# (4) 01 Jan 2009, 09:26PM: Host:
We've been having friends over this week for food, Dr. Horrible, Wii Music, and conversation. When I look back on 2008, some of my best memories are of extending and receiving hospitality, sharing my enthusiasms and learning new ones.
We've also been fortunate enough to enjoy some financial comfort, and since we live in a tiny apartment, have found ourselves leaning towards spending on experiences like travel and dining that don't take up any room. I've probably spent less this year on books than I have any year since I started college -- thanks, library.
I did however grab an issue of "Haute Living" from Daniel when Leonard and I ate there this summer. Just now I rolled around laughing at the ads for stuff that even the Wall Street Journal thinks is excessive. One resort is "home to the world's only 'tanning butler' -- a gentleman who roams the pool to ensure those hard-to-reach places are effectively oiled" (p. 172), leading me to ask, "Is this man employed by the hotel?"
We don't have room for more stuff, so we avoid stuff-buying. If you're rich, you just buy a storage yacht! It's refreshing to see that, while Leonard and I may be more well-off than we're accustomed to, we're not rich jagoffs.
But, near the end of the magazine, I ran across an unexpectedly intense meditation/parable on hospitality and luxury from Eric Lepeingle, a yacht broker.
A client who has everything and can buy whatever he wants was in Cannes to visit the yachts. His manager comes in and says he wants to have the most perfect French experience possible. I say to myself, I'm sure he's already eaten at all the big three-star Michelin places. He knows where they are. He doesn't need me to bring him to a restaurant. So I call my wife and ask her to go to the meat shop and buy a cote de boeuf and organize everything and tell her that I'm coming to the pool with five people and we're going to barbecue with us. So I tell him, 'Tonight you're going to have a real French experience.' He asks what that is. I tell him, 'It's called home.' 'What?' the client asks. 'Come home,' I tell him, 'Why do you want to stay in your hotel, only to leave just so you can go to a restaurant with everyone in black and white, and get served in the exact same way you always do. The only thing I want is to have a good time.' So he says, 'You know what, you're the first person I've dealt with that has invited me home.' His eyes don't look the same way they usually do. They're smiling. You cannot do that in New York, in the office. You work all year for that one moment.
-"The Pleasure Broker" by Jeremy Lissek, Haute Living Florida, June/July 2008, p. 187.
Luxury is ....
# 03 Jan 2009, 08:12PM: Cylon Seder:
Bay Area people: what are you planning for Friday the 16th (Battlestar Galactica season premiere) and Tuesday the 20th (Inauguration Day)? Can I get in on it?
# 04 Jan 2009, 05:02AM: Short Takes:
It is instructive and/or a buzzkill to watch the Psych episode "Gus Walks Into a Bank" and the Leverage episode "The Bank Shot Job" in close succession.
The most recent Muppets holiday special, Letters to Santa, features Jane Krakowski as a guest star and the US Postal Service as an uncredited guest star/sponsor. It is mercifully short at 44 minutes and makes more sense as an imaginary vehicle for Jenna Maroney than as a canon Muppet film. There are more things wrong with the film than right with it, including voices, dialogue, songs, plot, attitude, pedagogy, and geography. Just as Antitrust made me think, Couldn't you solve this problem with a post to Slashdot?, Letters to Santa made me think, Couldn't you solve this problem with a trip to the 24-hour post office near 34th and 8th? I suggest re-viewing the 2002 holiday special instead.
Leonard was quite excited that Hulu has Horse Feathers, one of the finest Marx Brothers films. Watching it led me to wonder: would it be harder to keep my bearings while conversing with Groucho Marx or with in-character Stephen Colbert? Or Muppets?
# (1) 04 Jan 2009, 11:22AM: Boston Area Visit This Week:
I'm in the Boston area this week, going there tomorrow (Monday) and coming back Friday morning so as to host a Very Special Guest Star for a few days. I think I've emailed all my Boston contacts to start arranging visits; please embarrass me by letting me know if I'm wrong and missed you.
# (1) 04 Jan 2009, 05:28PM: What I've Taken, And What I Have To Give:
As of right now, I'm looking for new opportunities in the San Francisco Bay Area, greater Boston, and here in NYC, starting in the next few months. I'm especially interested in tiny startups (let's say fewer than eight employees) or nonprofits starting new projects with tech. I'm starting machinations to ask friends and acquaintances for the names of relevant folks I should meet during my trips to Boston and the Bay this month.
I love writing technical and functional specs, translating among QA, engineers, and businessy/world-facing folks, and recruiting. I'm looking for someplace where I can bring my writing, public speaking, rolodexing, and investigative skills to bear. I want to work with superiors I can learn from, emotionally and intellectually. And I want to help make services/sites/products that delight people - for profit or non.
I'm not a programmer but I can be a good abstraction layer for software projects. I'm looking for someplace where I'll have equity or ownership, or the possibility of rising to those -- a project where I can exert all my talents and pick up real responsibilities.
That's what I'm seeking. I couldn't go after this if I hadn't already found unexpected treasure.
One of the gifts of the Internet is that I can find role models for so many traits I wish to nurture in myself, especially ambition and discipline. Just to name a few, I have Benjamin Mako Hill, Beatrice, Leonard, Brendan, Kris, Ned Batchelder and Susan Senator, all my Systers, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Rachel, Rivka, and these days especially Mel Chua. Mel's speaking right to me on "coming from a place of abundance":
In order to have a sense of playful empowerment, one must be free to change, rewrite, scrap, delete, wreck, rebuild, and tinker with all aspects of the project at any time during its course.
We can play with the inessential things without anxiety if we know they're inessential and our heart feels safe. So what is my heart's desire? To feel useful, really. And this, right now, is how.
# (2) 08 Jan 2009, 10:21PM: Fueling:
I'm at Diesel in Davis Square, reading submissions for Thoughtcrime Experiments.
In Boston, directions to a location merely 4 minutes' walk from a subway stop include a paragraph of "dogleg down this street, then make an oblique left on that street, and turn left at the church."
# 12 Jan 2009, 05:59PM: Call Me Sentimental:
Just ordered a business card refill from the same San Francisco copy shop that did my cards when I lived there.
# (2) 16 Jan 2009, 04:27AM: Back Home:
San Francisco is conspiring to get me back. Devin's breakfast with me at the Ferry Building sparked a full-fledged startup idea in my head, the most exciting in years if not ever. Sarah and I hiked up wooden stairs to the top of Coit Tower, past Tales of the City gardens and Pattern Language stepping-stone paths. The weather is absurd and wrong and paradisical. Brandon and Joe joined me at a Ruby meetup more fun and thought-provoking than any I've been to elsewhere. I have to check myself to keep my calendar open for interviews, because I want to spend endless hours with all my old pals, singly and en masse. And startups are hiring.
# 24 Jan 2009, 05:37PM: Back:
I ended up watching the BSG premiere at Ritual on Valencia, via Hulu the next morning. I ended up watching President Obama's swearing-in on my laptop screen with Alexei in his living room in the East Bay, with Leonard live on the phone with me.
Now I'm home and a little ill, very grateful to my hosts and still not sure where I'll live this month next year.
# (1) 26 Jan 2009, 02:49PM: Garth Marenghi's IT Crowd:
Matt Berry and to a lesser extent Richard Ayoade went from Darkplace to The IT Crowd basically playing the same characters. If Matthew Holness showed up he could be an efficiency consultant.
# (2) 26 Jan 2009, 05:33PM: Getting Back Into Sorts:
I'm nearly over my illness, but am delaying my next Boston trip till (probably) next week. Today I've been recuperating while reading Alan's War (Alan Cope and Emmanuel Guibert) and submissions for Thoughtcrime Experiments. By the way, Leonard's put photos and narration of our Per Se experience online.
# 28 Jan 2009, 06:41PM: Make It No:
Martin, newborn pub brawler, finds that the ST:TNG episode "Tapestry" speaks to him. He calls the theme among these episodes obvious. I'm guessing he saw that they are about leadership/organizational behavior. And thus if I had written Make It So: Leadership Lessons from Star Trek: The Next Generation, those are episodes I'd use as illustration.
You think I'm joking? I'm totally not joking. And this was prefigured in Euler, er, postfigured in Danny O'Brien.
I've read Make It So. It's supposedly a series of logs spoken by Picard, but the whole voice is wrong. Captain Jean-Luc Picard doesn't go for bulleted lists. And he wouldn't be so reductive as to choose one virtue (e.g., Focus, Urgency, Intellectual Honesty) to bolt on to his discussion of each episode.
Make it So rightly considers the leadership and career issues in "Tapestry,"
"The First Duty," "Chain of Command," "Lower Decks," and "The Drumhead." However, it also wastes time awkwardly shoehorning management lessons into "Coming of Age," "Darmok," "Encounter at Farpoint," "Peak Performance," "Relics," "Starship Mine," and "The Wounded" when it could be addressing "The Pegasus," "Allegiance," "The Game," "The Masterpiece Society," "I, Borg," "Ensign Ro," "Loud as a Whisper," "Samaritan Snare," "A Matter of Honor," "The Ensigns of Command," "Disaster," "Rightful Heir," "Lessons," and even the Troi subplot of "Thine Own Self." I'm really surprised the talky, ham-handed Picard impersonator didn't take on "Ensign Ro," "The Masterpiece Society," and "Allegiance," since they have more interesting things to say about organizations and management than "Starship Mine," "Relics," and "The Wounded" do.
What are the real leadership lessons of TNG? Other than "watch out for worm creatures taking over your superiors"? A few: You can't do a first-class job with second-class people (cf. every guest star in a uniform); everyone needs to be able to pinch-hit (away teams, "Disaster," "Starship Mine," "The Best of Both Worlds"). Explain your reasons and listen to suggestions when you can, so your colleagues will trust you when you can't ("Chain of Command" and "Allegiance"). The first duty of a Starfleet officer is to the truth. The mission has to take priority over individuals ("Lower Decks," "Darmok," "Lessons," and possibly "The Masterpiece Society" if you look at it from the perspective of the utopians).
Anyone else want a go?
# 29 Jan 2009, 11:48PM: Surprise, Surprise:
Having a publicly viewable stats aggregator displaying how quickly I read Thoughtcrime Experiments slush makes me want to work more and faster.
If only I could have responded to most Salon Premium tech support questions with "not suitable for our needs at this time, thank you."
# (8) 03 Feb 2009, 02:23AM: The Blog Host Market:
I'm thinking of starting another blog for a little writing project of mine. I'd rather it have a more professional look-n-feel than the NewsBruiser blogs' built-in templates allow, and possibly an automatic audience if I can manage it easily.
So I thought about using Open Salon, which would be free and associated with an institution I'm nostalgically fond of. But every Open Salon blogger gets the same page template, including ads, and I wouldn't control my domain name, and the Terms of Service has some clauses I don't like:
By submitting or posting User Content using the Service or the Site, you grant to Salon an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license to: (1) use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute the User Content in or through any medium now known or hereafter invented, for any purpose; (2) to prepare derivative works using the User Content, or to incorporate it into other works, for any purpose; and (3) to grant and authorize sublicenses of any or all of the foregoing rights.
You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the User Content will no longer appear on the Site. However, you acknowledge that Salon may retain archived copies of your User Content, and that Salon will retain the rights to the content granted by these TOS.
So, I'm not technically giving up my rights to my words, but they get to use them as grist for any mill they ever conceive of. And I'm not sure how I'd export my work to back it up and have a local archive.
I also considered Six Apart's TypePad, which has a much more flexible template system. I'd be able to use a custom domain name. The price (about $10/month for what I want) seems reasonable. And the license (Section 10) for them to use my work is not perpetual, yay. But it's a paid service with no warranty, which raises my eyebrows. And I've seen complaints about the completeness of TypePad export.
WordPress.com has fantastic export, of course, and amazing customizability, and some built-in audience, and for a small price I could use a custom domain name. Let's check the ToS... Oh goody, mandatory arbitration in the case of a conflict (instead of getting a fair hearing in a court of law). And nothing in this contract, as far as I can tell, specifies that my words belong to me, although IP folks can tell me what assumption I should make.
At this point I'm thinking I should just coerce a web designer into making a nice NewsBruiser template for me and use a Crummy.com blog, because I know I can nag the sysadmin of that particular virtual box at will. Thoughts?
# 03 Feb 2009, 02:52AM: That's Webtertainment:
I'm in Boston this week, probably till Sunday the 8th or so.
When I couchsurf, I want to entertain my hosts. Evidently I do this by foisting fun web videos that haven't really made the rounds, like Target Women,
ROTOTRON CORNBOBBER, and
the "Wishmaster" mondegreens.
Ever since Leonard built the PVR at our place, it's easier to make our guests watch these little show-and-tell bits. It's also way easier to play music (once I configured some stuff), and to watch TV en masse with automatic closed-caption activation and the skip-this-entire-commercial-break button (again, do some digging).
TiVo cost about $10/month; with MythTV, once you build the box, the channel listing service costs like $20 a year and that's it. And it's also a Linux box suitable for Songbird/Banshee, Hulu and Miro use, which is awesome. However, it breaks and doesn't record scheduled programs about once a month these days, in that frustrating open-sourcey-desktop-appy way. TiVo perhaps had this problem twice in several years of faithful service. So perhaps I should think of TV I like as a "river of entertainment," similar to the "river of news" model that info-use self-help types suggest RSS users adopt: you dip into it whenever you want, but don't get neurotic and completist.
However, Hulu makes it very easy to be a completist about most of my favorite shows. If MythTV falls down on the job, I can just alt-tab to Firefox and watch Colbert, Stewart, and Battlestar via Hulu. Unskippable commercials, worse UI, no closed captions most of the time, but there instead of not.
An exception: Leverage on TNT, which is not yet on Hulu. I want to view Leverage mainly so that I can read John Rogers's posts about it when they show up in my RSS reader. Because I am a completist.
# 03 Feb 2009, 02:59AM: Metonymy, New York:
When I was in high school, I overheard a couple of English teachers mentioning how they always confuse metonymy and synecdoche and laughing their heads off. Now Leonard is ahead of the game.
# (2) 10 Feb 2009, 10:52AM: The Next Pursuit:
I'm back in New York City, nursing a scratchy throat and catching up on Thoughtcrime Experiments submissions to keep my average response time down. The long-dormant Vista machine that PCF lent me is installing update 15 of 26; after I met up with Will Kahn-Greene in Somerville, I'm reassured that my testing can once more do Miro good. Leonard's oatmeal: supremely tasty.
# (1) 13 Feb 2009, 03:18PM: Friday Entertainments:
Evidently tonight I could see the Nerdcore Rising documentary on the big screen and see whether Adi, John, Adam and I made it into the final cut. But instead I may go celebrate Unix time 1234567890. Leonard suggested that, as with the one billion second anniversary, we should try to meet up with Seth, fail, ride in a bus driven by a madman, and browse in a bookstore.
Plus, tonight people gather around our tube to watch Battlestar Galactica. You know, I'm beginning to think that all will not be revealed.
Thirteen submissions currently unread for Thoughtcrime Experiments; let's see if I can get all of them today.
# 17 Feb 2009, 10:01AM: Distractions:
Tonight I see a staged reading at Woolly Mammoth costarring a friend of mine. I wonder what "Pay What You Can" brings in these days.
My life is better in some ways when I visit my sister. I exercise more, and she makes me laugh, and I meet her neat friends. But then yesterday, we spent twenty minutes coming up with "25 fake things about me" instead of writing An Important Government Paper or reading Thoughtcrime Experiment submissions. My favorite: "My relationship with onions is a pure and uncomplicated love." Her favorite: "I believe Reagan ended the Cold War."
# (1) 18 Feb 2009, 01:47AM: Half-Truths:
Tonight I heard from DC-area sysadmin types that the area has plentiful IT jobs (which I'm willing to believe) and that Python and Ruby are fads on their way out (uh, no). Also I learned some wonderfully terrible jokes re: racism, anti-Semitism, and terrorism, of the sort I will only tell in person to thick-skinned friends.
# 18 Feb 2009, 06:05PM: Premise Quest:
You know how when you play a lot of Tetris, brick walls look like problems to solve? And DDR makes techno songs sound like a cue to box step? Enter scifi obsession.
The quest for warm hands in a cold demanding environment is a long and frustrating one.
Corporal Duffy cursed Spacegov for banning weavlar mitts during duty shifts. The few seconds required to rip them off were an unacceptable risk, desk jockeys declared. She squeezed and released her neoneoprene-covered fists over and over...
# (5) 19 Feb 2009, 09:51AM: Skills And Lenses:
A few models I've happened upon recently:
- No Big Deal: I visited Nandini. Her friend, a landscape architect, is helping her do up her apartment. We talked over breakfast. Susan's dad has always been a DIY type; his attitude is, why not try and do it himself? When she was a kid, her dad built a deck and she was his gofer. She'd take the leftover wood scraps and make doll furniture. To this day they enjoy working together and making stuff with their hands.
My parents have written and edited stuff for fun for decades. When I was a kid, Nandini and I helped them mail out their zine. Dad performed pujas and wanted participants to know what the rituals and Sanskrit mantras meant, so he'd write up articles in Hindi, Kannada, and English, typeset them in MS Word on the 486 running Windows 3.1 or 95, run off 200 copies at Office Depot, and have me staple the brochures together. Eventually he started asking me to edit them ("Dad, no one knows what 'clarion' means, you should use a different word").
They're always giving speeches, at parties, at Indian-American banquets/variety shows (invariably called "functions"), at schools, at an interfaith municipal Thanksgiving. And they'd push Nandini and me in front of the mike -- "Recite that poem you wrote! Sing that Weird Al song!" Once Nandini and I wrote, cast, and acted in a little four-act play called "Lost in Translation" at one of those Indian-American functions. I think we were teens.
So after breakfast, Susan was singlehandedly putting up shelves in the guest room -- studfinding, putting up rails, cutting planks to size with a saw, and placing the brackets. Meanwhile, in the living room, Nandini was writing a big report on transit infrastructure in Thailand and India. She'll be doing a presentation on it, too. And I was working on a fiction anthology I'm editing. But we took a break to cowrite a silly monologue.
One of the greatest gifts you can give your children, your employees, the people to whom you are a role model, is the knowledge that some field of endeavor is in a sense No Big Deal. Knowledge -- belief backed up by experience -- that they can do interesting and rewarding projects in it without fear of public embarrassment.
I grew up thinking that writing, editing, publishing, public speaking, community leadership, hobbyist programming, and using the Net were No Big Deal. To this day, though, I'm leery of trying home improvement, car repair, sports, camping, and childcare. I don't have a baseline, I don't know where to start, I don't know how to know if I'm doing okay, I've never played around in a context where results don't matter, so I have that vague fear. Nandini got cooking from my mom; I didn't. I lost my fearlessness about hobbyist coding and am trying to get it back. I've gained some fearlessness about travel and capitalism.
Leonard suggested a conclusion: you should treat everything like it's No Big Deal. Danger: you turn into one of those jerks who scorn strangers' struggles. (Yes, I'm thinking of those MIT jerks I met at that entrepreneurship meeting.) Self-efficacy demands that I treat my own attempts like No Big Deal; compassion demands that I recognize my privilege and help others build their skills and confidence.
Hospitality + Integrity: How can I enter a party or meetup and start a good conversation with someone I've never met? I take the initiative to introduce myself to random people. I have a few starter and restarter questions at the ready -- what cool things are you up to? what's exciting you these days? how do you know the host? do you live around here? what are you reading? -- avoiding the boring status-laden questions like "What do you do?" and "Where did you go to school?" I enthusiastically listen and ask follow-up questions and bring up related topics and trivia.
Some people respond in kind and get the momentum of the conversation going, start new threads and return to old ones. Some don't. If after five minutes of that treatment the person isn't saying anything particularly interesting, I say, "will you excuse me" and say something about food or drink or something, go away, and find some other person to talk to. I almost always find someone who can do twenty interesting minutes with me. And now I've made a new acquaintance, probably a friend. If I now need to mingle more to get good ROI out of the event, I frankly say, "I need to go mingle and meet more people," take her card or give him mine, and move on.
In a sense I think of my conversation-starting as merely hospitable. I try to make people feel cared-about and give them a platform to show off their coolness. But I couldn't just do that insincerely; that's cynical and such a drain. I honestly believe most people have something interesting to show me, and that some just need a little help opening up. So I don't hide my opinions (open platforms win in the long run, the GOP is irresponsible, venture capital is uninteresting, Harry Potter Book 4 was great). But compassion demands that I avoid giving needless offense, and integrity demands that I back up my arguments and admit when I'm wrong, and hospitality demands that I never let myself become a boor or a bore.
As I grow older, I find my deepest friends have integrity, a work ethic, some project that they're passionate about, and this seemingly innate dedication to conversational generosity. Attention, empathy, turn-taking, nitpicking only in the service of substantive truth, following the truth and the argument wherever it leads. And that's what I look for in new friends, and I keep finding it.
Jokes, Games, and Stories as Syllogisms: A common way to describe speculative fiction (otherwise known as "science fiction and fantasy" is to call them "what-if stories." There's some counterfactual premise. My favorite stories are the ones where the interactions of the characters and the counterfactual premise(s) elegantly and inevitably lead to some satisfying resolution. The author reveals the emergent properties of a system.
It turns out that this is also something I like in jokes. We see the rules of the world at the start, and then we see how they work themselves into something entertaining. My directions for creating observational humor aren't going to give you Dane-Cooky "that's so stupid! Blaaaaaah!" They're going to give you a Seinfeldesque analysis of the absurdity. Where did the incongruity come from, and what trend does it reveal?
I'll leave it to the Adam Parrish/Zack Weinberg/Leonard Richardson/Brendan Adkins/Holly Gramazio/Kevan Davis/Alexei Othenin-Girard types to let me know whether I'm grounded in suspecting that this is some of the joy they find in designing games.
I started thinking about these models while chatting with friends and acquaintances near and far. Man, sociability is awesome.
# (6) 22 Feb 2009, 10:04AM: Open Question:
What should go into Eggs Tesla?
# (3) 24 Feb 2009, 12:39PM: Two 101-Word Stories Inspired By Fred von Lohmann's Talk Last Night:
Most clients sounded more stressed and less grammatical than this guy. "Why did YouTube take down a video without soundtrack music? I didn't break any copyrights, did I?"
"You came to the right effing lawyer," O'Porter smirked, though technically EFF had fired him when he kept calling Seth a "Latin hunk." "Let's see it."
The stranger clicked Play and swiveled his laptop. O'Porter watched hamsters and tried to hear the words under the strange hiss --
Seth David Schoen closed the lid, peeled off his mask, and walked away from O'Porter's body. Really, breaking the Content-ID tool was just a bonus.
"I'm saying, 'Leibnitzian Python wonder-language that contains no ambiguity' was a JOKE, not a spec."
"So he was a jester-philosopher, the Birbal of his day."
"I think Colbert, Haskins or Stewart --"
"If code is law, shouldn't law be code? And who'll port it but us?"
"But it's the Cyc problem. We write legislation using subjective moral distinctions that change over time. Barring Seldon-level sociological prediction, your version 1 architecture is going to include something as abhorrent to future Americans as slavery is to us. Worst. Legacy. Code. Ever."
"Not if CSAIL works with us," said the dean of MIT Law.
Also inspired of course by Leonard and by Brendan. Very much not inspired by anything Seth or anyone at the Electronic Frontier Foundation has ever done.
# 25 Feb 2009, 09:20PM: Atlas Danced:
Highlights of my recent round trip between NYC and Washington, D.C.:
- Sitting next to a fresh-from-college geekish Indian-American woman, chatting pleasantly for hours, reassuring her that she isn't alone in finding most Indian-American males unattractive, and finding and returning to her the well-loved copy of Atlas Shrugged she nearly left on the bus.
- Seeing the J. Fenimore Cooper Service Area. Great name.
- Driving past the Vigilant Hotel on 8th Ave. at 28th St. Even better name.
