and getting it up.

Then we broke into smaller groups to get more specific on the website and Ambassadors (to get wikified when we have time -- this week, I hope!) and developed some TODOs for the work session on Wednesday.

We also met local representatives who told us about the free software scene in Zaragoza and in Spain overall. We're so grateful to them for their hospitality and support!

(And throughout the day, we captured some other TODOs that we'll do after the hackfest...)

Filed under:


: GNOME Marketing Hackfest 2010, Day Two: On Wednesday morning, starting around 9:30, we broke into small groups to work intensively on video, GNOME Ambassadors, and the website. For example, Bharat, Vincent, and I started a business card template for GNOME Ambassadors, and Licio, Ryan, Stormy, and Bharat worked on the Ambassador brochures and website.

I had planned on starting some group discussion and knowledge sharing when the momentum lagged in the late morning. But it never did! So our first real break happened when Jose Felix Ontanon and Juan Jesús Ojeda Croissier joined their fellow Seville technologist Lorenzo Gil Sánchez to talk with us about accessibility work in the Andalusia region of Spain.

robot mural in ZaragozaWe did make a lot of progress in the morning: a GNOME 3 website mockup, a marketing brochure template, four video scripts, Ambassador website text, preparations for the 5-minute topic presentations, and other useful discussions and writing/communications.

After a lunch with them and with local officials and community, we heard a presentation from the city regarding their Digital City initiative. Some interesting facts:

I believe another hackfest participant will be linking to that presentation pretty soon. After that, Paul & Stormy met with the Spanish a11y mavens to talk about how GNOME can help the community & municipality get the publicity & feedback they need to make their FLOSS a11y & GNOME initiative a success, and talked with Vincent and the local municipality about similar possibilities. (Whew!) Jason tackled some screen-recording issues. Andreas designed an SMS fundraising card for Bharat's proposed SMS fundraising initiative, and began designing the brochures that Bharat, Vincent, & Ryan continued writing, and Licio is writing GNOME Ambassadors material. I turned the next 2 months of GNOME 3 launch TODOs to http://live.gnome.org/ThreePointZero/MarketingRoadmap and people who want to grab ownership of or ask about a task should pipe up on IRC or the mailing list!

group dinner at BirostaSo our afternoon was pretty full. Even though the hackfest was supposed to end for the day at 7pm, people stuck around till the building closed 90 minutes later! I threw together some plans for tomorrow; we still need to have certain substantive discussions, and to make certain execution plans.

The Zaragoza and Aragon governments kindly picked up our lunch and a dinner at Birosta. The three vegetarians in the hackfest especially enjoyed a meal full of vegetables and free from anxiety.

I again want to thank all the organizations that are sponsoring this event: the Zaragoza Municipality, the Aragon Regional Government, the GNOME Foundation, the Technological Institute of Aragon, ASOLIF and CESLA. Also, the GNOME Foundation covered much of the cost of my travel here. So, thanks!

More reportage tomorrow...

Filed under:


(1) : GNOME & Conference Planning & Writing: I'm back in New York City. Big priorities this week include:

Filed under:


: Zaragoza GNOME Marketing Hackfest, Day 3: Sumana next to the crossed-off TODO items from Thursday, photo by Paul CutlerOn Thursday, 6 May, the last day of the hackfest, we got so much done! (See Paul's photo). The "we" here came from three continents: Daniel Baeyens, Stormy Peters, Jason D. Clinton, Vincent Untz, Andreas Nilsson, Paul Cutler, Bharat Kapoor, Licio Fonseca, Ryan Singer and I came from both Americas and Europe for the GNOME Marketing hackfest. I'll quickly recount what we worked on that third day, though I know I'm missing some people and accomplishments.

On Thursday morning, Andreas, Paul, Licio, and Vincent worked on technical ideas for making it easier for people to demonstrate GNOME in live presentations; Paul will be writing more about that. Paul, Stormy, Ryan and I made plans to help GNOME community members learn to more effectively promote GNOME in their other technical communities (a simplification, sorry), and polished the wording of some key talking points for GNOME 3 (usability, accessibility, and apps). Thanks to the #gnome-hackers and #gnome denizens for telling us about apps and components users will love in GNOME 3, like gEdit collaborative text editing! Jason was laser-focused on video-making and giving other GNOME folks the information they need to make GNOME 3 demo videos.

Bharat spoke with me about brochure tactics (for example, every brochure should have a dedicated landing page on the gnome3.org website) and some branding issues (sometimes, multiple possible names are pretty much equally suitable, and the important thing is just to choose one and stick with it). He and I also discussed integrated marketing strategy. After all, marketing is a tool to get products or organizations things that they want -- such as sales, brand awareness, adoption, feedback, etc. -- towards a goal. Because this hackfest was pre-scoped as a GNOME 3 launch planning hackfest, we didn't rehash earlier GNOME discussions about goals. Still, at some point in the future (perhaps as part of the GNOME 3 post-launch review?), it might be nice to do some limited planning exercises to deepen our understanding of our goals and resources.

After lunch, we spoke about how to give Linux distributions the information they need about the innovations in GNOME 3, and the assistance they need to talk with their users about GNOME 3. We clarified and added to the GNOME 3.0 launch marketing schedule (feel free to grab one of those tasks).

panorama shot of the hackfest room by Jason D. Clinton As we wrapped up, we talked about continuing to work with the Zaragoza municipality and free software community; for example, since the area is doing so much work with accessibility, perhaps an a11y hackfest would be great for GNOME and for the local community. And we did a quick post-hackfest review of what we'd liked and what we'd like to improve next time. For example, using Gobby, the wiki, and IRC to document our discussions and work product as we went was good, but it would have been even better to use IRC more throughout (when possible) to let the larger world of GNOME and GNOME marketing know what we were up to, and to get their ideas.

Stormy finished the day by telling us that we'd gotten more done than she'd hoped, and that she was happy that people had stepped up to make things happen (once in a while she got to just sit back and watch!). She especially appreciated the Spanish people, such as Daniel Baeyens, Agustín Benito Bethencourt, and Ignacio Correas, who had taken so much time to work with us and show us the city. And Stormy thanked us for taking time away from work and home to come to Zaragoza.

That night we pub-hopped, and the next day I got on the train back to Madrid and flew back to the States. You'll see some more details pop up over the next week, on blogs or over on the wiki or the mailing list. I still have to write up some details from our notes. But for now I want to thank the hackfest's sponsors:

sponsored-by-gnome-foundation ASOLIF CESLA ZaragozaAyunt GobiernoDeAragonDep

Filed under:


: Je Suis La Tour Eiffel: Two jokes from the hackfest, both rather picking on Vincent:

  1. Vincent projected from his computer onto the big screen to demonstrate. GNOME windows and apps showed up, appropriately localised into French. "Oh, it's in French, I'm sorry," he said.

    Sumana: "I think that's the first time I've ever heard a Frenchman apologize for something being in French!"

    Ryan: "Yeah. Instead of 'It's French, I'm sorry,' you should have said, 'It's French, you're welcome.'"

  2. We were writing talking points. I wrinkled my nose at the word "functionality" in someone else's draft. "Do users like that word?" I asked. Paul gave it the raspberry.

    Vincent said that the word "functionality" reminds him of a French speaker making up an English word. "In French, it sounds fine! Functionalité."

    Sumana: "Yeah, isn't that your national slogan? Liberté, Egalité, Functionalité."

Filed under:


(1) : Catabacklog: I am homesick. In other news, I seem to have read several books and not mentioned them here. No longer!

Dear Genius (Nordstrom) coverUrsula Nordstrom's letters (Dear Genius). Blew my mind every twenty pages as I started thinking of childhood classics (Trumpet of the Swan, for example) being made by people. And she was amazing at coaching, criticizing, and cajoling creative people from afar. Transferrable advice for my career.

Deepness (Vinge) coverA Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge. Won hella awards and rightly so. Immersive, cerebral, satisfyingly huge. I love how there's "hard sf" here (the physics of space icebergs) and "soft" stuff like multiple well-realized alien sociologies and characters.

Confessions (Berkun) coverScott Berkun's new public speaking book, Confessions of a Public Speaker. I just skimmed this since right now I think I need to concentrate on executing instead of reading inspiration or tips. Nice wackiness sidling in at odd moments -- who doesn't hate non-classy chandeliers? -- and a few ideas I needed to hear as I prep my Open Source Bridge talk (like exactly how to ask audience members to do some small-group discussion).

Red Carpet (Sankaran) coverThe Red Carpet: Bangalore Stories by Lavanya Sankaran. I picked this up in the Manhattan public library when I was looking for Dorothy Sayers. Most English-language Indian fiction isn't about Bangalore, so this is an ultra-specific YES YES SO RIGHT YES. Sankaran hooked me a few pages in by using the Kannada/English slang "one-thaara," ("a kind/type of") which I'd never seen written down before. The title story is so sweet!

The File (Garton Ash) coverThe File by Timothy Garton Ash. As a grad student, he lived in West and East Germany. After the reunification, he reads his Stasi file, compares it with his own notes and memories, and interviews the Germans who informed on him. Riveting, funny, a quick and rewarding read.

For The Win (Doctorow) coverFor the Win by Cory Doctorow. Along the same lines as Little Brother -- thriller/polemic -- and I liked it about as much, although the ending seemed abrupt. I thought I'd just read the first few pages... and then ended up reading all of For the Win when I meant to be working, although I skimmed the "here is how economics works" bits. The bits set in India sounded fine to my diasporic ear, for what it's worth. Available as a free download, of course.

cover for The Good That Men DoStar Trek: Enterprise: The Good That Men Do, by Andy Mangels & Michael A. Martin. If you know about the stupid and wrong thing that happens in the last episode of Star Trek: Enterprise then you may also know that this is one of the books that retcons it. I liked the plot and the relationships, but the writing was flabby. Funniest example:

In fact, Trip didn't recall, but he made no response, busying himself instead with the various controls that were arrayed before him. As the vessel's numerous interlocking systems continued powering up, Trip continued to study the consoles, hoping against hope that he wouldn't reveal his imposture to Ehrehin by appearing hesitant or bewildered by the flight instruments and indicators. Fortunately, Romulan instrumentation was fairly streamlined and straightforward, lacking an excess of confusing redundancy.

Most satisfying individual sentence in which the authors get in a few digs at the plausibility of the canon story:

Trip felt as though they were being almost too arch with these exchanges, but hoped that upon a close investigation of Enterprise's security logs, no one else would notice just how dunderheaded this entire piracy scenario really was.

Leonard saw the framing device, in which Jake and Nog from Deep Space Nine investigate implausible goings-on in canon, and decided there should be an entire series of such stories: Jake & Nog: CanonCops! Jake & Nog chould investigate "Similitude" from Enterprise and figure out why Phlox really decided to kill that sentient species. Maybe he's Section 31. And the warp 10/salamanders incident from Voyager, the de-evolving from "Genesis" (The Next Generation), and the Genesis Device (films) make no sense separately, but CanonCops! could retcon them into coherence.

While talking about The Good That Men Do, I mentioned to Julia that I should recommend a few Star Trek branded novels. Diane Duane is always a good bet: Doctor's Orders, The Final Reflection, and Spock's World are strong, and Doctor's Orders and Spock's World help me understand McCoy and Spock better. The Kobayashi Maru by Julia Ecklar tells how Kirk, Chekov, Scotty, and Sulu faced impossible tests when they were Starfleet cadets. None quite as memorable as "Lunch and Other Obscenities", but good. A Stitch in Time by Andrew J. Robinson is a deep, deep dive into Garak and Cardassia, written by the actor who portrayed Garak. It hints at Garak's queerness, if I recall correctly. And the anthology Tales of the Dominion War has a few stories I liked, about the fall of Betazed, a Romulan spy on Deep Space Nine, and a neutral race of engineers helping fugitives McCoy and Scotty.

When I was about fourteen, I used to really love Peter David's novels. Imzadi is a classic (and taught me completely legitimate therapeutic technique), Q-in-Law and Q-Squared are gripping and fun and make the canon universe make more sense, and Vendetta has a very creepy last page. But then I grew up and disliked his Arthurian novel and his She-Hulk and Babylon 5: Crusade work -- forced, glib, smarmy. So I can't say whether I recommend the stuff I read as a teen, and am a bit afraid the suck fairy has visited it. Same with Spartacus.

Of other interest: Dark Passions, one of those mirror universe novels that's just an excuse to turn all the Trek women into Hot Bi Babes. Ghost Ship, memorable to me chiefly because Picard decides to spend several hours in a sensory deprivation tank to help him make an important decision. Ultra-strange scene. And I have not yet read Planet X, the Star Trek/X-Men crossover novel, but realistically it's only a matter of time.

Filed under:


: "Earl Grey" Rhymes With "Morgaine le Fay": I made up a doo-wop song to celebrate Leonard's breakfast generosity. I like to make up songs, but the rhyming dictionary in my head gives me pretty strange rhymes on short notice. Excerpt:

I'll pour your orange juice
Into a goblet
I'll get you orange juice
Into your yob it
Goes
(doo-wah, doo-wah, do-do-doo-wah)

Also, yesterday, Leonard was looking for a rhyme for "stop her" and my first suggestion was "Karl Popper."

Filed under:


(1) : Snort, Chuckle: So I was watching a bunch of DJ Earworm mashups and saw this on my screen:

screenshot of YouTube page

What do you notice there? Perhaps this ad?

We love freedom of choice.  Why we dont support restrictions on creativity and innovation.  www.Adobe.com/Choice/

We love freedom of choice
Why we don't support restrictions on creativity and innovation.
www.Adobe.com/Choice/
Amusingly, if you actually go to www.Adobe.com/Choice/, you get a Page Not Found. "Choice" is case-sensitive, you see.

As I knew before I clicked, this is a Flash-related Adobe vs. Apple salvo. Sorry, Adobe, I remember Dmitry Sklyarov.

Filed under:


: *clap clap*: Leonard was pretending to be angry beyond reason. I said, "Wow, looks like you're a savage beast!" and hummed.

"What are you singing?"

"The 90210 theme song."

"Why?"

"Because 'music hath charms to soothe the savage beast.'"

"Not the 90210 theme song."

"...It doesn't say which music."

Filed under:


(1) : Bricks: Astoria, NY current conditions for 8:23 am, May 26 2010: Temperature: 72.3°F | Humidity: 72% | Pressure: 30.32in ( Falling) | Conditions: Clear | Wind Direction: West | Wind Speed: 0.0mph

Leonard and I are moving to a new apartment here in Astoria. It's larger and cheaper than our current place. With the help of Pat, Mirabai, Lucian, and Hal, we've given away a bit of furniture and moved most of our fragiles and personal items to the new place. Today we finish that, and tomorrow the movers move about 80 boxes and the few pieces of furniture that can't be disassembled, folded, or otherwise made wieldy enough to push on a Magna Cart and lift up the stairs. Hal got us the boxes so it looks like we have far more comics than we actually do.

I'm fairly exhausted, even though Leonard has been doing most of the physical work. As he puts it, I make the phone calls and he lifts heavy objects. I've tried to help with the latter. It's easiest before 8am: cool, low-traffic. And I've already been waking up at 5 or 6 despite myself. This does not bode well. I'd hoped to be well-rested before going to WisCon and Open Source Bridge. Perhaps I will conk out on the plane.

I only got one chance to play Once Upon a Time with friends; I'd hoped to get my game up before the panel. Somehow I predict my stories will involve packing tape.

A few links: OKCupid questions are problematic, femininity and consumer culture in style blogs and style role models, and artefacts of paid work as the substrate of open source.

Last night was the last time we'll have slept here. The mattresses lay on the floor; Pat and Leonard had taken the bedframe over already. That's some real wood right there. Leonard's grandma had that bed, and he doesn't know how old it is. Decor was long gone. We'd given away one nightstand and moved the other, so my red desklamp sat on the floor next to my head. I've had it for ... fifteen years?

This was our first apartment in New York.
It was the second place we ever lived together, and the apartment we came home to after we got married. We've had some important arguments here, and some great love-filled days.
It's where he wrote part of Ruby Cookbook and all of RESTful Web Services and "Let Us Now Praise Awesome Dinosaurs," and where we created Thoughtcrime Experiments. It's where he finished "Mallory" and has written most of his novel, and it's where I wrote most of my newspaper columns.
I lived in this apartment through three jobs and a master's degree.
This apartment is where we watched Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica and University of Laughs and The Lives of Others. It's where we had Backup Thanksgiving parties with Powerpoint Karaoke. It's where Leonard met Jake Berendes for the first time.

It's the place I've lived longest in my adult life and it's hard to say goodbye.

Filed under:


: Arrived at WisCon: As is now traditional, I met a few other congoers during my layover in Detroit, then more while waiting for baggage and the hotel shuttle van, then when going out to dinner. Today is Thrifty Thursday at Community Pharmacy (State Street & Gorham), so everything's 15% off. Tea and cashews for the room it is!

I'm in the room clicking around various info resources to see what's up, before I go to the Room Of One's Own Guests of Honor reading and then probably that geek karaoke thing after that.


(3) : "Wis-KHAAAAAAAN!": Am enjoying WisCon, although I'm trying to take more naps, push myself less, and generally not give in to Fear Of Missing Out. Yes, I'm posting this at 4am; my roommates just got back from the six-hour vids party.

The Dealer's Room has copies of Thoughtcrime Experiments that people can buy for $3.50, and indeed some people have bought them, so it's unlikely I'll have to lug great quantities of them to Portland.

Title quote from a game-show-style panel earlier today, "Revenge of Not Another F*cking Race Panel," where I held and spun a giant wheel of fate. Well, of category selection. You may see photos of me mostly occluded by a colorful numbered wheel. Do not be alarmed.


(1) : From WisCon to Open Source Bridge: A few geeky feminists and I are laptopping in Brendan & Kara's apartment in Portland. The dryer's running. Every once in a while someone speaks to share a funny from the internet. I've now dented a link to the United Nations International Year of Natural Fibres song I sang on a panel, so that should suffice as a con report, right?

Prepping, doing, and recovering from four WisCon panels meant I couldn't attend much more programming. I went to a bit of Mary Anne Mohanraj's first reading, the Gathering, the how-to-moderate panel, a People of Color dinner, "Activism: When to Speak Up, When to Let It Go," the Not Another Race Panel, some parties, and the Dessert Salon and Guest of Honor speeches, and spent about 20 minutes cumulative in other panels that I left early. I also took 45 minutes getting interviewed. The hallway track is where I spent most of my days, maxin', relaxin', and chillin' all hyper/exhausted. Good thing I brought a metric zillion business cards. I feel bad that I won't be able to consolidate the new friendships till I return home next week and have time for correspondence.

My Open Source Bridge talk tomorrow at 3:45pm is "The Second Step: HOWTO encourage open source work at for-profits". I'm looking forward to it and to learning from the audience.


(1) : Schedules, Namebadges, and Deodorant: Home from my travels, for now. Links and reportage to come. Title from the semi-unpacked pile sitting next to me on the futon. To sleep!


(1) : Why I Haven't Emailed You Back Yet: My travel-filled June continues apace. Yesterday I got back from another state; this Saturday [Edit: Tuesday] I take off for nine days in the Bay Area. So a scattering of events and lessons from the past couple of weeks:

I took an introductory firearms course and shot a handgun for the first time. The class at the firing range itself I could integrate into my skillset and worldview without disproportionate effort, but when our instructor joined us for lunch, wearing a gun on his hip, that disoriented me.

A friend and I chatted about her partner, whom I dated briefly and who's still a friend of mine. (He's a great guy, far better suited to her than to me!) The talk had a sisterhood to it that felt strange and comforting.

I bought tickets to WorldCon (Melbourne, Australia in September). Qantas had a round-trip from New York for about USD1050, in case you're looking.

Leonard and I moved into the new apartment. Mostly him, since I've been traveling and ill. My travel and in-person interactions have also caused me to be a much more boring person online, at least until I process new thoughts and emit them in the form of blog posts and emails. Maybe in July.


: Columbo: So, first I was sick, and then I started to get better and Leonard got sick. So that's been a timesuck. The last few days we've watched three episodes of Columbo together and it's a lot of fun.

There's probably some taxonomy of mysteries and fictional detectives out there that's far more complete than the one I've been constructing ad hoc, and I'd like to know what it says about Lt. Columbo. Leonard loves the change in suspense you get from finding out exactly who killed whom and how as the first scene in the show. I love seeing Peter Falk's Columbo drive the wrongdoer crazy with delays, dumb questions, rambling, proximity, and general mindfrakkery. Sometimes the viewer also has to sit through a five-minute exposition on how people tie their tennis shoes, but then you get an episode like "The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case" with Theodore Bikel at a Mensa-like club, and it's just amazing all the length of it (aside from the very strange but arguably believable female characters).

Three episodes I haven't yet seen intrigue me. There's one where Faye Dunaway's & Claudia Christian's characters team up to kill their lover. There's one with rival scientists at a cybernetics thinktank, Robby the Robot and Jessica Walter. And then there's one where:

Egocentric actor Ward Fowler (William Shatner), who portrays Detective Lucerne on a weekly TV show, kills [someone]. He then steps in and out of character to assist Columbo with the investigation. ... Walter Koenig guest stars as a police sergeant.
Relatedly: I told Keith that I'm into movies with insurance fraud (and actuarial science fiction). He told me that nearly all Cinemax erotic thrillers hang off some semblance of an insurance investigation plot -- sexy widow killed her husband, blah blah blah. He also cautioned me that these films are in fact neither erotic nor thrilling.


(5) : Becquerels and Bureaucracy: Guess who's mildly radioactive! Hmm, I should back up.

I've been traveling a LOT. About a week ago, I was on a plane back to New York City when I started feeling some discomfort in my chest and some shortness of breath. "Uh, what's this?" I said, and asked a flight attendant for advice.* I got supplemental oxygen, which felt lovely. (I can now verify that, though the bag may not inflate, oxygen will be flowing to the mask.) But over the next few days, I sometimes still felt that strange not-breathing-all-the-way sensation, so I talked to my doctor, who scheduled me for a

NUCLEAR STRESS TEST

which I had today. A technician injected me with isotopes of technetium and thallium. Then a gamma camera took images of my supine torso from lots of angles, I ran on a treadmill while EKG leads trailed from my chest and told a computer about my heartrate, and then the camera imaged me while I was at rest again. I basically feel fine and doubt there's much to worry about, but I'll find out in a few days.

With hypatia, who recently got magnets in her fingernails, we now have half the four fundamental forces covered: electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force (at least through the three-day half-life of the thallium). Do any of my readers embody particularly extreme manifestations of the strong nuclear force or gravity?

Since I fly to San Francisco tomorrow, I got a letter I can show the TSA to explain why I'm setting off their Geiger counters.

I also got a copy of the diagnosticians' HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) privacy/compliance practices. This should not be a big deal, since every health care provider in the US should shove one at every patient upon intake and make her sign the "yes I got a copy" line on the intake forms. Funny variation here: I got the form to sign, but no copy of the privacy notice itself! I politely refused to falsely sign the "I've received a copy" line, and asked for my copy of the privacy notice. The technician had no idea where it was. The receptionist called around and got someone to fax her ... the first page of the four-page document. She gave it to me and I looked at it.

"This is only the first page," I pointed out.

"Well, you know, it's just about privacy," the receptionist said.

"I'm not going to sign something saying I got it if I didn't get the whole thing," I said, a touch irascibly.

The technician said that, since I hadn't signed anything saying I'd gotten the document, it was "fine," implying that the receptionist didn't need to go to the trouble of finding a copy for me.

"I'd like it anyway, please," I said. And she said it would take a little while, so I said (pleasantly, I hope) that I'd wait, and returned to my issue of Analog.