- Listening to 24 Hours at the Golden Apple, a This American Life episode that feels like a Unitarian Universalist Sunday service in the best possible way, and Big Wide World, a personal and uncomfortably historical TAL. What's the standard public radio listener lifecycle, and do I fit it? When I was a teen I'd listen to Morning Edition, Prairie Home Companion, Weekend Edition, Fresh Air, Says You!, and whatever Celtic, jazz, opera, folk, bluegrass, electronic, and et cetera music KUOP played before they switched to all-talk the moment I went off to college. Now I hear ten seconds of ME/WE or Marketplace when my alarm goes off, plus a TAL or two when I travel. Shouldn't I be increasing my public radio listenership as I become an old fogey?
# 26 Feb 2009, 01:05AM: Can I Be The Gardener From "Being There"?:
Creating custom software, and perhaps client services in general, are more like agriculture than manufacturing. We aren't stamping out identical units and trying to increase "efficiency" by speeding up the process; we can't, because we can't negotiate away the time it takes to grow. Debugging, or copyediting, is like weeding. Creators and managers aren't forcing a thing to happen; we're guiding the creative spirit, feeding it, and guarding the fruit from harm.
Brooks's Law, pointing out that adding more staffers to a late software project makes it later, has something in common with "Nine women can't have a baby in a month." Add that to No Silver Bullet and you see that the irreducible bottleneck is the complicated thought it takes to make a complicated thing, an artifact of (arguably) the summit of human civilization. Not to sound like Louis CK.
# 02 Mar 2009, 08:10PM: Experimental Beverage Disposal:
If you have leftover coffee, a zester, a bit of citrus, freezer space, and some time, try making a coffee granita. Mine is turning out nicely.
# (4) 04 Mar 2009, 09:35AM: Poem: "BART Spokesman Linton Johnson":
I wrote this in September 2008.
BART spokesman Linton Johnson
You speak for the trains
You must say so many things
Joyous and doleful
When the trains are stopped
Or when ridership is up
Or when the stations cry out for murals or bleach
You hear what the tunnels say
They whisper in your ears as you ride
Like a regular passenger
Out of uniform, out of sight
The seats and the cars plead with you
The turnstiles and ticket machines click and tick
As you watch the security cameras
They thank you for saying what they cannot
Each conductor drives one train
And announces its stops and destination
Only you sing of BART the whole
From Dublin to Pittsburg to Fremont to Richmond to SFO
Your heart MacArthur, centered above the freeway
Sing of the vessels that carry us from desk to bed
Speak for the trains
BART spokesman Linton Johnson
# (4) 05 Mar 2009, 09:05AM: A Fuss:
Ned Batchelder pointed to John Hodgman's condemnation of "meh" in one-off blog comments and tweets.
By definition, it may mean disinterest (although simple silence would be a more damning and sincere response, in that case)... But in use, it almost universally seems to signal: I am just interested enough to make one last joyless, nitpicky swipe and then disappear...
I think Hodgman is basically right here.* Another way to put it: "It's incredibly easy to make people feel embarrassed about having been enthusiastic about something, and 'I don't see what the fuss is about" is an effective tool with which to accomplish that task and shut a conversation down."
After submissions closed for Thoughtcrime Experiments (we've chosen the final stories, by the way!), Leonard defined our scoring process as: "From A to E the tiers are 'absolutely not', 'no', 'eh', 'yes', and 'yes!'" Note that the middle tier is "eh", not "meh". "Meh" is "I don't care" but "eh" is "I could go either way."
Batchelder praises Hodgman for "fighting the good fight for sincerity and engagement." Brandon Bird also recently mentioned "the new sincerity" and I'm into it -- earnest, enthusiastic passion is to me part of what makes a person worth talking to.
I expect a certain level of honesty, openness, engagement, and willingness to stand by one's statements in any conversation -- it's jarring to try to converse with people who don't share those values. I'm thinking when I vociferously challenged a claim by someone at my sister's housewarming -- he said that all TV is mindless because it dictates how you interact with it. Another conversant sort of stepped forward and said, to cool down the discussion, "I think we didn't mean for this to get...so..." meaningful? heated, to his eyes, because I showed that I cared and thought the other person was genuinely wrong about something important? I backed away. I probably should have shown more empathy and hospitality in conversing on a level that made the other guests comfortable -- direct challenges to statements of opinion do come off as angry and impolite, in some situations. But "meh" still isn't the answer to that; diplomacy is. And that I need to work on. My first year in college, a dorm-mate suggested I work on "something that starts with a t and rhymes with tact." I'm better, but evidently not great. Eh.
*(Disclaimer: JS, I still value and enjoy the flask you gave me that has "meh." laser-engraved onto the side.)
# 07 Mar 2009, 09:35AM: Crunched:
Yesterday, thanks to a friend of a friend of a friend who's getting a trainer certification, I had a free one-on-one Pilates lesson. This morning my abdominal muscles are all WHAT DID YOU DO?!
# 09 Mar 2009, 04:13PM: Lego Learning:
When I was rejecting submissions for Thoughtcrime Experiments, I told many writers that I'd give them suggestions for improvements if they wanted them. Some replied and took me up on the offer. Today I'm working on some of those critiques. Suddenly I am interested in litcrit theory and practice, because now that is a tool I can use to help people.
# (5) 10 Mar 2009, 08:59AM: Late Adopter Treat:
One nice thing about not having an account on Friendster, PayPal, Amazon, Facebook, MySpace, eBay, or Twitter is that I know any email I get entitled "Your [website] account is compromised!" is fraudulent phishing spam.
# 12 Mar 2009, 03:49PM: Dropping In On Columbia Classes:
I know more than I thought about copyright, less than I thought about collaboration.
# (2) 13 Mar 2009, 01:15PM: Citation Needed?:
Some of you adore footnotes, right?
# (1) 14 Mar 2009, 08:58PM: Going to WisCon:
I've registered to attend WisCon, a feminist science fiction convention, in Madison, Wisconsin this May. Now I just need to make travel and room arrangements. Anyone else going and want to share a room? I'll happily sleep on a floor.
By the way, Julia, thank you for inspiring me to start congoing. I meant to participate in Flycon this weekend, but I should probably concentrate on anthology, AltLaw, and writing work.
# (2) 16 Mar 2009, 02:05PM: Sudden Travel News:
It looks like I'm doing a job interview in England in a couple of days. Then I have a free weekend in London, probably returning Monday March 23rd. I've already arranged to see the Kevan-Holly household and my sister-in-law Rachel, but if I haven't reached out to you and you wish to share a pint while I'm there, let me know.
# 16 Mar 2009, 02:40PM: BART-Approved:
Not only did Seth translate into Latin and many friends enjoy my poem "BART Spokesman Linton Johnson", but Johnson himself just wrote me and said he loved it! Yay!
Okay, moment of validation over, back to errands.
# (1) 16 Mar 2009, 03:15PM: Dara, Your Style/Substance Thoughts?:
These Anacruses are not technically Bad Pennies, but Ana, @job, Taggert, Chronastromy HQ Officer Training: Final Exam, MAXBETTY92, Branford, #13102099, and The Musical all deserve to be grouped together. Any others?
# 18 Mar 2009, 09:01AM: Settling In:
Evidently every time I take the train from London to Cambridge, it's a GLORIOUSLY SUNNY DAY and I just gape at sheep and whatnot.
Also evidently the well-known series of river bridges belonging to various Cambridge colleges is "the famous 'BACKS'" (according to a rather enthusiastically HTML'd set of directions that included a reference to "[t]he notorious East Coast Port of Harwich").
# (1) 20 Mar 2009, 06:33AM: London-bound:
I think the job interview went well. I told them to chalk anything they didn't like about me up to jet lag. Haven't been run over yet by the Vauxhalls and the double-decker buses driving on the left. Have been amazed by how many more numbers, prices, & statistics British advertisements seem to have. Today, train to London.
# (4) 21 Mar 2009, 08:06AM: Startled:
Someone hit on me at a Campaign for Real Ale event last night. I think I'm still blushing.
# (1) 22 Mar 2009, 09:07PM: Relief:
Now that I've watched the Battlestar Galactica finale, I can read my RSS feeds without fear of spoilers!
# (2) 24 Mar 2009, 12:06AM: 'Well, I'm back,' she said:
I finished Toil by Jody Procter, read Five Point Someone by Chetan Bhagat, and got most of the way through Infected by Scott Sigler during my journey back home (via bus, subway, rail, airplane, AirTrain, rail again, subway again, and a lot of foot).
I can of course recommend the company of those I saw in the UK (Paul & Sarah, the Collabora team, Rachel, Rachel & her friends, Holly & Kevan, Avedon, Joseph). I can also recommend the London Transport Museum, a Chalmers-guided Best Of tour of the British Museum, the taster flights of beer at Porterhouse near Covent Garden, Rainbow Cafe on King's Parade in Cambridge, and any food Holly makes, especially cakes. Maybe I can link and elaborate when I wake up.
# 26 Mar 2009, 08:50AM: Fine Line:
It's such a small step from a shotgun wedding to a shogun wedding.
# (2) 26 Mar 2009, 11:51AM: Links:
I usually keep stuff like this in Delicious but I wanted to bring a few things to your attention.
Dreadwhimsy is incredibly short stories inspired by weird photos.
Flea of One Good Thing linked to her six-year-old son's blog, Shut Up I'm Six. What more do you need from, say, games journalism than the following?
hay guys type in wizard101 and you will git a cool game its about a life but in a computer and you have to fight bad guys its cool i like it do you?
Forever's Not So Long is a very short, poignant science fiction movie whose final shots will stay with me for a while.
Waiter Rant, in Las Vegas, shows a person having an inappropriate emotional reaction, then analyzing it. I love that.
Dara discusses a dormant skill cropping up again.
...that poem, which I thought I had left composting in the backyard of my brain, to feed future poems but not ever to remerge. Surprise. It's back, shuffling its overwritten zombie stanzas up the stairs, dropping rhymes like clods of earth all over the kitchen floor.
Despite the abundance of exclamation marks, this fantastical history of Quizno's is worth reading till the end.
Firefox now has a Kannada release!
A hilarious Trader Joe's FAQ, and a beautiful song/ad for Trader Joe's (or, as my mother calls it, Trader's Joe).
I had no idea that this program existed to help me travel late Saturday nights!
Ganesha helps Alison Bechdel unclutter after decades of doing her monthly comic strip.
Susan Senator, dealing with her autistic son's move out of her house, writes about the changes that only experience and time bring:
We go into things seeing them only in two dimensions: what we've seen from the outside, and what we've heard/read. Those are the two dimensions. When we enter into the thing, the big thing like marriage or childbirth/adoption, we then experience the addition of the third dimension. We go deeper. We go through some kind of pocket of time and in-the-moment action, and then suddenly we are on the other side....
When it was over, it was over, and I was on the Inside.
So when you go through something as intense as childbirth/adoption and suddenly there is a baby where there wasn't one before, you are just pulled inside out and a whole new consciousness surrounds you.
Then you get used to it. Then you get good at it. Then you enjoy it. And then they are ready to go. And suddenly, there you are, in two dimensions again, looking outward at their leaving you, not knowing how it will feel, only guessing by what others say/do and what you have heard/read.
She strikes at a reason I read so avidly, and that I gain such comfort from reading memoirs of work and parenthood. I can only guess at what those other lives are like, seeing flattened perceptions of their experiences. But if I sort of go through time along with them, watching and listening to their observations over the weeks and years, then I get a little bit of that third dimension from Alyson and Kristen and Susie, Rivka and Rachel, Flea and Susan, and now Claudia .
So parents don't talk in high-pitched baby talk because they like to, but because it works. If I try to explain to the Peanut that I need to put his socks on before I feed him, "I need to put your socks on" doesn't work. Now if I say "I need to put on your little sockies on your little toesies that are soo cutie" in a high-pitched voice with lots of animation (think smiling like crazy, waving the socks around), then I'll get an extra few seconds to put the socks on before he starts screaming. The only problem is that after talking in such a manner for 10+ hours, it's hard to turn off when I talk to an adult (aka, the husband).
And tomorrow night I get to see another Paul, Storm, and Jonathan Coulton concert. Whooo!
# (3) 27 Mar 2009, 10:22AM: A Quiz! And, Thoughts on Ads for Nonsensical Products:
Last night Ron came over and we played The Big Idea, the Cheapass Game where you get cards with nouns and adjectives on them and have to combine them to create products that you then pitch to your fellow players. Leonard's fond of the game, and I am too, except that we simplified the investing/IPO stuff away so we could just focus on the funny pitches.
I wish I could remember more of the products Ron did; the X-Treme Toaster launched bread, Texas toast, an entire bagel, or half a panini outwards at up to 60 miles per hour, with a user-controlled directional system that you could use to target your friends and enemies. Leonard made a hit with the Mentholated Drug Forklift, for use in medical injections of 50-foot monsters, and the Mechanical Machine as useless expensive status symbol: "It does nothing, because it means everything."
- Edible High-Priority Chowder, to cure anxiety of choice at the salad bar
- Cat Addictive Plague Virus, to get your cat to physically need you and not be quite so independent
- Patriotic Puppy Camera, for when your snapshots aren't always cute and unbearably American
- Herbal Natural Chainsaw, strong enough for a logger but made for a hippie
- Networked Beer, to ensure you never feel like you're drinking alone
- Government Alien, a standardized, tax-deductible alien for your abduction and inspiration needs
- Electric Self-Heating Satellite Necktie Fruit, so you get your daily nutrients, heated for your comfort and whirling around your torso for your convenience, in attire appropriate to a professional office
The supposed plot of The Big Idea is that other people invest in your company and then you do a public offering, but if I were really pitching to investors I would do company pitches, not product pitches. Our pitches were like ads, not business plans. How boring would it be to bury the Mentholated Drug Forklift in a PowerPoint about the top-flight experienced management team and market projections? However, Leonard's pitches were often short "here is the problem, here is the solution" expositions, which translate more easily to investor meetings than does "Sometimes, people just can't see things from each other's point of view" (excerpt from my pitch for the Herbal Natural Chainsaw).
You learn people's styles as they improvise. Ron goes to infomercial style, hilariously repeating litanies like "bread, Texas toast, an entire bagel, or half a panini." I dreamily meander among references to theory and axiom -- Kenneth Arrow's theorem on ranked preference voting, "shared joy is increased/shared misery is diminished". Leonard uses narrative arcs, sci-fi monsters, and Veblenesque/Situationist critique.
The funniest pitches started off with a great first sentence. The best was probably Leonard's intro to the Mentholated Drug Forklift: "When you're giving injections to Godzilla or the Fifty-Foot Woman, you quickly realize that standard needles won't do the job." This reminded me of a pet project I now reveal to you. Guess whether these are opening lines for
This American Life or Trader Joe's Radio Ad?
Answers in comments.
- Here's a ritual that happens in millions of American families every day.
- At [This American Life/Trader Joe's], we spend a great deal of time contemplating the great issues of the day: the economy, climate change, cheese.
- OK, here's something that we did not expect. Check this out.
- Our enemies are in hiding.
- Steamed food is cooked with steam.
- Here's my seventh grade teacher's sad fate.
- No matter who you are, life is all about making choices.
- So how many years were you an executioner in your job?
- Lately it seems like everyone is talking about value.
- It used to be, if something was big news, it got turned into a song.
- We don't get to use the word "jumbo" very often.
# 27 Mar 2009, 02:46PM: Ada Lovelace Day, Belatedly:
I am abashed and thankful that Rachel and Danny thought to mention me in speaking of women in tech on Ada Lovelace Day. I offer a sidelong glimpse into a short list of my influences Right Now Today:
A woman, my manager at Exodus, a history major or something, whose career path reassured me that CS wasn't the only way into interesting tech jobs. I thank you, Jed, for making a similar point -- QA, tech writing, education, design, sysadmin, and management are damn cool.
Marissa Mayer at Google might be, among other things, Google's Steve Jobs, and inspired me to think more about product design leadership.
Rachel Chalmers, of course.
Mel Chua, who reminds me to learn about how I'm learning, and that my default answer should be "yes, I can do that."
And all my Systers. I thank them for daily popping up in my inbox, being the friendliest forum for questions stupid and subtle, and reminding me that we are legion, diverse, wage slave and entrepreneur bare-metal hacker and CIO and everywhere in between and sideways.
# 28 Mar 2009, 02:33PM: A Book Review About Leadership:
I mostly wrote this book review in the fall of 2008.
On the Psychology of Military Incompetence
by Norman Dixon
On The Psychology of Military Incompetence is 400 pages long, and worth savoring. Its fundamental question: Given that information is the reduction of uncertainty, how do leaders of different temperaments react to information? The author limits himself to cases of British incompetence in battle, but of course you can extrapolate from that.
Dixon clearly but steadily builds his case against the prewar British military. The one-line summary is: culture stagnates into convention, which drives out the unconventionality you need to succeed. More nuances ahead.
From Skeleton to Prison Cell
Dixon shows that to advance in the British armed forces, in peacetime, demanded rule-following and an authoritarian mindset. But the mission of a military is to win wars, and that requires fluidity and a willingness to take risks -- and offend superiors.
So, what happened when peacetime promotions hit a war zone? Disaster -- in the Crimea, in southern Africa, all over Europe in the First World War, over and over again. Soldiers' courage and tenacity get their generals out of the holes they dig.
In general, institutions get the leaders who fit into those institutions and succeed at the unstated goals (for example, avoid retreats at all cost, impress politicians, keep civilians uninformed and complacent). If the unstated goals don't line up with the institution's stated goals, then leaders will tend to do the things they've been rewarded for in the past, especially in moments of high stress and low certainty. Therefore, in battle, bad commanders freeze up, wait for orders, ignore new information to appear "decisive," give panicked and contradictory orders, lie to maintain their personal reputations, and so on. And disaster happens, over and over again.
In Dixon's view, the British military suffered from groupthink and valued particular upper-class traits over merit. It's astonishing that military personnel would need to be told that the map is not the territory, the signifier not the signified, but indeed they cared more about the signs and forms of morale and professionalism (such as clean clothes and polished brass) than about warm clothes, edible food, and working equipment.
Narcotic Assumptions, Lenses & Blinders
I'm in India as I write this and dealing with my own need for shiny appearances. I often forget, once I return to the States, that I find -- for example -- hermetically sealed bathrooms reassuring. My parents live in a home where the plumbing and electrical work aren't consistently hidden beneath stucco and sideboards, and it surprises me how much that bothers me. I haven't seen any marked crosswalks in their city, either; we watch for a lull in the bicycles, mopeds, and rickshaws, then rush over the dusty, rocky street. No accidents yet.
I consciously desire function over form, but that only works if I can convince myself to rely on an ugly-looking system to work.
I calm myself with a fallacious appeal to statistics: if something's wrong, it would have broken already. If other people depend on similarly rickety-looking setups, then they must be dependable. Or I just go straight to infantilism and believe my parents wouldn't put me in danger.
Seth Godin recently wrote about the "edifice complex". He reminded us that, in times of uncertainty and stretched budgets, when we can least afford the "organized waste" of facades, we find them most reassuring.
In good times, insecurities and rationalizations like mine are a luxury. In battle and competition, they're delectable poison.
British commanders, similarly, clung to the false clarity of their chain of command, "masculinity," pride, and privileges when they faced the mess of battle. They feared shame more than they minded losing men, and they scorned the "motherly" chores (or retreats) that would ensure troop survival and readiness.
Valiant forays are masculine, but feints and retreating are girly? Again, ideology got in the way of success, as when insecure commanders pooh-poohed nonwhite adversaries, self-improvement, and new technology.
The lesson: Real self-confidence doesn't need ideology as a crutch. The flipside: if you see someone leaning on received assumptions, and repeating them rather loudly, it's because without them he wouldn't know who he was.
The argument above takes up most of the book. In an aside, Dixon suggests that "senior commanders have often to fill a number of incompatible roles": heroic leader, military manager, and technocrat, plus politician, PR man, father figure, and therapist. This is of special interest to me.
I've learned models describing styles of leadership: authoritarian, democratic, and whatnot. These days I'm more interested in the balance among managing up, down, and sideways. Reading these books and thinking aloud about them helps me get perspective. What leg of that tripod have I been shorting?
Works thematically related to On the Psychology of Military Incompetence: Dilbert, the Harvard/NASA case study on the Columbia shuttle disaster, and John Le Carre's The Tailor of Panama.
# (1) 31 Mar 2009, 11:03AM: Fanac:
I've booked my flight to WisCon and will be in Madison from Thursday evening, May 21st, to the morning of Tuesday, May 26th. This encompasses the entire schedule so that completist Sumana won't miss anything. Now I just have to find or rent a place to stay.
In the interests of seeming like an interesting person once I'm at WisCon, I really should do the PDF/print-on-demand layout for Thoughtcrime Experiments soon. Like, today.
# 31 Mar 2009, 10:05PM: Serious:
I'm at a restaurant eating dinner with 7 others, including Nina Paley, Bradley Kuhn, and Richard Stallman.
# 01 Apr 2009, 12:49AM: Cost-Benefit Analysis For Projects: Caution!:
We often say that something is/isn't "worth it" based on a reflexive guess. The important thing isn't quantifying all those guesses to the tenth decimal point, it's getting into the habit of interrogating them. How certain are you of the benefit & harm you're thinking of causing? Who, specifically, will benefit or hurt? Have you taken into account interest rates/inflation for long-term investments? And what's the opportunity cost? A CBA isn't an answer, just a tool for understanding the financial implications of a decision. But if you're overruling a financial decision with a cultural/ethical/positioning one, you should know you're doing it.
Tonight Stallman pointed out that twenty additional years of copyright monopoly, added onto the existing multi-decade duration, were basically nothing in a discounted-present-value calculation, and thus of zero benefit to a rational actor. Then again, as a repeated step in a "perpetual copyright on the installment plan" scheme...
# 01 Apr 2009, 07:40AM: The Long View:
Throughout Jody Procter's memoir Toil: Building Yourself, a diary of his work helping build one specific house in a small Oregon city, Procter aches for the weekend, feels hopeful and buoyant working through Friday afternoon, and buys himself little treats at the 7-11 on the Friday drive home. The rhythm of building tension and weekly release thrums over and over again. The end of the March 17th entry:
I have been taking my watch off or leaving it in the car to try to keep from looking at it. 10:56. 2:05. Seeing those dead hours in the middle of the day demoralizes me. Now, this afternoon, I put my watch on, the better to savor the slow pace of the last hour and a half of the week. The sun has disappeared. The clouds rolls in. A few sprinkles fall and the air is cool and fragrant with the budding flowers of spring and the moist, freshly cut grass of the golf course. I am happier and happier as the final minutes of the work week tick by.
On my drive home I think, if you could only bottle that Friday after-work feeling and sell it to people, you could make so much money you could stop work and then you would never have that Friday after-work feeling again. Unless you indulged in your own product. And probably, after a while, you'd get addicted to it, it would lose its kick, it would turn out to have negative side-effects and all would be lost and in ruins. You would lose your fortune and have to go back to work and then some Friday you would be driving home and you would have that Friday after-work feeling all over again.
: Reading Work
# (7) 01 Apr 2009, 09:17AM: New Awesome Work:
Martin and I are co-founding a new firm to produce the PoTeaTo, a food-and-beverage convergence device targeted at the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Simply drop the PoTeaTo into a small pot of boiling water and watch the seam split, revealing two pre-blanched potato halves and one strong teabag! Boil them together and you'll have a meal and the drink to go with it.
Just kidding. Actually, starting in a couple of weeks, I'll be working at Collabora, an open source consulting firm. I'll be managing projects and helping them develop awesome tools like the Telepathy framework and the Empathy instant messaging/IRC/VoIP/video chat application. Yes, people are using the phrase "Skype-killer."
I'll get to telecommute (casual day every day!), advance the cause of Free/Libre/Open Source Software, and facilitate the work of dozens of geeky colleagues around the world.
Exciting! The PoTeaTo shall have to wait (in a dry, dark, cool place).
# (3) 02 Apr 2009, 08:35AM: If You Read This To The End You Get To See Inside My Marriage:
I watched the interview Jon Stewart did with Jim Cramer a few weeks ago. If you're the kind of person who loves Jon Stewart's work, you probably heard about it.
Stewart's key critiques of CNBC:
Financial news that focuses on short term profits and stock tips is an unhealthy market force. Financial reporting has a responsibility to be skeptical of too-good-to-be-true profits and investigate companies and trends that produce them. Finance experts who know about a house of cards have a responsibility to tell the public. It's irresponsible to cheerlead unsustainable bull markets, persuading laypeople to invest in "responsible" retirement plans, then blame evil CEOs and weak regulators after the inevitable crash. Saying people can get wealth without doing work to create value is disingenuous and possibly criminal.
Salon followed up on many of these substantive critiques, not just following the blast and noise of Media Titan Confrontation. "On "Mad Money," Cramer back to normal": he was contrite on the Daily Show, then the next day he minimized the whole thing and kept on doing his normal schtick. More insidiously,
"There's nothing unique about Jim Cramer: The mindless complicity in disseminating false claims is not aberrational media behavior; it is, as they acknowledge, the crux of what they do." Greenwald compares recent finance reporting to prewar Iraq reporting.*
Stewart's most controversial point, and one that hasn't been discussed as much in the mass media, is in the last part of my summary: cheerleading unsustainable bull markets, and encouraging investment rather than work as a way to wealth, is wrong. His words:
But isn't that part of the problem? Selling this idea that you don't have to do anything. Anytime you sell people the idea that sit back and you'll get 10 to 20 percent on your money, don't you always know that that's going to be a lie? When are we going to realize in this country that our wealth is work. That we're workers and by selling this idea that of "Hey man, I'll teach you how to be rich," how is that any different than an infomercial?
"Our wealth is work...we're workers." I asked Leonard to help me figure out why, when a political candidate praises work and workers, it sounds like cant, but Stewart's phrasing felt subversive. He pointed out that the word "workers" and identification with the working class remind people of Marxism. Oh yeah, that. Also, "wealth" usually means earnings and/or capital -- cash, real estate, securities, some financial instrument or an item that can be sold in the open market for cash. But Stewart is saying that our wealth, the prize that we've earned, isn't money, but our ability to earn money. Our asset is the ability to create assets.
Again, identification with the working class. But it's a short step from that to rabble-raising populist demagoguery, which Stewart and Colbert make fun of. A lot. Possibly while engaging in it.
'You say ... I want to keep this homicidal fury forever!' [side-annotation: Hysteria, Our Only Growth Industry] 'But, Stephen, your Thunderdome idea will kill all the CEOs, and there'll be no one left to force through the man-sized paper shredder!' But I say: we will never run out of scapegoats. Because if we focus on pitchforks and vengeance, instead of the fundamental problems that got us here, soon, we'll have plenty of new criminal banks and irresponsible CEOs to start all over again. And we can cry 'Off with their heads!' -- and we'll never have to keep ours.
I get annoyed that the TDS/TCR audience cheers so loud, gilding the lily at every punchline. But sometimes their silence is a tell. When Stewart tossed off that key phrase, "our wealth is work," and when Colbert made his point about scapegoating, the audience was too stunned to clap. This reminds me of a similar moment from Colbert's interview with Daniel Gilbert, happiness expert, June 27, 2007, about 3:45 into the interview:
DG: "It turns out that kids have a very small effect on people's happiness, and the effect tends to be negative. But you'd be happy to hear-"
SC: "Wait wait wait..."
DG: "Well, it means that people with children tend to be a little less happy than people without them, and the more children they have, the less happy they turn out to be."
SC: "Now, are you confusing happiness with the feeling of the sublime? Because children are a pain in the ass. Okay, I'll grant you that. But the feeling that comes with children, I have found, is a feeling of -- that is superior to happiness."
DG: "Yeah, of course."
SC: "That is the sublime feeling. And the sublime comes from beauty."
DG: "The happiness that children give you is a little like the refrigerator light. Every time you look, it's on. Every time you think about your kids, you're happy. The problem is, they're a pain in the ass more often than you're thinking about them."
SC: "Well, that's interesting."
So this is a big shaggy dog story where I end up trying to convince Leonard, who enjoys Colbert but doesn't like to watch the interviews, to start watching the whole show. Because sometimes stuff like that comes out, where you see the real Colbert peek through, this witty improv-loving geek with a background in Catholicism and Tolkien. Basically, it's the Brendan Leonard show!
* Salon, ProPublica, New Assignment, and similar ventures are trying to do good journalism that avoids the inherent blindspots of traditional mass media. In a similar vein, I'm fond of Fred Clark's suggestion that a Work section replace the Business section.
# (3) 03 Apr 2009, 09:58PM: Happiness:
Leonard and I got to hang out with Jed Hartman, an editor of Strange Horizons, this afternoon! We talked about scifi and editing and his magazine and our anthology. Then he left, then Aaditya came over to Astoria and we went to Sparrow, the great new indie restaurant just northeast of the Astoria Blvd. N/W station. We've come home and played some DDR, and watched some web videos, and now they're talking about video games and Guster is playing, and Leonard just made peanut butter chocolate brownies and they're cooling on the rack. Leonard just told Adi about robotfindskitten.
How long have we been rolling the dice and hoping to be surprised by joy? I won.
# (1) 06 Apr 2009, 07:06PM: Sagacity:
Leonard and I are watching Carl Sagan's COSMOS, which is astounding. Also, if you're doing impressions, two parts Obama plus one part Woody Allen will give you an okay Sagan.
# (1) 07 Apr 2009, 01:23PM: Five Books (With A Little Cheating):
Years after Zed and
Rachel C. (Update: and Erica Olsen!!) tagged me with fairly similar book blogpostmemes, I respond. Hugo Schwyzer did a similar one once that I'm taking this opportunity to link to, and I've posted other book recommendation lists elsewhere.
Number of books I own: This is one of those that blurs when you enter into a book-sharing household/partnership. We share, for example, all the Neal Stephenson. I have about 400 books, not including the hundreds of Amar Chitra Katha comic books and other such single issues, and then Leonard has bookcases more.
Total number of books I've [ever] owned: Probably a thousand. I know I left a lot in California.
Last book bought: I think that's the 1962 Cherry Ames "annual" I saw while walking by a bookstore in Cambridge, UK. It was in those one-pound boxes outside the door, in the front of the stack, and it instantly caught my eye. I thought, Rivka Might Like This! But it turns out she doesn't want it, so I'll be BookMooching it or something.
Last book read: Reread: I just reread several chapters of the great Vikram Seth book A Suitable Boy. I can always reread Haresh's battles in the shoe industry, the harrowing aftermath of Maan's and Firoz's confrontation at Saeeda Bai's, Professor's Mishra's scheming around Pran's promotion, Lata, Amit, Mrs Rupa Mehra, Kalpana, oh look I just reread another hundred pages.
Fresh read: started Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars ebook.
Last book finished: Reread: an old Cat and Girl anthology. Classic, funny, incisive.
Fresh read: I read and finished the ebook of Scott Sigler's novel Infected, which was more horror-y than I like in scifi.
Five books that mean a lot to me:
- Children of the River by Linda Crew. I read it my freshman year of high school, as an elective in our Romeo and Juliet unit. A Cambodian girl who was perfectly happy in Phnom Penh adjusts to life as a farm laborer and student at an Oregon high school. Her aunt and uncle, her foster parents in the States, want her to study hard and avoid boys. One comes easier than the other. There's a passage where she can tell that a guy's gaze across the classroom means that he could watch her all day with affection and awe. I wrote in my Double-Entry Journal for class that I simply couldn't imagine that ever happening to me. My teacher asked, "Why not?" and I had no answer. And the relationships between Sundara and her aunt, her brother, and her Khmer community helped me get perspective on my family and their friends.
Special shout-out here to the similarly themed nonfiction oral history Bamboo & Butterflies, which opened my eyes substantially. There's an anecdote about an abortion and another about punctuality that still stay with me, fifteen years later.
- Imzadi by Peter David. I adored Star Trek and when I was a teenager this was one of the best Trek stories I'd ever watched or read. And there was graphic sex! SO COOL.
- The Mahabharata. In comics or in prose or in drama or in critical essays or in any other form. There's so much there. One reason I never really got into the Epic Fantasy Tolkien/Jordan/Martin stuff is that I already had a mythology, stranger and larger and more exciting than anything a single author could spin out.
- American Taxation, American Slavery by Robin Einhorn. I took an American History class with Prof. Einhorn my first year at Berkeley, and felt stupid and astonished when she used the changing price of slaves to inform her explanation of pre-Civil War economics. Her influence led me to consider grad school in tax history. American Taxation, American Slavery, which came out a few years ago, is dense and academic and brainbending. It prepped me to read Adam Hochschild's Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves. It gave me a tremendous respect for the importance of institutional competence in government agencies. And it refuted damaging "taxation=slavery" rhetoric, not least by diagnosing it as projection by slaveowners.
Special shout-out here to academic texts The Social Animal by Eliot Aronson, the most lucid textbook I've ever read, and The Psychology of Computer Programming by Gerald Weinberg, which has informed my management style substantially.
- Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. I read it in college, in that first apartment with green carpet and fake wood panelling on the walls, first in little random chapters, then -- maybe, finally, years later -- cover to cover. Just reread most of it on Saturday. I've been interrogating the pro-startup, anti-employee bent of my tech culture recently, and rereading Cryptonomicon reminds me that Randy cofounds a startup and gets to have awesome adventures! A zillion Stephenson phrases and images and metaphors and scenes have made themselves part of me. The ending of In the Beginning...Was The Command Line (Seth gave me my copy) stands next to the opening of the original GPL as a clarion call. How can I express how deeply Cryptonomicon is constitutive in my identity?
I figure the statute of limitations is under three years, so I won't tag anyone and coerce them into posting with this template, but I bet my in-laws would enjoy doing this if they haven't already!
# 07 Apr 2009, 07:17PM: A Tiny Anthology:
If you liked my most recent poem (the Linton Johnson one about BART), you might like these:
Most of these are sonnets on various schemes.
Edited 25 Nov 2010 to add my Garrison Keillor event introduction.
# 07 Apr 2009, 08:01PM: "Also airport bathrooms.":
As Leonard and I read submissions for the anthology, we compiled some tips for writers. Leonard has them up on his site.
# 10 Apr 2009, 09:58AM: The Latter Link Includes Dick Van Dyke Non-Pun Joke:
Today, looking at the tax documents, I saw Leonard's name next to mine and felt awe again that we're really seriously married. Mega-married! proclaimed Leonard. We conjectured that maybe the government should let same-sex couples get married but reserve MEGAMARRIAGE for heterosexuals couples. This is in keeping with John Holbo's thinking. By the way, here's a great comment in that thread that explains the rhetoric of same-sex marriages "contaminating" the shared marriagestuff pool.
And one of my new favorite blogs does a good Sarah Haskins impression in taking apart advertising narratives for laughs:
Oh, and do complete the circle of gender obliviousness, let's not forget the countless "home security service" ads pitched, hard, on men's programming about how your hot-looking but down-home wife is by herself in your big house with all the glass windows and no curtains and she's lovingly wiping invisible crumbs off the some-kind-of-expensive-substance counter and there's a man behind her, and because she's cleaning the kitchen with no lights on it's too dark for her to notice, and he's got ropes, or an ax, and he's really big and the music's getting all dumm-dumm-doom-y... and... oh if only you had locked her inside a secure perimeter before you went... wherever it was in that big SUV and/or first-class plane seat and you keep dialing and dialing to warn her about the big guy who's right behind her right now only she's deaf and... and...
And meanwhile on average women are safer when there aren't men there to protect them. Because ... the number of 911 calls about home-invasion injuries is dwarfed by the number of plain old-fashioned domestic violence calls.
# 11 Apr 2009, 07:50PM: This Retrospective, In Retrospect, Has A Theme:
An abbreviated diary of the past few days, mostly for future Sumana's use:
Wednesday I went to Supper and the Sci-Fi Screening Room with a journalist who opines that it's his God-given right to drink scotch at his desk when he's on deadline.
Thursday I saw Tim Wu, Stuart, Jena, and Hailey as we hashed out next steps and plans for AltLaw. I stopped by Midtown Comics after; Hal had put aside the new Ambush Bug compendium for Leonard.
Friday night: Matt Weinstein, an old Berkeley pal, came to town, so I met him and some friends of his at The Silent H, a shockingly good Vietnamese place in Williamsburg. At Queensboro Plaza on the way there, I talked to a guy who was reading Cryptonomicon on the platform, and envied aloud that he's on his first reading. At the restaurant I met a Captain-Hammer-shirt-wearing friend of his who cemented his worth by trading Cryptonomicon references and quotes with me for twenty minutes.
This morning: breakfast and The Met with Anne and her sister Sarah, Anne being a woman I met online when I sought WisCon attendees who'd let me sleep on their floors. We got along great and I'm sure I'll learn a lot about scifi fandom from her. At my place, this evening, I did some career coaching with my friend Rebecca and helped her improve her LinkedIn profile.
In conclusion, dorkiness got me everything I adore in my life.
: Reading Work
# (9) 12 Apr 2009, 01:14PM: Bluths as Bartlett's:
Some lines from Arrested Development stick in my mind as incisive embodiments of some less-acknowledged fallacies, afflictions, and distinctions. To wit:
"Illusions, Dad! You don't have time for my illusions!" has a nice little critique of missing-the-point nitpicking, but it's not as strong an association for me. Any other candidates?
- Should the Fünkes try an open marriage? Tobias notes that many couples he counseled thought it would work for them, even though it never works, and indeed it didn't work for those couples either. Beat. "But it might work for us!"
- Michael disengaging from Marta, his brother's girlfriend. "This is wrong...not hot wrong, regular wrong."
# (1) 13 Apr 2009, 02:24PM: On Realizing That I Am A Veritable Switchboard Of Buttons To Be Pressed:
As Father Brown would say: "Lord, what a turnip I am...Lord, what a turnip."
# (1) 13 Apr 2009, 07:10PM: Words And Constraints:
I am not yet ready to publicly join the conversation on cultural appropriation in fiction. However I wish to draw your attention to Rachel Chalmers's warm, smart, funny book reviews, which she posts in a LiveJournal community whose members seek to read more books by people of color. 1, 2, 3, 4 so far. The Atlantic should get Rachel to replace whatever they have Hitchens doing.
Psychological complexity of the kind I look for in books is an artefact of the bourgeois novel tradition as an outgrowth of an emerging leisure class almost by definition....
You could read it [Octavia Butler's vampire story Fledgling] as a provocative and extremely effective satire on venture capitalism, if you were, say, me.
Today's my last day before the new job starts. I spent part of it in a park working on a poem that rhymes and scans.
# (5) 13 Apr 2009, 09:13PM: Nearly-Modern Superstitions:
Am I the only person who finds it especially auspicious when a person's first and last name combined count 8 or fewer letters, since then they could use it in an 8.3 DOS-style filename? (example:
# 15 Apr 2009, 08:31AM:
Well, this anxiety is a familiar bouquet.
# 17 Apr 2009, 08:43AM: Joke, Joke:
Perhaps wearing my oldest, most beat-up Electronic Frontier Foundation shirt to a party full of new-to-copyright law students is not as effective a dominance/status display as I'd hoped.
# 18 Apr 2009, 08:04AM: Ramping Up:
In my first week at Collabora, I've learned that I can stand to poke at .conf, .rc, and similar files for at most two hours out of my working day. I've also learned that the Ubuntu version of Firefox doesn't give me a warning if I hit Back after typing form data on a webpage; not sure how to fix that. The Lenovo x200 ThinkPad is light and small, and I'm adjusting well to the nub-mouse, but there's a dedicated Back key right where my fingers think the left arrow key is, which gives me a few "arrghs" a day. I may dedicate some fiddling time next week to disabling that key. And I renew my grief that IRC is not a common feature of every office environment.
As lead project manager I'm to keep on top of all the work we do, for clients and for the community in general. So this week I've been drawing diagrams of technology stacks and who's doing what, and memorizing thirty real name/IRC nickname pairs. If I were Juanita from Snow Crash I would be developing face-based avatars for all my new colleagues, but since I am not perhaps I should get a bunch of Dungeons & Dragons figurines and set them up on a campaign map representing VoIP, embedded Linux, mobile, etc., etc.
# (4) 23 Apr 2009, 06:45AM: Learning:
In the last two weeks, I have learned rather a lot about configuring and troubleshooting usage of Empathy, Telepathy, Synaptic, PPAs, git, TeX/LaTeX/dvi, gtimelog, IRC and bip, RSA SSH, and XMPP. Well, it was a lot to me.
I've also learned that if I want to get up around 6am consistently, I have to go to bed around 9 or 10pm consistently, and that if I work in a windowless rented office then I won't know till I leave that it's raining. So I'll just be making a cameo at the io9/Tor.com shindig tonight, and I'm trying to pay attention to the weather symbols in the clock gadget in my taskbar.
# (1) 23 Apr 2009, 11:58AM: Two Thoughts on the Role of Scrum Master:
- "Each week. On This American Scrum. We have a theme. And ask three questions based on that theme. Question One: what did you do yesterday? Question two: what will you do, what do you aim to do, today? And question three: What obstacles, barriers, and predictable -- or wholly unpredictable -- problems are you facing. That are blocking you. From achieving those very same goals."
- Scrum Mistress! Corset, whip, and small achievable goals.
# (2) 25 Apr 2009, 08:20AM: Out-Of-Context Quotes Of The Moment:
"Pretend you're in a giant teacup." "Why?!" "You just are."
"It's like you have an 'it's complicated' in Facebook with yourself."
"You should delicious that tweet - NOOOooooooo....."
"Riker's so boring I'm falling asleep just talking about him."
# 25 Apr 2009, 07:56PM: Translation Of A Truth:
I reread much of Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon a few weeks ago and found this passage:
"We're businessmen," Avi says. "We make money. Gold is worth money."
"Our wealth is work," the man said.
"Gold is the corpse of value," says Goto Dengo.
"I don't understand."
"If you want to understand, look out the window!" says the patriarch, and sweeps his cane around in an arc that encompasses half of Tokyo. "Fifty years ago, it was flames. Now it is lights! Do you understand? The leaders of Nippon were stupid. They took all of the gold out of Tokyo and buried it in holes in the ground in the Philippines! Because they thought that The General would march into Tokyo and steal it. But The General didn't care about the gold. He understood that the real gold is here--" he points to his head "--in the intelligence of the people, and here--" he holds out his hands "--in the work that they do. Getting rid of our gold was the best thing that ever happened to Nippon. It made us rich. Receiving that gold was the worst thing that happened to the Philippines. It made them poor."
--p. 858, paperback
More decade-old Stephenson analysis coming later tonight.
# 25 Apr 2009, 11:27PM: Hiro-ics Don't Scale, They Say:
Now I'm rereading Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash bit by bit. Spoiler ahead:
The important thing is, Hiro, that you have to understand the Mafia way. And the Mafia way is that we pursue larger goals under the guise of personal relationships. So, for example, when you were a pizza guy you didn't deliver pizzas fast because you made more money that way, or because it was some kind of a [expletive redacted] policy. You did it because you were carrying out a personal covenant between Uncle Enzo and every customer. This is how we avoid the trap of self-perpetuating ideology. Ideology is a virus. So getting this chick back is more than just getting a chick back. It's the concrete manifestation of an abstract policy goal. And we like concrete -- right, Vic?
There's a lot going on in this paragraph.
pp. 349-350, massmarket paperback
For one thing, the speaker makes the same tripartite distinction that my ex-boss does. How do you get peons in an institution to act in the organization's interest? Financial incentives, military-style unthinking policy compliance, or a relationship that comprises part of the employee's identity. That last one is most interesting. Fog Creek, the Mafia, some religons, really elite military units, Joss Whedon fan clubs, open source, sports cheerleading, political activism and nonprofit work are all activities or groups that go from "something I do" to "something I am."
We say "drink the Kool-Aid," not just because we know loyalty will kill you, but also because the ingestion metaphor sounds right to us. You are what you eat. Mike Daisey has a moment in at least the book version of 21 Dog Years: Doing Time at Amazon.com that touches on that. He writes a letter to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, detailing a dream in which he cuts off Bezos's left hand and runs away with it:
You're all behind me, spilling out of the building like so many ants, but I'm running too fast for anyone to ever catch me. I'm out on the lawn, eating your hand, hungry like I've never been in my life. I eat the whole thing, chew through the bones, and now I own part of you, just like you own the best part of me. I wake up so indescribably proud.
The speaker in Snow Crash, however, doesn't just value loyalty for sentimental reasons. The Mafia rescue Y.T. because she is a friend of Uncle Enzo. If they don't rescue her, then her relationship with Uncle Enzo means nothing, and the value of the personal relationships that structure the Mafia is suspect. That's the policy goal: to maintain the currency that is a friendship with a Mafia executive. Per existing real-life Mafia scholarship, organized crime aims to replace government, to become the main way people and households and businesses relate to each other and get their needs met.
This is why bureaucracy is a good thing: because otherwise it would be personal relationships that decided whether you could or couldn't get a license, or buy that car. No such thing as a sticker price without bureaucracy, incidentally.
But what is an institution that only comprises specific personal relationships, one that eschews ideology? Is it a family? Is it a tribe? Is it LinkedIn? It seems like a rather fragile thing to me, like the structures from "World of Goo," liable to fall over under their own weight, or when people find another social network with better swag. Thus L. Ron Hubbard's apocryphal line that the real money is in starting a religion. Ideology is a virus, sure, but it's also a trellis for the vines to grow up, to comfortably trap them.
Anathem is obviously about an institution (the monastery system) that has thought very hard about how to perpetuate itself over the thousands-of-years long term. But Snow Crash and Diamond Age are about institutions, too, and specifically about the challenges of building and leading multigenerational or world-changing institutions. Enzo, Y.T., Jason "Iron Pumper," the terra-cotta-blazer Mafia kids, and L. Bob Rife could make for a pretty entertaining "Management Secrets of Snow Crash" presentation. Maybe I should write it.
# (1) 27 Apr 2009, 06:40AM: Thoughtcrime Experiments Anthology Is Up:
Nine new original stories, five new original artworks, and an essay on how and why we did it. Read it online, download the PDF, or (soon) buy the print-on-demand book. Link, download, read, and remix away -- it's all Creative Commons-licensed.
There isn't a theme, really, just "what we like." It turns out that we like political satire and family drama and detective thrillers and fables and fable deconstructions and the mysteries of debugging. It's all good stuff and we hope you like it.
# (11) 27 Apr 2009, 10:29PM: Fan Dances And Leafblowers:
The other day, Leonard and I were brunching with Adi. We got to talking about the little superstitions you make up when you're a kid, like "if the digital clock shows a time that repeats a digit 3 times in a row, you can make a wish, but you have to make it before the time changes."
I mentioned how, when I was a teen, and I wanted to tell a guy I was attracted to him, or make some other such irrevocable scary confession, I would look at my watch, and tell myself that I only had till the next time the seconds hand hit zero, or half-past. Then I'd blurt it out at that moment. Because I'd regret cowardice, the loss of that opportunity, more than the loss of face. What face did I have to lose anyway? "And, of course, I almost always struck out," I told Adi, laughing.
Adi didn't get it. "What do you mean you struck out?"
The guys almost never responded in kind, I explained.
And then I had it explained to me that the average teenage boy really doesn't know what to make of a girl directly telling him she's romantically interested in him. And he might stammer and deny and cut off the awkward moment, and regret it ever after.
The girl might think she'd struck out, but in fact she was pitching, and the guy froze at the plate instead of swinging.