Pretty soon after that, the receptionist got/found a copy for me, and I signed the form, and she said that now she'd make sure to keep copies around for people. But, as you've probably surmised by now, that doesn't reassure me much. If it caused that much inconvenience for them to find a copy for me -- of the notice that by law, they should be giving every patient -- and patients have just been signing the "yeah, I got it" line anyway, then what faith do I have that they're complying with the privacy provisions themselves?

"It's just about privacy." And doesn't that just speak volumes about how important my privacy is to them.

Anyway, I'm radioactive. No superpowers yet. Becquerels are the SI unit of radioactivity. Maybe I'll get my hair dyed some color unnatural.


* The flight attendant was kind, reacted with exactly the right amount and type of concern, and told me that the JFK airport has no on-site first-aid center, so if I still felt off after landing, I'd be better off going under my own power to an urgent care center rather than risking the cost of paramedics. Flight attendant: you're great. US healthcare system: why you gotta be like that? JFK: WTF?


: The Second Step: HOWTO encourage open source work at for-profits: At the excellent Open Source Bridge conference earlier this month, people seemed to enjoy my talk. The one-liner:

Even at pro-FLOSS businesses, logistical obstacles and incentive problems get in the way of giving back. I’ll show you how to fix that.

My session notes are now available. If you were there, please feel free to clarify them and add your notes or links to your notes elsewhere.

The very short version: a company does not upstream its patches, even though it should for long-term practical reasons, because of problems in four general categories. The company might lack a FLOSS culture. There might be legal confusion about what employees are allowed to do, and how to get permission. The project management workflow and timelines might not allow time for proper engineering. And the external project might have a terrible UI for new contributors.

Once you abstract these categories away from the specific problem of accidentally hoarded code rotting away, you see that they also apply to other problems of the type "I really know I should be doing foo but haven't gotten around to it."

I also added notes from my lightning talk on Thoughtcrime Experiments, in which I inadvertently invented a new social media marketing technique.

Filed under:


(1) : Foo Camp Follies: I spent this past weekend at Foo Camp, an unconference for/by/of makers, leaders, and generally interesting hacker-ish people. Thanks to O'Reilly Media (the tech publisher with the woodcuts on the covers, not the blowhard FOX guy) for hosting it at O'Reilly's office in Sebastopol, and especial thanks to Sara Winge and Tim O'Reilly for organizing it and for inviting me.

I'll be thinking and writing about ideas and people from Foo Camp for a while, but I can immediately provide a few amusing anecdotes and quotes:

So, great conversations, laughs, many events and thoughts and interactions I'm still processing, and gratitude. And exhaustion. Flying back to New York today.

Filed under:


(3) : Foo Camp, Generosity, and Surrender: Sumana Harihareswara, Steven Levy, and Chad Dickerson at Foo Camp 2010, photo by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid / http://laughingsquid.com/A few Foo Camp-related notes and links. Leigh suggests this Twitter search should you like to look through that particular collective stream of consciousness. (Cuttingly funny link I found via that search: It Must Be a Marketing Problem.)

Thanks to Scott Beale of Laughing Squid for the photo of me with frickin' Steven Levy (yes, the one who wrote Hackers) and Chad Dickerson, CTO of Etsy. Chad and I met at a Salon.com retreat, the first year I worked there and his first year as a Salon alumnus. I'm the one who looks like Geordi LaForge; to my right is the desktop support guy who did a poetry fellowship at Stanford. Oh, those early Salon memories.

Selena Marie Deckelmann led a Foo Camp discussion about the ethics of endless permanent logging: "Forgetting should be built into our applications by default," she suggests. This ties into Danny O'Brien's Open Source Bridge keynote, in which he told us we need to change logging defaults on Apache and the like to be more sensible to protect dissidents. And that reminds me of some threads floating through my Foo Camp experience: We're the ones creating others' user experience. That's hospitality, that's generosity, that's the natural authority and dominance that happens, or that we take on because it needs to happen and we're the ones we've been waiting for. We have an obligation to take care of the people who depend on us. Where we have power and strength, we need to recognize that and use it responsibly, not just flee from and resent it. And where I say "we" I mean "I."

On generosity:

After I arrived in San Francisco but before heading to camp, I realized I'd need a warm jacket in Sebastopol, and hadn't brought one. Long story short, I ended up with an eight-year-old's maroon fringed hoodie, as seen here (again, Scott Beale of Laughing Squid). Got a few compliments, though the sleeves were a bit short. I happened to mention this situation in front of Bubba Murarka, who then literally lent me the coat off his back. I don't think I had a single conversation with him all weekend, which means that someone from Facebook gave me a tangible benefit without requiring any personal information. Just kidding! We talked about getting our parents to accept it when we date & marry white people. I think.

my becoated back + scores of digerati & cognoscenti; photo by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid At the camp, I was supposed to share a tent with Leigh, but the tent she'd borrowed would have been rather too cozy. As we were making arrangements to store our luggage in Thor's tent (interrupted by scifi recommendations of course), a guy I was talking with mentioned that he'd brought a six-person-sized tent and was sleeping in it alone. I gracelessly invited myself in and David Forbes proved himself a generous host who easily outgeeked me on tax history. David, the book I mentioned is Conversion and the Poll Tax in Early Islam by Daniel Dennett, Jr. From the Introduction:

...Nevertheless, all the contributions to the literature of Muslim taxation within the last forty years have been monographic in character and limited in area to particular provinces of the Arab Empire, with the result that there is no single work to which a student who might be interested in the general problem to turn; and if he attempts to master the secondary literature, he will discover so many conflicting data and opinions that his confusion will be increased rather than resolved. This book, therefore, attempts to present a broad view of the system of taxation as it existed in East and West throughout the lands once subject to the Persians and the Greeks, and it is based on all the evidence the writer has been able to discover. It is not, however, a synthesis of the latest opinion, for, as the reader will presently discover, I have views of my own and an axe to grind....
Anthemic! Also, David, in case you're wondering how I knew to get you Gouda, popcorn and orange juice from the Lucky supermarket down the road as a host gift, it's because it takes five seconds to Google you and you mentioned them on FormSpring.

Also in the gifts-from-strangers category: the contagiously enthusiastic Dan Shapiro ran a session in one of the tents with miraculin tablets. Incredibly simple demo: let a tab dissolve on your tongue, swish your saliva around, then taste something sour like lemon juice or vinegar and it'll taste sweet. I knew it'd work, but I hadn't anticipated how joyous, convivial, and transformative it would feel, like a secular communion. Is this what psychedelics are like? You've hacked your senses and now pain is pleasure, sour is sweet, perspective is topsy-turvy, wrong is oh so right. The most numinous scheduled session I experienced.

What is it that makes us more receptive to gifts and transformations? Built-in boundaries, trust, security, self-esteem, love. Sometimes it's harder for me to accept a gift than a setback. One useful concept from Christianity, I've found, is grace -- the undeserved good thing, the good thing one can't possibly deserve, but there's no point in fighting it. Surrender. Minutely I move closer to being willing to lose myself, because every time I do, I'm still there when I come back, and more whole than before.

Speaking of pills: I use melatonin to help me sleep on planes or when jetlagged. On the flight back to New York, I offered it to my rowmates. The fella on my left said, "No thanks, I lived through the sixties and took enough pills from strangers."

And that made me laugh, but also reminded me how egalitarian and generally Californian the whole thing was. Tim O'Reilly made I think 3 cumulative minutes of speeches between his opening and closing, and the closing included his request that we do as he'd done, creating more value than we capture. Imagine what generous things we can do! The joy transforms me and I marvel at it.

Filed under:


(3) : On The Mic: Sumana performing standup several years agoToday, when I was really glad to have made someone else laugh, I thought about how important that is to me. I think my values might go something like:

  1. integrity
  2. compassion
  3. independence
  4. making people laugh
  5. impressing other people
  6. work ethic
and then other stuff like patriotism, actual intelligence, tidiness, beauty, efficiency, health, justice, transparency, courage, and so on.

In fact, it is so ingrained in me to jest that sometimes I put service providers (waiters, doctors, dentists) in a tough spot when I joke with them; if they don't think a customer's joke is funny, and don't laugh, the customer might pout and be a jerk about it, so they feel pressured to laugh. So I should be more considerate about that. Was it the boss from The Office who called himself primarily an entertainer? Yeah, I shouldn't do that.

Sumana performing standup several years agoI started the workshop "You, Yes You, Can Do Standup Comedy" (notes, slides, more notes) with some reasons to learn and perform stand-up.

One is pragmatic: learning some stand-up improves one's public speaking abilities across the board.

Another is philosophical. You are human and nothing human should be alien to you! Specialization is for insects! Dilettantism as ideology!

alt="SumanaAnd another is rather more disturbing. Stand-up comedy is the most manipulative art I know. If I'm doing it right, you're enthralled. There's no conversation, just your helpless response feeding my hunger for power and control. It's tarted-up tickling. Don't you feel spent and high when it's over, when a really good comic has had her way with you?

So that's the last reason to learn stand-up. It's a safe refuge for the power-mad, so that we can keep ourselves from turning into control freaks and prima donnas in the rest of our lives.

I'll happily teach private lessons.

Filed under:


: GNOME Journal: PHP-GTK, Shotwell, Nokia, & More: While I was gallivanting around to conferences, a new GNOME Journal came out, shepherded by new Editor-in-Chief Paul Cutler.

Enjoy! The Shotwell piece is useful (Shotwell now joins gthumb & F-Spot in my Apps menu) and the Gil interview is thought-provoking. I'll recuse myself from praising Paul's letter and my interview.
Filed under:


: Roll For Ballot Initiative: Yesterday around 1:30pm I thought, "Oh, I'm already in Manhattan and have some free time. I should stop by Midtown Comics and catch up on my trades."

comics & magazines I bought yesterday, except the Vinge, which I had brought with me

(New DMZ and Ex Machina, new MAD and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and some new things to try: something about a Russian WWII aviatrix & Laurie Sandell's The Impostor's Daughter (kinda like Fun Home, starts out in Stockton so I have some hometown interest). I'd brought the Vinge with me.)

character sheet for Trapo, an eleventh-level human male thief, with pencil and dice

One thing led to another, and I ended up spending the afternoon and evening playing AD&D (2nd Ed.) in a conference room at Google.

Lessons learned, postmortem, & takeaway:

using snacks and snack paraphernalia for ad hoc sitrep modeling

As I'd suspected from an Amar Chitra Katha fable, dweep is indeed Tamil for "island."

some useful diagrams re catpeople, squid, beetles, and a palace

Until yesterday, I think I hadn't used "circumference = 2πr" for three to ten years. (I had a bag of sand, about thirteen pinches' worth, and could direct each pinch of sand to transform into 20 square feet of quarter-inch-thick wall. I used this to spring up a wall around the circumference of the towertop, a space ten feet in diameter, so that our enemies had a harder time directing magical attacks at us from other towers. How high was the wall? Left as an exercise for the reader!) (Turns out it was moot; if you have teleported in to the top of a tower to rescue some hostages, your enemies may just decide to topple said tower while you're in it.)

dice, books, and mug

When you're in the middle of fighting a giant monster, and someone calls you on the phone, just tell them "I'm in the middle of a D&D session and we're fighting a giant monster." Either the caller gets it, and will leave you alone, or they don't get it, and they'll really leave you alone.


: Constant Off-By-One Errors (i.e., "One More Thing"): Columbo is still amazing. My parents were right to love it! The sixth and seventh seasons (1978-1978) are great; "Old Fashioned Murder", "The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case", and "Make Me a Perfect Murder" have far better tension, characterization, performance, complexity, and general quality than I'd expect from a TV movie. "Make Me a Perfect Murder" specifically has cinematography that takes it up to the level of a classic noir.

Also, "Make Me a Perfect Murder" stars a frustrated female TV executive with a flighty singer/actress friend and a sorta-mentor, sorta-rival male boss, so Leonard kept reimagining the story with 30 Rock characters. Then "How to Dial a Murder" centered on a status-conscious pop psychologist, so we had fun pretending he was Frasier Crane. Perhaps for every NBC sitcom there exists a Columbo episode in which the premise's frustrated tensions come out as murder.


(2) : The Dangers of Metadata: When I'm in a bad mood, sometimes I forget to do the things that will help me feel better. (A short list: Tea, a funny podcast or short story or TV show or blog, sunshine, seltzer water, doing a quick mindless yet productive task like cleaning a particular spill's stain residue off hardwood floor or organizing the t-shirt drawer, hugging, peppy music, exercise, making a list of things I've accomplished this day or week, talking to someone whom I impress, smiling, deep breathing for a minute, dark chocolate, helping someone.)

So I created a playlist called "sumana-cheerup" on the entertainment center's jukebox and filled it with songs I like. I often play it because, hey, songs I like! Then I found out Leonard thought I only played it when I specifically needed cheering up, viz., when I was feeling down. Uh, whoops, rename time.

Filed under:


(1) : (I Say, While Reading About Zombies): Last night I was told that if you read Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France side by side with Paine's Rights of Man you get two different perspectives on the French Revolution and it's really cool. When I say this it sounds like I'm recommending putting pop rocks in your Diet Coke, doesn't it.

Filed under:


(3) : To A Glass, Brightly: When Leonard and I first moved in together, I asked him to get rid of those big pint glasses he had. They were chipped and scratched, but that's not what I minded. I just didn't like dealing with glass, because glass breaks. Anything glass is on loan from a jealous God. I feared the inevitable smashes, so goodbye glasses.

Years passed.

Somewhen I found myself thinking, so what if the glass breaks? There's a saying that you must drink from the cup as though it is already broken. Maybe I'd just had enough hard knocks to appreciate ephemeral joy and function for what they are, instead of clutching them so hard they fall apart. Maybe I'd had enough hard knocks to know that I won't fall apart even if a glass does.

There's a Jorge Luis Borges quote:

Nothing is built on stone; all is built on sand, but we must build as if the sand were stone.
So now I've bought a few commemorative pint glasses, on trips. One from Pacific Standard. One from Borderlands. One, from an art shop in Providence, featuring two astronauts in love.

We drink water from them, mostly. The clear round glass admits light, lenses it, lets me see a dream of what's on the other side.

They are for him. They are for us. They are for me. They are whole, and someday they will be broken. Not "but," but "and." But I chose them, so I can distantly imagine even cherishing the memory of their deaths.


: Announcement: I've had a family emergency and will be intermittently away from the net for a few weeks. I will not be at GUADEC and I will not be part of DebConf.

Filed under:


(19) : RIP S.K. Harihareswara: My father died on Thursday night of a massive heart attack. He'd just had dinner and was washing his hands when he slumped against the wall. He died very quickly in my mother's arms. He was 74.

I'm in India now, alternately engaging with and hiding from the constant flow of people and food and emotion. I saw his corpse yesterday. Tomorrow we'll start going to orphanages and retirement homes to feed people in memory of my dad. That's what he wanted in lieu of the standard prayer rituals.

In the coming weeks and months I expect I'll write a lot about my family. Right now I just wanted to tell you what's up. Your condolences are welcome in comments, emails, or instant messages. But I especially encourage you to comment with happy memories of your own family -- or, if you have none of those or none that you want to share, happy memories of any sort.


: From My Father's Library: 20th Century Kannada Poetry (Selections)
Edited & Translated by Sumatheendra Nadig
1983

M. Gopalakrishna Adiga
"A Common Man"
p.59

How dare you call me Common Man; Your dad
is common, in the company of my father
your grandfather and your great grandfather
                   who are dead.
Hey you, tell me if you know my name. Does
                   your father own
this face, this stance and this lashless
God's-eye mind of mine? Faraway you sit in your
airconditioned room and conduct
my funeral rites with your generalisations.
If you have any guts, come out
and look at my palm; look at the
unique mounts, crosses and lines. I will show you
how in this broken lantern the sooty wick
lifts up its burning head.

You are the wooden handle of the axe
which has forgotten the flowering, fruit bearing tree.
For you everything is the same. A group
means a flock, a flock means sheep
and sheep means mutton. Where is the humanity
in you to call each one by name, feed
and fondle it with endearing words? you know
only to number us and fill up the trucks by the
meat factory. You know only to apply the
same brand name to all the cans. You dream
of tasting me only from the can.
For a piece of bread, you bastard, you
have allowed them to scrape off your nose and face.
You are the tailless fox for whom variety
is sour. You hold the foot rule and
Scrape off everything until it becomes common.
You, worshipper of the shapeless black money's
jingle, what is the name of the machine
in your chest? Come on, breathe out.

Everything that can breathe has its own history,
its special smile, its own evolution
and direction. It will escape your map
and lift up its flag of individuality
until it can build a tower of light.
I may be an eczema-stricken farmer in torn cloths,
                part of a chorus,
or a come-what-may-I-don't-care factory
                worker in sooty clothes,
or a limping thrusting-forward beggar on the street.


2.

Did you call me a common man? You are mistaken.
Beware, I don't stretch my hands for the handcuffs.
I will bite and tear the noose round my neck
while I close my eyes and muse. Your pistol may
threaten me to march to its tune but I
will be dancing to a different tune in my mind.
I am a free-born soul.
You, worshipper of commonalities who has scraped
off your face to wear the mask of Hiranayaksha

Your only ambition is to stick to your chair,
Therefore either you chisel off the faces of others
or keep them in jails. But look, look! there
the great boar is sharpening his tusks,
waiting for the proper time.
I am the Narasimha caught up in a pillar.
I am also waiting
for a proper time.

It's uneven but I love "Everything that can breathe... / ... tower of light", "Beware, I don't stretch my hands for the handcuffs", and "I am the Narasimha caught up in a pillar."

Filed under:


(3) : Two Business Ideas: First:

I am wearing a lot of long tunic-drawstring pants-sash combination outfits here in India. Depending on where you are, you call them "pyjama juba" (whence comes the English word "pajama"), "salwar kameez," or "chudidhar." Women in India often find ourselves scrambling around with two-thirds of a matching outfit. It's especially common to find the shirt and pants but not the sash ("dupatta") because it's fallen somewhere. Someone could make lakhs with a tracking or storage solution that keeps the three pieces together or otherwise manages inventory. (Somehow the safety pin hasn't proven sufficient.)

Second:

Today my sister, aunt, mother and I served lunch at a school for deaf and blind children. My mother was exhausted so she sat as my aunt and sister and I passed from plate to plate, placing Mysore pak (butter + sugar = dessert) and bonda (spicy fried snack) on each. Caterers served out the bisebelebath (spicy veg-rice stew) and yogurt rice. Just as in ASL, deaf Karnatakans wave and wiggle both hands above their shoulders to signal applause.

If we had been performing the post-mortem rituals traditionally, each of these days we'd have left a meal outside for crows to eat. Evidently you simply have to sit nearby and wait and wait for a crow to show up and partake; you can't just leave it and hope. We made a plate of stew and yogurt rice and bonda and two desserts and left it on a patio, and sure enough within minutes a crow flapped by and grabbed one of the sweets.

But what if you're not so lucky? Mayhap there's a market for a keeper of trained crows to guarantee quick eatin'.

Filed under:


(5) : Method Of Loci: I sit in my father's old office, in the chair his typist used when he came every morning to take dictation (memoirs, articles, essays, books, email, whatever struck my father's fancy. We kept telling him to concentrate on the memoirs, but he always had some new project to push).

The great big shelf built into the wall above the door was nearly full of newspaper-wrapped bundles of books, packed in batches of five or ten each. Nearly all of them were copies of books by my dad. He was, I realize now, our household's own Asimov, prolific and polymathic. He wrote about the history of Kannada, about the Bhagavad Gita, recently a set of essays about sparrows in literature and the word "sparrow." Today my sister and I used the ladder and brought down about eight hundred books, our fingers turning black with newspaper ink. We'll be giving a lot of these away at the service on Sunday.

I hear rain outside. No surprise; it's monsoon season. I can't see it, since it's 1am -- just the reflected shadow of the curved metal bars in the diamond-patterned window panes, by the light of two white fluorescent tubes above. Every so often the power fluctuates and various devices beep.

To my left and behind me are five dark gray metal bookcases, reaching nearly to the ceiling. Each case has nine shelves, including the top, bolted. I think these are the sturdiest bookcases I have ever seen. They are completely filled with books. Nearly all the titles I can only sound out slowly, since I barely know Kannada and don't know Hindi. It looks like he had a complete set of F. Max Muller's Sacred Books of the East.

Just behind me is a pink plastic chair. I think Dad sat in it while dictating. Three thin cushions lie on the seat, and a green acrylic blanket slumps over the back.

Of course there are closets set into the wall, also filled with books, and a computer desk with books and notes on every free horizontal bit of wood, and a dining-style wood table in the middle of the room, piled with books, surrounded by upholstered wooden chairs whose seats serve as book-pile pedestals. Rounding out the table's inhabitants: notes, a phone that doesn't work, a white-and-maroon mug of pens ("First West Coast Kannada Sammelana: April 1996, Los Angeles"), newspapers, a magnifying glass, folders, plastic bags ("plastic covers" they would say here) full of who-knows-what. Under the table and in the corners, cardboard boxes sit, half-full of office supplies, brochures, clippings, I wish I knew because we are going to have to sort all this out.

My dad got broadband, at my sister's cajoling, in case she and I had to suddenly drop everything to visit them. If the house switched from dialup to a speedy Internet connection, she reasoned, we'd be able to work from India remotely. Now that's come true and he can't appreciate it. He'd been asking in recent months for us to set up Skype (he called it "Spike") on his computer so he could video chat with his daughters. I put it off.

While debugging the wifi the day I arrived, I pulled out my blue Ethernet cord (don't get on a plane without it) and plugged it into the router. The wifi works now, but I like sitting in the typist's chair in the office, plugged in. My sister gives me a look of disbelief when I say I'm going to go do my internetting in Dad's office. "It's so crowded," she says. "Aren't you uncomfortable?"

She forgets that I'm the girl who loved to take stacks of "Jack and Jill," "Cricket," and other children's magazines into a cardboard box and sit for hours, reading. I once moved the box into the closet, leaving the door a crack open for light, and got so absorbed that I didn't hear them calling me, and they thought I was missing. My mother hated that. She told me I should never get so lost in something that I couldn't hear someone calling my name. I might have learned hyperfocus if it weren't for that, I think bitterly, unfairly. "Code fugue" is what we called it freshman year of college, in Freeborn Hall, when hackers lost themselves in the trance state. I bet my dad found himself in code fugue many a time, when he was developing that Hindu astrology starchart-casting program in GW-BASIC. I think I helped with the colors.

One reason it's unfair to resent my mother is that her edict is probably not the reason I'm not a hacker -- the true bottlenecks were elsewhere, I think, but that's not what I mean to dissect now. And another is that the Harihareswara children had one excuse that absolutely, without fail, got them out of chores, eating, or nearly any other obligation: "I've been struck by inspiration and I have to write this down NOW." The parent always retreated so the child could return to that struggle we all knew, instantiating the private golden world onto the unforgiving page. She and I remembered this a few days ago while telling visitors about our childhood, and looked at each other, realizing with a start that we'd never abused this privilege.

What did it do to us, growing up in a household that put out a magazine every other month, edited anthologies every year, organized book tours for author friends, accumulated boxes of books in the garage the way some families end up with seas of cheap toys? We learned to treat writing as sacred and easy.

If I am sitting in the typist's chair, then I can imagine my father sitting behind me, reading something, taking longhand notes, looking around for Post-It notes to annotate the text. I don't hear him, but then I am wearing headphones.

I wish he were here, to organize his damn notes, to tell us what his system was. But he would have been impatient with us. He had things to do.

Filed under:


: Important Distinctions In Kannada: "Kaali" (empty) vs. "Ka(r)li" (a goddess of death). "Thali" (plate for food) vs. "tha(r)li" (necklace married women wear). The (r) here indicates just the slightest hint of an "r" before the L; linguists, feel free to remind me of the proper term.