This is a revelation to me. Seriously? I look back at all those tableaux, the community college bench, the bus ride back from the debate meet, I can't even remember them all. Am I now to rewrite all that narrative?
If you grew up a heterosexual male, I'd be interested in knowing how you've reacted to girls' interest in you, and whether frankness put you off. I've been straightforward about these things, thinking guessing games were a waste. Was that actually less efficient, in terms of throughput, than playing coy would have been? Crap!
# 29 Apr 2009, 08:28AM: Our Woodstock:
Over the past four weeks I've separately met two people who will probably become friends and who were also at the Jonathan Coulton concert I attended in March at Symphony Space.
By the way, yes we live in Queens, home of the swine flu outbreak, but Leonard and I are fine. The outbreak was at a high school many miles from us. We both work from home so we aren't constantly going around in crowds. Hell, meaning the disease vector, is other people.
# (4) 01 May 2009, 10:58AM: Bad Fanfic Everywhere:
I think the only dreams I remember these days are the ones that just shout their subtexts so loud I can't ignore them. Like the one last night where my mom handed me my newborn baby and I nursed it and felt very happy and fulfilled. (No, I am not pregnant in real life, and have no immediate plans to bear a child.) To cap it off this baby was named Myrtle, rhymes-with-fertile, as I think dream-Stuart pointed out.
I remembered this dream and couldn't stop laughing at how obvious it was.
# (7) 03 May 2009, 04:52PM: DSM-V Candidate:
The pop-psych explanation goes: It's a disorder if it gets in the way of your life or if it's stopping you from doing things you want to do. Example:
"I have a problem: I hate advertising. Under most circumstances I would not consider this a problem, but I'm starting to think that my hatred of advertising is neurotic. I will go out of my way to avoid doing things that I want to do because of advertising."
So I used to think it was just a morally neutral and perfectly healthy quirk that I hated creating new accounts on new services. That's the main reason I'm not on Facebook or Twitter/identica or MySpace or Amazon or...[giant list at footnote 0]
Now, with Facebook and Twitter/identica, it's getting into "revelation that one does not own a cell phone" territory. And I'm missing out on parties and useful work-related gossip because of holding out. So I'll probably join those soon, and I am trying to figure out why I'm holding out.
Today I discovered that the This American Life stage show will be broadcast again, this Thursday, May 7th, and that three New York City theaters will host showings. I rather want to go! But I would rather use their phone system or physically go in person to the Clearview First and 62nd Cinemas (the only theater that isn't sold out) than set up a movietickets.com account and instantly buy a ticket online. I may end up letting the logistics of either option stop me from doing something I want to do.
I used to explain away my reluctance with a Mark Twain quote, "Beware of all enterprises that require a new set of clothes," and say that I beware of anything that requires a new username and password. But if I wanted to, I could use a digital keyring to keep track of my user/pass/site combos. Or a Sherlock Holmes-branded password notebook.
Maybe I'm just a late adopter. I also don't have a portable MP3 player or smartphone, even though I'd find them ridiculously useful. But I really enjoy being adventuresome in the food that I eat, or knowing about cutting-edge technology, or knowing about a cool band or author before the mainstream does.
So my cynical amateur self-diagnosis goes like this: I conflate minimalism with simplicity. I enjoy perceiving myself as nonconformist, and/so I eschew popular things just because they're popular. I join new networks not as an altruistic pioneer, but only when I can leech useful data off existing content providers. And I'm lazy.
But my craving for self-validation (for being so punk and l33t that I'm not on Facebook, oi rock out) will soon lose out to my craving for validation from others (this social animal wants into the zoo!). So unless Mike Daisey convinces me otherwise tomorrow night, I'm probably getting on Facebook. And -- because -- so are you.
...or eBay or PayPal or Pandora or Last.fm or Fandango or OKCupid or the iTunes music store or the BoingBoing comment boards or Advogato or Ohloh or Reddit or LibraryThing or Wikipedia or Ticketmaster or LiveJournal or Yelp or EggRadio or Yahoo/delicious/Flickr or cdBaby or Lulu/Createspace. (For Delicious, eBay, Amazon, BookMooch, cdBaby, Lulu/Createspace, and probably some other services I piggyback on Leonard's account. Maybe this implies that I really want to buy/give away physical goods and save interesting URLs to The Cloud but can't be bothered to initiate an account to do so.)
Counterpoint: I do have accounts with Google, AIM, Jabber, the Miro Guide, Meetup, Tor.com, GeekSpeakr, and LinkedIn, among others.
 There are probably less self-loathing explanations, but like short letters (and blog posts), those take longer to make. To make well, anyway.
# (3) 05 May 2009, 03:10PM: Adjusting:
The last day of April, I decided I didn't want to continue renting an office. Then I stepped outside and saw a perfectly good desk discarded on the sidewalk. So that's what I'm using now. It's IKEA: durable enough to use thoroughly, shoddy enough that we too will find it disposable when we move.
So: working from home. To give Leonard alone time, and to keep from going stir crazy, I'm going out every night this week. Last night it was a Daisey monologue. Tonight it's a scifi meetup. Then: coffee with a new friend, some sort of theatrical/comedy event, and then some Debian thing at a pub for the three remaining weeknights. My MO appears to be: tee and sweatpants all day, then shower and put on a freaking dress to leave the house. Intriguing emergent behavior there.
# (1) 09 May 2009, 12:19PM: Fisher-Price's My First Keysigning:
Last night, at Biella's suggestion, I visited the Pacific Standard. Oh the homesickness! They have a UC Berkeley alumnus decal on the door, and a Moe's sticker on the rear wall, above a pedestal holding an Oxford English Dictionary.
I went for a Debian event, specifically a keysigning. Now this is ordinarily the point where my sister's eyes would glaze over and she'd skip the rest of the entry, and then she'd miss out on the part where I reveal my vulnerabilities, share my plans for work, children, and spiritual growth, and describe the secrets of consciousness and the world to come. Which is sad, really.
A keysigning is part of a way to solve the problem: when you get an email, how do you know it's from the person it says it's from? This is especially important if we want to be able to, say, sign contracts, flirt with cute guys, or gossip without fear that it's an impostor on the other side of the conversation. Not to mention -- wouldn't it be great if, even if someone else saw your email, they couldn't read it unless you wanted them to? I'm of course simplifying horribly, but public-key cryptography and authentication is a way for people to make their communications more secure. (Corrections in the comments in 3...2....)
And a part of that is matching up people with their "keys," verifying that a certain key belongs to a certain person. We usually do that in person, as Zack explains:
This is a process not unlike notarization. If you sign someone's PGP key it means that you met the person whose key it is, face to face, and checked that (a) they are who they claim to be, (b) that really is their key. Assuming that you've never met the person off the net before, part (a) involves looking at government-issued ID; I saw a lot of passports.
I also saw a lot of passports last night; I don't think I'd ever seen a Mexican passport before. I was meeting nearly everyone for the first time, and found myself making small talk based on the visas and stamps in their passports. "Oh, you have the same Indian visa I do!" I have the feeling I met some rather important people and didn't know it. Soon I'll be in their web of trust and perhaps some cool new cabal will open up to me.
My keysigning wasn't as exciting as some, but I've passed through yet another geek rite of passage. (Flailing at a keyboard to make randomness, just like Randy Waterhouse did!) It made me miss Seth.
# (1) 10 May 2009, 12:56AM: Star Trek, Dilbert, Drunk History, And Self-Help Mysticism In One Inconvenient Package:
"This will enhance shareholder value while ensuring continued GAAP strategic focus on a going-forward basis," I quipped in IRC, scaring colleagues. Yes, I can talk like the Pointy-Haired Boss when I want to. Brendan mentioned offhandedly that, after all, technobabble and bizlinga are basically similar. I'd read a parallel observation, on West Wing and Star Trek as meritocratic office fantasies, but I hadn't thought about that aspect of the jargon.
Some administrative technocratbabble would be useful in a Trek spinoff Leonard imagines, a version of TNG that focuses on the administration of the Enterprise. You may not know that The West Wing was supposed to be all the people who orbit the Oval Office, everyone but the POTUS. This TNG would be like that, Riker-centric, lots more of the meaty process and politics stuff we see in "Chain of Command" and "Lower Decks", and the B-plot of "Thine Own Self." Picard is aloof and melancholy because he's clinically depressed, and he's on antidepressants, but the bergamot in his Earl Grey tea reduces their effectiveness, so Riker runs interference. Okay, the bergamot thing is my idea, but basically I'm saying this would be what DeCandido's novel Articles of the Federation started getting at.
Pat was over the other night and suggested Leonard and I could use our nonalcoholic grape juice to fake Drunk Scifi videos, akin to Drunk History. "Lemme tell you, Paul Atreides was one badass m*^$#@f@&%*," I fake-slurred. We could use Drunk Scifi to create a sort of fanfilk of our favorite universes. La Forge gets the recognition he deserves. The Troi and Crusher characters get combined. I'm sure we know someone who looks enough like a young Wil Wheaton. Wait, it's funnier if he's hilariously unlike Wheaton. Leonard in a wig for no good reason.
Kevin doubts that the Drunk History people are just regular folk with some specific pet interest. He thinks they're history grad students. He reasons: when you're severely drunk, what can you tell a coherent narrative about? Your life's work. The domains you know best. He might be right, but I hold out hope that Derek Waters's friends are just undiscovered Sarahs Vowell and Kates Beaton.
It's a kind of improv, this thing you can do with mastery. The joy always surprises me, and I need to remember it so I don't give up during the grind.
I'm remembering an awe-inspiring riff Tara Copeland improvised in MOTHER about the phrase "Jordan Knight, it's all right," all her New Kids On The Block fandom like the length of the spear driving the point home. Our obsessions get us to this place, where we've gone past crawling and toddling and walking and running -- now we can dance.
# (1) 12 May 2009, 10:09PM: He Meant To Post To Causal Encounters:
For those who don't know: Craiglist has a category of personals called Casual Encounters (not to be confused with Missed Connections, even though Missed Connections often result from accidental encounters that are fairly casual). Folks using Casual Encounters use "NSA" to mean "no strings attached" rather than "National Security Agency". But that's not the only disorienting bit of language in CE.
"Shhhh. Your secretes safe with me...." starts off:
Before you even read on. This is a COMPLETELY discrete experience. If you decide to meet up, our meeting ENDS when either you are I leave one another. This is NOT for an LTR. It is for a no strings attached encounter.
"Secrete" is an obvious misspelling, but I really can't tell whether the author is correctly using "discrete" or just happened upon another appropriate word while spelling "discreet." It's wonderful.
# (3) 13 May 2009, 07:42AM: WisCon Schedule:
The schedule for this year's WisCon (feminist sci-fi convention, Madison, I'll be there May 21-25) is up. I'm on three panels:
- How Should Magazines and Anthologies Review Submissions?, Sat. 4pm
- Was It Good for You?: What stories do readers (especially women & people of color) wish we could see more of and what stories do we wish we never had to read again? Sat. 10:30pm
- SF/F & Higher Ed, Sun. 4pm
Some interesting folk are attending. I already knew Jed Hartman and Annalee Newitz would be there, but yay, Cliff Winnig!
# (1) 15 May 2009, 01:19AM: Learning To Recognize That Reaction; Or, Affect:
Right now I'm looking away, acting like this is happening to someone else and I'm outside looking in. I'm analyzing the situation intellectually and finding irony or amusement or a familiar aesthetic in its informational topology. But once I stop doing that, once I recognize that it's my body that's living this surprising disappointment, once I give up on using thinking as a barrier to feeling, wow it's going to hurt.
And, of course, once you've let pain in, all the clever perspectives and models and lenses, all the rotations of shield frequencies, just help you see the pain from new and interesting angles. The geodesic dome keeps the pain out until it keeps it in, and fresh.
# 16 May 2009, 10:51AM: Inconvenience:
It would be nice if this cold were just allergies. It would be nice if I got over this cold before a sudden business trip tomorrow. It would be nice if CreateSpace had been able to get me a batch of Thoughtcrime Experiments in time for WisCon. But such are the ways of this fallen world.
Update a few days later: Astoundingly, the cold did go away in time for the plane trip, and I got a crate of CreateSpace pre-WisCon. Did the gods of blogging smile on me or something?
# (3) 16 May 2009, 04:19PM: Slapdash Thoughts On Real Estate:
I need to read about property.
Specifically, I need to read philosophy of property. What does it mean when we say, or feel, that we own something? In the free software crowd, this is a perfectly normal thing to want to learn and does not make me any nerdier than I already am.
[This is in contrast to how people reacted to me at Thursday night's Tor.com meetup. To make it easier to make conversation, I wore a reusable whiteboard-ish nametag upon which I'd written my name, my Tor.com handle, and a bunch of topics I'm interested in: Le Guin, Battlestar, Stephenson, Trek, open source, feminism, stand-up comedy, and tax history. (Write on it with a Sharpie, erase with any sort of alcohol. I used perfume.) People invariably looked at it, nodded along, and then asked incredulously, "Tax history?" to which I responded, "That's what makes me a nerd here." Laughter & bonding achieved!]
I need to understand theory of property because I've been trying to understand my own feelings about ownership. For example, I have some inchoate thoughts on analogies among our property intuitions regarding homes, romantic and filial relationships, and intellectual property, especially regarding homesteading/squatter's rights/Lockean "mixing your labor with the land." But right now I want to talk about buying versus renting.
In personal terms, investing 300% of your wealth in one asset seems like dubious personal finance.
So why, in the US in the later twentieth century, did it make economic sense to buy a home to live in? Well, these days, the cost of rent or mortgage is now like half or more of income, on average. The government made interest on home mortgages tax-deductible, so it's like you don't have to pay taxes on the income that you used to pay that mortgage. And on a 30-year (standard) mortgage, interest is like 80 or 90% of the monthly payment.
Sure, renting makes you feel like you're throwing away money every month instead of investing in your own wealth, and your rent goes into the pockets of the rentier class. But given the huge proportion of interest to principal in a mortgage payment, a mortage builds equity pretty slowly, and all that interest goes to the rentier class too. And it decreases the homeowner's mobility, of course, which hits knowledge workers especially hard. (I'm assuming that if you're reading this knowledge work is your lot.) Being able to move to a new city to command higher wages or consulting fees is an economic benefit too.
And house prices are not guaranteed to go up! Like Franklin Mint collectibles, they are not guaranteed to increase in value. And past performance really is no guarantee of future results. Buying a house is making a big, big bet.
But this is where we get to the intangible benefits of permanence, and all those other benefits of "owning" "your" "own" "home." (Heck, even our language is biased. We say "I just bought a house" or "she owns her home" as shorthand for "I just signed a mortgage and intend on owning this house outright eventually" or "she is slow-mo buying her home on the installment plan.")
If I own my house and live in it for a long time, it's a lot easier to raise kids, to run for office, to customize my living space, to feel neighborly, and so on. But what comes from what? What parts of those benefits are coming from choosing a city and staying there, from staying in one particular home, or from having a deed to a piece of land?
When I sleep overnight in my parents' house, or my sister's condo, what is that strange comfortable feeling I get? Do you get that feeling too?
So, just as I want to interrogate my emotional attachment to intellectual property, I want to make sense of my relationships with other forms of property. For example, I am used to living in a house that my family "owns". But what are other options? I could rent a house on a longish lease, to make that commitment that leads to the other benefits of long residency. I could buy a house with a mortgage of shorter duration so more of my money would go towards principal (and thus equity) rather than wasteful interest. I could join co-ops, communes, what have you.
The real shock, the one I have to overcome, is realizing that my reflexes when it comes to home ownership are based on certain historical contingencies about my childhood, the interest tax deduction for homeowners' mortgages, the existing financial and banking institutions, etc. I'm like the RIAA -- mistaking a common business model for What's Owed Me. But the universe does not owe me the deed to a piece of land and a four-bedroom two-bath. Nor does it owe me happy fleet-footed technomad ease in spatial (or social) mobility.
Buying a house to live in makes sense for some people. Will it ever make sense for me? I need to read about property.
# (2) 20 May 2009, 04:06PM: Oh That Sheldon!:
Someday I need to check whether I enjoy "The Big Bang Theory" when I am not on an airplane.
# 21 May 2009, 10:22AM: Recent Quotes:
It is extremely weird to have a past to look back on and think about and learn from now that seems substantial, instead of only a future to look forward to. There's that as well, of course; we're all still young. But more and more the future isn't all there is. Having a past brings me more fully into the present. It's kinda nice.
A compulsion, a life with a goal, how could you tell the difference?
-Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars, p. 223
It seems every time we think technology has moved beyond some irritating limit, new tech comes in and re-introduces it to us. No more 8-bit video, unless you're on a VNC connection. Screens are big, unless you're in a phone. Network is always connected, unless you're in a phone.
If desire is lack, then what is it when you already feel full?
When Hamilton's mother went to school officials about the "counseling" group, the counselor confronted Hamilton the next week, telling her, "You're going to get this treatment your whole life. What are you going to do, stand up every time?"
-ACLU press release, via Kameron Hurley, who answers: "Well... YEAH."
# 21 May 2009, 11:52PM: Madison, Whee:
I've arrived at WisCon 33. Already I've dined with Erika Nelson, Cliff Winnig, and Cliff's wife Deb, and met various other cool-seeming folk. I hadn't expected people would ooh and ahh so much over the paperbacks of Thoughtcrime Experiments! Sort of wish I'd brought more.
# (1) 22 May 2009, 05:38PM: WisCon, Properly Day One:
Ellen Kushner led me to try on lots of free clothes at The Swap and foisted several pieces on me. I am sleep-deprived and thus suggestible. I met Tacit Hydra and we decided to form an emo cover band named Arduous Penguin. My analogies tend to make Jed Hartman laugh. A Madison historical society that had been billed as having a big zine archive had closed stacks spread across multiple buildings, bah, but some Russian scifi editors came on the outing, and I discovered that there are two "Bob's Copy Shop"s on University Avenue, with no corporate relation between them.
When a vegetarian views a menu at a vegetarian restaurant, she's momentarily disoriented by the scope of choice. I could eat...ANY of this. I am feeling a similar disorientation at the world's leading feminist science fiction convention.
# (2) 23 May 2009, 12:31AM: Sold Out:
Wow. Gave or sold a few copies of Thoughtcrime Experiments to contributors & friends, sold several more to strangers (especially after they viewed the flyer I made), and am holding on to a single copy to show off.
I had foolishly thought most people would say, "Well, it's nice that you have a paperback version, and I'm glad I'm getting to browse it, but I'd rather avoid clutter and read it online or on my ebook reader." However, most people here do not live in tiny New York City apartments, and they prefer the experience of reading on paper, and find $3 or $5 an eminently reasonable price for 178 pages. And many come to a con to stock up on paper books, at the dealer's room and at free book tables. I also get the sense that people want to support our effort, and believe that buying the book shows that support. I'm trying to find a nice way to tell such people that the support we want is links, reviews, remixes, and copycat projects.
Skud pointed out that, since Leonard and I technically hold the copyright on the anthology (see p. 2 of the PDF), we could try to profit off it while the CC license (Attribution-Noncommercial-Sharealike) prevents anyone else from doing so. I replied, "We're not going to pull an Ubuntu One."
# 23 May 2009, 10:19AM: Leeching And Seeding:
Evidently my body decided, when I went to England, New York City, and Wisconsin in quick succession, that I just didn't know what the hell I wanted in terms of sleep, food, or brain function. Thus I am sleep-deprived and eating irregularly. This goes against the famed 5-2-1 rule of congoing, which says that you should have at least 5 hours of sleep, 2 full meals, and 1 shower daily.
With regard to brain function, being around smart, friendly people makes me feel glib and clever in my speech, but I autographed a book the other day and misspelled my own name. My first name. I wrote, "From Sunday." It was Thursday night. It's Saturday now. I'm on two panels today.
A few people were astonished that this is my first con. Why hadn't I done a scifi convention before now? Because I didn't feel I had the disposable income, or I hadn't gotten into the habit when I was younger, or I thought I wasn't fannish enough. Because the Bay Area and the internet fed my hunger for being around People Like Me. Because I didn't know it was going to be this much fun. I'm constantly having great conversations with new friends and old. There is no better charge to my self-esteem than to see people I like laugh at my jokes, enjoy my company, and make opportunity-cost decisions to spend time with me -- to find me desirable, in a sense.
My roommates and I involuntarily woke up before 7am and chatted for hours about cons, RaceFail, clothes, comics, software, friends, publishing, DIY, religion, and general geekery. I should, like, eat breakfast and start panelgoing. And shower. 5-2-1.
# 24 May 2009, 04:04AM: Quote of the Day:
"Are you going to be all right?" "Yes, because I have to be. What other choice do I have?" "Well, that fixes everything."
Actually, no, the quote of the day really should be Candra just before the Better Living Through Tech panel, musing on the sounds cell phones make when we don't want them to, but that one really needs to be told vocally.
# (1) 25 May 2009, 12:07AM: The Chart Goes Up And To The Right:
It's like there is some concerted conspiracy to make this WisCon awesome for me.
I was able to say some useful things in the "SF/F in Higher Education" panel.
It's fancy-dress night and I'm wearing the black dress I got for free during the Gathering's clothing swap.
At the award ceremony and Guest of Honor speeches just now, Ellen Klages gave a lovely talk about her history with WisCon, science fiction, and writing, and K. Tempest Bradford's shaking voice spoke more than her words about the joy of reading Nisi Shawl's stories, about the joy of coming home.
And then Mary Anne Mohanraj, author of "Jump Space" in Thoughtcrime Experiments, was named one of the two Guests of Honor for next year's WisCon 34.
# (4) 27 May 2009, 07:11AM: Placeholder*:
WisCon 33 transformed me. Like everyone else ever, I need to write up a con report. But like every con report, it'll be extraordinarily lacking because of the tales that can't be told, for reasons of taste, or wrong-medium, or privacy, or you-had-to-be-there. And if I can't tell those stories I eventually lose them.
It's a reason to learn to write fiction.
I've often followed the helpful advice that you should unpack as soon as you return home from a trip. But I need to unpack mentally, and that follows its own timetable.
I'd like to come back next year, and to bring Leonard. But we may be moving to England in the fall to facilitate my work for Collabora, so I'd rather not make promises.
* title to be read in GOB's creepy whisper
# (1) 27 May 2009, 06:30PM: One Of My WisesCon:
One narrative of my Memorial Day weekend is:
I arrived at WisCon Thursday night, made a flyer (PDF, 2 pages, 7 MB) to advertise the anthology (using the hotel's free wireless and free printing), went to the get-together at Room Of One's Own, dined with acquaintances old and new, got complimented in a way that made me blush, returned from dinner, and saw Jed Hartman's arrival blog post inviting people to socialize with him. I had sneakily obtained his cell number weeks prior to pick his brain about editing while sitting in Penn Station, so I texted him. We hit it off incredibly well. My roommates told me too late of the phenomenon of the "con boyfriend" (gender-neutral usage apparently), the person you randomly meet at a con and instantly find yourself spending all your free time with. But they didn't arrive till Friday, so they weren't there to warn me, and I fell into the Jed/Mary Anne/Ben Rosenbaum/Strange Horizons cabal.
This astonished me and I evidently had WisCon-specific Impostor Syndrome about it. This is additionally hilarious if you go back and read about-my-age-now Jed trying not to be a hanger-on at the Westercon where he happened to meet Mary Anne, or another irony-seeking-missile from that same trip:
But the best part [of VRML 97] was that I wasn't just some random stranger introducing myself: they knew who I was, and most of them praised the Handbook to the skies, and all of them were happy to meet me. Major egoboosting for three solid days. It's a marvelous feeling. Sometime on Tuesday I realized that this was exactly what I've longed for all my life in the science fiction world: the ability to introduce myself to people I respect and admire, and have them know who I am because they've seen my work. So this experience wasn't quite the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, but pretty damn close, and possibly as close as I'll get to that particular dream...
Uh, newsflash, 28-year-old Jed.