"Chinna" (gold; "chinnu" is an endearment) vs. "chunni" (dupatta/sash)

"Bejarru" = sad or bored; "kopa" = angry; "hedthrike" = scared; "thoondhare" = troubled/troubling. When I was growing up, I thought "bejarru" meant "angry" and "thoondhare" meant "scared." Then again, when I was growing up, I basically heard all these as functionally equivalent: "If/when you do [thing you want to do], I feel [negative emotion]."

I also thought "mamouli" meant "trashy, dirty, or disgusting." Turns out it means "ordinary, common or usual." There is a slang derivative, "mamoulu," that (to be simplistic) means "bribe."

"Barthini" = "I'll be coming" or, idiomatically, "See you later," since traditionally when leaving someone's house you are making only a provisional goodbye. Leonard compares this to "au revoir." Many people say "hogi barthini," meaning "I'll go and come back."

While "santhe hogu!" is sort of idiomatically equivalent to "go to hell!" or "piss off!", and includes "hogu" which is the imperative second-person for "to go," "santhe" actually means "market," not "hell." "Go to the market!"

"Oota" is a meal with rice. Lunch or dinner would be forms of oota. "Thindi" is any other meal or snack, such as breakfast, that might have rice-derived foods in it but doesn't include actual cooked rice grains. Leonard immediately got my drift, which is that a host will act like, oh, you aren't hungry? You can't possibly eat any oota? Well, surely you could have some thindi, though, right? Just a little thindi... and then foist upon you a meal's worth of food items that somehow don't count since they aren't rice.

Legends whisper that Kannada has words for "enough" ("saku") and "a little" ("sulpa" or "wundh churru"). You can use the "a little" words and phrases as softeners when making a request, which confused me when I was a kid. "Will you, a little, turn that light on, please?" doesn't imply "somehow conjure that binary switch into a dimmer." Anyway -- perhaps "saku," "sulpa" and "churru," as modifiers on food-related information transactions, rarely work for me. I like pretending that they are archaic or ultra-formal or only understood within a certain dialect of Kannada or something. In fact, of course, it's just the rhythm and etiquette of this community's hospitality that devalues these requests. The host offers, the guest initially demurs, and they play out an enjoyable dominance/submission ritual that builds and reinforces trust and affection. In theory.

You'd think that "sum'nay" ("only" or "simply") would be easy to mishear as my first name. That doesn't happen, thank goodness. Girish, Nandini's friend (a native Kannada speaker) who's helping me keep this entry accurate, pointed out the doubling-for-emphasis construction "sum-sum'nay" which leads native Indian English speakers to literally say "sim-simply." This reminds me of x, gix.

Filed under:


(4) : My & My Sister's Eulogies For Our Father: At yesterday's service, several people spoke. My eulogy follows, then my sister Nandini's.

I am Sumana Harihareswara. I am S.K. Harihareswara's younger daughter.

I learned so much from my father and I'm only realizing some of it now, as people tell stories about him. He taught me, by example, how to get completely obsessed with a topic. He was enthusiastic and he started things and made things happen. He wanted to teach everyone everything he knew, about theology and literature and Kannada and editing and history and even engineering, if you asked, or even if you didn't.

And I'm like him in so many ways -- I've been remembering his quirks, and seeing myself in a new light. He'd get so focused on a project that he forgot to eat, until Mom called him. He loved meeting new people. He liked good signage and clear directions. He liked impressing people.

He collected papers and books and started so many projects that he couldn't possibly finish them all. But they all tied into each other -- it was as though he was working on a grand unified theory of everything, his endlessly creative mind using a hundred perspectives to make sense of the universe. He got mad at things that didn't make sense, but then he'd go to sleep grumpy and wake up completely fresh.

He always wanted to be doing more.

The best way to remember my father is to outdo him. I urge all of us, including myself, to cherish his memory by practicing his virtues: his intellect, generosity, and hard work. Let yourself be carried away with joy and love. He lived a full life, and if we carry on his work, it will overflow into ours.

Nandini:

Dad always wanted me to write. He was always begging me to publish this long fiction story I wrote in the 7th grade. I remember it was a murder mystery set in Jamaica (I'd never been there) and I wrote it on this old-school Apple computer we had in our basement. Dad stayed with me on this project and helped me write it and edit it, late into the night before it was due.

It is hard to believe he is gone.

One of the best things I've ever done was in 2003. I took a year off from work and school to live with my parents in India. In that time, my father and I became friends. Our relationship changed from one of parent and child to friends that would ask each other for advice and discuss philosophy and edit each other's works. He was more relaxed, and I was more relaxed. I understood him, and why he would get mad and why he'd become happy. And he began to understand me.

We would sit at the dining room table and argue and discuss the various points of philosophy. Sometimes he would tell me stories, of every day things like how nosy people are at the bus stop. He would tell me how some guy started talking to him and asked what he did, how much money he made, how many children he had, were they married? If not, why not? What to do with the girl that was unmarried, etc. And still he enjoyed it. He loved living in India, in Mysore.

I came to Mysore to laugh. My father was hilarious. He would make fun of people, situations, and best of all my, mother. He, slowly, as the years went by, would also laugh at himself. I would make fun of his books, and ask him "who will read a Kannada book about sparrows?" And he'd laugh good-naturedly.

So much of who I am comes from my father. He was a philanthropist. He was a philosopher. He was a comedian. He was deeply spiritual. He was a writer.

Because of all of this, because we were friends, because he was happy with his life, because he died painlessly, I can live on. He taught me that there is so much to live for, so much to do. So many people to help, so many things to celebrate. In his death, I will continue to follow my father’s footsteps and continue writing, making friends, and improving the world.

Filed under:


(1) : Blandishments: I need to post at more length about the people and things that have kept me sane these past few weeks. The familiar, the distracting, the intellectual and olfactory hits direct to the pleasure centers of my brain. A few days ago I was at a low ebb, then ate Pizza Hut pizza and drank 7-Up: the first non-Indian dinner in weeks. This is the point of easy, cheap Western franchise food. Like the scene in Dear Mr. Henshaw where mom & son cry, then go out for buckets of fried chicken and eat it in the car watching the ocean. They roll the windows down to hear the rain and surf, and the fast food place forgot forks so they scoop mashed potatoes with chicken bones.

[I (think I) last ate McDonald's french fries years ago, in Tokyo, when I badly needed to be Home.]

Franchise food serves this purpose... when home-cooked food itself is fraught, franchise and microwave-from-frozen food promises autonomy, familiarity, control, solace.


(3) : This Time For Sure: I know what'll make everything better: self-loathing!

Filed under:


(1) : Getting Personal: I went to sleep at a reasonable hour, for once. My mother and I slept in the same bed -- the one in my room, since her bedroom seems to provoke my allergies. She isn't used to sleeping in a bed alone.

Then, around two, we both awoke, hearing a sound like a toilet running or water pouring. It didn't stop. We checked around the house and didn't see any plumbing fails, and my mom concluded that someone was refilling a water tank. I decided to believe her. Sure, that echoey bit could imply that liquid's being poured into a vessel, not onto a flat splashy inadvertent swamp.

Then some dogs started barking. Intermittently, of course -- nothing I could block out. I tried listening to some Michael Masley (remember the cymbalom guy from the streets of Berkeley?) via headphones, but only succeeded in a bunch of calm thinking. So, up and to the living room with a borrowed computer, Foo Camp water bottle, and Ubuntu tote bag that happened to have some American snacks.

Oh the snacks Leonard packed for me! They help keep me sane. Dried apple rings, dark chocolate, cookies, fruit leather, licorice, trail mix. Nearly all the food I've had here in India is tasty, but my relationship with Indian food carries heavy emotional baggage. These foods, the snacks, I've only ever chosen.

People used to ask why I'd majored in political science. I told them it was because polisci is the study of power, and growing up I'd felt like I had none. As I said to a friend recently: glib, but a species of true. Or, as I said to Leonard ten years ago: Idiotic, yet resonant.

It's so important to me to feel like I've chosen my burdens, like I knew ahead of time what I was signing up for. Or at least it has been, historically. My mom, a recent widow and as busy as she's ever been, is understandably not that great at telling me a day in advance that the housepainters will be going in and out of my room, or that such-and-so will stop by. I want plans, I want advance notice, I hate being in the dark when it's avoidable, when I feel like the other party could be giving me information but negligence or tight-lippedness is keeping me from feeling informed. If I can't have control, I'd at least like a dashboard display.

So I clutch even harder to the few familiar certainties I have. My music, my food, my tee shirts to wear to bed. I ask Mom a hundred questions about the next day (Are you expecting anyone? Are the painters coming? Is anyone else coming, like a plumber or electrician? Are we doing community service? Do you have any appointments outside the house, like at the bank? Do we need to go anywhere? Has anyone invited us anywhere?), interrogating her as I'd ask ultra-specific questions of a client, trying to draw out her mental map so I can copy it down, getting all waterfall. I cannot go with an unknown flow, not here. Agile, after all, works with explicit introspection and negotiation, with clear schedules and disciplined use of an explicit process to constantly change those schedules (Moss, fix my simplifications in comments?). It works when we trust the process and each other, and I barely even trust myself.

There are so many strange annoying stimuli here, and -- since my defense mechanisms are intellectualizing and humor -- I have been stepping back and analyzing why some bother me and some don't. The Hindu rituals don't, perhaps because I have a great deal of practice in spacing out through them as one does through dentist visits. People tell me what to do, I do it, my mind wanders, sometimes I make mistakes but they're always fixable, and it makes my mom happy. I can appreciate the beauty in an abstract way, or if I look at the flowers and incense from the perspective of one of my non-Hindu friends, imagining a travel writer's or photographer's eye.

And then there is the communication stuff. There is lots of shouting and interrupting that doesn't mean anger or scorn. People repeat redundant instructions and I get irked at the implied lack of trust....except that it doesn't mean lack of trust here, it means care. If I tell you information and then leave you alone, or remain emotionally detached, that is scorn! The preferred Indian behavior seems to break two of the Gricean maxims, to my ear. It grates.

Relatedly: like a backend programmer hearing complaints about UI, I get peculiarly angry when I hear someone telling me to be in good spirits, not to freak out, not to stress out, to smile more and relax.

And then there's food. But I've talked about food enough already. And I'm sure I'll do so more, again, soon.

This is messy and loose-threaded and lit by the early early streaks of dawn. Most of the above I wrote around six in the morning. Now, after lunch, my mother naps; she couldn't even finish her rice and stew, her head was nodding so hard. I go in to check on her every once in a while, watching her for a moment, standing very still so I can watch a fold of fabric on her chest rise a few millimeters, and fall.

Filed under:


(3) : The Great American Songbook: I am not very good at making small talk with my mom. So much of it brushes against my switchboard of buttons dusty and bright: how I should have tried out for Jeopardy! or what to eat next or hey, I should be publishing more or God makes everything happen for a reason! Even when the conflict or trigger is two moves away, unspoken, never brought up, I get antsy in case the conversation ripples thataway.

Last night she was tired and down. I read aloud a few great passages from A Writer's Nightmare by R.K. Narayan. (An amazing fiction author, Indian, who turned into a more fanciful Andy Rooney for his weekly newspaper column. I need to quote him extensively on umbrellas and wisdom and tourists' interest in the caste system and coffee.) She perked a bit, then sagged again. I didn't know what else to do. So, as I took my plate to the kitchen, I started singing Union Maid.

There once was a union maid
Who never was afraid
of goons and ginks and company finks
and the deputy sheriffs who made the raid...
I finished with the old sexist verse about marrying union men, then the chorus. She loved it and asked for more. I sang Down by the Riverside.

I'm gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
I'm gonna lay down my sword and shield
And study war no more

You have such a sweet voice, she said. I sang what I remembered of Banks of Marble.

I've traveled round this country
From shore to shining shore
It really makes me wonder
The things I heard and saw
For the banks are made of marble
With a guard at every door
And the vaults are stuffed with silver
That the miners sweated for
I sang what I've memorized from Dar Williams's What Do You Hear In These Sounds.

... and I ask myself what state I'm in
And I say well I'm lucky, 'cause I am like East Berlin
I had this wall and what I knew of the free world
Was that I could see their fireworks
And I could hear their radio
And I thought that if we met, I would only start confessing
And they'd know that I was scared
And they'd would know that I was guessing
But the wall came down and there they stood before me
With their stumbling and their mumbling
And their calling out just like me and

Oh, the stories that nobody hears
Oh, I collect these sounds in my ears
That's what I hear in these sounds

The stories that nobody hears, I collect these sounds in my ears. Beautiful, she said. One more, she asked. And I sang the start of New York City, which I know from the They Might Be Giants cover.

You called me last night
On the telephone
And I was glad to hear from you
'Cause I was all alone
You said, "It's snowing, it's snowing; God I hate this weather;
Now I walk through blizzards just to get us back together."

We met in the springtime at a rock 'n' roll show
It was on the Bowery. When it was time to go
We kissed on the subway in the middle of the night
I held your hand
You held mine
It was the best night of my life

'Cause everyone's your friend
In New York City
And everything is beautiful when you're young and pretty
The streets are paved with diamonds and there's just so much to see
But the best thing about New York City is
You and me.

You should sing that to Leonard, she said.

Today: a bit of Birdhouse in Your Soul. I should memorize more songs, so I can sing them to my mom, and more poetry to recite. But first: downstairs again, to keep her company.


(6) : Blogging, Historical & Logistical Notes: Today in history: ten years ago Leonard asked a Star Trek trivia question. I tried to answer it via email. This was before I'd ever met Leonard in person, and it was one of the first times I ever wrote to him. This was back when I'd duck into the computing labs in Dwinelle or Evans between classes and kill time with SFGate, Slashdot, and the blog of this guy I'd never met.

Also today I told Leonard how strange it is to find myself changing in response to novel stimuli, and how I'm trying to use science analogies to understand my disorientation. It is as though I were a mature company, selling a stable product line, and I'd forgotten to shut down R&D and suddenly they had this new awesome strange innovation that was knocking all my assumptions and salesfolk off kilter. "There's been this skunkworks project in my heart the whole time!" I exclaimed.

"So it's more like Big Science [analogies]," Leonard offered.

Perhaps the third or fifth email I ever sent Leonard mentioned a book of cartoons, Big Science by Nick Downes, that was on the remaindered table at Cody's Books in Berkeley. I had bought a copy for myself, and told him he'd like it, and that he should come over from San Francisco to buy a copy. "But it's all the way across the Baaaaaaay! ;-)" he said, I approximate. He asked if he could PayPal me the money and have me buy one for him. I said I didn't have a PayPal account. He asked how he was supposed to reap the positive network effects of having joined PayPal if people like me didn't. "Your chicken, your egg, your problem," I replied.

This was back when I was fluffing my plumage, trying to impress this new impossibly smart, funny, accomplished guy, not even realizing yet that I had met someone who would be important to me. We clicked effortlessly and got drunk on it. The emails were fantastic. And then the years went by, and we eventually moved in together and got married, and we can usually laugh and ruminate and say "I love you" face to face. Which is of course wonderful.

(I laughed when Leonard reminded me of Big Science on the phone today, and teased him that instead of buying the book himself, he just got me to fall in love with him. "It was easier," he teased back. And hey, I still don't have a PayPal account.)

But I miss the letters.

One of the worst things about long-term relationships is the temptation to let oneself go -- not physically, necessarily, but in terms of taking care to grow and show one's best self.

(Huh, what's the name of the fallacy that says that if you name the fallacy then it has no power over you?)

Anyway. I'm still in Mysore, coming back next week, and I'd vaguely thought that at least that distance and the timezone difference would give me reason to bring back the epistolary depth -- there's a form of lasting solace I only get by exchanging long, thoughtful, caring letters. But VoIP phone calls plus instant messaging plus effort put into other reading and writing reduce the energy and thought I put into emails to Leonard, which is my shame and one I aim to rectify. So if I'm not blogging or writing to you much, know that my emotional roller coaster continues but I'm basically okay, and that I'm just trying to reduce, by one, one of the many, many ways in which I am a fool.

I do not know what I would do without him.


: Some Preliminary Thoughts On My Adoration Of The Week: Mysore is a few hours' train, car, or bus travel from Bangalore. Conventional wisdom says Mysore is a small, quiet city, with colleges and parks and long afternoons sipping coffee with friends and relatives.

But a few days ago, with welders fixing a gate on our street, I couldn't get away from the noise, it's been louder and more annoying than anything I have to put up with in Astoria. Which makes Mysore noisier than New York City.

Also, I hit myself in the face while waving away a fly or mosquito.

From some incoherent early morning notes a few days ago:

Electrical current is out upstairs. Sound of water pouring into tank (I hope). Dogs barking intermittently; make me that rat.

Geckos, not feeling all aggravated at ants, eating off banana leaves 3 times in a week, tea tea tea, the idea of too many cooks in the kitchen is hella alien.

"Make me that rat"? I think I was remembering how intermittent, unpredictable rewards and punishments drive lab rats crazy. It sounds like a prayer, though. Batter my heart. Make me that rat.

A few days later:

It's the perfect temperature, and breakfast is long over and lunch is thankfully at least an hour away, but dust from old papers stuffs my nose and the workers' noise turns my energy and creative attention to mush. All I want to do right now is grab you -- yes, you, reader, whoever you are -- by the lapel and read to you large extracts of R.K. Narayan.

I have written all the following essays because I had to. I had to write to meet a deadline every Thursday in order to fill half a column for the Sunday issue....I had not the ghost of an idea what I was going to do. As [my editor] had left me to do anything I wanted within my column I started writing, trusting to luck; somehow I managed to fill the column for nearly twenty years without a break.
-p.8, A Writer's Nightmare: Selected Essays 1958-1988
Anyone who's ever written a weekly column sees, at this moment, straight into Narayan's heart. Somehow, from all the frantic tuggings and scribblings, you end up with a body of work, and there are some gems in there, and how did that happen?

Narayan died two days after Douglas Adams did. He'd been honored by lots of governments and academies, and nominated to the Rajya Sabha (India's upper house of parliament). One of the most touching columns in the collection is a remembrance of Indira Gandhi, who made time to talk with him about books, the environment, and urban development. Then there's the obligatory "how they ruined the movie version of my book" story, and Thurber-y stuff about losing an umbrella or how the morning newspaper gets snatched up and torn to pieces by every relative or neighbor except the subscriber.

He'd lived in Mysore and spent lots of time in Berkeley and New York, both of which he loved. For comfort, the last few weeks, I have been writing and emailing and instant-messaging and phone chatting with friends in NYC and the Bay Area, so when I read Narayan getting nostalgic about 14th Street and the Campanile, Washington Square and Telegraph and Sather Gate, I felt that enchanted expat camaraderie wash over me like a pleasant alien bath. It means even more coming from someone who articulated Karnataka so particularly well:

Even adjoining cities, such as Mysore and Bangalore, to take an immediate example, have antagonistic temperaments although they come under the same State administration and partake of the same culture, separated only by an 85-mile concrete road, which you can cover in two hours; and yet what a difference! Strangers who have passed through, inadvertently say, "I was in Mysore," when they mean Bangalore! This sort of slip distresses a true Mysorean and a Bangalorean equally. For the shades of prejudice between the two cities are not mere gradations in a chromatic scale but well-defined conflicting colours. In the shops of Mysore if any commodity is unfairly priced, and you ask for an explanation, pat comes the answer, "It is all due to Bangalore, where they have put up the prices." The Bangalorean thinks, "God, nothing will prosper in Mysore. People are too sleepy and impossible. Once, when I was in Mysore, I tried to get a plumber to fix the tap in my bathroom and for fifteen days no one turned up. In Bangalore...."

Bangalore hotels, taxis, water supply, and the colour and composition of masala dosai are categorically disapproved of by Mysoreans. "Mysore is dull" is balanced by "Bangalore is getting so congested that it will choke itself one of these days". If a Mysorean admits certain deficiencies in Mysore, he'll always trace them to the fact that it has no spokesmen either in Delhi or in Bangalore, most of the Ministers (at least till recently) being men of other districts, which is the reason why Mysore is without a train connection to the South through Chamarajnagar-Satyamangalam (a distance of only 45 miles through an oft-observed track), an airport, a broadcasting station, and a broad-gauge track. No one in authority has any feeling for Mysore. There is also a comforting view adopted sometimes that Bangalore is a sort of filter keeping out undesirable industrial elements, leaving Mysore to live in its pristine glory.
-p. 148, from "Pride of Place"

As with Lavanya Sankaran, I find here an enchanting and rare specificity. I can always find English-language writers showing off their familiarity with Berkeley and Manhattan, but then it's no longer an in-joke, just sophistication. Narayan as South South Asian:
It is childish to imagine that by sending us Hindi forms you are making us more Hindi-conscious. Shall we supply your post offices with forms and stationery printed in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada? That would at least give this whole business a sportive and reciprocal touch.
-p.28, "To a Hindi Enthusiast"

Go read it, whether you want to grok South India because it's your home, or because it's not.

Filed under:


(1) : From "I Have A Tambourine" to "LOL Warmongers" (Really Just Listen To The Talk): After making some absurd, thrice-removed-from-original-text inside joke with Leonard, like "I never Medipren I didn't like," I told him about Biella Coleman's & Finn Brunton's talk at HOPE about pleasure in political spectacle, lulzy media, Anonymous vs. Scientology, etc.

"I was reminded of our injokes when they talked about exploitables. BUT NOT ENOUGH! I shall hold them hostage and force them to give their talk again, with more discussion of exploitables! Bright lights in their faces, rivulets of sweat --"

"Or you could just talk to them," Leonard broke in.

Pause.

"They won't even know they've been captured," I mused diabolically.

Anyway, Biella and I were already acquainted before the talk (via Seth), and now Finn and I are pals, which is why they greet me during the Q&A around 58:30. I can recommend Finn's talk on spam and metagaming and his essay "Why I did not kill myself in January of 2010" along with the rest of his writing, and Biella's 1998 FLOSS memories, Precor ethnography, and full lulz talk (more work than I can summarize). And the HOPE talk.

Filed under:


(2) : An Ecstatic Patron of Recurrent Light: I first read The Great Gatsby in eleventh grade, Mr. Hatch's American Literature class. Every few years I reread it. I read it a few years ago, after moving to Astoria, and got a richer sense of place out of all the geographical references and touches. I'm rereading bits of it now.

Wow, those party scenes are much more informative, funny, and tragic when you've had friends, and been to parties you enjoyed, and not been the most awkward person in the room. In fact, all the interpersonal stuff is. I'm kind of wondering how it was that I loved this book so much for its aesthetics and psychological insight when I was so completely undeveloped on those fronts. And it's not like Anjana Appachana (Incantations and Other Stories), where I liked the work half a lifetime ago and now it seems obvious. I loved Gatsby then and I love it now, but I can't easily reach back to what I saw in it then, because every page feels fresh now.

I was rereading the end of Chapter 6 ("He broke off and began to walk up and down a desolate path of fruit rinds and discarded favors and crushed flowers....") and remembered Mr. Hatch -- I could call him Sam now? -- reading it aloud to us. "Can't repeat the past?" he cried incredulously. "Why of course you can!" I remember his greying hair, his two desks stuffed with essays and handouts, the green chalkboard, the classroom's chairdesks in two sets facing each other. (And him, and how he influenced me, but that's several thoughts too many for this was-supposed-to-be-short post.) For his class I wrote an essay about Gatsby, comparing him to Karna from the Mahabharata. It was perhaps the high-water mark of my overachieving high school nerdery, being way longer than the minimum and including a six-page appendix summarizing the Mahabharata with special emphasis on Karna's origin, trials and fate. Cue knowing mockery from classmates. Perhaps they meant it as friendly, mostly.