So flash forward to Sunday night. I'm actually mildly dressed up, literally sitting at the table with these pros (as the field defines them), listening to the Guest of Honor speeches and the Tiptree Award speeches. Jed mentions that a lot of people leave somewhere in the middle, but Mary Anne says she has to stay till the end, but can't tell me why. I assume she's in a skit or a filk or the like.
Evidently my "freakout" of happiness and surprise amused them. I was told the next day, by another attendee, that I had woken his infant with my shout. Whoops. My joy is evident in a snapshot of me & Mary Anne together: "a future WisCon Guest of Honor and her esteemed publisher," captions the photographer, E. J. Fischer. Thanks, E.J.!
Some linkdumping before I run off to Ben's reading (post-con methadone):
Mary Anne's amazing essay on how hard it is to make sexual requests in bed. Among other things.
Jed on short fiction, reminding me of a post-VP essay of Leonard's -- short stories as the garage rock of scifi.
Jed and Mary Anne conversed a while back and Jed noted, "I'd love to see authors giving each other suggestions about themes and styles and experiments to try and so on." Well, a few years ago Ben Rosenbaum helped define infernokrusher, and then Leonard wrote an infernokrusher story that Strange Horizons loved.
On Monday night, Guest of Honor Geoff Ryman sat down at my table at the Great Dane to chat with us and take a break from shooting pool. One interesting thing he said: "genre is a matter of reader strategy, not content." I'm not sure whether or whom he's quoting, but I'll have to read up on related thoughts to help me understand, among other things, why I love scifi and its fans often have characteristics I find essential for friendship.
I guess I accidentally followed Jed's panel signup rule, or spun interesting BS even when in over my head. Susan Marie Groppi and Mary Anne were on a panel with me about reviewing submissions (excellent moderation, Susan!), where she touched on their magazine's interesting gender-balance problem. Leonard's "How To Do This And Why" was invaluable in my preparation.
Maybe tomorrow I can talk about the conversations about racism.
# 28 May 2009, 05:54PM: Prepping Myself:
Hmmm, how to push that embarrassingly gushy entry down the front page a bit? I know, I'll embarrass myself talking about sex!
You think I'm kidding?
# (3) 28 May 2009, 07:15PM: A Peek:
During lunch last week with Charlie Anders, Annalee Newitz, Mary Anne Mohanraj, & Jed Hartman,* I mentioned Figleaf's erotic photography. I think Annalee asked me to send her a link, but as long as I'm going on at some length, I may as well post.
From an intellectual perspective, the interesting thing about his project is his interest in supplying erotica for the straight female gaze. There's subtlety involving belts, and sometimes a little tale putting the viewer just offstage.
Figleaf also blogs about patriarchy, consent, evolutionary psychology's just-so stories, masturbation, media critique, sex work, desire, heteronormativity, contraception, taboos, sexual ethics, lust, what have you. He's a straight married man, a parent, and I find his writing earthy and smart. I like his style. Sometimes the photo is less interesting than the text:
So... a lot of guys get a little panicked when their partner asks if this or that makes her butt look fat.
The proper answer, I realized long ago, is to snuggle close behind her, wrap your arms politely around her waist, bury your nose in her hair and inhale her scent, pull your hands back to grip her hips, pull her firmly but not roughly against you, and sigh...
"Mmm, could you repeat the question?"
The variety of Figleaf's approaches to questions of sex -- cerebral, sensual, critical, playful -- comes out in his musings on posturing in porn. "[A]n *awful* lot of the cliché poses we associate with sex would actually be *terrible* positions to be in *during actual* sex." Figleaf thinks about his own experiences, and about culture and customs, and industrial vs. amateur, then addresses the reader:
Let's just say that were we ever to do more together than drink coffee and shake hands you might find me taking you by the hand, or shoulders, or by the hips, or thighs, or even hair and moving you to our mutual best advantage -- I can guarantee that *even if* for some reason there was a camera or audience in attendance we'd still be arranging ourselves for feeling, rather than necessarily looking, our best.
So far in this entry, I've rather conspicuously avoided discussing my brainstem response to Figleaf's erotica. Despite putting in time at Salon, UC Berkeley, WisCon, and the like, I'm still too shy to talk about my wiring on the public Net. But I can share this: looking at Figleaf's entries has trained my eyes to better appreciate the male form, and to better see erotic subtext in the positions of male bodies.
So when Jodi Hilton of the New York Times photographed a supine Randall Munroe in his plastic-ball pit, his inviting eyes cast upwards at the viewer, a nervous smile quirking his lips, one bent denim-covered knee showing and one hidden... sure, that picture was perfectly worksafe. Except it wasn't.
* Funniest moment to them: my face crumpling as I realized Annalee was right about the problematic portrayal of women in Anathem, or our invention of the term "Wunderscheisse" to describe things that are simultaneously annoying and awesome. Funniest moment to me: during a conversation about Star Trek-related porn, one person's offhand comment caused her partner to pause for several seconds in lifting a forkful of food, noodles arrested halfway between plate and mouth.
# 29 May 2009, 03:14AM: "But It Might Work For Us":
Quote Of The Day: "If code is free, why not me? Well, maybe some kind of gated source model..."
# (1) 31 May 2009, 06:26PM: A QuickTip From America's Test Extrovert:
As Seth Stevenson noted four years ago, marketers for car insurance can sell to most of the American populace. Nearly everyone needs car insurance. The market's huge and fragmented, so marketers put ads everywhere.
I live in New York City, where many adults do not own cars. However, most of us do own cell phones. It's a safer bet that any random person I meet at a party will have a cell phone than that she has attended college. Cell phone and telecom ads proliferate on the subway.
When I'm making small talk at a party (second bullet point), or with a person sitting next to me on the bus, at some point someone's phone will make an appearance. Someone checks the time, or silences a call, or checks Wikipedia or IMDB. And you can make a good three minutes of small talk with that. "Oh, how do you like that phone? Do you get good reception? I don't have a smartphone, I'm deciding what to get. So hard to decide, choosing a phone and a carrier and a monthly plan..." and everyone has an opinion. It's the new weather.
# 01 Jun 2009, 07:07AM: Opportunity Cost Plus World Market:
I have some fuzzy thoughts burbling about: stories that shore up our identities, communication and vulnerability, accounting for post-scarcity in decoding flirtations (and markets, and marriages as analogs to patents), ableism, and how the unnoticed limits of every presentation medium, including face-to-face, color our perceptions of each other. Note to self: say interesting things about those topics.
# 01 Jun 2009, 11:40AM: Your Essentializing Obsessions:
John Darnielle, whose prose sounds a little like Steve Schultz meets Ta-Nehisi Coates, on someone's new album:
I love things with personality. Sometimes people use the term as short-hand for "filled, to a fault, with quirks," but that's not what I mean....
One hopes. Sue me: I'm a hand-wringer by nature, and I hate to think of indie dudes getting further encouragement for the idea that it's somehow romantic to wear your essentializing obsessions on your sleeve.
Just Saturday I met someone new and asked nonchalantly, "What are you obsessed with right now?" And my sister and cousin reminded me that this sounds like rather a personal question. But it sounds so sterile to ask, "what are your hobbies?"
# 02 Jun 2009, 01:04PM: Dude, Where's My G'Kar?:
I miss watching Babylon 5 for the first time.
# 02 Jun 2009, 01:47PM: Wearing Out HREF:
Empirically, at least a few folks seemed to enjoy my panel participation at WisCon. Some links that came up during a panel on representing our stories in genre fiction: Tempest's plea to genre authors, they're trying to fail the Bechdel test.
As long as I'm being all linky, partially for my own recordkeeping: Jess, Chris.
# (1) 03 Jun 2009, 02:56PM: Failure And Imagination:
As it scrolls off my blog's front page: this entry borrows "informational topology" from the excellent science fiction novel Blindsight by Peter Watts, available as a free ebook from his site. If you have not already watched his awesome vampire domestication PowerPoint, I urge you to check it out (and then put on some Target Women to recover from the darkness).
Blindsight is fairly dark. It's a book positing that the future is more complex and terrifying than we can imagine. So rereading it is either a fantastic or a terrible match for me when I feel helpless. Especially since Siri Keeton is, in his secretarial, synthesist capacity, unpleasantly like a certain type of project manager.
# 04 Jun 2009, 08:05AM: Post-POST:
Scott Rosenberg has been on a roll recently, with blog entries like "Once more into the pay-wall breach: No gravedancing edition":
[Y]ou can get some revenue from readers, and there's nothing wrong with trying; but if in doing so you cut yourself off from the rest of the Web in any way, you are dooming yourself to irrelevance and financial decline. Don't make your content less valuable at the instant you're telling people it's going to cost them more to get it.
Relatedly, "It's not the pay, it's the wall":
The problem is that the steps publishers take to maximize revenue end up minimizing the value and utility of their Web pages. Building a "pay wall" typically means that only a paying subscriber can access the page - that's why it's a wall. So others can't link directly to it, and the article is unlikely to serve as the starting point for a wider conversation beyond the now-narrowed pool of subscribers.
In other words, when you put up a pay wall around a website you are asking people to pay more for access to material that you are simultaneously devaluing by cordoning it off from the rest of the Web. This makes no sense and is never going to work to support general-interest newsgathering (though it can be a perfectly good plan for specialty niches).
Scott speaks from experience here. He helped found and run Salon.
His new book on the history of blogging, Say Everything, comes out in a month and I'm looking forward to it. Leonard's been blogging for over ten years, and I met him via his blog, so I have a vested interest in the subject. In preparation, he's created a 5-minute video on the question "who was the first blogger?" in which he briefly goes mad and babbles about cave paintings. I'm pretty sure he did it on a Mac because I recognize GarageBand's Suspense Sting #3 or whatever in the first twelve seconds.
In a completely unrelated note (except that Scott as a tech-scene anthropologist would be well-placed to do this) the first person to make a really good joke comparing polyamory to Scrum will get at least fifteen sprints of fame on LiveJournal. Update: Wait, no! Scrum and LOLcats.
# (2) 04 Jun 2009, 11:18PM: Possibly Another Post-WisCon Reentry Letdown Post:
Sometimes I forget that various friends of mine will have different frames of reference than other friends have. "mpreg? Is that a file format, like mpeg?" "Maybe you explained open source before, I don't remember." "What's 'cisgender' mean?"
However, all my friends seem tolerant of my nearly involuntary filking. For example, any mention of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine character Gul Dukat makes me sing, to the tune of "Eye Of The Tiger":
Heading to work!
Looks like it's time for oppression
And the tune currently stuck in my head, to the tune of They Might Be Giants' "Particle Man":
Tentacle porn meets mpreg porn
They have a fight
# 05 Jun 2009, 08:58AM: On Reciprocity: One To Many To One:
How can I reconcile the awesome company or person you are with the fact that you made a partnership with little ol' me?
Could it be that I am exactly as important to you as you are to me? Which imbalance direction would worry me more?
How do I filter through all my 2am insecurity so I can match my behavior towards you, and my behavior in general, to the principles I care about?
What do we owe each other? Is it even useful to talk about obligation or deservingness? When am I beating myself up as a lazy substitute for treating you fairly? Is asking that just recursive meta-martyrdom?
As open as you are, as much as you let me backstage, will my insane curiosity about your inner life ever be fulfilled? Will I ever know you?
Could it be that you want to know me just as deeply as I want to know you?
# 06 Jun 2009, 10:11AM: Hajj:
Wow. Leonard and I have gone to MoCCA (a comics festival/expo) every single year we've lived in New York! This year I plan on seeking FREAKING KATE BEATON, Brian Wood, Sarah Glidden (will probably buy How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less), Raina Telgemeier, and Randall Munroe & Ryan North & Jeph Jacques. Jane Irwin, one of my two WisCon roommates, gave me a bunch of recommendations as well (I heard about Glidden from her), so I will probably be wandering the stalls (today or tomorrow) with a dazed look and a printout. But please say hi if you see me!
Three out-of-town friends are also here this weekend. Logistics ahoy!
# (1) 08 Jun 2009, 12:34AM: On Desire And Vulnerability, Like Everything Else I Write These Days:
The scariest question is "What do you want?"
The first time anyone seriously asked me, "What do you want?" it was a teacher, after I'd gibbered at her about a boy and asked for advice. She was moving around a desk near the door side of the portable classroom. She tossed the question at me, exasperated, under the fluorescent lights. I was gobsmacked. I had no answer.
Just now, talking with Sarah, we kicked around some answers to "what do you want," and realized that lots of them are recursive or palindromic.
What do you want? I want to be wanted.
What do you want? I want not to want.
I know what I want; I want to be known.
I want to know myself.
"I want to tell you what I want."
I want you to want to know me.
What do you want? If I tell you what I want, you know how to thwart me, you know the black hole that distorts my beliefs and behavior, you know who I really am.
Or, worse, you might give me what I want.
And then who am I?
P.S. No wonder it's terrifying to ask myself what I want. I might be listening to the answer, and might carry it out!
# (6) 08 Jun 2009, 07:23PM: Rhythm Methods:
Seeing the trailer for "Surrogates" put me onto this escalator:
- I don't say "philosophical zombie" nearly enough
- In the future, a "horse of a different color" will be a "brain in a differently-colored jar"
"Brain in a Jar," to the tune of the Saturday Night Live classic "Dick in a Box":
One: Twist open a jar
Two: Put your brain in that jar
Three: Make her wire up the jar
And that's the way we do it
- You can also sing "Ahmadinejad" to the tune of "Dick in a Box"
- Any phrase that scans like "I'm rockin' the suburbs" will also fit "American Woman," and possibly vice-versa
- The titles of both Gravity's Rainbow and Mason & Dixon are truncated double dactyls, thus rendering them suitable for either "American Woman" or "Rockin' the Suburbs" filking
I'm Masoning Dixon
Just like Thomas Pynchon did
I'm Masoning Dixon
Except that he was talented
Stay away from mee-eee
You're a complex reeee-eeead
# (2) 12 Jun 2009, 06:11PM: Should I Go to Think GalactiCon?:
I had such a great time at WisCon that I'm now considering sneaking a weekend at a like-minded science fiction convention: Chicago's Think GalactiCon, two weekends from now (the end of June).
This year's Think GalactiCon is the second, following an inaugural con in 2007. The programming schedule, the activities (intro to LARPing, block printing), and the general attitude look right up my alley. And I can afford it, especially if any Chicago-based friends want to put me up (although renting a hotel room wouldn't be a hardship).
I met Isabel and other TG organizers or con-goers at WisCon, and they made lots of encouraging noises. It really looks like they're trying to take the WisCon vibe and focus to a new level, working on all the -isms: sexism, racism, classism, imperialism, speciesism, ageism, ableism, homophobia/transphobia, and so on. Panels include:
- Anarchism and the Superhero: Anti-Crime Direct Actionist or Enforcer of the State?
- Gender and Sexuality in Fan Fiction
- Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations...Or Not? [Star Trek]
... as well as multiple panels specifically about the current discussion around issues of race in genre fiction. "Race & Ethnicity in YA," "RaceFail '09," "Cultural Appropriation," and "Why Are These Brown People Harshing My Squee?" (That last title makes me guffaw even more than the WisCon panel title "Something Is Wrong on the Internet!" did.)
So, I can afford it, I could probably swing a half-day off work to travel late Friday, I know and like a few people who are going, and I'd probably enjoy the conversations. On the other hand, July 3rd-18th I'll be off in Europe on business, so pumping more travel in less than a week prior might be exhausting.
Musings and suggestions welcomed!
# 12 Jun 2009, 08:57PM: Let's Hear It For (Labors Of) Love:
Here is another narrative of my WisCon: something I learned from editing and publicizing Thoughtcrime Experiments, and what that makes me want to do next. It's long (the longer the post, the more I feel I'm leaving out), but there's some filk silliness at the end. (Title hat-tip to the Smokin' Popes; cue up Destination Failure while reading this, it'll take about that long.)
I arrived with ten copies of Thoughtcrime Experiments and nearly immediately gave away or sold them. I probably could have sold fifty, if I'd had them. I made about 200 copies of my flyer (seven-megabyte PDF, used a canned iWork Pages template) and people eagerly took them. I got to show contributor Alex Wilson Erica Naone's reviews of the stories, including her review of his "The Last Christmas of Mrs. Claus." In the "Was It Good For You?" panel, I mentioned three stories that made me feel unusually at-home: Connie Willis's "Even the Queen," my fellow panelist K. Tempest Bradford's "Élan Vital," and Mary Anne Mohanraj's "Jump Space" from the anthology I just published, squee!
Throughout the convention, people sounded receptive when I chattered about the anthology. Several people told me how exciting they found our project, and a few made noises about following Leonard's instructions and conducting the experiment themselves. And a few people said: "what are you doing next?" or "when you do it again next year..." A flattering boost and a natural assumption, but not a completely justified one.
Do I want to do it again? Good question!
In the "Was It Good For You?" panel, I observed that some editors and authors start with a vision they need to express (my nickel version of auteur theory), and some start wanting to respond to a community's need for certain viewpoints or stories. The way Leonard and I divided up anthology work reflects that division. He did line edits, pushed for more variety in the art, exhausted himself tweaking the layout to perfection, indeed conceived the project in the first place. I publicized the call for submissions, recruited artists, read slush and wrote rejections, and promoted the finished book electronically and in person.* My revealed preferences: sociable work. I want my work to make others happy. (When we got the first galley proofs from CreateSpace, I said it's real. But the reality of the literary marketplace is socially constructed, and foisting Thoughtcrime publicity onto hundreds of minds at WisCon transmuted the book into something more real.)
But how many people experienced any happiness from Thoughtcrime Experiments? A few thousand downloads and page hits, maybe ten thousand fleeting "oh it's neat that they did that" impressions. Is that enough? Would I spend my energy on a sequel anthology for a readership of less than, say, fifty thousand?
I mean, when I promoted the call for submissions, and when I went to WisCon, I couldn't help but see how many quality small presses and mags our genre enjoys. Shimmer, Goblin Fruit, GUD, Ideomancer, Small Beer, Electric Velocipede, Clarkesworld, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine**, Strange Horizons***, Verb Noire, Aqueduct... I'm just going off the top of my head. Some are electronic, some are print, some are more regular than others, but it's not like any one part of Thoughtcrime is new. Rejected Quarterly plus Creative Commons licensing (already done by Stross/Doctorow, not to mention Strange Horizons & others) plus easy online reading (several abovenamed pubs) plus good payrates (several again) plus gumption (passim). Thoughtcrime is a tiny fish in the pond.
When I see us in context, of course we've gotten maybe 4 emails of praise and 10 blog mentions from people who don't know us. What kills me is how little attention all these presses get. If Leonard weren't an author seeking markets, he wouldn't have started Thoughtcrime, and I wouldn't have heard of most of these presses and magazines. I'd see Tor's and Orbit's stuff in the bookstores, and maybe if BoingBoing or Tor.com or Making Light**** said something really positive about a particular story online I'd go click.
The ease of publishing doesn't mean readers automatically get hooked up with content they'd enjoy. Publishing is a binary switch, off to on, and new technology makes it cheaper to pull that switch. But publicizing -- marketing -- is analog, and really lossy. I'll only persuade a percentage of my desired audience to go read x, and I'll only ever hear about the fraction of that percentage that somehow signals back. Logs and analytics just tell me about impressions, not lasting impressions.
I am like the googolith person to observe, "it's a shame awesome indie stuff doesn't get as much mindshare as the mainstream does! It is almost as if having a large, established, for-profit publishing apparatus is good at turning capital into reputation, accessibility, and distribution!"
But just as I should be less in love with originality when appraising my past work (so what if Thoughtcrime did no one new thing? It combined a bunch of those things for the first time and it's a damn fun read), I don't have to put auteur-y novelty first on my priority list when allocating my future efforts. Why should I just turn five or nine stories from 0 to 1 on the publishing meter when I could get thousands of great stories from 1 to 2 or 5 or beyond?
Well, that "beyond" would be pretty tough. One assessment that sounds oppressively real: "The problem for SF writers and publishers today isn't that there's not a mass audience for high-end SF storytelling; it's that there are immense numbers of other diversions on offer for those hundreds of millions of people." Why should a person read at all, and if she reads why should she read the particular work I adore and want her to read? What particular need would I be uniquely fulfilling in her? Because that's where marketing starts: identifying or arousing a need.
I can reckon how a person might go about increasing the mindshare of any given indie scifi publisher among people who already consider themselves scifi fans. It's never been a better time to be a publisher or a cheapass reader; Amazon, Bookmooch, ManyBooks, Goodreads, DailyLit, the Kindle, blogs like Tor.com and BoingBoing, and other resources help hook up readers with the abundance of awesome fiction that already exists, for free, online. (If you are a cheapass scifi reader and you are saying, "Where do I start? SHOW ME THE FREE STORIES," Futurismic's Friday Free Fiction weekly roundup will get you started.)
Indie publishers still need a little marketing to get into many of those channels. Search engine optimization, some tech hairdressing, and time writing the equivalent of press releases come to mind. I can see a path to getting a rabid scifi fan to taste something new. I'd grow the market a little (rewarding!), but also displace the readership of my rivals, Big Publishers and other small presses (kind of disheartening!). I actually don't know how zero-sum the economics of this project would be, and am curious; I'd want to collect a lot of metrics, and set a quantitative goal in hopes of avoiding existential despair.
But the project of turning nonreaders into occasional sci-fi readers, and occasional readers into rabid readers? Unsolved and incredibly exciting. I'm wondering who else is doing this, and how; comments welcome.
I would like to make the pie higher, as the saying goes. Thoughtcrime Experiments will never be a huge slice of it in any case, and I'm not so delusional as to think it's objectively the tastiest portion.
So Leonard and I have different ideas for what's next (not that either of us is about to start anything; our jobs, writing, travel, friends, worries, etc. are consuming us for now). He's tentatively interested in doing what Brendan dares us to call Again, Thoughtcrime Experiments. I'd help again if he wanted. We found stories we loved and made them more real, and I love doing that. But my ambitions point me in another direction: scaling up.
* It wasn't till like three months into Thoughtcrime that I realized I was following in my parents' footsteps. My parents did a zine! Amerikannada, the literary magazine my parents ran for several years, printed fiction and nonfiction by the Kannada-speaking diaspora in the United States. The Amerikannada logo was a hybrid eagle-lion. They've been editing and writing and celebrating Kannada literature for decades, but I remember Amerikannada specifically because I got to help with kid-friendly mailing chores. After Leonard and I had an argument about art direction, I felt like I'd unlocked a memory of another editorial argument, conducted over my head as I pasted stickers to envelopes in the rec room of the first California house. I have no idea whether that's memory or invention, and indeed know nothing of how Mom and Dad divvied up the work, ran submissions, decided on timetables, or made any of those editing/publishing decisions I now find fascinating. I should ask them.
** You can sing "Andromeda Spaceways" to the same meter as "American Woman." As long as you're here: "Goblin Fruit" works as "Stacey's Mom" ("Goblin Fruit / is made of hemp and jute") and I always want to sing "Clarkesworld" to the tune of "McWorld!" from those old McDonald's ads.
*** Strange Horizons is a special case all on its own. When I started realizing that they've been publishing quality fiction and nonfiction weekly for more than seven years, paying pro rates, and generally been ahead of every curve I thought I was exploring, I couldn't believe that I hadn't been a fangirl earlier. I'm feasting on archives now, especially their reviews. You can start with Anathem and Little Brother, and then see if you find this analysis of Ted Chiang's work and this West Wing analysis as thought-provoking as I do.
**** I have been reading the Nielsen Haydens for like six years or more. Patrick and Teresa taught Leonard at Viable Paradise, and Patrick gave Leonard advice before we launched the anthology. We thanked them in the acknowledgments to Thoughtcrime. Teresa reminds me of my late mother-in-law, Frances, in a lot of ways. And yet, and yet.***** Nora speaks better than I could.
***** I meant to write about WisCon racism discussions weeks ago. Explanation seems impossible, so I'll sum up. Thank you, Rachel Chalmers, for putting my head straight when I saw you in January. Thanks to all the antiracists who have put spoons into this discussion, in education and anger both. And thanks to WisCon 33 and its participants, for being the place where I had drinks and panels and meals with uncountable fans of color. (Pleasantly disorienting: the meal where I was the only heterosexual and the only monogamist but not the only woman or person of color.)
My perspective on race in fiction has shifted. The short edition: if you write or edit or critique fiction, looking out for lazy racism is no longer optional. Analogies: 1. The feminist infrastructure is strong enough that sexist writing gets a bunch of flack, and the antiracist infrastructure is getting there. 2. An antiracist lens is going to be a usual mode of critique from now on. This is part of the new normal. The discourse has shifted. Someone trying to pretend this is a fad or a personal attack is like the RIAA lashing out to protect business models that no longer work. Some thoughts on problems and solutions in an upcoming post, I hope.
# 13 Jun 2009, 12:43PM: Chivvying Myself:
Let's see if I can make it to: lunch with a new friend, a blog meetup, a friend's concert, and a birthday party within about 10 consecutive Saturday hours.
# (2) 15 Jun 2009, 01:45AM: I'm On Dreamwidth:
I've joined Dreamwidth as "brainwane", in case you're there and want to give me access to your super-secret friends-only Colbert Report fanfic.
Quiz: If you are attentive, you can probably find my two commonest usernames in the URL of this page or within the text of this entry. Do you know a third username that I briefly used in the 90s?
# 15 Jun 2009, 02:41AM: Various Links:
Should have been catching up on work, reread bits of Anathem and wrote instead. Let's see if I can go to sleep once I've posted this:
Erica Naone's infodumping links reminded me of an old MC Masala column of mine:
"So we just end up where we started, with cockamamie theories and broad generalizations."
"Not true," Robin said. "We're on top of the Empire State Building."
"That's not what I meant," I said, idly watching Tom Hanks swat King Kong off a ledge.
Goats Enjoy Living In Their Own Tower. Leonard and I marveled at all the varied stresses and intonations we can use to infuse different meanings into that headline. Goats, not other animals! Living, not working! Their own tower, not a rental! On it, not around it!
BitBlinder looks interesting as a partial alternative to the Tor onion router.
All-purpose stalling questions, divided by industry/topic!
I'm chewing on Danny's interesting thoughts on agency and the ease of transitioning from watcher to participant.
Search expert Matt Cutts advises journalists on how to improve their careers in the age of search.
Until Xeni Jardin posted about it in BoingBoing, I didn't realize that Tiller's clinic was one of only three in the country serving women who learned of catastrophic health issues late in pregnancy. Just another reminder that Roe v. Wade is a dead letter if, in practice, women can't get the care we need.
# (1) 15 Jun 2009, 12:04PM: Horrifying Book Title:
The Fun-Minute Manager. It's real.
# (3) 15 Jun 2009, 12:26PM: In Which I Request Things Of You:
So, two things I'd like to ask of my readers:
- Call me out on it if I'm saying something that's racist, or sexist, or transphobic, or dismissive of entire religious communities of practice, or ableist, or otherwise bad ally behavior. Nora Jemisin rightly (and nicely) called me out on using the derogatory term "lame" when I was in a panel she was moderating at WisCon. Until WisCon, I never quite took seriously the idea that people with disabilities might mind that slur. Now I do and I'm trying to replace it with "bogus," so in print or in person, if I slip up, let me know. Email rather than public comments would be nice. I don't currently intend to rewrite history but from now on I want to be more sensitive.
- From now on, tell me when, in public writing, I'm wearing my subtext on my sleeve and don't know it. Tee hee I'm being so lyrical and cryptic about my work or personal issues! NO YOU'RE NOT, YOU'RE JUST PLAYING COY & WE CAN ALL TELL ANYWAY. Email strongly preferred. Again, I'm not going to turn into a revisionist, even though some of my columns and blog entries make me wince like anything.
To those of you who have been doing the needful already: Thanks! To others: feel free to start!
Fun fact: according to my NewsBruiser stats, the most common words (and their number of uses) since I started blogging in 2000 are:
# 15 Jun 2009, 09:19PM: Simplification:
I just realized that my previous entry reduces to "Please pull me aside and tell me if I'm making a fool of myself." Which is, in general, something I'd like my friends & well-wishers to do.
# (3) 15 Jun 2009, 10:56PM: "It Is Our Choices, Harry, That Show...":
If I really wanted to be with-it and hip to the NYC speculative fiction scene, I'd attend all sorts of relevant events. Instead: Clojure talk, social tea, watching original Star Trek films II, III, IV, and IV, Central Park rock-lounging, dentist, co-writing productivity session in a coffeeshop, watching PBS broadcast Chess in concert, and, uh, real work if I play my cards right.
# (1) 15 Jun 2009, 11:34PM: Who Needs Reddit:
For about seven years, after college, I felt my glibness slipping away. Words escaped the tip of my tongue. I thought I was getting older and dumber.
Since WisCon, I haven't had that sensation once. I've been writing more and making more intellectual connections, and my speech is denser and more allusive. I can expand on fancies more easily. Who needs ginkgo biloba?
In my hyperlinky mood, then, selections from my linkfeed as stored on Delicious.
Actual Manuscript Workshop Comments reminds me of Billy Collins's poem "Workshop".
Medical identity theft is the ID theft that can kill you.
Pre-Loving v. Virginia, my marriage to Leonard (who is white) would have been illegal in some US states.
Comparing personals sites: "On Craigslist, people say what they want; on Nerve or OK Cupid, they say who they are, and you infer the rest."
You can sing "Brain in a beaker" to the rhythm of "Smoke on the Water."
FutureMe lets people write letters to be delivered to their own email addresses at a set future date. Some letters are public. Teenagers and deployed military personnel show up a lot. A heartbreaking story with a funny postscript, one in which the author refers to past & future selves together as "us" (as opposed to the 1st-person-singular and 2nd-person-singular modes that most authors use), and a really dark one.
Kris's chilling and effective horror story about children's TV and internet forums.
If you deal with nonprofit logistics, you should know about CiviCRM, a free and open source web-based membership and donation management system designed for non-profits.
And I'm too late to Daisy Owl to be cool, but a couple of my favorites: Movie Night and Hey Now. Apropos of the latter: the best way you can spend $5 at a bar (such as Sissy McGinty's on Steinway in Astoria) is to put it into the internet jukebox and queue up 12 iconic pop songs from the 1990s. Green Day, Smashmouth, 4 Non Blondes, Nirvana, Billy Joel, and No Doubt selections will ensure that an entire table of twentysomethings will sing together and bond for half an hour.
# 16 Jun 2009, 08:25AM: Eye-Scalding Green For A Good Cause:
My parents lived in Tehran for a few years in the seventies, before the revolution. They spoke Farsi and had Muslim coworkers, neighbors, and friends. My dad was a civil engineer. The saying is that mechanical engineers build weapons and civil engineers build targets.
It's been thirty years since 1979 and the people of Iran are saying, "Enough." And it turns out software engineers build weapons, too.
# (3) 16 Jun 2009, 02:30PM: On Dentistry:
I went to the dentist last night, specifically at the NYU College of Dentistry. I actually prefer the dental school experience to many private practice dentistries. The wait in the waiting room is shorter (2 hours per appointment actually spent in the chair, rather than an hour in intermittent waiting plus an hour in the chair), I get treated by eager-to-learn dentists in training rather than bored, laconic hygienists, and the student dentists are thorough and communicative. And they offer a 6pm-8pm slot. Very few private practices do.
Young student dentist Stringer was the one to phone me up to set up an appointment. He was more deft, gentle, and patient than several DDSes I've patronized. "Oh, you build up a lot of calculus here, because of your salivary gland. I have that too," he confided. He checked in with me about whether the ultrasonic cleaning dealie was running too hot and hurting me. "I don't like to use it, I don't think it's gentle enough," he said. He handed me the suction wand: "Raise your hand if you need me to stop so you can suction."
In further stereotype-demolishing, Stringer does not play World of Warcraft (nor does he wear Ira Glass glasses). My cousin-in-law-in-law Aaron, husband of Kristen, is on the road to full Dentistdom and enjoys WoW-style games. [pun about grinding omitted]
I told Stringer what his last name means in journalism; in retrospect, he has a new occupational surname, like Smith or Cooper.
I get curious about others' occupations. Firefighters, CAD designers, directors, transcriptionists, silversmiths, pastors, teachers, full-time caretakers, taxi drivers, deli owners, X-ray technicians, soldiers, construction workers, dentists. How does doing your job change the way you interact with others?
# (6) 16 Jun 2009, 10:54PM: Readers' Choice:
Vote in the comments: you want my thoughts on New York City as religion, or you want me to finish and post the lyrics to "Ahmadinejad" (a song to the tune of "Dick in a Box")?
# 16 Jun 2009, 11:43PM: I'd Let You Watch, I Would Invite You:
When I was a slip of a girl in Stockton, California, I saw a college production of Chess and found it very entertaining, though lyrics like "the queens we use would not excite you" whooshed over my head entirely. If I hang out with friends tomorrow night and watch the telecast on PBS, I'm sure I'll discover additional layers and chewy bits.
And yet! Tomorrow is also the best of the Sci-Fi Screening Room! Seven bucks, music, trivia, free snacks, prizes, and 99 minutes of obscure video one can't find on Netflix or YouTube. From a reminder email:
The killer line-up features MORE clips than ever before.
Michael Ironside as Batman
Pia Zadora singing
Baragon battling Frankenstein
Live Pac-Man playoff
Video Game PSAs
The robots of Chopping Mall
The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island
The Transformers/Boogie Nights connection
And the saddest clip of The Incredible Hulk.
Whether I choose one or the other, I'm choosing to watch prerecorded video with an entertaining live context. Right now I'm leaning towards a scarcity heuristic. Chess is one monolithic piece that I can record on my PVR and watch again later, with friends if I can scrounge some up. The Screening Room has multiple elusive offerings, and it's not like I could get Kevin Maher and his special guests at will. Interesting how the value-added aspects of remix culture work.
# (1) 17 Jun 2009, 12:00AM: Like Twitter, But All In One Handy Package:
Recent out-of-context quotes, nearly all from my sent emails:
Zenophiliac: someone who never quite gets anything done.
Not just A men, but like 5 men to that.
They can't all be gems used in lasers.
I got typed during a party at WisCon and am probably an ENTJ, or possibly an ENTP, or ENFJ, WAIT THIS IS HOROSCOPES WITH 4 BONUS OPTIONS.
Obama saying cautious things that display our desire for free & fair elections, while preserving our ability to engage with Iran no matter who wins this fight: dictionary definition of diplomatic.
Bibimbap is like the Mahabharata -- everything's in there.
Regular vegetarians need to be able to point at PETA and say "well we're not THAT" in an Overton window-expanding way, like MLK was to Malcolm X.
[Re: Swine flu] I'm moving to Madagascar.
# (10) 17 Jun 2009, 09:25AM: Clothes Make The Man Feel Old:
Reflection upon dressing this morning: I've owned these pants for nine years. I bought them in that church basement thrift shop on...Dana? Bowditch? in Berkeley. Huh. I think I've had that purple tee shirt for more than half my life.
How old is the oldest piece of clothing that you regularly wear?
# (5) 17 Jun 2009, 09:34AM: The Cool Old Rhetorical Technique That's Sweeping The Discourse:
From yesterday's co-working session:
Toby was working on her novel. In one scene, she got stuck: she wanted to express one character's mental response to what another character said, but not actually state it out loud as "What she thought of what he had just said was blah blah blah."
I suggested paralipsis, perhaps in the form "she narrowly avoided saying [x]" or "'That's terrible,' she didn't say." Common examples of paralipsis: "I'm not going to say 'I told you so'" and the "I come to bury Caesar..." speech. I ended up bringing out A Perfect Vacuum by Lem as a reference.
It worked! Paralipsis: I don't have to tell you how great it is.
# 19 Jun 2009, 09:05AM: 9AM And We Have A Quote Of The Day:
"I think the construction of gender in snowmen is beyond the scope of what I understand."
Update: "There's a new movie that a lot of people are going to compare to Eternal Sunshine."
"Is it Eternal Sunshine?"
"Then there can be no comparison."
"That's all right."
"'Cause I'm saved by the bell."
"Worst medley ever."
# 19 Jun 2009, 06:05PM: "...if I could make it stay...":
Hugo Schwyzer today posted a short poem that struck me, "One of the Butterflies" by W.S. Merwin. When you're Surprised By Joy(TM) it passes through you, and you're always everlastingly too late to cherish that moment. Mark Twain said he could live on a good compliment for three weeks; to me, the joy of a compliment is like a dish of ice cream in front of me. I can't stop myself from eating it all as fast as I can, and then it's gone. I get terrible mileage.
All I'm left with is the empty bowl, the wish to feel that way again.
Those memories I most love won't be stewarded; they slip through my fingers like last week's dreams; they leak out the holes of my Pensieve faster the harder I press on them.
One wonderful thing about being with Leonard is that every day we're together, there's some small moment when we look at each other and our eyes soften and we smile and think, I am so lucky. I love you. You make me happy. We often say it, but sometimes we don't have to. Entropy falleth on the just and the unjust alike, the sieve empties gracelessly, but love keeps falling in, and sometimes even the sieve overflows. Love is a renewable resource.
# (7) 20 Jun 2009, 09:45PM: LiveJournal People, I'm Ten Years Late To Your Party:
Update to this entry: if you are on LiveJournal and want me to be able to read your friendslocked Google/Microsoft slash or whatever, you can add my externally created fake LJ account id to your permissions list. The relevant ID to add is http://ext-194791.livejournal.com; evidently brainwane.dreamwidth.org won't directly work.
The LJ feed for this very journal is http://syndicated.livejournal.com/sumanah/. That feed is also known as "the reason I have to take out smartquotes, accents, and weird hyphens every time I copy and paste something into a new post." When that feed acts broken and doesn't update for more than five days, usually that's why.
I have 23 subscribers on LJ? Since there's no way for me to see a list of all of you, feel free to delurk and *wave*.
# (4) 24 Jun 2009, 05:29PM: Distractions & Discoveries:
Dave Bort, a friend of a friend of a friend, used to do these awesome comics. A selection of my favorites:
Music that's been cheering me lately, other than fanmix CDs that Cabell gave me at WisCon: Songsmith remixes. I'm completely serious.
Songsmith vs. Queen: "We Will Rock You" as bossa nova? A big-band Songsmith of Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl". Bluegrass Eminem. "Synthpop is so 2008, so for 2009 the Killers are setting a new trend in light jazz." And best, Will Smith doing a bluegrass "Wild Wild West."
By the way, it turns out that when several of my friends give me access to their private LiveJournal entries in the space of a day, that day gets eaten, because I am obsessive enough to go through and read a few years' worth of job/relationship/hobby/family angst RIGHT THEN.
Sometimes I have trouble pulling that trick where I tell myself, "come on, just do this task for 5 minutes." Maybe that's because my brain knows that if I start, I'll work for hours!
Time to go back to that. Just five minutes...
# 26 Jun 2009, 04:33PM: More Anthology Notes:
Two weeks ago I posted a long entry about Thoughtcrime Experiments (a scifi/fantasy anthology Leonard and I edited), the market for and marketing of short speculative fiction, and my interests in future projects. I mentioned that small publishers can market to readers via new technologies and communities, at the cost of some sweat and little or no money.
Case in point: In case you didn't want to deal with CreateSpace, you can now buy a print-on-demand paperback of Thoughtcrime Experiments for $5.09 directly from Amazon.com. (Note to self: figure out how to tell Amazon that Leonard and I are not the book's authors but its editors, and that people can download the Kindle version for free.) We've also shown up on GoodReads and LibraryThing.
I encourage anyone who enjoyed a story in the anthology to Delicious, Facebook, Tweet, Reddit, Digg, blog, mashup, podcast, email it around, and otherwise share your enthusiasm. Reviews on your blog or on LibraryThing/Amazon/Goodreads/etc. are very welcome and I should do a review roundup post next week.
Each story stands alone on its own page with its own URL. I assume that reading the anthology as individual webpages, or as a PDF/mobile ebook, or as a paperback, influences whether people see each story as standalone or as part of a whole. I wonder which view is better for this anthology, where there's so much variety in subject and style.
I also have some new, if weak, stats. Leonard usually articulates these kinds of musings on his own blog, but in this case I'm the one who broke out the spreadsheet a while back to get a very rough sense of the Thoughtcrime Experiments gender/ethnicity breakdown. (I was prepping for my WisCon panels.) Out of 200 distinct authors who submitted pieces, author names look like:
14 Hard to tell ---- 7%
59 Female ---------- 30%
126 Male ------------ 63%
186 White ----------- 93%
14 Nonwhite --------- 7%
Of course, that's going by the names authors gave us, which might have been pseudonyms, and I can't tell anything about whether authors are transgendered or cisgendered from their names, and many people of color have names that I read as white. I wish I'd tried harder to recruit nonwhite authors; I wrote to a few relevant blogs/mailing lists/workshops/interest groups but not as many as I could have, and I got several bounce messages I should have followed up on.
We published nine stories. I believe four were by women and five by men, and at least two of the nine authors were people of color. Rachel did us the kindness of posting a review in a LiveJournal community whose goal is to get readers to consciously seek out books by people of color. Again, yay Internet!
# (4) 27 Jun 2009, 09:44AM: Nuts On My Pocky Like Grains Of Sand:
There are party games and then there are game parties. Last night: played Cartagena and Settlers of Catan for the first time, and got people addicted to Catfishing. Met Neil Sinhababu, who last year created a site explaining the ridiculous things we could do for the cost of the Iraq War, like buy two iPhones for every single person in the world. Also met a woman who works for Peter Jennings's widow; in her office there is a photo of the late Mr. Jennings, topless, holding a huge fish.
Traditionally in Cartagena, the player who most resembles a pirate goes first. Bill, a white guy with a huge beard, was the obvious candidate. But then I pointed out that modern-day pirates, in the Indian Ocean or near Indonesia, more resemble Neil. And then Scandinavian-looking Dennis noted that he most resembled a plausible member of the Swedish Pirate Party.
Settlers of Catan is a lot of fun. I nearly won! I should probably get over my distaste for learning new complicated tabletop games, because for ten years I've been going to parties and missing out when they brought out Catan.
Note to self: when trying to get someone to trade you a card you want, suddenly hitting on her or suggesting that "the game will get more interesting if you give me that sheep" or "I'll give you another card for it later, I promise" are not workable tactics.
# 28 Jun 2009, 03:46PM: Four Cool Stories:
Tim Pratt's genre-subverting Another End of the Empire, Jeff Soesbe's quiet and moving Apologies All Around, Jennifer Linnea's eerie glimpse Second-Hand Information, and Sergey Gerasimov's hella Russian The Most Dangerous Profession.
# 29 Jun 2009, 03:04PM: Travel Schedule:
I'm going to the Gran Canaria Desktop Summit next week. Developers, managers, and other free software enthusiasts in the GNOME and KDE communities get together on the Canary Islands, which are technically part of Spain but sit off the coast of Africa. Then I spend a week in Cambridge, England, working alongside my fellow Collaborans. Yup, it's all for work, and I won't even think about bringing a suit (other than a bathing suit).
# 29 Jun 2009, 04:15PM: Getting (Irrelevant) Things Done:
I am bikeshedding my own yak-shaving. This should win an award.
# 29 Jun 2009, 11:19PM: Poker Tells & Sideshows:
I nearly laughed out loud just now at some dialogue I wrote:
"Yes! Tell me more!"
"Show, don't tell."
# (5) 01 Jul 2009, 01:35PM: Cool Facts:
The Amazon Kindle and Garmin GPS navigators use GStreamer, a piece of software that my company, Collabora, maintains. (As colleague Youness El Alaoui describes, "GStreamer is a multimedia framework for constructing graphs of media-handling components. This means that businesses can easily create customized pipelines allowing media playback, transcoding, media streaming, video editing, etc.")
If you're connected to the Net from a new physical location or network, and suddenly you can't send email (but receiving works fine), try switching your SMTP (outgoing) port from 25 to something else, such as 587. Port 25 often gets blocked as part of spam prevention.
Collabora's Cambridge headquarters might be where Clive Sinclair, inventor of the ZX Spectrum, worked. Thus, our offices might appear in a new dramatic recreation of the battle between the ZX Spectrum and the BBC Micro, to be televised in the UK.
WisCon 34 wants ideas for panels. I am thinking of proposing "HOWTO Describe Nonwhite Characters Sans Fail" (a.k.a., "Her Skin Was The Color Of A Delicious Coca-Cola"), and/or something asking about the goals and effectiveness of Goodreads/LibraryThing/BookMooch/PaperbackSwap/Tor.com/Suvudu/Infinite Summer/50books_poc.
Update: I would be remiss not to link to Jed's roundup of links on describing brown skin tones and otherwise "indicat[ing] culture and ethnicity in fictional characters". And I may as well get these in while I can: "her skin was like a half-caf no-whip soy venti frappucino"; "her skin was the 85% cacao shade of the new Ultra Dark Dove Bar, $9.99 for a box of 12, in your grocer's freezer"; "her UPS brown fingers muted to an eight-grain Kashi GoodFriends hue at the wrist, but her elbow reminded me of a FedEx logo spattered with Aegean mud."
# 02 Jul 2009, 02:14PM: Small Mysteries:
In Moon: what's the song playing on Sam's alarm clock? Is it by The Strokes (video directed awesomely by Warren Fu)?
In old email: when and why did Leonard and I start using the endearment "factory bear"?
In recent note to myself: what did "bread overhead & The Secret Garden" mean?
# (5) 02 Jul 2009, 02:48PM: While Listening To Kraftwerk:
The votes all request the New York As Religion hypothesis. So here goes some analogizing. Actual ethnographers, please correct the hell out of me.
The phenomena I wish to explain:
- New Yorkers feel at home when they can give directions.
- New Yorkers feel righteously angry when someone acts inefficiently.
- New Yorkers, upon visiting a less systematically coherent urban ecology, express condescension or angry bewilderment.
- New Yorkers feel numinous experiences of being at one with their city (yes, I know that happy residents of all places feel this as well).
What are the two things that specifically and disproportionately make New Yorkers angry?
- People moving slowly in public spaces and impeding others' efficient use of spaces and services (e.g., blocking escalators, getting to the front of a line and not knowing what one wants)
- Systems that have not been properly thought through (e.g., "It's just stupid that they don't have a sign up," "Don't waste my time doing x when you could just tell me y because you already know z")
New York is a city you can trust, the way you can trust certain rock-solid pieces of software. Millions of people have been using it to its limits every day; anything you want to do, someone else has tried. There is a blazed trail, a user interface, a well-known list of features and longstanding bugs and workarounds. Via intelligent design (grid of streets, subway system) and evolution (ruthless market forces for 400 years), this city creates an expectation in its users that things will make sense.
And New Yorkers grow to believe that systems should make sense, big systems like the subway and smaller systems like theatres or meetups or gardens. They live in a city where there is usually a reason why you are being inconvenienced, or why that restaurant has the following it does, or why that bit of infrastructure works the way it does. The explanation might refer to history, or to an arbitrage opportunity, or to the peculiar and customary crystallizations of our struggles with entropy. But, once you're thinking on the macro scale, things tend to make sense. It's unlikely we're on the efficient frontier, but we feel close to it.
Instead of feeling as though we're going it alone, in individual cars with routes we choose (ignoring the massive social structures embedded in car-based transit), we use openly social constructions. We depend on the subway and the line at the bodega. We do a hundred trust falls every day, delivering ourselves unto each other. No one New Yorker earned this trust, but we all gain from it. We have the smugness that comes with believing: the world makes sense and has a place for me.