My parents showed it off to their Indian visitors; their daughter wasn't into bharatnatyam dance or the sitar or classical singing and her Kannada sucked, but at least she was oddly interested in the mythology. I wonder how many printouts they made. "Just like her father," I bet the aunties and uncles said.

I came across that essay last week, while sorting through some boxes. Maybe I'll ask Leonard to read it, to tell me whether it'll make me wince to see what I thought of Fitzgerald and Vyasa before I was even really sentient as a critical thinker. I can barely bear to read my ten-year-old blog entries!

I know what I see in Gatsby now; I saw something else, something valuable and beautiful, ten-plus years ago, and I expect I'll see yet a different face in the next decade. That's a classic for you, one that rewards new orbits with fresh discovery. I now see it through layers of history: Long Island in the 1920s, Tokay High School in the nineties, Queens from the 2000s. Can't repeat the past? ...borne back ceaselessly...

Filed under:


(3) : A New Brother-In-Law(-To-Be), and A New Joy: My sister has just gotten engaged! Nineteen-second video by me, story by her. Her fella, Girish, is highly neat. He is kind, amiable, generous, funny, and industrious, and he reduces the net crazy of any situation he's in.

That's useful for many reasons, and one of them is that I am a big old weirdo. In any milieu, really. But here especially. My mother's house, my blood family, Mysore, Karnataka, India. I know that I feel alien, and my behavior and preferences rub roughly against the expectations, the assumptions of everyone around me (except, kinda, Indian-American teenagers who happen to stop by and need entertaining while their parents talk to my mom).*

But somehow it was only a few days ago, when we were all eating lunch together, that I really saw how they all fit. The joviality, the talking over each other, the casual touches, the food culture. Girish, Nandini, Mom, Nagaratna the housekeeper, every visitor and worker. It is all mundane to them. I'm the strange one, the one who can't stand having food lovingly pushed on her plate, the one who doesn't speak Kannada, the one who can't seem to make conversation about clothes or food or travel or remedies. I've always known I was alien, but it was as though I was seeing for the first time the good that I am alien to.

But Girish, in his matter-of-fact way, puts me at ease. He's laid-back in the best sense: not inattentive, not lazy, but calm and tolerant, as in an implementation of Postel's Law.

I am that annoying contrarian, often, like a cat running under the couch. Tell me a rule and I'll look for an exception. Tell me how to be, order me to change to emulate and work with you, and I'll radicalize and entrench my difference from you.

But Girish sidesteps that old minefield. He helps me feel accepted enough to take a fresh look at the traditions and community I'd so ignorantly rejected. It's funny how calm, not-trying, the ceasing of struggle, opens up such possibilities for change. When once I've been lulled to sleep, I can awake to life and freedom.


* Only as I write this do I realize that I've been retreating into English-language literature and erudition as a refuge, because I feel so inadequate swimming in Kannada. Hamlet, Narayan, Fitzgerald, Cather, and letting my diction loose:

Nandini, complaining about some fake flowers Mom plans to put in the puja room: "These don't even look real!"
Sumana: "Well, artifice is always going to involve an imperfect mimesis."
Nandini: [stare, laugh] "That was like, 'SAT word is always another SAT word!'"
Sumana: "GRE word, please. 'Artifice' is SAT, but 'mimesis' steps it up."


: Home: Back in NYC. Thanks to Leonard & Mirabai for greeting me at JFK with a GODOT sign! More tomorrow, I hope.


(1) : Fortune: There are tools and applications and widgets and whatnot that are meant to be fed a text file full of quotations so they can show you one every time you log into a website, or onto your computer, or put one randomly in every email signature. The old-school name for the file full of quotations is "fortune" or some variant. The idea is that it's like opening a fortune cookie. Right now I'm benefiting from the wisdom some friends have shared with me. A selection:

But hey, if it were easy, it wouldn't need doing, right?
-Andrea Phillips

...on embarking on something completely beyond what I normally encounter in life, I've started thinking and/or saying, "Well, what the hell, at least I'll earn some XP."
-Martin Marks

Part of the pleasure of starting again is feeling the years and years of riding behind me -- the teenage bolting around like a lunatic and learning how to land on my feet, the years in my twenties when David drummed cadence into me -- coming up and helping, like a whale surfacing under a struggling swimmer. As if those years weren't wasted after all; as if all is not lost.
-Rachel C.

...sometimes it's easier to cry about smaller things.
-via Jed Hartman

If the people you're with notice you're eating your pasta wrong, you're with the wrong people.
-Nandini Harihareswara (circa 1996)

I don't understand why we, as a society, always want to put intensely complex arrays of emotionally significant things into tight boxes. The world does not work that way.
-Julia Rios

And one less personal insight, but one that speaks to me powerfully whenever I find myself wearied by intra- and inter-personal growth: Captain Jonathan Archer (yes, from Star Trek: Enterprise), inspiring the fractious diplomats and keeping them from scuttling the interplanetary equivalent of the League of Nations:

Up until about a hundred years ago, there was one question that burned in every human, that made us study the stars and dream of traveling to them. Are we alone? Our generation is privileged to know the answer to that question. We are all explorers driven to know what's over the horizon, what's beyond our own shores.

And yet the more I've experienced, the more I've learned that no matter how far we travel, or how fast we get there, the most profound discoveries are not necessarily beyond that next star. They're within us, woven into the threads that bind us, all of us, to each other.

A final frontier begins in this hall. Let's explore it together.


: No Good Reason: From conversation with Leonard: Q as Will Shortz in the NPR Sunday puzzle.

Picard: "I don't have time for your games, Q!"

Q: "This 7-letter word explains why humanity should not be obliterated. Backwards, it's a common Moroccan dessert. What is it."

Filed under:


(1) : Sorry, Yet Not, For The Length: I closed the lid of my iBook G4 at some point this summer, maybe in June, and didn't open it again till I came back from India, with my Linux laptop unavailable. I'd been timesinking (otherwise known as keeping up with RSS feeds) via NetNewsWire on that 5-year-old Mac, and I suppose I accidentally experimented with simply dropping that part of my life, for a time. Some friends' or writers' blogs, I followed manually, and some I just forgot about; Identi.ca, Twitter, LiveJournal and Dreamwidth fed my pipeline steadily enough; I just stopped trying to follow a lot of the stream.

I supposed I vaguely thought it would build up, the backlog. I'm usually a completist. I get anxious about reading every word, seeing every episode, rewinding if the phone rings and I miss five seconds of dialogue. (I'm an asshole about no talking when we're watching something together. The pause button gets employed a lot.) But today I started up NetNewsWire and there weren't ten thousand new items, there were like 1400. Quirks of settings and configuration, of RSS feeds simply no longer carrying such long-past items, so my reader had never retrieved them -- I have missed a big stripe of the stream.

And that's fine. There is no complete. Some of that stuff I will never know about. Some I'll hear about in other ways. Some might have changed my life. Some might have just amped up my anxiety, added yet more I Shoulds to my dark cloud. I was living a different full life instead, meeting new friends at conferences, whiling away long afternoons in the living room in Mysore while my mom slept, reading poetry aloud into a recorder for a friend on the other side of the globe, frittering away precious irrevocable moments in other ways. Maybe not better, but different, and different is its own kind of better.

Edinburgh for me was always the randomizer, the place I hitched to every year, camped out in, and came out in some other country, six weeks later, with hungover and overdrawn, with a new skill or passion or someone sadder or more famous or just more fuddled and dumber than ever.

I feel like I started traveling this year in April, or January, and never stopped. Traveling, and writing harder, and meeting new people who knock me to pieces, and trying and failing to volunteer better and make things socially. (Try again, fail better, when I have a moment to breathe, in November.)

This post started as a letter to one of those people, so I could talk about how looking at these RSS feeds now, I have a different pruning hand. I'm more prone to cut the Must Keep Up! politics and tech firehoses. And my eye has changed. I catch my breath when I see a gem of prose or thought, especially a phrase of love or anger that punches through. I get overwhelmed with happiness when someone articulates something just so, or when a precise, vivid illustration-in-words works its magic on my mind's eye. Insight and beauty -- did I get inured to them, mixed in with the sod and dross, or was I not noticing them? How much have I changed, my God?

I could hear the lilt and awe in Scott Rosenberg's voice when I read him saying "There's so much that's fun and unexpected in Perfecting Sound Forever:..." and it made me want to collect the pretty marbles as I read instead of just letting them fall to the floor. A stream, caught for once, another form of completism, but maybe less neurotic and more about joyous sharing.

...your books do not love you. They are objects, and not morally superior to any other object in your house. Again, books are not morally superior to any other objects. They are just heavier.

...like all good hells, the eating down the pantry hell is all the worse because it is a hell of your unique making.

The study has its limits, of course; we are strongly multivariate bags of chemicals, after all.

The tie from this book to my own interests should be clear, but if not, I should make them explicit: free and open source software often thinks of itself as being sui generis, but in fact it is part of a history (in this country) of retreat from established economic structures with the intent of creating parallel systems that would eventually compete with or replace those established structures with something simultaneously individually empowering and socially just.

(A laugh-out-loud The Big Caption.)

The argument I have always seen against dropping the use of such words always boils down to "But I'm a word nerd, and I think I should be able to use any word I want. Not using that word cuts a hole in my lexicon, and demonizes it, besides. Also, I like that word."

That's not word-nerdery. That's laziness. That's favoring metaphor over precision, generality over specificity. A real word-nerd would keep searching until they came up with a more correct, more fitting descriptor. If the situation you're involved in actually resembles a death-march? Then by all means, go ahead and use that word. If not? Head back to the well and drop the bucket. Surely you can come up with something better than that.

Finally I suggested that Alex design her own coin. Her first reaction: "But it's against the law!" No, I explained, it's only against the law to make copies of real coins trying to fool people. I drew the circles for her and helped with some of the spelling. Here you have the results: the Alex 1000 dollar coin.

i have been meaning to write an article about the whole experience
for some time now
maybe pitch it to some of those magazines
that run personal-narrative articles

you know the kind of article i'm talking about
they begin in medias personal res
and then gently flesh out a few details
and toward they end they circle some greater truth

like a dog who's worried there's a trap somewhere near the food dish.

I thought about how it is with this kind of high joy, that there has to be a kind of recklessness, a forgetting, in order to fly like that.

On all sides of the political spectrum of homeschoolers, I tend to see an unrealistically rosy view of families. Parents care more about their kids than anyone else ever could, and parents know what’s best for their kids’ education. Yeah. I know too many parents who use crack to buy into this one; disillusionment about the awesomeness of families is an occupational hazard for me. There will always be parents who are disengaged and/or incompetent and/or malevolent. We will always need a default educational system that is not dependent on parents knowing or caring about what is best for their children, and it needs to be as good as we can make it because those kids are already starting out with two and a half strikes against them, and they deserve a chance.

I was terrified. It may have all been about anticipating the roaches that I suspected were all over our new apartment. It may have been the foreign sturdiness of the word, "wife."

My own guess is that a rule like this breaks one of the important criteria for a rule of justice that are there in some versions of Rawls - that the social decision rule has to be justifiable to everyone in society on their own terms, otherwise it's not really a society. If you have an overarching rule about priorities, it's going to create what Kenneth Arrow calls "positional dictators" - ie people whose position in the current allocation of resources gives them a status such that the social utility function is wholly determined by theirs. More importantly, there are going to be loads of people whose priorities are nowhere near the social priorities and who therefore have no chance whatsoever of seeing their particular hobbyhorse being funded. People like that are eventually going to get pig sick of making their contribution, because they're going to believe (correctly) that the society they're in isn't working for them.

"In this town everyone's rich. So when everyone's equal serendipity becomes a status symbol." ... Maybe telling them "no" trashed their delusion that life should just be one series of effortless moments after another.

"Yeah, they never show you at home what they can do."

We're both fans of public transit, something we discovered the first time we met; we talked about our favorite AC Transit bus line (the 51) the first time we had dinner, and celebrated a subway-accessible wedding a year and a half later.

Subjectivity Isn’t Sustainable... Sometimes it takes extra time and effort to describe and document situations that appear obvious or hard to describe. We should at least try. Failing to do so keeps all the power and decision making with the people who know.

Then, to our utmost surprise, the captain stepped down from the platform and continued: "My wife and I struggled for a long while, and we just adopted a child last year. It is life's greatest gift. And so, it is my pleasure to do this for you. Won't you please give me your hands so that I can fingerprint them?"

I recently told a reader that if forced to choose, I would sacrifice every video game in existence for the works of Shakespeare and not give it a moment's thought. Such mental experiments are folly. It's likely that if we ever do lose the works of Shakespeare it will be at the same instant we lose all the video games and everything else.

I like universal health care not for any moral reason but because it encourages job mobility, enterpreneurship, takes the burden off our manufacturing industries, and leads to cheaper health care costs. I like to spend money on education because it makes our workers competitive in the international market. I want cap and trade because reliable humans tell me that the long-term costs of climate shift will be worse than doing nothing. I want solar power so people with thousand-year-old grudges in countries half a world away stop yanking us around. I want to cut defense spending so we can move it to border control and humint resources. I favor separation of church and state because, like Thomas Jefferson, I don't want people of faith to have other faiths shoved on them by the power of the government.

I'm a goddam 1972 Republican.

As I read these, copy and paste these, sitting for hours on my nice couch in my American apartment -- Philip Glass, Ray Lynch -- all my tactile senses drift away, I live in my mind, and you can tell, because the quotes get less and less sensual and beautiful, more and more cerebral and clever. That former, pain and breathtaking joy, that's what I got some of this summer, by leaving things I knew and breaking my heart open more and losing my mind a little. I don't want to just have had a vacation from this straitlaced intellectual life, one that doesn't stick.

Perhaps this should have been a letter after all, personal and quiet, about sun and grass and ants constantly getting onto my skin, about enthusiasm and the hope in knowing time will pass, I don't know. More like this.

I want my writing to be good enough for you. I want my living to be good enough. I don't know what I'm losing in this change, I just have to do what I can't not do.

The first day we met he informed me that the essence of our work was learning to get out of our own fucking way. I am learning that out here--how to get out of my own fucking way--and really listen to what I care about, what I truly ache to say. ...

It is almost 11. There is nothing out there but the terrible night.

I scramble around for words to shape and convey how I'm feeling and all I have is what already exists. It is a little late in life for me to decide to invent a new language to love the world with -- isn't that sort of conlang pursuit more suited to the 18-25 demographic, or poets? Isn't this sort of rather embarrassing love letter to discovery and change more suited to Dreamwidth?

Screw it. Jim Blandy said, musing to me and Amber Case at the Mozilla table at Open Source Bridge, "every good thing I've ever done has been unauthorized." Post.

Filed under:


(15) : Science Fiction That Argues Back: Julia and I were talking yesterday about Maureen McHugh and her excellent, searing novella The Cost To Be Wise came up. The Cost To Be Wise is in part a critique of Star Trek's Prime Directive and noninterference policies like it. This reminded me of how Nancy Kress's great Beggars in Spain novella is nearly explicitly a response to Ayn Rand, specifically Atlas Shrugged (I wouldn't say the expanded book and Beggars trilogy are). Several characters in Beggars in Spain follow Yagaiism, which reads clearly as this universe's Objectivism.

This got me thinking: what scifi interestingly critiques previous scifi? Cory Doctorow has a series that explicitly does this:

In spring 2004, in the wake of Ray Bradbury pitching a tantrum over Michael Moore appropriating the title of Fahrenheit 451 to make Fahrenheit 9/11, I conceived of a plan to write a series of stories with the same titles as famous sf shorts, which would pick apart the totalitarian assumptions underpinning some of sf's classic narratives.

A few other examples: Leonard makes the case that the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Measure of a Man" responds to the original series's "Court Martial"; it "puts one of the underlying themes of TOS on trial and shows that it hasn't held up well." ("on trial" - zing!) And lots of fanfic does this, like "Second Verse (Same As the First" by Friendshipper/Sholio. "The power disparity between the 'Lanteans and the other peoples in Pegasus is something I think about occasionally, but it's never addressed on the show."

It's all a shared discourse, sure. We talk about themes we've read and play with them. "Another End of the Empire" by Tim Pratt, for example, is responding to a common fantasy trope. But I'm interested in hearing about science fiction and fantasy that says, "In this specific work, there is a specific ideological failing that I will now use, or refute, and that idea will be a primary premise for my story." Do you have a favorite bit of speculative fiction that's like that?

Filed under:


(7) : Two Tips On Convincing Managers & Executives To Invest In Your Technology Projects: From a years-old job-advice email to a friend. The sort of knowledge that Rachel Chalmers or Karl Fogel finds obvious but that some of us still haven't quite integrated into our day-to-day communications and long-term strategies:

You need to be able to express your suggestions to your boss in terms of financial incentives and losses.

A few things I've picked up during a recent class in "Technology in the Business Environment" (when I was doing the master's in tech management at Columbia):

I) Management focuses on the things that drive the organization (directly making money), and tends to ignore things that support the organization's drivers. If you're directly making money, lowering the cost of producing the product/service, increasing management's control, increasing product quality, increasing the knowledge available to an important decisonmaker, or improving customer service, you can describe your work as a driver. Can you find a way to describe your high-level TODOs in one of those ways?

II) Here's a model of management's priorities for technology investment. The higher up this list you can get, the more attention you can grab from management.

  1. Revenue. Guaranteeing a financial return. Not just cutting costs, but actually MAKING money from customers.
  2. Increasing scarce productivity. If the demand for a product exceeds the supply, then this is attractive. [1 and 2 indicate that the company is growing, and interested in the future. A good sign!]
  3. Cutting costs. More popular in a struggling company.
  4. Competitive advantage -- this means the company is already behind its competitors and has lost first-mover advantage.
  5. Tech for the sake of tech -- pizzazz and leadership.

So can you explain "creating system-monitoring scripts, streamlining processes, and installing and configuring new programs on the server" so that they're way up on that list?

Let's say a system-monitoring script would take your service from 95% uptime to 99.9% uptime. That's #2. Maybe one of the high-level tasks you do will make it possible for your company to serve twenty units instead of fifteen (#2) or even start a whole new line of products (#1). But "It's more elegant/technically correct" is #5.

I welcome comments, tips, examples, disagreement, and cake.

Filed under:


(5) : How To Get And Deal With A Lawyer: At least one friend of mine was generally unsure how one finds and works with a lawyer to get help with, say, government paperwork, or employment contract review. The "How to get a lawyer" entry on the MetaFilter wiki clearly and comprehensively explains how to find, interview, choose, and work with lawyers, but I felt like adding to the chorus with my personal experience. I'm a US resident and have only ever chosen a lawyer in the US.

When I needed a contract reviewed, I found my lawyer, Danielle Sucher, via a referral from my friend Riana. Your personal and professional network can probably recommend a lawyer. Searching the Ask MetaFilter recommendations is also useful.

It is perfectly fine to email or call up a lawyer and say, for example, "Do you do immigration law? I am handling a student visa matter, could you help us with that within [timescale]?" The lawyer may ask you for a quick summary of the issue and what you need, so she can do just enough specification to decide whether you need help in her specialty. Like any consultant, she's trying to figure out what you actually need, and she has more domain experience than you, so she might ask questions that initially seem irrelevant, or ask for information you don't have at hand. It's okay to ask what she needs to know and then get back to her. This initial consultation is free of charge unless she specifically says otherwise.

It feels a little easier if you can say in that first communication that "such-and-so referred me to you," as it is with accountants/CPAs, plumbers, tutors, and any kind of service providers. I am sure I stumbled in my initial contact with Danielle: "uh, I don't know what to do or how much things cost." She led me through it. I believe independent general practitioners are especially used to people for whom this is their first lawyer.

If it's clear that the lawyer practices in the sub-field that you need, then you ask about her rates. Some rates are hourly and some are per-task (say, a set charge to review a contract and discuss it with you). If you're okay with those prices, then you arrange how to give her information and communicate about the work. You could do it over email, in person, and/or by phone. When I work with Danielle, I email her a request to review a document, she says yes, I email her the document, and she tells me when she'll finish looking at it. On or before that deadline, she replies and tells me her issues, or calls and we talk about it over the phone. (We haven't met.) And then the Richardson-Harihareswara household sends her a check, gladly, because the risk mitigation and the reassurance is worth it.

I probably know people who would be happier if they had a lawyer in their lives, someone to consult about once a year when signing big scary contracts, but who haven't quite gotten one because they perceive that step as scary or hard. They might think that all lawyers suck, or that it's far too hard to find a good one, or that lawyer fees are unaffordable, or that seeing one will be inconvenient. Those are not true in my experience, and I hope they don't stop you from finding and using a lawyer. I find a particular comfort in having My Lawyer's phone number in my cell phone's speed dial.


(2) : Melbourne, 30 August-14 September: WorldCon 2010My first World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon) and my first trip to the Southern Hemisphere! I plan to be in Melbourne, Australia from August 30th till September 14th for AussieCon 4. The WorldCon is September 2-6, so I'm there for some extra time before and after for decompression, hanging with Danielle and her friends, tourism, and maybe meeting you, if you're there!

I don't have any particular plans during WorldCon and my schedule is fairly free after as well. So please drop me a line or comment with suggestions. I love meeting open source geeks, using and seeing public transit, looking at beautiful bits of nature, seeing unique theatrical cultural events, eating vegetarian food, and walking around walkable neighborhoods.


(1) : Arriving A Few Days Before AussieCon: Earlyish this morning I arrived in Melbourne, Australia. For once I was aware and intent on the window as the plane nosed down through the cloud cover, then past it. Jewel green hilly checkerboard; I wanted to caress it, feel the moist fuzz of the moss under my fingers.

Danielle was kind enough to pick me up from the airport about sixteen hours ago. It's now 11:55pm and I haven't napped yet today, so I may yet beat jet lag on this trip! Factors: at least two prior weeks of uneven and inadequate sleep (I slept nearly the entire first, 5-hour flight), alcohol and melatonin (for something like 8 hours of sleep on the second flight), and caffeine (a "short flat white" coffee thingy around 10am).

Also today: ate a great "vego brekky" (vegetarian full-English-style breakfast) and some nice Thai curry, met Steph, bought a Lebara SIM card so I have an Australian mobile number, and tried to veg out and catch up on internetting while sitting in a warm living room, looking out at a wide winter sky. Pale blue shaded into bright, ridiculously fluffy clouds moving to and fro when I wasn't looking, over rooftops and brick.

It sounds so simple once I say it, that paying intense attention to external sensory stimuli (light, sound, wind, touch, colors, hush) opens me up so I can hear my internal sensations too, physical and emotional, raw. It aligns me. But how did I not know this till this summer? Or how did I forget?

Tomorrow I aim to hang with Danielle & her pals, and walk around the city a bit on my own. Wednesday, a pre-Worldcon pub crawl in the evening is my only plan. A few things a day, no hurry. I aim to circumvent the Fear of Missing Out, Fear of Missing Something. My bigger fear is missing the experience I'm having by skimming along it, hydroplaning in haste. No control, direction by default, and seeing only my own reflection along a surface.


(1) : "Going once / Going twice / Won't these gentlemen suffice?": Something like a full day on airplanes, and I skipped getting sick. But then I caught my host's cold, so instead of exploring Melbourne on the last day before WorldCon starts, I'm yawning out from the living room at a sky smeared with indifferent shades of grey, like used paintbrush-cup water drying on newsprint. I sit crosslegged on a couch, under four thin blankets, consuming lemongrass ginger tea, toast with peanut butter and banana (Australia has peanut butter! despite Leonard's declaration that it's the American marmite), and comfort media. I'm listening to Tally Hall's Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum (post title from "The Bidding") and reading Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice. Fortunately I've already read the prerequisite Stephenson, Owen Hill, and Nathanael West, and seen The Big Lebowski, so I can keep up and laugh as Pynchon riffs on "a hippie walks into a noir." And then there are Worldcon-related tweets and the AussieCon 4 LiveJournal community, and Finn's old winter thoughts, which match my physical climate.