So when someone or some organization does something that does not make sense, it's not just inconvenient, it's heresy. Inefficiencies go against the natural order of the world. It breaks the trust.
Visiting other cities, more "laid-back" places where people and organizations tolerate more inefficiency, we either pity the poor dears or get irritable and bewildered. We get angry, or we laugh, or we try to convert others, or we must consciously adapt to a new lifestyle. There is something in our preferences that we privilege above mere tendency, that ties into values and identity.
When others come to us, when tourists stand still on Manhattan street corners with maps, some pity the heathens, and some grumble that they're blocking the sidewalk. But some of us give directions. We get to show off our knowlege of the beautiful, elegant cosmos. We hope to convey the splendor of the grid, and its hospitality -- there is a path already laid out for you, and we made it for you before you ever thought to come here at all. We Witness.
# (2) 09 Jul 2009, 06:07AM: Happy Birthday, Leonard:
As I said on his blog when he commemorated the end of his twenties:
Happy birthday, sweetie. I trust you'll be even more awesome in the next decade than you were during the decade when I first got to know and love you.
I can't believe my luck in getting and keeping your attention, much less your love. If I stay lucky, if I keep getting better than I deserve, I'll be next to you in 2019, leaning my head on your shoulder when you post the follow-up.
The urge to be indescribably mushy is interfering with my ability to string together coherent sentences, so here's a yearning look, a brush of my hand across yours, and a clink of our two rings together, joining us across the miles and years.
# (3) 10 Jul 2009, 04:42AM: "Shade" Is A Creepy Piece Of Interactive Fiction:
I went to the beach. Lots of people do it all the time, I suppose, but I don't, usually. Seemed pleasant at the time*, but now there's sand everywhere, on the floor, on the back of my neck, in my bed. I can't get away from it, even though I've had a few showers since. It's a reminder of where I've been; I take this inescapable grittiness everywhere with me, little embodied chunks of experience, exfoliating the skin I thought I'd protected with sunscreen, rubbing me the wrong way.
I know eventually it'll go away, but right now you could call me George Sand and I wouldn't object.
* I now realize that many spa treatments, such as exfoliation, seaweed wraps, hot stone massages, and hydrotherapy, aim to replicate the beach experience. Even the calming music resembles ocean waves.
# 10 Jul 2009, 11:39PM: My Standby Joke:
A few times in the past year, I've taken the risk of leaning over to an English-speaking stranger in the airport, one who's wearing a suit or the like, and saying, "Ah, the glamor of business travel." It hasn't yet failed to get a laugh.
# (3) 13 Jul 2009, 03:15AM: Fun Short Scifi:
"Let Us Now Praise Awesome Dinosaurs," by Leonard Richardson, Strange Horizons, 13 July 2009.
"I want to buy a gun," said the Thymomenoraptor. He moved his foreclaw along the glass case of pistols, counting them off: one, two, three, four. "That one." He tapped the case; the glass squeaked.
"Why would a dinosaur need a gun?" asked the shop owner.
The owner's gaze dropped to the three-inch claw that had chipped his display case.
"These are killing claws," said the dinosaur, whose name was Tark. "For sheep, or cows. I merely want to disable an attacker with a precision shot to the leg or other uh, limbal region."
"Uh-huh," the owner said. "Or maybe you figure humans shoot each other all the time, but if someone turns up ripped in half the cops are gonna start lookin' for dinosaurs."
Tark carefully pounded the counter. "There used to be a time," he said, "when gun dealers would actually sell people guns! A time . . . called America. I miss that time."
"I don't sell to foreign nationals."
"Racist!" The gun dealer flinched but said nothing. "All right, look, just give me this periodical, okay?"
"I got ripped off," said Tark a little later. "That periodical contained neither guns nor ammo."
Leonard wrote it and Jed edited it, and it would thus have a special place in my heart even if it weren't hilarious.
: Comedy Reading
# (1) 14 Jul 2009, 07:13AM: The Home Office:
I am finishing some berry tea from a ninja-logoed mug. I am in an office a few floors above the ground, across the road from King's College. I see English summer light and the college spires through the open window. We laugh out loud when someone says something funny on IRC, and then laugh again at someone's one-upping reply. It's Tuesday, so we're going to eat pizza at the two-for-one Tuesdays pizza place. The noon chimes just rang. I have a huge TODO list. Two of those items are making proper TODO lists from meeting notes.
I am happy.
# (1) 14 Jul 2009, 10:15AM: Obvious Tech Talk Q&A Prep:
A certain species of tech talk goes like: "Here's a product/methodology/tool I hack on, here's what it's good for and how/why you should add it to your toolkit." It's an honorable and useful presentation topic. As you prepare your talk, think about the questions your audience will have in the back of its head. If you can address them in the talk itself, great. If not, prepare answers for use in the questions-and-answers session.
- How do I get started using it?
- Why should I use this instead of the competition?
- Security implications?
- Performance implications? ("Yes, but does it scale?")
- Who's using this in real life?
- Where's the project going next? What do you need help with?
- What language is it written in?
- Why did you name it that?
The most important question is the one you hope no one asks because the answer is embarrassing. What would your smartest enemy ask?
(List developed while helping Youness practice his libnice talk last week.)
# (3) 17 Jul 2009, 11:34AM: More Notes From The Office:
Sure, it's usually true that a job interview is going well if the conversation goes swimmingly, with no 90-second interruptions for explanations. But not if I'm interviewing a Brit. What's a second-class degree? What's a "supervisory" in this context? And so on.
From today's IRC conversation, after I pointed people to IKEA tumbler hacking:
* sumanah kills the entire company's productivity; secretly working for [competitor]
# (2) 20 Jul 2009, 07:45AM: Found Poetry:
Inadvertently lyrical lines overheard at the virtual water cooler:
and if that package doesn't build, I'll need to give it another poke
and when we get the screen, we test and choose
I'm back in New York City.
# 20 Jul 2009, 11:41PM: Boston Weekend:
Leonard and I will visit Boston this weekend. If you're reading this from a Boston-area computer, I probably want to hang out with you!
# (3) 23 Jul 2009, 10:36AM: A New Low:
Leonard made some ice cream using the ice cream maker. He put the mix in the freezer. Later, I heard an odd hissing sound coming from the kitchen. Had something gone wrong with the ice cream? Does ice cream emit a hissing sound when it's failing to set? "Do you hear that sound? I don't know what all your crazy kitchen gadgets do," I said to him. Then we looked and it was a kettle of water I'd put on to boil, for tea, and forgotten.
# (3) 26 Jul 2009, 11:11PM: Did She Ever Return? Yes, She Ever Returned:
Back from Boston. Thanks to Claudia, Andrew, Julia, Moss, Adam, Suresh, Andres, Anna, Warren, Kirk, Mark, Jerjou, and Leonard for a lovely time.
# 26 Jul 2009, 11:14PM: E-mail Provider:
The UC Berkeley Open Computing Facility servers will be down for something like a week, 28 July - 4 August 2009, so my regular email address and my blog will be down then too, oh joy. Try to remember to email me at my backup address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
# 27 Jul 2009, 09:42PM: Those Annoying Isms Keep Isming:
I was at a software conference a few weeks ago where Richard M. Stallman said something unfortunate. I wasn't there for it so I heard about it afterwards and shook my head and sighed.
At the conference I got to meet lots of cool developers, such as Matthew Garrett. Matthew hacks, tells fun stories, and enjoys inflicting Hackers and other like movies on his friends. Matthew also does ally work. Right now he's painstakingly explaining to the less clueful members of the free software community why Stallman's remarks were inappropriate, and why it's right and proper to criticize him publicly.
I also met a male developer who asked me what the deal was with my buzzcut hair -- was I a lesbian? If not, why the short hair? I asked him back why he had short hair, and why he didn't wear heels and lipstick, etc. Probably could have made a better comeback there.
So don't worry, I got my quota of feeling othered, despite missing that keynote. And I'm guessing no matter where I go or when I join a tech community I won't be lacking for my recommended daily allowance of genderfail.
Some of y'all don't know why Richard M. Stallman is simultaneously important and unimportant to software people like me. He did some really important stuff a few decades ago, he has a tremendous legacy, and he's ended up as one of the high-profile faces our community presents to the outside world. But these days he's talking more than doing, and he acts really touchy, and just over and over ends up saying things that make everyone wince.
At this point, if you are a science fiction fan, you might light up and say, Oh, I get it, he's like the Harlan Ellison of open source!
And WHAT DO YOU KNOW! While I was visiting my gentle geeky friends in Boston, Ellison posted some really jerky paragraphs about an acquaintance of mine. He later apologized in his own not-very-apologetic way. The whole incident made me look back at the one personal interaction I've had with Ellison (summary) in a less-than-flattering light.
I knew, years ago, that I'd have to deal with crap from the communities that I loved, because of my heritage and my chromosomes. But I didn't know, viscerally, how tiring it would be. The more I accept my membership in these communities as a part of my identity, the more headspace these incidents take up. If I work hard enough, contribute enough, maybe someday no one will dare say I'm not good enough. Maybe someday I'll reach tremendous stature in my chosen community, and turn into the token nonwhite/female who gets used as proof that We Aren't Bigots, Really. A depressing thought.
I'd like a future where my race and sex are never the most remarkable things about me, in my work or in my hobbies. It's International Blog Against Racism Week. Because I'm not the only one who thinks that way, thank goodness.
 I've tried emacs a bunch of times, including periods of sustained use, and I know I need to actually put the time and energy in to grok it, learn all the keyboard shortcuts, at some point. Neal Stephenson on emacs increases my desire to do this; RMS/Yegge do not.
# (1) 28 Aug 2009, 09:24AM: Summer Hiatus (Unscheduled):
Hey, my blog's back up. Quick summary: I'm one of the bloggers at the new Geek Feminism blog, I got a work visa for the United Kingdom in case Leonard & I move there late this year, the Nokia N900 smartphone launched complete with a bunch of software Collabora's written, I'm denting, and basically I'm fine. Thanks Open Computing Facility staffers for your work and achievements.
# (1) 28 Aug 2009, 09:10PM: Vis-a-Vis a Visa:
As I was applying for the Points Based System Tier 1, General Migrant visa to the United Kingdom, I had a number of questions that the UK Border Agency website and UK visa application site (a.k.a. Visa4UK) did not clearly answer. The UK Consulate in New York City does not allow personal visits from visa applicants and will not take phone calls with questions about visas; they delegate this sort of stuff to the private firm Worldbridge, a division of Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC). Worldbridge charges money to answer questions via phone and does not offer in-person advice.
If the consulate thinks you're missing a document, or have something else wrong with your application, they usually just reject the application rather than phone you to get it cleared up. So I wanted to get everything right the first time. I ponied up to get a person on the phone to answer some of these questions, so I wanted to put the answers up where anyone could read them for free. All this information is courtesy Carolina of Worldbridge.
- Can I submit my documents in person at the British Consulate in Manhattan? No, they only accept visa applications from applicants via mail. But the Consulate does accept overnight packages, and accepts packages via DHL, FedEx, and UPS in addition to US Postal Service.
- Is there any way to expedite the process? Yes. You can pay commercial expediting agencies such as A Briggs. They, unlike regular applicants, are allowed to submit applications in person, and often promise same-day processing. The Consulate doesn't guarantee anything about these agencies, except that Worldbridge can provide a list of expediters who have "registered" with the Consulate. Carolina wasn't really clear on what that meant, or how one registers with the Consulate and what the criteria for registration are, or why I couldn't become an expediting agency myself, register with the Consulate, and thus walk in for same-day service.
- The Consulate is closed for Labor Day, 7 September 2009.
- Should I use paperclips or staple the documentation together? Use a paper clip.
- Should I include a table of contents, listing what documents I've enclosed? There's no need to do that, but it's fine if you do.
- The visa application instructions say I should include a copy of each supporting document; does it need to be a color photocopy, or is black and white okay? Black and white is fine.
- Should I include a copy of relevant pages of my passport? No, you don't need to do that.
- If you are applying from the US, you applied via a web-based form. When you competed the application, you got a printable webpage. Include one copy of that printout of your application. This is instead of printing the VAF9 "Personal Details" PDF and filling it out by hand. But you do have to print out that Self-Assessment Appendix PDF and fill it out by hand and include one copy of that with the application.
- What kind of information does the officer want to see in response to "Is there any other information you wish to give in support of your application?" Worldbridge won't advise you on how to fill out your application and that includes explaining what the officer might like to see here, or find relevant. My job history, my family here in the States, my job in the UK, my travel plans? No advice.
- The self-assessment appendix includes a space for you to detail your earnings: source, dates, amount, applicable exchange rate, and so on. There's barely any space there, so it's okay to note in that space that you're doing it on a separate sheet, and then attach a separate spreadsheet or letter with all those details.
- As documentation of your earnings, or of your maintenance funds, personal printouts from the online-banking website of a brick-and-mortar bank aren't good enough, even if they have the bank logo on them. You need official bank statements, either originally printed by the bank (with color logos and so on), or signed & stamped by a bank employee. You are not required to circle or highlight the relevant deposits or balance numbers, but you aren't prohibited from doing so, either.
- It is okay to attach a separate letter with additional information you want the officer to consider, but there's no guarantee it'll be looked at.
In Sumana's opinion, your safest bet is to think hard while you're filling out the online application so that you can put as much as you need to into the Is there any other information you wish to give in support of your application? space near the end of the form. Maybe that's the best place to put the "please post-date the visa by 2 months" note; I don't know.
- How many passport-sized photos do you need, and how should I attach them? Include two passport-sized photos, and paperclip them on. They might get damaged if I paperclip them directly; how about in a little envelope? Yeah, sure, that's fine.
Worldbridge also takes questions by web form and returns answers via email, but I'm glad I spent the $12 to get half an hour of live chat. Sample dialogue in the phone call included:
"How should I attach the passport photos?"
"All photos should measure 45mm by 35mm; and be in colour; and be taken against a grey or cream background..." [basically reading from the rather frightening photo guidelines PDF]
"I know that. I'm asking how you want me to attach them. Is it okay to put them in an envelope and paperclip it on?"
"You can just paperclip the photos directly to the application."
"But that seems like it'll damage the photos. Is it okay to put them in a little envelope and paperclip the envelope to the application?"
"Yes, that's okay."
I can only imagine how maddening it would be to ask all these questions via email and then battle a response-bot that spouted vaguely-related boilerplate off websites I'd already found inadequate. As it was, Carolina was astonished when I suggested I might highlight or circle relevant bits of my bank statements to make the important numbers easier to find. Yeah, Worldbridge, I can see how thinking ahead to make the user's experience easier wouldn't come naturally to you.
Obviously I'm not a lawyer or expert, all the tips above are my paraphrasing of advice I got on one occasion from one Worldbridge employee in late August 2009, and I can only wish future applicants luck. Hope this helps.
# (1) 29 Aug 2009, 09:22PM: Blog Move And Thunderbird Tip:
I've now moved from my old webspace at the Open Computing Facility (at the University of California at Berkeley) to space on a server that Leonard controls. So this is a test post to mark the divergence of those old archives and this now-canonical space for the blog at harihareswara.net (redirecting from brainwane.net once the DNS propagates, etc.).
Let's have some useful content to keep it interesting: let's say you're using Mozilla Thunderbird as an email client, perhaps on Ubuntu Linux, and let's say you want your email replies to include the date of the email you're replying to. I found this tip helpful:
- use the Edit: Preferences dialog box
- go to Advanced
- click the advanced configuration editor
- type 'reply' into the filter box to search for configuration entries that include the string 'reply'
- click on the reply header type line
- double click that
- change 1 to 2
- close/OK all the windows, you should be set
# 30 Aug 2009, 02:33PM: Look!:
Every so often, Leonard and I watch several Colbert Report clips from his recurring segment Cheating Death With Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A. Leonard loves the props, the silliness, and the variety of jokes within a very tight formula. I adore that Colbert cannot make it through a Cheating Death segment without breaking character. And we both cherish the lists of fake side effects of the drugs Colbert hawks. Our favorites are re-appropriations of existing phrases:
- Foghorn Leghorns
- joint custody
- mock turtleneck
- speaking in tongues
- Jimmy crack corns
- Nine Inch Nails
- Jack Russell Derriere [technically a pun but an awesome one]
- Mind of Mencia [Leonard's all-time favorite]
# (1) 30 Aug 2009, 09:59PM: Game:
I got Leonard & Martin to read Michael Lewis's Moneyball recently. (By the way, Brendan, I think you'd like Martin's blog, if you're not already reading it.) I'll read anything by Lewis. In Liar's Poker, Moneyball, The Ballad of Big Mike, In Nature's Casino, Serfs of the Turf, and other works, he explores social histories of arbitrage. What kind of person perceives new opportunities in established systems? What kind of person embodies a new opportunity? Where do their values, histories, aims, and rules differ from or align with the establishment's?
I especially appreciate the light touch Lewis brings to these questions. In his stories, those questions are implications, excursions from the narrative. Malcolm Gladwell foregrounds those questions and uses his characters and anecdotes as props; he seems to overreach because he's going for the universal. Lewis stays in the particular, telling one story well and rarely addressing his larger themes explicitly.
But there is one passage in Moneyball, one Lewis marks with "there will be a lesson in that", that fills me with expanding religious fervor each time I read it:
As the thirty-fifth pick approaches, Eric once again leans into the speaker phone. If he leaned in just a bit more closely he might hear phones around the league clicking off, so that people could laugh without being heard. For they do laugh. They will make fun of what the A's are about to do; and there will be a lesson in that. The inability to envision a certain kind of person doing a certain kind of thing because you've never seen someone who looks like him do it before is not just a vice. It's a luxury. What begins as a failure of the imagination ends as a market inefficiency: when you rule out an entire class of people from doing a job simply by their appearance, you are less likely to find the best person for the job.
Another resonant quote from the next page (116):
"You know what gets me excited about a guy? I get excited about a guy when he has something about him that causes everyone else to overlook him and I know that it is something that just doesn't matter." - Paul DePodesta
And from Martin:
Obviously that's fun to read just from a "nerd power!" perspective, but it's also fascinating to think of all the other industries still out there, plagued by chronic inefficiencies (i.e. opportunities) and just begging for the right nerd to come along and revolutionize them.
# 31 Aug 2009, 12:29AM: Nostalgia And Consistent Pleasures:
In my Epistemology and impostor syndrome post at Geek Feminism, I spoke a little about systematically dissecting praise to check for sincerity. There's a mess of connections here among my memories, hopes, and worldview; lemme do some exploring.
Mary Anne, Ben, and Jed gave me the four-question Myers-Briggs quiz at WisCon (the way I write that makes it sound like the Are You A Libertarian (Yes) Quiz) and reminded me that I like to make sense of the world. I like to create hypotheses to explain behavior I observe, and I like to fit my behavior to consistent principles. (Incidentally, reading this profile of Atul Gawande caused me to remember how frightening I found the TV show ER as a teen -- the hospital seemed chaotic, without discernable systems keeping track of people -- and wonder whether that perception helped stop me from going into medicine.)
My Grand Unified Theory of Everything impulse applies not only to observations but predictions and hopes. Trying to systematically understand reality, discarding the impossible or unproven, means valuing the statistically improbable, making it hard to disprove the null hypothesis, and paying far more attention to expensive & hard-to-fake signals. But it also means that the scientific mind won't let its owner fantasize about scenarios contrary to character, ethics, and the other constraints she knows intimately. The virtual machine that runs my hypotheses is science fictional, not fantastic.
Unfulfilled wishes can't reach forward into fantasy, so I reach backwards into history. But the memories of having a desire fulfilled -- desire for approval, or sex, or technical competence -- they lose their savor.
I do have memories, though, that give me abundant pleasure. A sprint near a lake in Russia, as a storm started. A conversation with two children while waiting for takeout. A moment, walking downhill from Soda Hall for the first time and seeing the Campanile and Doe Library in shining summer light.
These don't slip away.
My systematic side asks: why? And how can I get more?
They are memories of wonder, not desire. They aren't attached to maws of need that suck all the pleasure into the endless abyss. They float, free from hope and desire and expectation, moments of unearned, unexpected grace.
Garrison Keillor (although it isn't complete without his half-incredulous delivery):
Some luck lies in not getting what you thought you wanted but getting what you have, which once you have got it you may be smart enough to see is what you would have wanted had you known.
# 01 Sep 2009, 12:51PM: Jokes And The Unconscience:
Misunderstanding number one:
"You're it. You're me. You're what I've got. Like in that song."
"I don't know that song."
"What I've Got. I think that's the name of the song. Something about a microphone."
"That's 'Where It's At'."
And another misunderstanding, less because someone takes a particular type of joke badly than because I make that joke rather badly.
# (2) 01 Sep 2009, 03:09PM: The Other James Bond:
Casino Royale is on Hulu to watch for free. Not the 21st century one, the Peter Sellers/Orson Welles/Woody Allen/Ursula Andress/David Niven/Joseph Heller/Billy Wilder/&c. 1967 version. Leonard & I are about two-thirds through and this is the strangest film I've seen this year. Also, bespectacled 1967 Peter Sellers is hott and resembles Joe W.
# (3) 01 Sep 2009, 03:24PM: Silliness:
While talking with Anne & Jane last night about that Buffy/Edward slash (sort of) video, we agreed: when you see a vampire, you stake him! Don't they teach that in health class anymore? Oh, no, the Bush Administration was all, "just don't invite them in, it must be your fault" and "we'll give you a cross necklace and a silver ring to wear, you'll be fine." Free stakes in schools, I say!
# 03 Sep 2009, 05:30PM: First:
I'm in Boston for a couple of days, co-working with my colleague Andres Salomon, a.k.a. dilinger. He's been hacking on oFono on Collabora's dime, and last night's 0.4 release included work by Andres to add support for HTC G1 (the Dream) modem devices.
The oFono project is trying to be a well-designed interface to all the cell phone goodies -- texting, making cell phone calls, etc. Developers will be able to integrate their applications with the oFono architecture. With Andres's work, oFono now has its first working full-featured (voice calls + SMS) driver on a handset.
In case this interests you: Andres has uploaded a Debian package for oFono -- you should see it wend its way to the public soon. The future will also include a Telepathy Connection Manager for oFono; stay tuned.
Update: package accepted.
# 05 Sep 2009, 03:27AM: *collapse in a heap*:
Back from Boston/Somerville/Cambridge. Thanks to Kirk, Andres, Mika and Mako, Randall and Derek, Jed, Julia and Moss for your socializing and hospitality!
If I move to The Other Cambridge, I won't be able to go to Boston as often, nor to say, "hey, I guess I'll stay in Boston an extra six hours and take a later bus home." Then again, if I move, maybe that'll force me to allocate extra Boston-will-be-unexpectedly-fun time up front and set up trips of the proper duration.
# (1) 07 Sep 2009, 11:58AM: Not Too Much Food After All:
Yesterday we had one of two 30th birthday parties for Leonard, months late. Thanks to all who came!
I am sort of out of practice at nine-hour parties. I used to think that every gathering of geeks eventually looked at YouTube. Now I think it's Cake Wrecks.
# 08 Sep 2009, 11:24AM: Three Great Marketing Moves:
- Leonard and I attended a preview screening of the Coen Brothers' film The Man Who Wasn't There and got a promotional comb. We still have and use it, several moves later.
- I was chary of jumping into Battlestar Galactica without seeing the miniseries and all the episodes in order. Then one day, at the cash register at Midtown Comics, I saw a stack of free DVDs. Battlestar Galactica: The Story So Far. The iTunes store gave it away for free, too. I watched the clip montage summary and got sucked in, and from then on watched each new episode
- My colleague Thomas Thurman is blogging a tutorial on developing applications for the Nokia N900 smartphone.
# (6) 09 Sep 2009, 08:03AM: Travel:
Tonight Leonard and I leave for two weeks in England. We'll be staying in a flat in Cambridge to see whether we enjoy living there, and I'll be working alongside my colleagues at Collabora headquarters. I'm too tired to be nervous yet.