More "responsibly," I'm pondering things to do in Melbourne. I'm especially interested in the immigration museum and hot-air balloon rides, the tramcar restaurant, and visiting Puffing Billy. Watching Three Thousand for more idiosyncratic, local, and one-time events happening between 7 and 13 September, and welcoming suggestions.

Yesterday was great, till I got sick. Danni led me onto train and tram to Fitzroy, which seems to be like San Francisco's Mission District. I bought a few cards and a button at Incube8r, and mooned over some jewelry from Limerence: very simple excerpts from working watches, the first steampunk I've ever seen that made me Get It. The name's enchanting and accurate. We visited a Friends of the Earth (acronymises to FOE) shop where an "It's Time." shirt indirectly caused Danni to explain Gough Whitlam to me. The shop allows people to stick small housing-related ads onto the window, facing out. I looked to my left and saw a short set of sentence fragments that I couldn't instantly read, set (to the reader) left-justified and ragged-right, and flashed back to the Pegasus bookstore at Shattuck and Durant in Berkeley, poems all over its windows -- where I first read Adam Zagajewski's "Try To Praise The Mutilated World," right after the 2001 terror attacks.

Drinks with Danni, Steph, and their friends at Polly's (recommended for service, ambiance, and selection), where I acted tourist and asked for AUTHENTIC Australian or Melburnian liquors or cocktails. Liquors: not so much (another bit of indigenous culture that got wiped out?). Evidently 1806 serves a "Japanese Slipper" cocktail, invented in Melbourne a whole twenty-six years ago. "[C]an be ordered safely in most countries where Midori is available." In other countries: peel it, it's the feds!

A fine faux lamb bolognese at Vegie Bar (recommended for food, veg friendliness, and buzz) (warning: it is a restaurant and thus the site is all in Flash or some other obstructive doesn'tworkalike). We talked about Askers vs. Guessers, the Melburnian ex-Perth crowd, neighborhoods, travel, computers, clients, footnotes and punctuation, booze, &c. I found myself asking "what?" a lot, sometimes because Australians speak very quickly, or because of crowd noise, and sometimes because I did not know whether I had heard a proper name, a bit of slang, a mistake, or a standard English word I would recognize were it written down. After India, it's a relief to be in a foreign country where nearly everyone speaks a variant of English, but I do feel loud, overbearing, obvious, a quarter-beat off. I'm five feet one, yet socially, I lumber, stumbling into things, an SUV among bikes.

Tram to train home. The Parliament train station played music over the public address system, random 80s stuff. Now I'm listening to the Mountain Goats, Tallahassee: more comfort music. Time to forage for lunch. No pub crawl for me tonight, I suspect. Pynchon, email gardening, the indoor life, intoxicated only by pseudoephedrine, if I can convince a nearby chemist I'm not looking for meth precursors.

Filed under:


: Comedy in Melbourne Tonight: I have had a very good WorldCon, as evidenced by the fact that I didn't have time to sleep more than four hours the last two nights, much less post to CES. I'm doing 5 min of (geek?) standup at the SYN Bar in Melbourne tonight, 9pm, free. Time to finish my set!

Filed under:


(4) : On The Other Side Of The (Snow)Globe, Upside-Down And Shaken: I was so young when I went there that I only remember this because of a photo. It's me sitting in a "tub" with solid clear plastic bubbles, next to a static Ernie and the rubber duck. The theme park people sold us the photo as a big plastic-and-metal button someone could clasp to their clothing, not that I've ever quite understood who would do that, or why.

Close-enough-to-thirty years later, Sunday night, after the Hugos, after hanging out with James and Jed, in a room party full of Perthians, I met someone who'd lived fifteen young years in some corner of Pennsylvania. "Did you ever go to Sesame World?" he asked.

Sitting on a red-carpeted step in a hotel suite's unsafely narrow staircase, I said no. Sesame World? Sounded made-up. Then he described it and my jaw dropped with recognition. I could see the button, a memory that had lain dormant for decades. And I could see my interlocutor's utter pleasure at watching my recollection emerge and unfold, my disorientation, my wonder.

I wonder if anyone will be asking me, when I'm sixty, whether I ever visited Melbourne, Australia, whether I ever saw a particular piece of black-dripping-cityscape-silhouette graffiti that reminded me of World of Goo, or ate at the Green Tambourine in Brunswick, or knew Avi at Of Science and Swords in that Elizabeth Street arcade. My crinkled eyes might crinkle again as I sifted through those years and mentioned that sunny, sprinkly Friday when I walked from Parliament, calling my mom and sister along the way, and ended up spending hours at the glass-walled scifi bookshop, talking about comedy and alphabetizing shelves.

It's been so long since I worked at Cody's Books that when I saw something out-of-order, I reflexively mistrusted myself, and had to flash through that bit of alphabet to reassure myself that yes, D does come before K, and M before S, McCaffrey before Modesitt, Stephenson before Stross.

Last night, I went to the Wesley Anne in Northcote with Steph, Danni, Em, Jo, Emilly, and Neil. We saw Justin Carter (fine) and the Rosie Burgess Trio. Singer and guitarist Rosie Burgess is self-contained and perfect, a woman whose essence I wish we could copy and send into space to let aliens know what humanity aspires to be. Drummer Sam Lohs deploys so many instruments masterfully, including her born comedian's face and wit. And Sophie Kinston, on electric violin: she did a solo at the end of "Skin and Bones" that left me gasping. I think I understand music now.

Oh God, please help me remember this. Help me remember being transformed.

Filed under:


(2) : While Reminded of Resonance: Steam engine, lamppost, and benchThe day before I left Melbourne, I rode Puffing Billy, a restored steam engine that goes a few miles per hour. To get there, I took commuter rail/subway east of Melbourne, like an hour's ride, and then I was in Belgrave, a little town that reminds me of bits of Marin, or West Portal in San Francisco. While in Belgrave, I also visited Limerence and bought a necklace and a pin; more on that later.

When I got on Puffing Billy, upon the platform as we were about to depart, a conductor walked the length of the train, calling "all aboard" and ringing a bell. The bell sounded exactly like a Hindu temple bell, which in retrospect is unsurprising. It's brass, the same size, probably the same ratios of clapper to airspace to wall thickness.

Sumana in front of a steam engineBut it was almost gratuitously evocative, the blue-suited-and-hatted volunteer walking before the anachronism, mist and wood and iron grill and forest all around, shaking a bell to call us to devotion. The priest rings that bell, for example, at the moment in the prayer ritual where we stand and rotate three times clockwise, hands pressed in Namaste (Namaskaar, in Karnataka) in front of our chests. The chant starts "Yani kani chippa pani," which has a mathematical elegance to it. You're supposed to pray, but I always concentrate on not being utterly clumsy and stepping on someone's foot or falling down in my sari. After three turns you kneel and pray, the way you see Muslims do in those great massive photos of hundreds of Muslims in mosques: arms and back stretched out horizontal, legs folded in at hips and knees.

Steam engine turning around a bendA very restful pose after the dizziness, and perhaps that's the point, to provoke one's own disorientation and then conflate relief at its cessation with gratitude to God. A calm moment with my thoughts, prayer stripped of some of my inhibitions and intellectual wariness. So many religious rituals are about taking away the usual crutches so you have no choice but to trust-fall. And sometimes self-discovery rituals, like going off to Belgrave to ride an ancient steam engine alone, are about taking away the usual stimuli so I can hear the susurrations of the self beneath. Turning off wifi, going to the command line, the world shrinking to the 17-inch diagonal of white text on black...


Filed under:


(1) : You Can Make A Constellation From Any Set Of Scattered Points Of Light: I should braindump a bit about Melbourne.

However, I should also go to sleep soon enough that I continue winning my precarious fight against jet lag.

So, five minutes' writing:

The Melbourne Aquarium has penguins! Very cute ones! Thanks for taking me to that exhibit, Jed. I got to ask a staffer, "Which way to the penguins?" and I should be saying that far, far more often.

My rough geographical analogy: Sydney is to Melbourne is to Perth as New York City is to San Francisco is to All Texas Cities Combined. (I say this, having never been to Sydney or Perth.)

Phrases that stick in my mind: "Southern Cross," "[a choice between] discomfort or corruption," "I don't discuss my process," "upscale food court," snatches of operatic singing.

The river that spans the southern bit of Melbourne is the Yarra, which sounds substantially like "Yaru?", the Kannada word for "Who?"


(3) : Beginning To Think About A Formative Influence: Suresh Naidu visited the other night and, of course, inspected our bookshelves. "You're the only household I've ever seen that had every Stephenson, including the Baroque Cycle, but not Snow Crash. The Big U and not Snow Crash?!" Snow Crash was on another bookshelf because it didn't physically fit on that one.

When someone asks me, "Who are your favorite scifi authors?" I sometimes say, "Depending on who's asking, Neal Stephenson or Ursula K. Le Guin." But that's unbalanced, because I deeply adore Le Guin's The Dispossessed but have read only five of her thirty-plus books, while I've read nearly everything Stephenson's published in book form. (Speaking of Le Guin: congratulations, Jed!)

I am trying to remember the timeline on how I discovered each of these authors. Did someone recommend The Left Hand of Darkness to me my freshman year at Berkeley? I know I had that used paperback by my junior year when I taught it. (Note: I find that syllabus incredibly embarrassing since I'd have much more diverse and interesting works and questions if I taught it now; Andy's syllabus is cooler.) Seth Schoen gave me a copy of In The Beginning Was The Command Line sometime in 1999, I think. And then I bought Snow Crash at Cody's Books on Telegraph, and started reading it as I walked home to my apartment, and came home to discover that my flatmate Nikki had moved out with zero notice, after living with me for six weeks, leaving a note on the refrigerator whiteboard telling me "you know why." I did not know and still do not know why she moved out; it is one of the mysteries of my life, like why sociology lecturer Andrew Creighton laughed at me that one time when I guessed that the video clip he'd just shown us was "modern dance?".

Oh right, Stephenson. Then I got Cryptonomicon and I didn't read it linearly the first time, I just dipped in and read random chapters.

I think I've had about fifteen conversations about Neal Stephenson and his work in the past month. Not surprising when I've been to the World Science Fiction Convention, but then there was Tennant Reed, the climate change policy wonk I ended up chatting with at the Melbourne airport when our flight to LA was delayed. Not a WorldCon attendee. He's a Tolkien fan; I'm not. I introduced him to Pynchon, whom he hadn't tackled yet. But we quoted lines from the first chapter of Snow Crash at each other verbatim. It's in The Atlantic's thought-provoking "Tech Canon", and it's in the geek canon. (Speaking of The Atlantic and thinking-about-tech: I am a fan of Biella's Anthropology of Hackers syllabus & explication.)

This is just spadework, right now, this entry, just clearing some brush so I can really think about what Stephenson has meant to me. There's a way in which In The Beginning Was The Command Line got me the job at Fog Creek Software. There are satirical scenes in Cryptonomicon that I initially read as erotic. I could go on and on (as he does!), and at some point I should.

Filed under:


(2) : Why I Haven't Replied To You: I haven't explicitly said this before, but: I'm spending a lot of my time taking care of my mother. Since my dad died this summer, she's needed a little looking-after. If I haven't responded to your message, that's why, and the situation will probably continue until early next year, at which point I hope to be a responsible member of the GNOME, geek feminist, and other communities again.

(I'm in New York City right now but plan on traveling a lot this fall to be with my mom.)

Filed under:


(1) : Unclear: All I have is small thoughts, right now, in-between thoughts as I shower or eat or pause before reading another chapter to my mother. (The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. A Mahabharata retelling, which means that today I checked an incident with the C. Rajagopalachari and Amar Chitra Katha versions when I doubted Divakaruni's version. Nope, she didn't entirely make it up! And why did I never before connect the hatejoke "Die In A Fire" with the Pandavas' house of lac?)

Or sometimes I have a conversation with Mom or a friend and from that kneading and churning emerges a small idea. I discovered today, while talking with a friend about integrity, something about how I think about the value of truth-that-hurts. When an honest friend says something that reminds me of my faults, it hurts a little. Sometimes I can use that information to improve myself. But, even if I can't or won't or don't, I still take that pain as part of the price of honesty, as I would pay a regular insurance premium. I pay by taking those little cuts, because the promise inherent in that transaction is that if I need to ask an important question someday, to make a big claim, I can trust without question that my friend will answer it in good faith.

Other:

Of course "lavender" comes from the root "to wash." We just unwrapped and started using a block of lavender soap in our shower/bathtub, and after someone's bath the scent of it floats around in the bathroom like a blessing.

Elisa visited yesterday and talked with Mom and me about health, Fred Astaire, the lessons we learned while growing up, &c. She highly recommended The Band Wagon so we watched it that night. I called her during a pause to babble excitedly about how great it is. It's especially superlative if you've just watched a bunch of the interchangeable musicals like Follow the Fleet for contrast. (Huh, those & Agatha Christie & P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves & Wooster stories: what 21st-century media is like that, enjoyable, will sort of hold up decades from now, but all the individual stories blur together and the reader/viewer can't recall which ones she's seen?) The Band Wagon has complicated, unusual characters and dances, and a plot more mature and interesting than the run-of-the-mill. I loved: the stylized gangsters' getting-shot dance in a stylized Times Square subway station; the for-once unadorned silence after a "spontaneous" song-and-dance (the beer-drinking song at the cast party); Charisse and Astaire's silent "Central Park" dance. That last one nearly made me cry, it was so beautiful.

Tonight we watched Singin' in the Rain, which (no one told me!) was about artists trying to keep pace with technological change, and (like Band Wagon and Sullivan's Travels) about the superiority of comedy to drama. Melinda and Melinda was fairly unnecessary, it turns out. Singin' is fun, but Band Wagon made me want to watch it again immediately.

They aren't actually small thoughts, and I know that. They are little flashes and seedlings that grow when I am not looking. They pop up and shy away and ebb back in between warming tortillas and unfolding the sofa bed and thanking Rachel for recommending Regeneration. (I picked up Inherent Vice at the airport on the way to Australia, and Regeneration at an airport on the way back to New York. Loved the former -- read aloud a paragraph about a run-down casino to everyone I could buttonhole -- and am loving the latter. Then there's Trading in Danger, the entertaining-but-Mary-Sue-ish Elizabeth Moon I bought in Melbourne 50% on the strength of its cover. Before she said things I disagree with and need to discuss when I have time.)

They run away with me when I give them a chance, my thoughts; they are vines that grow in fast motion and ensnare me. This connects to that connects to the other, in a net, a web, and soon enough I don't want to say anything because it couldn't be enough. And everything I say is insufficient to the emotion in a single phrase my mother read aloud this morning, to the texture of the light bouncing off the ceiling light fixture this afternoon, glossy with a sheen like oil, like the fat in cream.

It's a different rhythm and cadence of thought I must sink into when I am caretaking, as different as travel is from work and work is from plain old unemployment.

I am writing this long blog entry because I haven't the time to write a short one. Or -- to blaspheme -- what else is there to do, when stuck, but to write long posts, have think long thoughts, and pray long prayers? So I can't seem to decide whether I have lots of time or none -- it's a temporal illusion, like an optical illusion, deceptively slicing up a quantity to make it change size. But shape does change size, experientially -- that's what affordances are all about.

Oh dear I'm rambling some more. Almost time to unfurl the sofa bed. Post.

Filed under:


(2) : Open-Face: Today Mom and I take a bus down to the District of Columbia. I'll be there for a little over a week. I am hoping Mom naps on the bus so I can read Regeneration and listen to music that is not Hindu devotional chants. English-language music with profanity in it!

Last week I briefly tried to imagine what I would do, ideally, once my mom was squared away. I think the scenario had me watching some TV show I miss -- InfoMania or Psych -- while reading my Pynchon while eating, like, Japanese or Ethiopian food while drinking alcohol while having sex while listening to 90s alt-rock.

I am embarrassed to admit how many episodes of Full House I watched as a young'un (but Gus saw a lot of them, too! I am vindicated via social proof, or something), but a few lessons from it stick. Like the time young Michelle? tried to make sandwiches with all the fillings she liked at once (say, peanut butter and ham) and they were disgusting, and uncle Stamos, er, Jesse? (I refuse to look this up on principle) had to explain to her that she should stop with the combinations. I think of this moment whenever I go all infernokrusher/lasersharking with my daydreams.

I am now reminded of many tangents: my brief membership in the Bob Saget fan club; "technically, the last minute would have been 8:59am Monday morning"; Ameri-Toast, formerly Insta-Toast, slices of bread you buy with a disposable red-white-and-blue instant toaster oven attached; "Scratch"; what I learned about marriage from Mad About You; and my conversation with Peter Watts (who looks like Bill Nye the Science Guy and acts like Aaditya Rangan) at WorldCon. Sticky tendrils all, but I should go pack.

(Argh, timestamp is all weird, shouldn't take the time to fix. It's 9:23am.)


: When Did My Mom's Hair Turn More White Than Black?: This afternoon:

Mom (in Kannada): Will you grate the rest of these beetroots for me? My arm hurts.
Me: Sure! [starts in on the beets] These are staining my hands red, huh. Hey! This is Columbo and you're framing me!

By the way, you can eat raw beet (or "beetroot" as the Commonwealth countries call it), but it's not nearly as tasty as roasted. I'm guessing the beet juice at juice bars is from raw beets, and that it's the added celery, spinach, carrot, &c. that makes it so yummy.

I'm in Washington, DC, returning next week. I'm most of the way through Charles Stross's The Family Trade, the first in his Merchant Princes series. Eh. I enjoyed his postmortem but the book feels a bit mechanical, the prose and psychological detail nothing to write home about after reading Pat Barker. Still a page-turner, though.

Tonight I continued printing and addressing Nandini's wedding invitations for Mom's friends. Oh, time to read more Divakaruni to Mom! More later.


: Private Lives: Martin and I saw our pal John Stange in Private Lives last night in Silver Spring, Maryland. I don't think I've ever seen any Noel Coward before. Funny and hot; recommended. Closes tomorrow so go see it if you plausibly/feasibly (flausibly?) can.

We hung out afterwards at what John described as a dive, but the lights were too bright and there were children at the next table. Are my "dive" criteria off? Turns out that all three of us have got to management positions in the workplace. Huh.

Filed under:


(1) : Draw A Tasteful Curtain: The other day my mother got on a plane to go to India. Last night, in my apartment with my husband and no one else, I fulfilled part of my dream by drinking wine while eating a salad while we watched Psych.

I leave again, of course, in less than two weeks' time. Since July, I haven't spent more than two weeks at a time in my own apartment. This is one reason why one of our living room windows currently has a torn sheet as a curtain placeholder. My mother and sister decided to give us the gift of drapes -- the gift that keeps on draping -- so on Sunday a few of us went to a big-box store (ugh, not my choice, but I pick my battles).

[Why do I get so grumpy about buying home-ish things like curtains and a nightstand and extra bedsheets? I have no expertise in the process or products (I wasn't involved in these decisions or processes growing up), so the stores and packages seem full of lies and superficial distinctions and chances to get it wrong. One has to choose for both function and form, and I am uncomfortable trying to be aesthetic. And I have a general allergy to homemaking and I'm not quite sure where it comes from (lack of expertise/psychological infrastructure, fear of doing it wrong, laziness, leftover knee-jerk function-over-form reflex, suspicion of companies and cultural forces trying to get me to buy things), just that I want to get rid of it.]

The draperie was a general gift, I think part of our delayed wedding-present collection. (Our wedding didn't provide affordances for Mom's gift-giving tendencies.) Because of my sister's upcoming wedding, Mom wants to give Leonard and me an additional, special gift. It is hard for her to buy us gifts, because we don't want/need gifts of clothes, money, metalwork, or religious paraphernalia. (At some point I stopped trying to tell Mom that really, she doesn't need to get me anything from India when she goes back and forth, so we have a sort of agreement that she'll give me sandalwood soap, Parle-G sugar cookies, and Amar Chitra Katha comic books.)

Mom was sitting in our living room, asking once more what Leonard and I wanted, since she wanted to give us something. Mom's inherent nature is altruistic; maybe the problem is that she passed it on to me, and so we clash because neither wants to take from the other. I looked around my living room and realized we could use some bookends. So Mom will get an artisan to hand-carve a few sets of bookends based on our ideas. If I just end this post here, does that still count as graceful bookending?

Filed under:


: The Hyperlinks I Forged In Life: Disregard the timestamp on this entry, which is leftover from a draft I began on the other side of the world, when the Elizabeth Moon controversy broke. Everything feels unfinished, uncertain, temporary. I finally upgraded my laptop to Lucid Lynx -- yes, half a year after its release. Leonard and I finished watching the first season of the new Reggie Perrin and like it, but not as much as the brilliant original Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. Gordon Korman's new young adult novel Pop is the most moving thing he's ever written. I talked with my mother on the phone and she sounds happy in Mysore. I feel like I'm on a road trip on a conveyor belt.

Some links.

Roleplay scenarios to train concealed-carry weapons permitseekers.

Everything Scott writes, of course, but especially him and his readers discussing what's exhausting about running a web publishing organization.

Kate Beaton's Maurice "the Rocket" Richard for Kids made me cry with happiness.

A few weeks ago, speculative fiction author Elizabeth Moon wrote an essay arguing, among other things, that groups of minorities in the United States are responsible for assimilating and seeming non-threatening (a simplification, of course, since if she had written it that baldly maybe she would have understood how absurd her argument was). She then shut down the comment thread on her post and hid all the comments from public view, thus effectively deleting the conversation by which many readers were trying to discuss how and why she was wrong. Yasaman's response on civilization, the meaning of American citizenship, and pride spoke to me, and I thank coffeeandink and Jed for collecting several other of the many thoughtful responses from around the Net. My old Berkeley friend Shweta Narayan, in response, detailed her experiences of assimilation; I had a much, much easier time of it growing up, so hearing her experience is sobering and edifying. And, as usual, Liz Henry tries to build on our dismay to get us to contribute to relevant, productive causes.

Elizabeth Moon is currently one of two Guests of Honor at next year's WisCon feminist sci-fi convention, which has of late been a locus of anti-racist activity. Thus: additional controversy, which I am not attempting to cover systematically in this idiosyncratic selection of links. What can the organizers and participants do to mitigate the implications? Many ask: should she remain a GoH? And it's not like she's the first GoH in WisCon history to have held some abhorrent views, but it's not just about her words, but her actions: the attempted erasure of opposing voices.

I am, right now, deliberately making no plans regarding travel in 2011 so that I can stay free to make plans to take care of my mother. I might go to WisCon, and to other gatherings that honor people who have said or done some things I find breathtakingly wrong. Been there before, will be there again. I was at the GUADEC where Richard Stallman did the sexist emacs virgins comedy act, for instance. But I have my own reasons and needs and tolerances and trade-offs, and will aim not to proselytize others who differ.

On a completely different note, a tearjerking story about family and machines.

Filed under:


: Mirabai, Plover, and Common Spaces: I am so proud of my friend Mirabai Knight for many reasons, not least that she founded and leads the Plover open source stenography project. With a USD45 gamer's keyboard and her free software, you can try out the typing method that could get you double or triple your typing speed! You may not realize what a communications bottleneck your typing speed is till you've seen a stenographer in action.

On the occasion of its 2.0 release this month, Geek Feminism interviewed her. Excerpt:

When I was in steno school, I noticed something interesting. Even though the school had an overall 85% dropout rate -- meaning that only 15% of matriculated students passed the three 225 WPM speed tests needed to graduate -- nearly everyone got up to 100 WPM within the first semester or so, and it was in that 100 to 200 WPM window that people started getting frustrated and quitting. Steno is so ridiculously more efficient than typing every word out letter by letter that it's possible to exceed the average qwerty speed in a matter of months, once you've got the phonetic system in your muscle memory. Then, as people start to use steno for all their daily computing tasks, the speed comes gradually and inexorably. It might take years of consistent use to get up to court reporting speeds, or some people might permanently plateau around 160 or 180 WPM, but even so it's a huge improvement over qwerty, and there are significant ergonomic benefits as well.

Mirabai is amazing and I'm privileged to know her; for a taste, check out her recent essay How I Got Here.

Mirabai also introduced me to Common Spaces, a laid-back Brooklyn co-op coworking space. Everyone gets 24-7 access, flex space is only USD200 per month, you get free coffee and laser printer use, and there's a kitchen and a conference room and a phone booth and often free cake from the cakery on the same floor. It's near a bunch of subway lines. If you live in NYC and work out of your home, consider trying Common Spaces for a month and see whether adding this physical infrastructure helps you work, think, and feel better.


(3) : I Don't Actually Feel As Alienated And Adrift As This Ends Up Sounding: I enjoyed many moments and experiences in my long autumn stretch with my Mom, like when Julia and Moss came over and talked about scary Boston cabdrivers, which led Mom to tell a tale about a ridiculous Tehran taxi experience. Or when I got to deploy Mom's Sanskrit expertise to help out someone on MetaFilter. Or finally getting to show her the Shakespeare Garden in Central Park, where Leonard and I got married.

And then there's the accumulation of small lessons and words and times of day, the tint and saturation that builds irregularly, organically. I gardened our lives. Gardening is strange because it feels so passive and therefore wrong; I'm partnering with time but time doesn't communicate clearly and I have to read its mind and sit on my hands a lot.

Now I have more time-freedom, which of course means I'm down and negative thoughts intrude. Also thoughts that aren't necessarily negative but have a feeling of disintegration to them, the intellectual frameworks I've habitually used as scaffolding and trellises decaying and slipping into the sea.

I tried to be attentive to my mom while hosting her, though not intrusive, and I've learned a bit about how to be a good host/daughter/caretaker for her. For example: sometimes, instead of asking her what she wants, it's better to tell her some options to get her mind oriented. (Multiple-choice questions can be easier than essay questions; isn't this why we give clients portfolios and mood boards and prototypes, so they don't have to start ab nihilo?) I appreciate better how she and my dad complemented each other when running the family and projects. They thought differently. I take after my dad.

And she so utterly does not want to be a burden, ever, at all. She'd rather put up with a little pain or trouble than make a fuss and inconvenience one of her daughters. Even though, right now, that iota of pain might end up ruining her day. So you can see another reason why I wanted to be extra-attentive. I needed to watch for the expression on her face, in case it told me that Mom's energy reserves were running down and I should figure out why, and fix it.

It was scary, the first day she was at my place. I basically thought, "WHAT THE HELL DO I DO NOW." But I've learned, through observation and trial and error (and advice!), and the slow drip of time. I've started to construct a list of things that she likes -- like a half-cup of tea with Equal and a splash of milk, and flowers and babies and musicals with good dancing -- to deploy appropriately when I caretake her next. Expertise reduces the effort and conscious thought it takes to get to a desired result, and makes room for fillips and grace notes.

I was talking with James about how I think a similar process has worked in my history of romantic relationships. I observe my partner's behavior, and listen to things he says, and talk to his friends to learn his preferences and plans. Then I devise a scheme or buy something or create something to improve his life, or pleasantly surprise him (say, by showing up at his place), or add beauty to his living space. This is a kind of thoughtfulness. And it dovetails with the bias that I have towards expensive, hard-to-fake signals. It is hard for someone to fake writing a sonnet about their partner, or homecooking a meal, or choosing a seemingly nondescript 99-cent-store photo album whose cover references an inside joke.

After all, when I look at a well-made bridge or website or novel, a particularly appealing quality is quiet, unshowy attention to detail. There's craftsmanship and effort. And part of what speaks to me there is thinking of the human hours that went into making that object precisely right.

(I'm reminded of a guy who came to offer his condolences after my dad's death, and told me something about my dad's scholarship. Dad had been tapped to update a Sanskrit reference text, and the publisher told Dad he only had to check sources for the entries he was adding or updating, the diff from the previous edition. Dad didn't think this was good enough, and meticulously checked or found original sources for every entry in the book. This fairly thankless task will help numberless future scholars. Most won't know. We joke about "citation needed" but my dad stepped up and did something about it. You can tell how proud I am, right?)

But an interaction between humans, or the institution that grows from and contains those interactions, is not a table or a poem or a piece of software or hardware. People and my relationships with them are not objects.

(I need to quote Julia again here: "I don't understand why we, as a society, always want to put intensely complex arrays of emotionally significant things into tight boxes. The world does not work that way.")

I like observing systems and figuring them out, but people only like being treated that way sometimes; sometimes it squicks them. For example, why do I like it when a new friend asks me about a connection he made by reading my old blog archive, but find it uncomfortable when someone (even Leonard) notices how I swish beverages in my mouth when I drink? Until this week, I was bizarrely unaware of how creepy I seem when a stranger can tell that I'm trying very hard to tell what book they're reading in public. (Nandini and Leonard got through to me; thanks, though it hurt.) I know I'm off from consensus reality but I don't know how off and everything is made of fog, all that is solid melts into air, the lenses I prized are revealed as mirrors.

(I am rambling! Big surprise.)

Should I prize someone else's attention to me as much as I do? How fair is it for me to hope/expect that a partner will moonlight as Magnum, P.I.? Life is not a scavenger hunt. I hate acting coy and find it distasteful to consider offering anyone a prize for logging hundreds of hours listening to me yammer, or megabytes of text read, or solving me-as-puzzle. There is something more here that I am trying to tease out, about enthusiasm and sincerity ("He loved Big Brother."), coveted because they are hard to fake and their absence portends so ill.

I guess what I am moseying around is that attentiveness can be a kind of love, but that it could be hard to distinguish from obsessive, neurotic observation. What is the infovore really hungry for? I'm not monomaniacally seeking to lossily reduce my mother to a mental model, but I have felt the impulse to control her -- I find myself wanting to burn all her bugs and fixes into my memory, to learn enough that I can fix all her problems so she can be permanently happy -- and helplessness when she seems like a black box not suitable to modeling.

And this is the scariest thing -- not just not understanding, but the impossibility of understanding, the utterly alien. My normal approach is useless here. The abyss of incomprehensibility. Not just "all models are wrong, some are useful," but every model and even the conceptual approach of modeling being wrong, useless. There are basic techniques, like storymaking, patternmatching, and modelling. What if none of them work?

The final frontier is in this room with the stranger.


(1) : Cooking: Succotash: On Saturday, I made a succotash inspired by the succotash I liked at Whitmans. People liked it. Also, this is the first time in years that I've cooked a savory dish from scratch. It's been far too easy to let Leonard, restaurants, and the frozen/refrigerated readymade foods industry take over. Leonard helped me by cutting and roasting the acorn squash, but the rest I did myself, including carbonizing the broiled carrots on my first try and setting off the smoke alarm. (Less Maillard reaction and more a "Merde!" reaction.)

So: one oven-roasted acorn squash (blargh, peeling that thing afterwards was tedious), three ears boiled fresh corn, two drained cans of cut green beans, one chopped carrot broiled in oil, salt, and pepper, one or two raw grated carrots, and more salt to taste. Combine in a bowl. Bits of parsley and avocado to garnish. Serve warm if possible; makes four-ish meals? Go ask a better cook (such as the Internet) how long to apply heat to all the individual components, or just do it by feel.

Filed under:


: Doula-y Noted: Current Mahabharata jokes include "I'll be your Veda Vyasa if you'll be my Ganesha" and doing the Yaksha Prashna ("What's faster than the wind?" "Thought." "What's the most amazing thing?" "That every day we see people around us fall ill and die, yet each thinks, 'I will live forever.'") as Abbott-and-Costello. "What's emptier than the air?" "My wallet!" Or just Your Mom jokes. And the Pandavas would still make a good boy band.

Yesterday I also amused new acquaintances when I defensively replied, "I know what a doula is!" This after I'd messed up my attempted doula/medulla oblongata pun.

For newish friends: this is the sort of blog entry I used to write five years ago, when I was working at Salon and reading a lot and writing my weekly MC Masala column and reviewing books for Bookslut. As I recall: less angst and more wordplay.


(7) : Outlier: I am not on Facebook. If you see a Sumana Harihareswara there, it's not me. Continuing to abstain from Facebook makes me something like a digital vegan. I wonder how many parties, job opportunities, mildly interesting discussions, and other connections I've missed by abstaining. Probably still worth the tradeoff.

Even though it takes positive effort to eat meat or to join Facebook, when most people around me make that effort, some believe that the fact that I passively and inertially continue as I was requires explaining. (See also: teetotalers.) So, a few of the reasons I'm not on Facebook:


(2) : Away: I am packing, clothes and snacks and electronic gewgaws. I leave tonight for about eight weeks in India, where I'll keep an eye on my mom. This is not easy for me; I do not mind sitting on airplanes for long periods, but I love my husband and will miss him, and I will feel alien and sad and alone a lot. But thinking about it doesn't help me get up and pack and get on the plane and comfort my mom, so I am going to try being unthinking.

Chris Moriarty's Books column in the September/October 2010 Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction has a review of C.J. Cherryh's Regenesis. He says on page 57: "And Cherryh lovingly chronicles the bleed-through, creating a rich parable of the little deaths of the soul that we ignore in our own lives because... well... there are times when you just can't look life straight in the eye and still do what you have to do to get through it."

And in the same issue, in Alexandra Duncan's great "The Door in the Earth," a young man visiting his mother thinks of his girlfriend: "I needed to hear her voice, have her remind me that every day here was another I wouldn't have to do over again. Every day was bringing me back to the bearableness of routine."

Even writing this post, though I want to do it to explain to you how I'm feeling, isn't doing me any good. I just need to hit Post, grit my teeth, and go. So. See you on the net, now and then.


: Morning Update: Am in Mysore. Went to the folklore museum again. May have won last night's battle against jet lag; time and tea will tell. Time to bucket bathe!


: When Fluff Fails: From last night, not posted till now:

Tonight, instead of going to sleep at a reasonable hour, I quickly read Neal Shusterman's young adults' dramedy novel The Schwa Was Here. Washington, D.C. bookstore dude, why did you recommend Shusterman to me when I was disappointed you didn't have any more Gordon Korman? Shusterman is okay, with some good lines and observations in Schwa and Unwind (horror YA sf), but the prose isn't quite as well-crafted, and I think Shusterman's not as witty. (Not to mention that the central premise of Unwind is unbelievable and Shusterman never quite earns the reader's suspension of disbelief.)

And now I'm up late thinking about invisibility, mortality, legacy, and other cheering topics. What else did I bring to read? Earth: The Book is also somewhat depressing, but it's mightily funny and cutting and erudite as it depresses. Finished that yesterday. My luggage also contains a Star Trek branded novel about Kahless. I guess I'll go to sleep.

Filed under:


(1) : After A Rainy Night: Finally changed my NewsBruiser timezone to Indian time so you can know that I'm writing this holed up in my room at 10:20 in the morning, drapes still drawn, Riven soundtrack keeping out my mom's conversation but not the construction outside. (Staying with NewsBruiser is arguably my contribution to keeping the self-hosted blogosphere from becoming a WordPress monoculture. Also, Leonard wrote it and it's Python.)

the festival poster, with photos of my father

I feel somewhat justified in staying in my cave because I spent five very enjoyable but full days hosting my pal Beth, and then nearly a full day at yesterday's Kannada fest (habba or hubba). The first week of November, here in Karnataka, is a week to celebrate the indigenous language. I went with my mom to this festival because they were, among other things, honoring my late father, a big proponent of Kannada. Have I mentioned I don't speak Kannada? Awkward.

a collage of photos of my dad, a computer lab, festival paraphernalia, and an attendee

They held the staged ceremony portion in a school in Bennur, a school my family's adopted. Pretty strange to see my and my sister's name on a plaque outside a schoolroom, to see hundreds of schoolkids seeing for the first time the strange bespectacled short-haired American woman after whom a bit of their daily landscape is named.

During these occasions I just go with the flow, doing what I'm told ("Take off your shoes here." "Take this banana and feed it to the cow." "Hand each of these kids one of these envelopes."), knowing that I'm the least qualified person there to stage-manage. The annoyance emerges only when multiple people don't think that way, and give me contradictory directions. I can follow consistent, mindless, and sometimes arbitrary directions very well; as evidence, I present my series of public school diplomas and the honors I achieved in same. Your hoops, I jump through them. Just don't move the hoops while I'm preparing to leap.

bright festive decor

A Karnatakan state legislator gave one of the many, many, many speeches. He spoke without notes, which meant his notes didn't get wet in the rain. Did I mention that the stage ceremony was outdoors and took place in mild-to-moderate rainfall? I thought of President William Henry Harrison, and feared the mic might short out. The legislator proclaimed the virtues of Kannada, pointing out that, unlike English, it's spelled the way it sounds. The different vowel sounds correspond to different letters! He specifically made reference to the absurd pronunciation of the English word "colonel." Fair point.

people still waited to see speeches and skits in the rain and after the sun set

Around six-thirty, I was sitting next to Mom in those plastic chairs on that outdoor stage as rain fell, cameras dormant and hundreds of people sitting in the audience or milling around. I was waiting to help her by passing out rewards to kids who had gotten 124/125 or better on a Kannada test. We weren't quite properly lit; I could tell, because we weren't completely blinded. The sun had just set. I could see the tracks the rain made in the air as it passed by the spotlights. And though I was irritated at all the delays and ritual and pushy self-appointed stage managers, I saw those silver streaks against the white light and the deep blue sky, and I thought of how beautiful it was, and calmed down some.


(8) : To Build A WiFire: Nandini advised me that video chat with her fiance makes it far more bearable to be away from him, so I decided to investigate the Google Chat videochat integration in Empathy so I could videochat with Leonard for free without having to install anything proprietary (read: Skype). It worked fine between my and Leonard's Ubuntu machines when we were in the same apartment in the States, but my Empathy froze up when I tried to initiate an audio or video chat from here in Mysore. That was just over wifi, though; it kinda worked when I plugged into an Ethernet cable. Kinda. (I hereby apologize to my former coworkers and the GNOME community for not actually making efforts at debugging this yet; I may poke at it soon.)

Over two days, my pal James A., a sysadmin who lives in Perth (Western Australia) and thus inhabits a time zone suddenly much more congenial to random conversation, spent at least 90 minutes on the other end of the notional line, helping me work out a few hitches and exchanging the most boring possible text and audio chat with me. "I can't hear you." "Oh, my mic was muted." That sort of thing, interrupted of course by talking about themes in Snow Crash and The Diamond Age.*

From the middle of that: "OK, now your face is just a bunch of blocky squares." "Yeah, that's a natural consequence of aging. I learned that from moisturizer ads. If you don't use Oil of Olay then your face gets all pixelated."

From the end of one troubleshooting session:

Sumana: Well I think we've all learned a valuable lesson today
Sumana: and that lesson is, never make a friend who does not live in your postal code
Sumana: and never leave said district
James: or take them with you
Sumana: Yes!
Sumana: Katamari them on up

It was around then that, while out on an errand, I thought I'd buy a longer CAT-5 (Ethernet) cable, since the one I had wasn't long enough to snake to my room from the router. So I walked to the computer-stuff shop a few blocks away.

"I need to buy an Ethernet cable. Do you sell them?"

"Ethernet?"

We clarified that we were talking about the same thing. I shoulda just said "CAT-5."

"What length do you want? One meter, five meters?"

"What do you have?"

"What length do you want?"

"Just tell me what you have. What's the longest cord you have?"

"We have all lengths, which do you want?"

I sighed, said I was bad with meters, and estimated I wanted about 30 meters' length. That's when he went into another room and got out the mega-spool of CAT-5 and the hand-held crimper.

Oh. If only I'd brought my crimper! I knew how to do this, once!

Rakesh spinning a coil of CAT-5 around his arm

Rakesh cut off some insulation, got the wires in order (asking me what I meant to do with the cable so as to check crossover vs. patch), cut off the extra wire length, pushed the wires into the connectors, and crimped them into place. Then he tested the cord with a handheld device and frowned, then cut off one of the ends and started again. After this had happened a few times, we commiserated about Rakesh's inadequate crimper, which wasn't forcing the wires all the way into the connector with a nice click. I ended up going home and coming back for it an hour later, after he'd switched crimpers. Cost: 365 rupees (50-rupee crimping fee plus 9 rupees a meter), or about USD8. Carrying a 35-meter coil of CAT-5, tied with a couple pieces of string, on my shoulder down a muddy Mysore lane made me feel an authentic part of the Indian tech scene.

What also made me feel authentic was coming home to discover that construction workers a block down had accidentally cut a line while digging and my household had neither landline phone nor broadband. The next day, Mom called The Guy She Knows at the telco, who came down and fixed it. I tried to talk with him in my incredibly broken Kannada plus Internet-related nouns. Sample, translated for sense into English: "Yes, cell phone, 3G, AirTel, it is. Right now, wifi do." He told me that WiMax has successfully launched in Kerala and is coming to Mysore, which led me to ask excitedly, "Mysore WiMax ya-wa-ge?" or "Mysore WiMax when?" which sounds like I'm some sort of Wired-reading Conan the Barbarian. About 15 days from now, apparently.

His colleague didn't speak as much English, so when I mentioned that I lived in New York City, this got reiterated/translated as: "She lives in America. New York City. A very big city. There was a bomb. [hands sweep across each other, like buildings falling down]"

"Yes, that's where I live," I agreed quietly.

connectors next to CAT-5, shorn of insulationI got to see a minuscule slice of that city yesterday, when I videochatted with Leonard.** (For now it's soundless video + a plain telephone call for audio; more troubleshooting is in our future.) A less sweatshoppy laptop, some open protocols and FLOSS software, a friend's help, a bespoke Ethernet cable, innumerable components and stories and wires and decisions forming the infrastructure of the digital world, all so I could pretend to be a crab clacking my claws at my husband. Nandini was right.


* I mentioned that Stephenson is obsessed with how to best arrange for institutions to keep going past any one member's death, and James pointed out Uncle Enzo's career and his disdain for the Young Mafia. Also, when James mentioned that WordPress is written in PHP, which is really itself a CMS, I called WordPress "an unstable sedan chair atop a drunken Godzilla," which I don't stand by, but which is funny anyway. WordPress is more stable since I last had to work with it and I shouldn't be so hard on it, especially since they folded the great WordPress MU back into trunk. I am curious about Melody, though.

** "Just so you know, since I introduced you to Beth and Pat and Lucian, I expect a commission." "Oh, okay. Some kind of friendship commission?" "A blue-ribbon commission." Plus me listing off a bunch of names and him adding one more. What do these people have in common? Randall Munroe, Vienna Teng, Jonathan Coulton, Ken Liu, Charles Stross, Darcy Burner, Seth Schoen, Vernor Vinge, Ellen Ullman, Joel Spolsky, Eric Sink, Ryan North, Neal Stephenson, Paul Graham, John O'Neill, Naomi Novik, Kristofer Straub, Leonard Richardson, and arguably Jerry McNerney.

Filed under:


: On Repeat: The album I currently have on repeat: the 8-bit tribute to Weezer.

Also: Josh Brockman, every time I listen to the last verse of Weird Al Yankovic's "Everything You Know is Wrong," I think of an email you wrote me in the mid-nineties.


(3) : I Nom, Yet I'm Aware Of The Ironic Ramifications Of My Nomming: Today's xkcd made me laugh aloud with glee. Thanks, Randall. (Especially funny if you've read Ted Chiang's sorrowful & lucid "Division By Zero".)

My three tasks for today:

  1. Call videographer for Nandini's wedding.
  2. Some moneychanging (not at a temple; reasonable precaution, no?).
  3. Edit some of the English from a wedding brochure Dad wrote, so we can use it at Nandini's wedding. (Each attendee of weddings Dad performed got a copy, listing the Sanskrit verses and explaining the ceremony in English. The prose needs proofreading & modernizing, because my dad had a tendency to use words like "oblations" and phrasings like "The groom ties an auspicious necklace, pre-blessed by the elders".)

Oh yay, Ed Felten as FTC CTO! Also congrats to Joan Walsh on her new book project and Stormy Peters on her new role at Mozilla.

Am eating comfort food recently, viz., non-Indian food. At the moment I'm snacking on a "Space Food Stick," peanut-butter flavor, I bought at the Air & Space Museum gift shop when Leonard & I were in Washington, D.C. in October. Earlier today: Clif Bar. Yesterday for dinner I went to Pearl, a Thai/Chinese/Indian/other restaurant (also on the menu: stroganoff). In some sense I simultaneously went to a chicken place (separate menu) that shares Pearl's waiters and dining space (and possibly cooks?); the waiter gave us menus from both restaurants, and the fries I ordered from King Chicken ended up on the same bill as the tom yum, wontons, etc. that I ordered from Pearl. I feel as though I partook of a thought experiment on identity, like the story about the replacement of the timbers of a boat. Well, better that than Dining Philosophers.

I discovered that Pearl exists last week, when Mom and I went to the Pizza Hut across the street. (What does it say about me that baby corn as a pizza topping no longer sounds weird?) Mom didn't want me to go to Pearl alone (non-Kannada-speaking tourist heading to an unfamiliar part of Mysore after dark, understandable) so we enlisted the twentysomething accountant from across the street. His mom is friends with my mom; they and another neighbor hang out a little every night, which depending on your temperament you either find a lovely or bone-chilling idea.

When we got to Pearl, my chaperone suggested I order for both of us, since he'd never had Thai food before. I realized as we ate the tom yum that South Indian cooking doesn't really do standalone soups; my mom would see this and want to pair it with idli, or stir some rice in. Indeed, once I got home, my mom asked: what did you have?

"We had soup, battered and fried ladies' fingers, chili and potato, french fries, noodles, wontons -- those are like tempura, or pakoras -- I think that's it."

"OK, but did you have anything solid?"

"What?!" I came back from putting leftovers in the fridge (I'd ordered way too much) and came to her room to ensure I'd heard correctly. I had. She said soup was fine and all but had I had anything solid? Rice or bread?

"Mom, this is why South Indians get diabetes, because we think every meal has to have a lot of starch. I had plenty of solid food! [sigh] And I had noodles. Noodles are starch." I think she would have quieted at my ferocity nonetheless, but she nodded at the noodles. "OK."

Also at Pearl I saw a white guy with a non-Indian-Asian woman and frickin' went to their table to say hi just because I suddenly hoped they were American and wanted to hear an American voice. Jackpot! For context: I see on average four white people a week, excluding time I spend in museums and at other tourist attractions. In the rickshaw on the way to Pearl, I'd seen a white woman driving a van. I can't recall ever seeing someone white in a driver's seat here in India, and I immediately wanted to know her story. The white people I see are usually wearing some variant on local dress. These folks were wearing Western-style clothes! I may be imagining but I remember the guy wearing a black fleece like Scott Rosenberg's!

Oh, the thrill I felt when I heard the dude greet me with his Californian-accented "hi." I asked how their Kannada was coming along and he made some travesty of "illa" ("no" or "don't have") and I threw my head back and laughed. I guess I might count as a short-term expat?

dinner at Pearl While eating Thai soup and Chinese dishes and fries (nearly all of which my chaperone liked, yay), eating off china and drinking water from a glass instead of seeing my reflection in stainless steel thalis and tumblers, hearing random American pop, I felt consciously relaxed and at home. Then I cringed, cultural imperialist American, inflicting my homesickness on the native culture, wielding my money and insouciance like swords.

After dinner, we visited the Western-style supermarket downstairs and I got instant noodles, peanut butter, deodorant, and some magazines. Big selection, multiple cashiers, one of whom scanned barcodes to ring me up and gave me a computer-printout receipt. So normal-feeling that I didn't particularly feel happy or at peace; I just noticed, much later, how unremarkable everything had felt, how comfortable and myself I had felt.

I've spent enough time in my comfort zone today, writing this, reading Strange Horizons fiction. Time to get to those three TODOs.


: Request Repeat & Reamplification: In case you didn't see this when I posted it more than a year ago: please pull me aside and tell me if I'm making a fool of myself. It occurs to me today that I should make a related request: please pull me aside and tell me if you know that I have been praised or maligned or ill-used, and suspect I don't know it. For example, I'm not on Facebook or Google Reader, so if someone there has an interesting comment on a blog entry of mine, I won't see it unless you tell me. And if there is some forum where people are saying stupid things about my appearance, yes, I'd like to know. Perhaps a weird request but I figure it's better to have it out there, on record. I may rescind it if it results in a lot of useless heartache.


: Dining Philosophical Traveling Saleswoman: Today I saw a computer science pal in the course of going from house to house delivering invitations to my sister's wedding. He got it when I told him that I was living out Traveling Salesman plus additional game-theoretic constraints (appetite is finite and food offers are infinite or unknowably finite?).


(10) : Campus Communities And Looking Back: I think most of my readers attended colleges or universities, and either finished undergrad or dropped out more than five years ago. I'm wondering about the campus communities you participated in heavily -- organized activities and groups that took up a lot of your time and provided lots of your socializing. For example, I know Zack spent a lot of time working on the Columbia University marching band, my sister Nandini in student government and events/speakers coordination and international housing, Leonard in the computer science students' lounge and the Linux users' group, John Stange in the CS department sysadmin staff, Jed at the science fiction/fantasy club, and Danni and James at the university computer club. And I know people who lived in cooperative housing and were really into it, or were dedicated to the Quiz Bowl, or ballroom dancing or Christian groups.

How do you feel about those groups when you look back? Are you still in touch with friends you gained in those communities? Do you regret investing lots of time in an insulated clique? Do you feel grateful, as though you'd come home or found your peer group for the first time? Did it help or harm your studies?

I ask partly because I don't think I did anything like that. I had the chance to make lots of friends in my dorm freshman year, but instead I fell in love with the guy who lived in the room next door to me. So I was in a very time-consuming romantic relationship my first three years at Berkeley, and it cut off some friendship-formation and club-joining time. The campus organization where I spent the most time was the Open Computing Facility -- they made me staff because I couldn't help but help people -- but I didn't feel tech enough and had trouble remembering people's names. I did a little copyediting at the Daily Cal for a semester, I attended a few Heuristic Squelch meetings, and I hung out a little in the physics students' study hall, a bit at a friend's co-op. But none of those turned into a Third Place for me. I did end up with lots of socializing, enough to interfere with my studies for the first time in my life, but it was distributed differently.

I need to think more about how I feel about this, what I'm glad of and what I regret. I'm wondering what you think of your experience.


(3) : The "Cordial" Part Of "You Are Cordially Invited": Today my uncle, aunt, and cousin drove around Bangalore with me to hand-deliver invitations to my sister's upcoming wedding. The usual ritual: we arrive and take off our shoes and come inside and sit down, we make small talk, I present the invitation to the oldest available person (I think) along with some sanctified dry rice and some gifts (sari + standardized fabric pieces for making pants, blouse, or shirt), and -- if the recipient is a woman -- kumkum powder for her to apply to her forehead. If the recipient is especially old, I kneel before him/her and s/he blesses me. More small talk. The host offers something to eat, then coffee or tea, then Bournvita/Horlicks/Boost/milk, and we negotiate down to water, or claim inability to ingest even an atom. A little more small talk, then a woman gives my aunt & me some turmeric and kumkum to apply to our foreheads, gives us some ritual gift (usually a chewable leaf, some fruit or a coconut, and a tiny denomination of money), and we the visitors get up, put our shoes on, and leave.

Avoiding substantial food intake at every visit requires finesse and outright lies, both of which my aunt spins easily. "We JUST ate lunch!" "Oh, I can't have sweets at all, the doctor says." "She's still unwell from the airplane trip from America and can only eat soups." Of course all the hosts know you might be lying, and thus one ends up turning down already-poured glasses of juice and multi-food snack platters. Such an arms race. You know those job ads that say applicants must be able to lift 50 pounds unassisted? Per day, wedding invitation delivery personnel should be able to eat 50 meals unassisted.

I have memorized the Kannada phrase "dhaivittu nun ukka-ge mudhave bunnee," or "please come to my sister's wedding." I have nearly said "please come to my wedding" and "please come to my sister's wedding now" (I usually heard "bunnee" with "eega" attached, when I was a kid, because my parents were saying "come here right now!").

My uncle, aunt, and cousin are great -- loving but not smothering, and patient with my questions without making me feel dumb. I learned today that kumkum powder is just turmeric with added colouring, and that "sanjay," pronounced almost the same as the similarly spelt guy's name "Sanjay," means "evening." The latter came up when my aunt, speaking Kannada, mentioned to someone that I'd arrived on an evening train, and I thought, "why is she talking about my cousin Sanjay? He wasn't with me..."

Today we passed by a shop called Cake of the Day, which I internally sang to the tune of Moxy Früvous's "Kick in the Ass." Also I made use of hand sanitizer, a phrase that I sing like "Smooth Operator" or "Smoke on the Water."

Also seen today: a cafe's sign inveigled us to "enhance your glam quotient," and an AirTel ad stapled to a tree said "IMPATIENCE IS THE NEW LIFE."

Allergies suck. However, my nose-blowing amused a child at one home, because my nose-blowing sounds all trumpety, and I waved my arm in front of my face like an elephant's trunk. If tech management doesn't work out, I may have a career in children's parties. Later I (think I) impressed a sixteen-year-old boy by singing along to the Green Day he was playing on his Nokia N97. He looked very earnestly at me as he then played his Linkin Park and Eminem. (In case you were wondering, Linkin Park sounds even less distinctive on a cell phone's speakers.) But he doesn't like Coldplay! He's clear on that! He, my cousin and I played music for each other on our cell phones as, in the next room, the adults watched the hit singing competition show Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Singing Superstar. ("Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa" is the Indian equivalent of "Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do.")

"My sister didn't start off liking Green Day," he said.

"Oh, she'd get along well with my husband," I said. "He doesn't really like Green Day either. I think he sort of makes fun of me for liking it."

"Why?"

[pause] "Because he's pretentious. [then several sentences of backpedaling, rock/pop distinctions] I respect his opinion! though it is wrong."

Sort of failed at role modeling there. I played him the They Might Be Giants "New York City" in a giant cultural imperialism move.

On another trip, I duly impressed a sysadmin/network engineer with Leonard's credentials; he half-joked that now he must come to the wedding to meet him. We also joked about how verbose Java is. "I don't mind the length of Java code, it's the breadth," he said, stretching his arms apart, as though scrolling through a 200-character-wide line of Java were like catching an improbable trout. I returned: "You know that IDE they have to use? Eclipse? They call it that because Java code is so huge it blocks out the sun."

So, Leonard, when you arrive for Nandini's wedding, you may have to answer questions about your work for Canonical and defend your musical honor. Honour, if you localize. Localise. Hmm, I guess all my international travel blogging is documenting my internationalisation; I'm transliterating my encodings, discovering jarring UI paradigm differences. "You would think that internationalization and localization would be opposed goals, but no, they're aligned."

Filed under:


(5) : Eldritch Arithmetic: A thirteen-year-old, even a fairly well-traveled one who can make entertaining conversation, was born in 1997. And she might very reasonably say, "What's Star Trek?" or not object terribly hard if someone prefaces a Pravda/Izvestiya joke by briefly describing what the Soviet Union was.


(1) : Four Short Story Recommendations: One thing I do while I should be hanging out with my mom, or sleeping, or writing, is read short science fiction and fantasy stories online. A few recommendations to close some tabs:

Jo Walton's "Relentlessly Mundane", 23 October 2000 in Strange Horizons. Just right in the way that Walton always does, realistic and inevitable and surprising all at once.

Jane hated going to Tharsia's apartment. It was hung about with tapestries and jangling crystal windchimes and a string of little silver unicorns, and it reminded her of Porphylia and everything she wanted to forget. If Tharsia had been able to get it right it wouldn't have been so irritating; it was just that little silver unicorns look so tacky when you've been used to the deep voices of real unicorns and great silver statues that speak and smile. Jane's own apartment was modern and spartan. Her mother approved of how clean it was but kept giving her houseplants and ornaments to, as she put it, "personalise the place." "You always look as if you're going to move out at any minute," she said. Jane threw them away. She didn't want personalised; she wanted functional and clean, in case she moved out at any minute. Eventually her mother gave up, as she had long since given up complaining about the huge belt-pouch Jane always kept on, and Jane's lack of a boyfriend since Mark, and her working out too much. Jane's apartment stayed bare and devoid of personality. The room she liked best was the shower, brightly lit and white-tiled with copious amounts of hot water flowing whenever Jane wanted it. She had missed showers most of all, in Porphylia.

She walked briskly up the three flights. Tharsia's apartment would irritate her, but she could deal with the irritation. At least walking up the stairs would be exercise, partly making up for the fact she'd missed her fencing lesson to come here today. She'd make the time up. She knocked. The bell, she knew from experience, rang a ghastly madrigal, a tinny parody of the tunes the minstrels used to play in the Great Hall. She couldn't understand how Tharsia could be content with this. Well, she wasn't content, of course.

"Hwang's Billion Brilliant Daughters", by Alice Sola Kim, November 2010 issue of Lightspeed. Haunting and sweet. Found via Julia Rios -- thanks, Julia!

When Hwang finds a time that he likes, he tries to stay awake. The longest he has ever stayed awake is three days....

Whenever Hwang goes to sleep, he jumps forward in time. This is a problem. This is not a problem that is going to solve itself....

And now two that I read aloud to my mother. "Little Brother™" by Bruce Holland Rogers, 30 October 2000 in Strange Horizons.

But then, while Mommy went to the kitchen to cook breakfast, Peter tried to show Little Brother™ how to build a very tall tower out of blocks. Little Brother™ wasn't interested in seeing a really tall tower. Every time Peter had a few blocks stacked up, Little Brother™ swatted the tower with his hand and laughed. Peter laughed, too, for the first time, and the second. But then he said, "Now watch this time. I'm going to make it really big."

But Little Brother™ didn't watch. The tower was only a few blocks tall when he knocked it down.

"No!" Peter said. He grabbed hold of Little Brother™'s arm. "Don't!"

Little Brother™'s face wrinkled. He was getting ready to cry.

Short but cutting.

And Cat Rambo's "Magnificent Pigs", 27 November 2006, in Strange Horizons.

Three years later, on a rainy September afternoon, my parents died in a car accident and I returned home to the farm to take care of Jilly. A few townfolk felt I shouldn't be allowed to raise her by myself, but when I hit twenty-one a year later, that magic number at which you apparently become an adult, they stopped fussing.

The insurance settlement provided enough to live on. It wasn't a lot, but I supplemented it by raising pigs and apples in the way my parents always had and taking them to Indianapolis. There the pigs were purchased by a plant that makes organic bacon, pork, and sausage, and the apples by a cider mill. I didn't mind the farm work. I'd get up in the morning, take care of things, and find myself a few hours in the afternoon to work in my barn-stall studio.

The Rambo story made me sniffle as I read it to Mom, and after the ending, Mom asked me to write a fan email to Rambo telling her how moving it was.
Filed under:


: Mom Tells Me There's Also A Taco Bell in Bangalore!: I miss Mexican food. I miss Leonard, but he and I talk a couple times a day. I miss having my nasal passages free and open nearly all the time (I thought I was just allergic to cat hair, but evidently I haven't accounted for coconut tree pollen or the caste system or whatever allergen is bothering me here), but loratadine and cetirizine help. I miss pockets, but some of my dad's white drawstring pants fit me and they have pockets. I wear them with some of my chudidhar tunics.

So right now I'm especially missing Mexican food. There's none in Mysore that we've found. Domino's sells a "Mexican wrap" that's basically a chapati wrapped around paneer, bell pepper, and tomato. No beans, no salsa, nearly none of the Mexican masala of spices. The next time I visit Bangalore, I may embarrass myself at the Chili's.


(2) : Frontier: The other night I was hanging out with S. I had met her a few months ago, on my last trip to Mysore, when she and her mom and grandma came over to visit my mom. She's lived in the UK and is mature enough to make interesting conversation, and evidently she thinks I'm interesting too, and doesn't mind that I am ancient. I can also ask her questions about stuff I should really already know, like when I asked her to give me the gist on how the British turned the East India Company into the Raj:

Me: So I was wondering if you could help me out by explaining what's the deal with the British --

S.: Which one? They have a lot.

Me: That's true. They are a multi-deal people.

I end up accidentally educating S. just because I talk all highfalutin all the time.* Like when I brought her some Clif Bars, and she thanked me, and I said I had like twenty at my place and was running into decreasing marginal utility, and then explained what that was. Or at dinner, when I said I would pause my eating to give my stomach time to signal when it was full, because the sensation of fullness is a lagging indicator. More explaining! I am like Bill Nye the Social Science Guy. (I also explained to her who Bill Nye, Carl Sagan, and Richard Feynman are/were. Who am I.)

At one point, I told S. about how my mom is protective, just as hers is ("Who is that guy sending you that Facebook request?! How does he know you?" "Mom, I don't even know him, I've already trashed it!"). For example, when I got the call from Rakesh saying the Ethernet cable was ready, Mom heard me saying "sure, I'll be there by six, thanks!" and was like WHO WAS THAT. I joked to S., "maybe she thought I'd joined a cult or gotten a boyfriend." And S. said, "you can't have a boyfriend, you're married!"

She seemed completely serious. And she is fairly smart for thirteen, and well-travelled, and her mom is cool. So I said "well..." and told her that isn't necessarily the case, with the basic explanation "some people do this, and it can get complicated, but as long as everyone's ok with it and no one's hiding anything, it can work out." I mentioned the word "polyamory," which led me to talk about word roots, how "television" also has roots from both Greek and Latin, and some people get bothered by that.

"What kind of people would get bothered by that?" S. asked in confusion. I think I said "pedants like me, basically." Maybe I should point her to the canonical shirt.

I did a way better job succinctly talking about poly than I did describing Star Trek (S.: "What is that? Is it like Star Wars?") and explaining its importance. "You know, the Enterprise? Kirk and Picard? To boldly go where no one has gone before? Live long and prosper?" and then talking about the dates of the series, and how Star Wars is fantasy and Star Trek is scifi, and Archer's speech about the final frontier. But come on, poly is just about relationships, Star Trek is important!


* Example: when I was talking with Nandini a few months back about family visa troubles, some version of the following dialogue ensued:

Me: You know the saying: capital flows across borders but labor doesn't.

N.: That's not a saying.

Me: Come on, sure it is! You've heard it before. People say it.

N.: Yeah, in, like, econ classes. You don't just say that in conversations with your friends.

Me: Maybe not you and your friends --

N.: People don't go around on the street saying it.

Me: Well, people don't go around on the street saying "righty tighty, lefty loosey," but it's a saying! It's a saying applicable to certain situations and discussions.

I do not recall how this ended, but she probably said I was weird. I am, but that was not in dispute.


(2) : Interior Drama: Mom just showed me some kitchen stuff -- nice cookware, that sort of thing -- that she would like to give to Leonard & me, if we want it. I said we'd decide when Leonard gets here and sort of fled upstairs. I know it's fairly rude not to say "thank you, that looks great!" but I just immediately felt exhausted and needed to get out of there. It's so deflating I have to push myself to think about it enough to write it out.

Why?

I'm sure there's more but that gives you a first approximation of why my stomach twists and my esophagus is closed up. It's all stuff I want to work through, and it doesn't usually hit me this hard. I guess it was my lowered psychological immunity (loneliness, homesickness) plus the combo punch that got me. I'll be better after I've done a little more writing and gone to the railway museum.


(1) : Winning Every Staring Contest: It's traditional in my family to put photos of our dead ancestors on the wall, in the living room or similar common areas.

When Nandini and I arrived at the house in July after my dad died, we saw that Mom had a recent photo of Dad framed and sitting on a chair in the living room. Her first words to us were "Now he is in a photo frame," before she burst into tears and we hugged her for a while.

It was weird having him in a chair, as people came by to talk and visit. I looked at his face and he was smiling as though he was just about to say something, but he never did. I was disoriented that he wasn't jumping into the conversation at all. Later the photo got hung on the wall, and the distance ... made it make more sense.

While I was away, in August or September, Mom had a painter do a photorealistic portrait of Dad based on that photo. It's about four feet tall. It hangs on the wall of the stairs' landing, between downstairs and upstairs, visible from the living room and the dining table and the kitchen. Every time I go up or down those stairs, there it is, inches from me. I am not used to huge pictures of a man's head, except just above or below political slogans. Maybe I should come up with one to superimpose on Dad. We shall do our utmost to implement the goals of the 32nd Party Congress. Or: TRANSLITERATE! in sort of a Dalek font, if such a thing exists.


: More Pop Culture, Less Family Angst In This One: It's 90s Dayz around here. Yesterday I rocked out to Smashmouth's "Walkin' On The Sun" after finishing the edits on the translations of Nandini's Sanskrit wedding chants. I used to do those kinds of edits for my dad, back in the 90s, but now I get to use gEdit on my Linux laptop instead of Notepad or Word on Windows 3.1 on that 386.

Also I reminisced with Leonard about "Data's Day," the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where you get to see the big non-food replicators, and a kid in the background is getting a teddy bear. Data advises Worf on what to get a human couple as a wedding gift. Oh those wacky humans! You can make up a Bechdel-esque test that proxies Trek series' quality pretty well, asking whether two non-humans talk about something other than humans at least once an episode.

Today I looked at some quotes from the TNG series finale, to get a quote right, and noticed/remembered how meta Q is when he's harshing on the USS Enterprise, the writers, and the audience.

Q: Seven years ago, I said we'd be watching you, and we have been - hoping that your ape-like race would demonstrate some growth, give some indication that your minds had room for expansion. But what have we seen instead? You, worrying about Commander Riker's career. Listening to Counselor Troi's pedantic psychobabble. Indulging Data in his witless exploration of humanity.

Captain Picard: We've journeyed to countless new worlds. We've contacted new species. We have expanded our understanding of the universe.

Q: In your own paltry, limited way. You have no idea how far you still have to go. But instead of using the last seven years to change and to grow, you have squandered them.

It hurts because it's true.

And then just now, an X-Files vid reminded me of all those Friday nights sitting in front of the TV with my sister, prepping for debate tournaments the next day, learning that you can wear a suit and tie like all the rest of the grownups and still feel utterly alone, alienated. The Apartment with UFOs. (Oh, and Kate Monday : Dana Scully :: George Frankly : Fox Mulder.)


Edited to add: Yes, Kate Beaton, I can believe it. (cf. her last line)


(1) : Mysore Railway Museum: ticket booth and some exhibits Yesterday, my mother and I visited Mysore's railway museum. It's open 9:30am-6:30pm, Tuesday through Sunday (don't believe the hours listed elsewhere on the web). Admission was ten rupees each, I believe, with an additional 25-rupee fee for bringing a still camera. Unlike, say, the New York City or London transit museums, it's outdoors.

I loved riding the toy train, working knobs and levers and wheels, and clambering in and out of the cars and engines. Near each car or engine stood a small "My Story" placard, told in the first person from the item's perspective. "I was born..." "I was christened..." Who wouldn't love getting to hang out in the "snobbish inspection car"? (It's not actually that special, just benches and a dressing room.)

And then there's the Austin.

old blue car retrofitted with rail wheels

Its story:

History of Austin car, transcribed below

(Transcribed below, and translated into punctuated and correctly spelled English)

Austin Rail Motor Car
My Story
I am an AUSTIN CAR. Whenever I watch the speeding vehicles on the road in front of the RAIL MUSEUM I always remember my days. I was born in ENGLAND in 1925 and brought to INDIA where I served several owners till I became unserviceable. A kind-hearted railway man bought me at an auction and resurrected me from the scrap by providing rail wheels. This metamorphosis from a car to a rail motor made me a SUPER STAR carrying officers on inspection on the railway track. Still I can carry.

I hope that car gets the occasional chance to prove it can still carry.

We talked with a pair of British visitors. They found it more enjoyable to wait a few hours for their train at the museum than at the nearby railroad station. I thanked them for giving us the railroads. They laughed and accepted my thanks.

Hand signal lamp, used by guard in olden daysI don't actually know nearly enough about the history of the Indian railways, so I bought a couple of books at the gift shop. From page 6 of 150 Glorious Years of Indian Railways by K.R. Vaidyanathan:

Contracts for the construction of the 64-kilometer section from Howrah to Pundooh had also been awarded to local contractors, and by the end of 1853, the line was practically ready... Its opening was delayed by two unfortunate events. The ship which was bringing prototypes of the first railway coaches sank at Sandheads and replacements had to be built in Calcutta by two coach-building firms. Another ship carrying locomotives for the Railway from Britain proceeded to Australia by mistake instead of Calcutta. They were diverted back to Calcutta from Australia and finally arrived there in 1854.

Next time I have to report a two-week slip in a project schedule I'm going to have to bite my tongue to keep from saying "could be worse..."

A few documents, old phones, and the Mysore Maharani's private "saloon" car sat indoors. But everything else was out in the open, next to grass and vines and trees. Sometimes very close.

tree nestled against railcar

A lovely hour and a half, out on a nice day, frolicking among the staid old iron and the young green. This coalbin's sat out so long that plants have begun to sprout.

plants sprouting in coalbin


: Strings: Because of this book recommendation request, I spent a few hours yesterday going back and categorizing my old blog posts that mention my book-reading (and sometimes web recommendations). My word, I have been neurotic and insecure at times. But at least I read a bunch of books, though fewer than I'd like. I went backwards from March 2009, when I created the category, and now I'm on July 2002, which means I'm about 80% done. (In two weeks it'll be my ten-year blog anniversary.) Sometimes there's good stuff in there.

I ended up saying that it somehow embodied [Zack] for me, his amusing and cutting application of systematic logic to a huge pile of domain knowledge in areas I barely know, such as magic and speculative fiction. I think most of my friends do this sort of thing, which is why they're my friends.

I miss hanging out with my Bay Area friends, like Zack and Sarah. From her blog, seven years ago:

So I've often felt sort of unsuccessfully girly -- I'm amused by makeup and whatnot but don't really know how to do it right. My roommate showed me how to "blow out" my hair last night (basically blowdrying your hair in a fancy way that is supposed to make it look good). It's like those dreams where you discover a new room in your house, except this house is made of sugar and spice and everything that helps me internalize my oppression.

Also yesterday, while Mom was talking with her neighbor in our living room, I was listening (I can understand their Kannada well enough thanks to context, the MSG of communication) and twiddling the cord on the microfiber drawstring bag I keep my phone in, as is my habit. And I looked across the coffee table and noticed that Mom was absent-mindedly playing with a loop of string, too! Another moment of connection, of wondering how shallow or deep my present's roots sink into the past. Another knot.


(1) : Speculative Filk & Short Fiction: As with The Autograph Man, I have a couple book titles that now fall into melodies in my head.

Billy Joel's "Great Wall of China":

We coulda gone all the way
to The Left Hand of Darkness
if you'd read a little Ursula K. Le Guin

They Might Be Giants' "Mink Car":

I had sex in a Glasshouse
sex in a Glasshouse
written by Charlie Stross
[pronounced "Strouse" causa rhymi]

Thanks for recommending Glasshouse, Danni and (IIRC) James. I'm a few chapters into it now, so, just past the second sex scene (hence the filk). So far this is the most enjoyable Stross I've read, with neat ideas and a compelling POV character and mystery, up there with the clever "Down on the Farm". I never got into Accelerando, the other Laundry story of his I read didn't hook me (yet another creepy-funny take on Santa Claus), and The Family Trade felt dumbed-down. I find The Family Trade's origin story more interesting, and C.C. Finlay's July 2010 Futurismic story "Your Life Sentence" is a better woman-on-the-run story.

Speaking of that, some short online pieces I've liked recently:

"Private Detective Molly" by A. B. Goelman, 4 June 2007, Strange Horizons. I'm a sucker for hard-talking detectives, and talking robots.

I grab my trench coat and fedora from the closet before looking around the room.

That's when I see my new boss. Four feet of trouble. Brunette variety.

"Death and Suffrage" by Dale Bailey, from the 2007 anthology The Living Dead. "The dead had voted, all right, and not just in Chicago." Not a postapocalyptic zombie story; instead, politics and a compelling droning dreary nightmare feel. Like The West Wing meets World War Z.

"Talisman" by Tracina Jackson-Adams, 19 August 2002, Strange Horizons. Is this urban fantasy, except rural? Horses, a family feud, dark ceremonies in the wood. I don't usually like fantasy, or fiction about horses, but Jackson-Adams got me with high stakes, slow-burn reveals, and believable emotion and characters.

"How to Make Friends in Seventh Grade" by Nick Poniatowski, 21 June 2010, Strange Horizons. "I wasn't mad at you for losing the rocket. I was mad at you for being such a nerd. I'm not your friend, and I never was." Hurts so good. One character's wish fulfillment, but not the POV character's.

I'm halfway through the great Machine of Death anthology (free to download). The Camille Alexa and J. Jack Unrau, David Malki!, and Jeffrey C. Wells stories especially stick with me.

It was a good salesman voice, keen and enthusiastic, and it bore shockingly little resemblance to the one he'd been using his entire workaday life up until that day about two months ago, the day Simon now liked to call "Torn Apart And Devoured By Lions Day."

"Hokkaido Green" by by Aidan Doyle, 1 November 2010, Strange Horizons. Bittersweet fantasy about emotions and trafeoffs.

A brown bear entered the clearing. It walked upright and carried an old-fashioned miner's lantern filled with fireflies. It waddled towards the pool, looking less like a predator than like an elderly sumo wrestler tottering uncertainly towards a bout with a reigning champion.

In the comments, I welcome your thoughts on the linked stories, or additional filk on spec-fic titles.

Filed under:


: Backscatter, Backlash, Blowback: Security expert Bruce Schneier has a nearly complete roundup regarding the superlatively counterproductive new restrictions on US commercial air travel.

If you recently flew on a commercial airline in the United States, you can document your choice and compare notes.

Via cofax: Jason Bell, a biochemist who researches susceptibility to cancer -- specifically breast cancer -- reviews the existing documentation on the cancer risks of going through or operating the backscatter machines. It is not good. I keep having these flashes of history in my head.

Even more alarming is that because the radiation energy is the same for all adults, children or infants, the relative absorbed dose is twice as high for small children and infants because they have a smaller body mass (both total and tissue specific) to distribute the dose. Alarmingly, the radiation dose to an infant's testes and skeleton is 60-fold higher than the absorbed dose to an adult brain!...

It just repeats over and over again. Shoe-fitting fluoroscopes, arguably Thalidomide and DDT, now this. When you introduce a new force or procedure, it's not just going to affect one standard 5ft10 white man once. It's going to happen over and over again, to humans of all sexes and ages and backgrounds, and to the interdependent ecologies we're in, and it will disproportionately affect the vulnerable new.

Essentially, it appears that an X-ray beam is rastered across the body, which highlights the importance of one of the specific concerns raised by the UCSF scientists... what happens if the machine fails, or gets stuck, during a raster. How much radiation would a person's eye, hand, testicle, stomach, etc., be exposed to during such a failure. What is the failure rate of these machines? What is the failure rate in an operational environment? Who services the machine? What is the decay rate of the filter? What is the decay rate of the shielding material? What is the variability in the power of the X-ray source during the manufacturing process?...

The entire medical technology field has the lessons of the Therac-25 burned into its brain, but I bet the TSA's vendor pool doesn't.

A TSO [TSA worker] could be exposed to as much as 86-1408 mrem per year ... which is between 86%-1410% of the safe exposure of 100 mrem. At the high end, if for example a TSO is standing at the entrance of the scanner when it is running at maximum capacity, then that officer could hit their radiation exposure limit in as few as 20 working days (assuming an 8 hour shift). ... they really should be wearing radiation badges...

This is the asbestos of the coming decade (in terms of how perversely valuable the word "mesothelioma" is). Especially if the TSA will not provide dosimeters nor allow their workers to wear their own.

You know how the US government invaded Iraq to prevent further terrorism, and provoked the growth of local Al Qaeda cells? Now it's replicating that triumph by firing high-energy particles indiscriminately into innocent travelers' bodies, turning a little of each body into sleeper cells.


(1) : Longbows & Longboxes: Read some Amar Chitra Katha comic books today.

Filed under:


(7) : Charity: Today my mom again made me some churrimurri -- a light snack mix of puffed rice, freshly grated carrot, diced onion, masala, etc., etc. It's delicious. As we ate she said it reminded her of my dad, and told me --

My dad grew up very poor. His dad made five rupees a month as an electrician (this is in the 1930s and 1940s). Every day the churrimurri guy went by with his cart and gave everyone in his family a serving. He never asked them for money. They gave him a rupee a month. And every night, the restaurant near them gave them some leftover soup.

When my dad was 20, in engineering college, staying in a free room by the grace of someone's charity, he knew seven families who would give him some dinner, so he had a set schedule to visit each of them on different nights of the week. Five of them just gave him a helping of whatever the family was having. Two gave him food that had gone off, stuff they wouldn't eat.

One day he was leaving one of those latter houses. His stomach seized up. He vomited. He dragged himself to his room and lay down. He couldn't get up.

He didn't eat for three days.

A friend of his came by on the third day and knocked. Dad was too weak to get up and open the door, so his friend got a pole so he could go around to the open window and poke the pole through to open the door. He got Dad a meal, and gave him his voucher for a month's worth of meals at his dorm...

I looked at my churrimurri, suddenly ill.

I will be writing more about how hard my mom and dad worked to get out of poverty, to get the financial power to help people and pay forward the generosity they'd received. Right now I just feel ill with unearned privilege.


: Arbitron Says They Didn't Mind: Evidently all I need is someone around who understands my English and follows the news, and I'll blabber on for ten minutes about Wikileaks, basically regurgitating the best insights from MetaFilter.


(1) : Showing All The Light We Give / And Showing Where The Light Extends: Today my husband called me up and read to me from the barnburner epilogue to The Psychology of Computer Programming by Gerald Weinberg, and another friend talked with me about relationship problems and the importance of openness to change and to multiple perspectives, and another about a doctor visit and exoticizing and how CS is taught in university, and now another friend is reciting "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" to me over instant messenger.

I am so lucky.


(3) : Quotes: First a bunch of little snippets from my recent instant messenger conversations:

Oh, the new movie Black Swan isn't an adaptation of the economics book? It's about ballerinas? BLAH TO THAT. I mean, there's a Freakonomics movie. And surely you saw that summer blockbuster The General Theory of Employment, Interest, And Money. I think Keynes got a best screenplay Oscar nod for that one.

Leaving the house is magic.

[After saying "didn't mean to nag, just correct for lag," I sought a rhyming followup or rephrasing.] You disconnected from the server, I repeated my line further. Just checking dropped packets, didn't mean to make a racket. DOGGEREL AWARD HERE I COME?

"oh yeah" like "OH yeah" or "oh, that would be a good idea" or Kool-Aid man bursting through a wall?

I am reading about Privilege Denying Dude, etc. while a young Indian woman sweeps my room. Right near me. COGNITIVE DISSONANCE

I thought we were not-bothering buddies. I RESCIND MY HIGH-FIVE

And now quotes from recent issues of The Caravan:

It was 20 years ago that I experienced for the first time while reading, the strange combination of soaring and falling natural only to the economies of debtor-states.

...those of us who criticise the Western media for bestowing magical Taliban-defeating powers on Karachi's Ecstasy-popping 20-somethings...

Just outside Italian Village, I found a Dairy Queen fast-food restaurant, filled with Kurds talking rapidly on Bluetooth headsets. A spokesman for Dairy Queen told me his company had no restaurants in Erbil, and he suspected another Dairy Queen operator in West Asia had gone rogue and set up shop there as a freelancer; just as a mushroom cloud in North Korea bears the marks of the influence of AQ Khan, an ice cream cake in Kurdistan implies the assistance of someone with mastery of Dairy Queen technology in Istanbul or Bahrain.

And so it was, in this entertainment vacuum following the Hindi ban and without a decent replacement, that something unexpected happened in Manipur: the Koreans moved in.

Filed under:


(3) : FOSS.in: Anyone going to FOSS.in in Bangalore in a few days? I'm thinking of attending on December 15th, the day before I fly back to the USA. Perhaps we could hang out.

Filed under:


(3) : Belated Blog Anniversary: Missed celebrating it on the day, but 10 December 2010 marked ten years of blogging (or, as I probably called it then, writing a web diary). I look back at those early posts and think I should take a page from danah boyd's book:

...My early posts were all written to [my Zen teacher] in an unedited, fluid style. The only other readers were my classmate and my boyfriend. What i posted then was very personal and most of those early posts persist on my blog today, even though the audience is much larger now. I made a conscious decision not to be embarrassed by those posts.

Instead of real litcrit analyzing a third of my life, or telling you what I think now of "...if I could completely know you by just reading your weblog...", or mourning the bloggers I miss (One Good Thing, Anonymous Lawyer, Everything's Ruined, Real Live Preacher, Bitch Ph.D. ...), I'll just go with raw data. Statistics courtesy my NewsBruiser installation:

Number of entries: 3954
Average entries per day: 1.082
Total size of all entries ever posted: 3811022 bytes (about 3.6 megabytes of text)
Average entry size: 963.840 bytes
First entry: Final and paper and presentation (10 Dec 2000, 06:34PM)
Longest entry: The Intersection of Doom...and Death (17803 bytes, July 2001. Part of my Russia travelogue.)
Shortest entry: First post! (12 bytes, October 2001. This was my first entry when I started blogging in NewsBruiser in my Open Computing Facility web space instead of on Kuro5hin.)
Longest title: "basically it's like one of those hip hop DJ battles where they scratch with their butt or their elbow"
Most emphatic entry: Yahoo! Labs Research Presentations, February 2010 (23 exclamation marks)
Most insecure entry: Questions To Ask Potential Flatmates (86 question marks)
Most linky entry: Thoughtcrime Experiments, One Year Later (61 links)

Most common words (truncated to ten from the fifty NewsBruiser gives me):

  1. about: 2172
  2. people: 1040
  3. which: 939
  4. would: 879
  5. don't: 870
  6. other: 856
  7. Leonard: 781
  8. think: 724
  9. because: 709
  10. their: 673

Whether you've been reading for ten years or started today, thanks (said pledge-drive announcer Sumana). I've appreciated your eyes, your links, your comments, your emails and letters and response posts, your anonymous gifts (!) and syndications (I still don't know who set up my LiveJournal feed), and your existence. And a special thanks to Leonard, who wrote NewsBruiser, and has fixed bugs in it for me, and who has read all of this.

If you've ever really liked a specific post of mine, please feel free to mention it in the comments.


(2) : Liminal State: The fiendish thing about being physically ill is that it makes it harder for me to concentrate on anything else. Were I less allergic, had I no cold, were my shoulder and neck uncramped (or whatever the hell is going on there), I could appreciate that tonight is my last night with Mom. But I'm stuck in the gravity well of grump.

Tomorrow I spend some time in Bangalore, seeing friends and colleagues and peers and reminding myself of the Sumana I am in my chosen life. Then: airplane back home.

I didn't bring much; it might take twenty minutes to pack. Less, probably.


: Returned: I'm home, after what, seven weeks away? The streets here seem so paved and well-lit and bereft of cattle.

While I was away, Susie and Leonard matted, framed and hung several pieces we'd previously stuck on the wall with thumbtacks. Thus, the decor suddenly looks much classier, even though it includes the buzzword bingo card I made for the judges at my oral defense (Columbia master's), a plain-paper printout of my birthday Dinosaur Comics from 2006, and the San Francisco Chronicle clipping "Rapper C-Murder faces gun charges".

Thanks, Leonard and Susanna!

The newly classy walls surround me as I shower, snuggle, eat pizza, drink herbal tea, and watch Psych. I have come round to the belief that fast-moving witty fluffy entertainment is a kind of public service; I feel so much better when I laugh.


(4) : In Which I Take A Sharp Left Turn In The Last Paragraph, Just Like The BSG Finale: Once I read, perhaps a webcomic or a short story or a joke, where one person showed off some collection, perhaps of antique mustard bottles, and another person asked whether there wasn't a less bulky and costly way he could display his crippling fear of death. Lazyweb request #1 of 2: anyone remember this?

Maybe because my dad died this year and I spent a bunch of time with my mom, or just because of the perspective that comes with age and experience, I'm seeing my family- and mortality-related neuroses more clearly. The armchair psychology soothes me, because of course if I can come up with a simplistic "x causes y" chain of dominoes, then I know my own true name and I can defeat myself! Wait, um, that isn't what I mean or want --

My family moved around a lot as a kid, so I got several of the "hey, surprise news, we're moving soon" speeches, and maybe that's why I flinch so hard at surprises.

We moved, and I didn't get to keep friends, so I kept things, read comfort books over and over with a fear of moving on to books I hadn't read before, stayed in my room, memorized the Star Trek universe, living in the mental space I could control since I couldn't control the physical spaces I lived.

Food. I had to eat as much South Indian food as my mother gave me nearly every day until I left home for college. I felt like saying no counted for nothing. I rather wonder that I did not develop a bona fide eating disorder; as it is, I just had an aversion to Indian food for about a decade. And you know how you're not supposed to shop for food when you're hungry, because you're more susceptible to marketers' tricks? Well, yesterday Leonard and I stopped by a health food store after lunch, and I was surrounded by all this food when I was already full, and I got a little nauseated and panicky. I hope this dies down when I've been away from India for a while.

My birth family told me I could and should achieve great things, write books, get a Ph.D., without taking risks. Not all together like that, of course, that would sound ridiculous. And I was just precocious enough to be ridiculous to everyone normal, but never truly iconoclastic and self-propelled and genius-level enough; or maybe I would have been, if they'd given me space or freedom or uninterrupted solitude, or if I'd felt I had enough agency to take it myself. And oh what a textbook case I had of extrinsic motivation destroying intrinsic.

Big giant honkin' fear of failure. Skill acquisition never made systematic sense to me; it was either under-my-nose No Big Deal or incomprehensible deep magic. My first semester of high school, I got a C in a class, and I was more ashamed of that than of anything else except my adolescent hormonal urges, and maybe even that's a fair fight. I got to university and took a computer science class, and debugging exhausted and humiliated me; I read it as constant failure topped by a meager teaspoon of success, instead of enjoying the challenge and reading each quest as a hero's journey. When I read entrepreneurs saying that of course you'll fail the first time you try something hard, or a comedian or chef saying that it's freeing to have a fresh opportunity to fail and improve in every set and every dish, their perspective feels disorienting and freeing.

So now I see the anxious grasping for control in my own perfectionism and completism. I can at least laugh at my own anxiety now when Leonard suggests watching a few episodes of Psych out of order.

That is all preface. Once upon a time I did triumph over my own petty completism, with the help of the Sci-Fi Channel marketing department, and watched the middle and end of Battlestar Galactica without seeing the beginning. Last night Leonard and I watched most of the introductory miniseries. Roslin and Starbuck are so awesome! Because we accidentally held vintage BSG in reserve, it is as though now we get a wonderful prequel with magically younger actors! Lazyweb request #2 of 2: Remember "Why Tom Zarek Was Right"? Where's the followup letter, from after the series finale, dissenting from the controversial decision to you-know-what?


: A Turn From The Personal To The Professional: I'm seeking a new position as a project manager or open source community coordinator. From here I'd like to get into product management with a sideline in mentoring engineers in career development. Resume, LinkedIn, email, homepage. New York City preferred; will also consider Boston, San Francisco Bay Area/Silicon Valley, and the United Kingdom.

Filed under:


(3) : Merry Christmas! Now, Fudge & Red Wine:

fudge with walnutsLeonard and I made fudge last night (via). We divided the recipe down to a third of the batch size Kareila suggested, used regular chocolate instead of white, used whole marshmallows instead of marshmallow creme, and topped the fudge with two ounces of chopped walnuts. And we lined the loafpan with parchment paper for ease of removal (explanation of procedure). Pretty successful, but next time I'll add some walnuts into the batter before it cools (yay interosculated nuts), and maybe cook the batter for longer in the pot to reduce the water content and make the end product harder. Ooh, maybe using ghee to reduce the water in the input ingredients would help too? Anyway, thanks, Kareila, for the inspiration. Neither of us had ever made fudge before!

Also yesterday I got to have lunch with littlebutfierce & phredd at Souen (best soba-in-broth I've ever had) and we enjoyed some Our Daily Red. It's a red wine, a blend from a few different winegrapes, and it's yummy. We didn't finish it and I took the bottle home. A sip just now reminded me why I liked it: a little dry in the initial taste, but pleasingly so, not mouth-puckering, and then a friendly nose-clearing aftertaste like smoke and chocolate cookies.

This is all pretty new to me. I am no wine expert, and used to think it all tasted terrible. But these days I am enjoying red wine. Sometimes when I am eating out with friends I suggest we split a bottle of it, and so then I end up being the one who chooses, because the friends I'm with say "uh, I don't know anything about wine." And then I pick something, with my tiny knowledge of my own preferences and a suggestion from the waiter, and we all like it.

It is the most cliché thing ever to say "People feel intimidated by wine and there's really no need; you should just drink what you like." Imagine me saying that in a Cary Grant accent, dressed in tweeds and sitting by a fireplace, holding a tiny white dog that could never survive on its own in the wild. But more seriously, I will now tell you how I grew to enjoy wine.

Waiting. At 21 I did not like beer or whiskey or wine or any alcohol that tasted bitter, and drank hard liquor with, you know, fruit juice or chocolate sauce or whatever mixed in. I still like Amarula. But as I've aged, I've been more able to appreciate drinks and foods that include bitterness as a component flavor, including dark greens, dark chocolate, and the relevant boozes, such as beer, wine, and Scotch. I believe my taste buds have changed, biologically. Also, I broadened my food palate in general, because Leonard is an awesome cook. Thanks to nature and nurture, I have more of a foundation for enjoying wine. (Also I now have more disposable cash so if I make a bad choice I don't feel awful.)

Trying things in small doses. Vesta does wine by the shot, and when it's slow, the servers are happy to arrange little wine "flights" (little curated collections of like 3-6 miniservings of different wines). Vino Volo might be the only good thing about Newark Liberty Airport; they tell you where any wine they serve sits on their chart. I rinse out my mouth by drinking a little water between trying different wines, but it's not like I have gas chromatography and centrifuges and stuff going on in my mouth and need to clean out the lab equipment between experiments.

Not trying. Sometimes I note down whether I liked a wine, and sometimes I don't. Most wines taste at least okay to me. Diligence is not necessary here; without spreadsheets or magazine-reading or weekend seminars, I learned enough to remember a couple of keywords that remind me of wine I'll probably like. Then when I look at a wine list, I can ask a server, "do you have anything like [keyword]?" and s/he will recommend something and it will be fine, possibly great. I decided it was fine to treat wine the way I aim to treat books, sex, visual art, and music: bask in what I enjoy, rhapsodic and/or analytic as I like, and I'll organically grow all the expertise I need.

I am in charge. The entire system of wine creation and distribution and sale is, like sewing or electronics manufacture or Debian packaging, old. But all these systems are set up as tools for humans to use. I could even make my own wine! All the wine jargon and the stores and the magazines and the rituals are not meant to tell you what to like. They are meant to help you find stuff you like. I treat grapes and years and vineyards and countries of origin like del.icio.us tags, or like the fandom/tag/collection/fictype search axes on Archive of Our Own. I am the consumer and my choice is tautologically correct!

Friends. Rachel Chalmers, for example! A wine-drinking role model. From her life I learn that if you drink wine casually a lot you figure out what you like and you appreciate the good stuff more. And if you drink a wine with a friend you can compare experiences and figure out what flavors you taste in it. Don't worry that you sound pretentious: you are on a taste adventure! You can also get the standard alcohol-facilitated friend-bonding, which can be nice as long as everyone's being responsible and it's just a small fraction of the overall friend-time.

Travel. This year I got to drink locally made wines in Australia, Spain, and India. I treated it as a touristy experience. It is like a little boozy souvenir.

Eating. It slows down the drunkenness and the flavor combinations are better than the wine flavor alone. I don't know what-all the right pairings are, so sometimes I ask a waiter to recommend a red wine to go with whatever dishes I'm eating. Usual results: yum!

Generally being a more relaxed person. Possible failures include: stains, ordering wine so bad you can't finish it, looking like someone who made a small bad decision, interacting with a jerk who acts as though different wine tastes or experience levels are morally significant. None of these are very bad, but I had to be a more relaxed person than I was at 21 to grok that. Then there are the standard possible failure modes of alcohol-drinking, such as letting one's guard down too far, but I prevent those pretty well these days. Yay experience. Basically, instead of trying to Master Wine, I am being okay with bumbling into experiences in the range bleh-to-awesome.

I seriously used to think wine all tasted bad, and red wine specifically was all mouth-puckeringly bitter and dry. Now I don't and I enjoy it. Yay! Next stop: Scotch.


: Theater And Music: If you live near Washington, DC, you can see my pal John Stange in Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap in early January. Seats are going so fast that I am going to miss all opportunities to see it during my very brief New Year's stint in DC. Don't make my mistake!

Also: If you live near Washington, DC, you may wish to see my friend Lucian's band Schmekel in early February. (That is some kind of magical Facebook page that does not require a login to view the information contained within). Schmekel brands itself "100% Trans Jews" so you probably already know whether you are their target audience. If you live in New York City and watch live music and are queer and/or trans and/or Jewish, you've probably heard of Schmekel via your usual sources prior to this straight cis Hindu (?) gal telling you about it.


(4) : A 2011 Travel Wishlist: Now that my mom's situation has settled and I don't think I'll have to make big sudden India trips in 2011, I'm working on my travel schedule for next year. I expect whatever new job I take will send me to vendors, clients and conferences, and that at some point I'll visit family in Karnataka and friends in the San Francisco Bay Area. Other than, it's all on the wishlist. If I had infinite time and money and no carbon guilt, I'd hit (in chronological order):

Also thinking about OSCON and Community Leadership Summit, and a little about PyCon and FOSSCon, but I've never been to those before. At this point we're getting into a scenario where I never visit friends or do any non-conference leisure travel, and yet still live out of a suitcase two-thirds of the year remembering Leonard's pining face mostly via wallet-sized photos and grainy videochat. So most probably, I'll hit Arisia, QuahogCon, WisCon, and the Desktop Summit, plus some family travel and business travel. Tentatively, of course.

Despite my itchy feet, I would like to avoid flying as much in 2011 as I did in 2010, because:

  1. I've flown so much this year it makes baby carbon cry
  2. I like long ground-based journeys for reading, writing, and hacking
  3. Stupid security theater
  4. Weather + air travel = disproportionately annoying delays


<Y
Y>

[Main]

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available by emailing the author at sumanah@panix.com.