# 10 Sep 2009, 07:40AM: Arrived:
We're in London on a gorgeous day. I now consistently sleep through plane takeoffs and landings. I need to do the SIM dance so I have a working cell phone here. The new Collabora website is up including tons of text I wrote. Off to eat.
# (1) 12 Sep 2009, 06:25PM: Wintour Guide:
I watched and enjoyed The September Issue with Elisa (who pseudoblogs as The Mad Fashionista and with whom I watch Project Runway). Some brief thoughts:
The September Issue is an office comedy ("comedy" in the sense that no one dies and the issue successfully comes out). And it's a portrait of a power couple. Editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and creative director Grace Coddington have worked together for decades, each admiring the other's talents but fairly relentless in the battle to pursue her own artistic vision. The creative tension between forward-looking Wintour and history-mining Coddington drives Vogue and the film. This film passes the Bechdel Test by leaps and bounds. It's lovely to watch unapologetically powerful women and learn how they use their power.
Coddington is marvelously resourceful in using any leverage or opportunities she finds. She gives lots of forthright-seeming interviews to the documentarians, so she gets to appear quite a lot in the film (contrast Wintour, whose famous reserve only goes away when she's at home with her daughter). Coddington asks Wintour for a larger budget for a project in front of the camera crew, and later grins that Wintour is more lenient on funds when she's on camera. And, most mischieviously, she gets the cameraman to appear in an inventive photo shoot for Vogue, and explicitly tells us that capturing and using him on film is a bit of revenge. Subverting their gaze and getting a witty, pretty spread is a nice twofer.
The film chronicles the development of the 2007 September issue of Vogue, which explains why everyone in the film is acting like the economy's fine. But even two years ago, was Vogue setting trends and making waves? Coddington credits Wintour with integrating celebrity culture into fashion culture faster than other mags did, but seventy years ago film stars' fashion choices got copycatted all over. Current events in fashion don't get discussed much, either; The September Issue doesn't mention blogs, or Project Runway, or Lucky, or counterfeit goods.
But there is a historical subtext in the film, a subtext that comes closest to the surface when Coddington stands motionless before elaborate Versailles gardens. The gardens are expensive and elaborate and required not just a wealthy patron but an entire edifice to support them (Si Newhouse is to Wintour as Wintour is to Coddington). Each photo shoot that Coddington orchestrates is as beautiful as a blossom. But any individual fashion that Coddington captures in her Vogue spreads is as ephemeral as a blossom. The gardens are still there, and still magnificent, and what are you doing that will last centuries?
Sherwood Anderson writes in Winesburg, Ohio of thoughts of mortality: "He knows that in spite of all the stout talk of his fellows he must live and die in uncertainty, a thing blown by the winds, a thing destined like corn to wilt in the sun." I reread bits of Winesburg the other day, and remembered that the really scary thing about that last image is the sun's betrayal.
Coddington calls herself a romantic. She loves old gardens and 1920s styles. And she remembers what got shot for a previous issue but didn't run, and notices when Wintour cuts a few spreads from the coming issue that represent USD$50,000 worth of work. She must know that she works for an enormous, ridiculous edifice. She must know that it's unsustainable, that her art form requires resources that only monarchies and this historically anomalous corporate media system can bring to bear. Anna and Coddington and Condé Nast are in a symbiosis to perpetuate a grand, dying art.
"High fashion" is a niche, like opera, regimented gardens, country dancing, &c., and getting niche-ier. Wintour says fashion is about what's next; does she know? The September Issue doesn't say.
# 14 Sep 2009, 12:15AM GMT: Momentum Is A Kind Of Stability:
Changed the timezone I'm blogging from, finally. I should make very quick summaries of some travel days before I completely lose track...
Friday: arrived in Cambridge, massive lunch with coworkers, worked some, started settling into our rented flat. Saturday: discovered Waitrose (pronounced "Way-Trose"), England's answer to Whole Foods; coworkers took us punting on a gorgeous late summer afternoon; coworkers then led us to CB2, where I ate perfectly nice pasta and later discovered that taking leftovers to go really is new to Britain (tomatoey oil oozed out of the makeshift foil envelope and into my shoulderbag). Sunday: worked a bit, rented ("hired") a bike, and rode said bike to some coworkers' houses for socializing & Aronofsky's The Fountain, then home. First time I've biked in years, I think. My steering is shaky still, but Cambridge is very bike-friendly and I'm not worried.
Smaller observations go into my identi.ca stream (syndicated on Twitter).
# 20 Sep 2009, 10:12AM GMT: Still Alive:
I'm in Cambridge, busy, a little tired. Will post substantively once I feel caught up on work.
# (2) 22 Sep 2009, 08:56AM GMT: Blinglish:
My last full day of work here in Cambridge, UK. I wish Leonard hadn't fallen ill. About a week after plane flights he tends to get an annoying sinus thing for a few days. Maybe we should just plan for that and not bother making plans for those spots on the calendar. He's mostly better now...just in time to come back this week.
Yesterday I felt stupid and slow all day...until I borrowed some headphones and listened to a remix of Will Smith singing "Wild Wild West", whereupon I cheered up immediately and could work.
We're staying in a studio apartment, and it will be great to go back to a 1-bedroom. I need music, sunlight, food, drink when I get up and want to work, and it drives me nuts to tiptoe around a sleeping Leonard.
(And zippy net access at home; that will be such the relief after this mobile broadband dongle nonsense.)
I realize this sounds like complain complain complain. Honestly it's a nice flat and my stay in Cambridge has been pretty good. I'm just wrung out because I've been angry/wistful/resentful/harried/depressed for a fair portion of the trip, and this surfaces in the guise of petty complaints.
# 24 Sep 2009, 02:13AM GMT: In-Flight Edutainment:
Back in New York.
There is (she said, after the third or fifth viewing of Mamma Mia!, all onboard aircraft) some If They Would Just behavior in Mamma Mia!. I think when I'm on land I have the proper critical distance or uncritical adoration of genre conventions in movie musicals, but when I'm above the Atlantic I actually think, if only they would just talk to each other about their secret worries. Newsflash, Sumana.
Easy Virtue went the opposite direction: these people are all speaking their subtexts, I thought, then saw in the end credits that it's based on a play by Noel Coward. Also viewed an ep of the American The Office, which sort of triangulates on obviousness & subtlety in a way I'm too fuzzy-headed to articulate at the moment.
American Airlines's in-flight entertainment offerings do not include The Big Bang Theory, contrary to custom.
# (1) 25 Sep 2009, 08:49AM: We Already Know The Title Of His Management Tips Book:
I used to watch Project Runway identifying with the contestants. Now I watch and think, "Tim Gunn is really good at phrasing criticism in a way that's likely to get across to the designer. I want to be that kind of manager."
# (1) 25 Sep 2009, 07:09PM: Adventure!:
Exciting international family news: Susie, John, Maggie, and Dalton will spend the second half of 2010 in Bangalore! I hope they get to hang out with my other family there enough that we grow our family in-joke supply substantially.
# (3) 26 Sep 2009, 06:38AM: Random TMBG Appreciation:
While I was in Cambridge, my colleague Travis reminded me that They Might Be Giants' new album Here Comes Science was out (Booga Booga's glowing review had already jazzed me up for it), and he recommended the DVD. I watched a few of its music videos on YouTube ("I Am A Paleontologist", "Meet The Elements", "Science Is Real") and suggested strongly to Leonard that we get the CD/DVD set.
"It might not be premature to say that 'I Am A Paleontologist' is the best song, ever, of any length, genre, or planetary origin," I said, even after he'd ordered. But it's probably premature.
It arrived yesterday, and I'm glad it did. Because I woke up far too early (jet lag), did nearly a full day's work by 1pm, took a nap, and woke up siiiiiiiiick. Chamomile tea, fizzy lemon drink, and the Here Comes Science DVD (followed by a repeat viewing of most of Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns, the TMBG documentary, plus its bonus music videos) were just what I needed. I enjoyed Here Comes Science thoroughly, but that's kind of obvious, so some further thoughts on Gigantic:
Gigantic has no mention of the Animaniacs videos for "Particle Man" and "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)." I wonder what proportion of their current cohort of fans first heard them via those videos; I know I did. Gigantic does however feature some lovely self-mockery by Linnell & Flansburgh, including a comment by Linnell on what happens when you've been around so long that your first fans are now in positions where they can commission work from you: I guess we're reaching that sort of Mark Twain late period, when he was the plaything of the rich. Also Linnell mentions Trotsky twice (and I haven't even checked the commentary track yet).
Oh, and raanve, your user icon finally clicked for me!
# 27 Sep 2009, 05:25PM GMT: Intertainment:
John Joseph Adams at Tor.com led me to Slaughter of the Bluegrass, which completely made my day when I needed it. "Punish My Heaven" is also available as MP3. Slaughter of the Bluegrass is a bluegrass cover band that does metal music, which fits my cheering-up music criteria perfectly. What is it about Swedes?
The Hayseed Dixie cover of Green Day's "Holiday" is fun, too. And people who like Slaughter of the Bluegrass might also like Margot Leverett and the Klezmer Mountain Boys.
If you are like me and wish there were cross-genre covers of all your favorite songs, but Microsoft Songsmith seems a blunt instrument, Wii Music has options to arrange *any* of its songs in several different styles, like Hawaiian, Jazz, Electronic, &c.
Still sick. Rereading Y: The Last Man. Watched Danny Boyle's tearjerker Millions, will probably watch Airplane! this afternoon for the first time (John Stange gave it to me when he found out I'd never seen it).
# 29 Sep 2009, 11:38AM: Buy In Bulk And Save:
"I think my case of the Mondays arrived a day late." "Well, your first step should be to stop ordering Mondays by the case. Most of us just take one dose a week."
# (1) 01 Oct 2009, 03:18PM: Useful Links:
MediaBugs, Scott Rosenberg's awesome new nonprofit, is hiring a Drupal designer and an associate director/community manager.
My pal Stuart Sierra [who's an expert on The Cloud and graduates from Columbia next year with a master's in CS, (cough) recruiters (cough)] gives two talks on Clojure and Hadoop in the next few days.
My Collabora colleagues will appear at a bunch of conferences this month, usually giving talks: Maemo Summit in Amsterdam, Boston GNOME, and an embedded Linux conference in Grenoble.
I've now discovered that LWN, formerly Linux Weekly News, is invaluable in grokking the entire Linux ecosystem. It's helped me get an overview of areas I thought completely inaccessible to a nonprogrammer. Everything's free to read, except special subscriber-only content that goes public a week after publication. But a subscription's just $5 per month, less if your company gets a group rate, and it's way worth it. (Valerie Aurora writes for them quite a bit.)
What We Know So Far plays NYU on October 9th. Thanks, Biella. By the way, she has the best troll excuse ever:
So I am about to violate list rules but as an anthropologist, I am
well aware that violation and transgression can be productive
In November, a bunch of Colbert Report writers talk at the Paley Center; I'd like to go.
If you live nearish Oxford in England, and you'd like a fancy costume or dress sewn for you, may I suggest my colleague's wife Karianne? She might also available for FLOSS translation/community work, if you can drag her away from the horse farm.
Jen & Zed are rockin' intelligent simplicity at Frugal Culture, from philosophy to finance to recipes to politics to education.
At Year of No Flying, Anirvan & Barnali are spending a year traveling without airplanes, "traveling across continents, and talking to people exploring solutions to transportation and the climate crisis." They just crossed the Pacific on a container ship.
My colleague Thomas Thurman has a new light fantasy book out: Not Ordinarily Borrowable, "the story of a scholar whose studies are interrupted when her library books are stolen by a dragon." I have the PDF and hope to read it this weekend.
Flea of One Good Thing, sadly, has to move her blog; email her this week if you want the new URL.
# 03 Oct 2009, 09:04AM: "Not Ordinarily Borrowable: Or, Unwelcome Advice" by Thomas Thurman:
My colleague Thomas Thurman wrote a light fantasy story called Not Ordinarily Borrowable. It's 106 pages, available as a print-on-demand book via CreateSpace (like Thoughtcrime Experiments), and delightful. You can read the first chapter online (and Google Books has the first half of the book but after that you'll have to buy paper or ebooks; I got to read a PDF on a mobile device, and it was fine). Excerpt:
Now in order to become a doctor of something, there is a simple rule to follow. You must find out something new, something nobody in the world has ever seen or known or thought before. You might suppose that with all the many people there are in the world, and with all the thinking that goes on every day, it must be difficult to find a new thing never thought before. But everyone has ideas every day, and there are so many different ones that, sooner or later, everyone must find something new. You yourself saw something nobody had seen before the last time you cracked open the shell of a nut.
After you have found out your new thing, you must write a book about it, a big, heavy book called a thesis. Then, last of all, you must explain your ideas to the other scholars, and the other scholars must be happy with your work. One day, when Maria had finished doing all this, she would be allowed to call herself Dr. Maria, and allowed to wear a scarlet robe instead of her black one. That way, everyone would know how hard she had worked to find out something utterly new.
But that day was still quite a long way in the future, and Maria still had a lot of work ahead of her before it would come.
Maria goes on an adventure that features a dragon, a bike, a mayor, and missing library books. It's charming. Lucky me, I got to call up Thomas yesterday on work pretenses and babble at him for twenty minutes on the following topics:
If you enjoy Naomi Novik's Temeraire books and/or the Hereville comic How Mirka Got Her Sword (Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl Comic), you might like Not Ordinarily Borrowable (and vice-versa).
- Every minor character has light but consistent and sensible characterization! And no one's an idiot. And since some of them are kind and smart and others aren't, I can't trust my reflexes regarding who will join Maria on her adventure, and how they'll behave. I wouldn't say my expectations are subverted so much as put aside lightly. It's a light book.
- The story carried me along; it's great when a plot feels surprising, but inevitable in retrospect. Again, it's sensible and logical, down to the level of individual interactions. My suspension of disbelief never got rattled.
- The setting! Lightly fictionalized Cambridge University! Biking through English villages and asking if anyone's seen a dragon! Incidentally, my favorite story about a grad student's thesis research since "Jump Space".
- It's lovely to get a fairy tale that doesn't make me cringe in its gender issues. It's a matter-of-fact given that all the women and men in Not Ordinarily Borrowable are people, and how refreshing that is!
- I'm going on and on about mechanics and "wow, he didn't get that wrong," but really I'm just enchanted that a colleague of mine just popped this much fun out and reading it was a high point of my week. It's like the universe left me a bonus.
# 06 Oct 2009, 10:12PM: Half-Sentence Reviews:
Tricked (graphic novel) by Alex Robinson and Whip It (film) are more gripping & fun than they have any right to be.
# (1) 07 Oct 2009, 09:10PM: "The Life Of The World To Come":
For about the next 2 hours, if you hit the Colbert Nation website, you can stream the entire new album by The Mountain Goats. (Might be US-only.) I'm listening now. No doubt I'll buy it.
Even after this offer expires, the band's site offers "Genesis 3:23" as an MP3. If you love the Mountain Goats, you'll love "Genesis 3:23."
# (4) 08 Oct 2009, 11:44PM: An Oversimplified Cliffs Notes To Telepathy:
Lots of people have never heard of my company or its projects -- even fairly plugged-in geeks often say "who?" or say "Oh yeah, the Subversion people." (No, that's Collabnet, where Leonard used to work.) So this post is specifically for my friends, to help explain one thing my company is doing that is cool. I'm going to simplify a lot so I hope my colleagues and other hard-core geeks don't wince too much.
It is annoying to have to log in to a bunch of different chat services to reach all your friends. MSN, Google Talk, AOL Instant Messenger, Bonjour, blah blah blah. You may not think this is related, but it's also annoying that if I want to work with someone on a document and we're at different computers, I can't use my regular word processor, I have to load up a web browser with Google Docs. And it's annoying to have your cell phone text messages (SMS) in a different place from your other chats.
These are all aspects of real-time communication. As my colleague Danielle put it,
The Telepathy project is helping solve all these problems. Telepathy is a project aiming to give desktop applications (like word processors, jukeboxes, CAD programs, and games) a way to painlessly integrate instant messaging and VoIP (voice over IP) telephony features. In more technical language, in Telepathy, Collabora aims to develop a real-time communications framework for the desktop and embedded devices.
My boss, Rob McQueen, was one of the Telepathy inventors, and I work for Collabora, the company he co-founded. We hope programmers will use Telepathy to improve your computer and cell phone and get rid of the annoyances I mentioned above, and create neat applications and services. We've already gotten started.
Here's one way of viewing the Telepathy framework. It has three essential parts:
- a bunch of Connection Managers, each handling the interaction with a protocol, such as Google Talk, XMPP, various VoIP (internet phone call) services, or AOL Instant Messenger
- Mission Control, managing accounts and channels (the individual protocol-bound pipelines that your messages go through)
- a specification, telling all the parts how to interact (very technical)
This design gives Telepathy a lot of flexibility. If a new interesting service comes along, like Facebook chat, we can just write a new Connection Manager for it and bam, anything that uses Telepathy can now interact with it. And there are a lot of text, voice, and video chat networks! Who knows what other interesting collaboration or communication networks might hook into Telepathy someday?
Another important aspect of Telepathy's architecture is D-Bus. Telepathy is primarily a project for the open source Linux operating system. It's built on D-Bus, a piece of Linux infrastructure that lets applications, frameworks, and low-level system components talk to each other. So that means Telepathy can act like a wormhole, not just between two different people's computers, but between unassuming regular ol' apps on their desktops. You and a friend can collaborate on writing a paper together right in your word processor, or play a game against each other. And you can do it without having to deal with a slow, limited web app in a web browser.
In case you are a geek and find this interesting: There's an entire online book with more detail, and a system overview with a pretty graphic. And of course we're an open source project and you're welcome to join us.
In the real world, even regular folks like you and I are getting the benefit of Telepathy with (for example) the new N900 smartphone. Evidence of Telepathy's awesomeness is in the addressbook -- it combines your friends' various text chat, phonecall, and other contact info in the same screen, rather than making you use separate programs.
I use Telepathy every day, because I use the Empathy chat program to talk to my AIM and Google Talk friends all in one tidy window. Telepathy has made some other cool applications possible; I wrote about them for the new Collabora website, and if people want, I'll post a little about those.
Note to self: in future posts, explain GStreamer, Farstream, WebKit, Electrolysis, and how we make money.
# 09 Oct 2009, 03:19PM: Travel Plans For The Next Week:
I'm visiting Boston Saturday the 10th till late Monday the 12th (to see colleagues in town to talk about the GNOME Linux desktop), then in Montreal till Thursday the 15th.
# 13 Oct 2009, 05:31PM: Presence & Status:
I learned recently:
Empathy is an IRC client but does not (yet?) support slash-commands. Gobby is a really cool tool to let multiple people read, write, and chat about a document collaboratively from different computers. Kazoos are different from paper-rolly party noisemaker things. Leonard did set up a category for all his walktheplank.net blog posts. Absinthe makes the sides of the back of my tongue tingle slightly. Natives don't pronounce the "t" in "Montréal."
I'm half-remembering high school French as I read signs & overhear colleagues' conversations here in Montréal. Je me souviens!
# (1) 13 Oct 2009, 06:35PM: Le Line Du Punch:
I'm planning on doing an open mic comedy show tomorrow night.
sumanah: I'm thinking scrum humor
sumanah: comparing the 3 questions of scrum to the 4 questions of passover
sumanah: it'll be a riot
sumanah: sorry, rioutte
Accidental comedy mentor Simon Stow used to perform stand-up here when he was getting his master's at McGill, so I'm coming full circle.
If I'm really on the ball, I'll see some improv tonight, too.
# 15 Oct 2009, 01:04PM: Postmortem:
Four of my coworkers gave up a night when they could have been eating or hacking and came to an open mic night to watch me perform. I knew a goodly proportion of the other acts wouldn't be very good, but I forgot that so much unfunny comedy is incredibly tired sex/sexist jokes. So that was blah. But I was passable for someone who basically hasn't done stand-up in five years.
Returning to NYC tonight. Happy that the Maemo Summit in Amsterdam went so well, even if I couldn't be there (maybe next year I'll go to that).
# 17 Oct 2009, 11:06AM: My Go-To New York Tourist Attractions:
It's a cross-blog event! Leonard took Will to museums on Thursday and yesterday I took him & his friend Martin to the New York City Transit Museum and Roosevelt Island.
At the Transit Museum, they practiced how hard it was to leap over, duck under, or otherwise fare-avoid different turnstiles throughout history. We saw tiny exhibits about Miss Subways, slugs and washers pawned off as fare tokens, and the Brooklyn [Trolley] Dodgers. And I got to explain to them where the word "commuter" comes from.
The Transit Museum now has a whole new room with On the Streets: New York's Trolleys and Buses, a cool timeline of ground transit in the city, starting with a privately-run horse-drawn omnibus in the 1800s (capacity: 12). In the words of the museum, the "gallery dedicated to surface transportation presents, in nine complementing segments, a history of above ground mobility for the last 175 years - from the early 1800s through the 21st Century." Buses in NYC were segregated until the 1870s, but the subways never were, which is comforting. A cute touch:
The central element of the exhibition is a simulated traffic intersection complete with traffic lights and coordinated walk-don't walk signs, parking meters, fire hydrants, and an array of other "street furniture."
In other words, your kid who always wants to play with the newspaper vending machine can finally do so in a safe and controlled environment.
I recommend the London Transport Museum to anyone who enjoys the NYC Transit Museum, and vice versa. Sadly, the London museum is not in a disused subway station.
If it had been a nicer day, we might have walked the Brooklyn Bridge back to Manhattan. Instead, we took the A or F to West Fourth, ate at John's NO SLICES pizzeria on Bleeker and the ice creamery next door, took the F to Lex and 63rd, and walked to the funicular stop a few blocks away to get to Roosevelt Island. The tramway gives you such a nice view, and costs only a swipe of the MetroCard instead of whatever usurious prices the Empire State Building or Top of the Rock charge.
I think next time I'll skip walking the northern half of the island, despite the lighthouse, Octagon, etc.; the real attractions on Roosevelt Island are the views of Manhattan and Brooklyn, the ruins of the smallpox hospital, and the completely empty park-to-be grassy bit at the extreme southern tip. I've finally found a schedule that gives me more hints on when the gate to the hospital and Southpoint is likely to be open (although I can't tell whether that's a 7-day or weekday schedule). Relevant authorities have already started stabilizing the ruins and are planning a Serious Park at Southpoint: read, "aww, it's not as indie and desolate as it used to be, and soon it'll be all tame and boring." So go soon. With Will & Martin, if you can manage it.
# (1) 18 Oct 2009, 06:22PM: Happy Deepavali:
As Leonard suggests, celebrate by reading Jeff Soesbe's near-future scifi story, "The Very Difficult Diwali of Sub-Inspector Gurushankar Rajaram."
I'm surprised at how much it meant to me, emotionally, that President Obama personally celebrated Diwali this year. (My family calls it Deepavali; regional variation.) They got a nearby Hindu priest, whom my dad very well might know as a professional peer, to come chant mantras. Obama lit a flame. They partook of a ritual I grew up with (even if I don't give it that much attention as an adult). Is there a more universal ritual than that of lighting a flame to ward off the darkness?
Is this what it's like for a Christian to hear him say "We worship an awesome God"? "...and nonbelievers." "I will be your president, too." Goddamn, but pandering works on the ears and the heart and the throat. And now I understand -- what you call pandering, I can now call healthy inclusion.
# (3) 20 Oct 2009, 05:51PM: Collabora Open Source Development Overview, 4-20 October 2009:
Collabora, my company, does open source development. We don't just build on top of open source frameworks; every day, Collabora developers are hacking in the open on multiple projects.
I decided to blog about some of what we've done in the last couple of weeks.
First, our flagship project, Telepathy:
- David Laban's new echobot helps test text and audio chat in Empathy.
- Mike Ruprecht got the telepathy-haze connection manager to do audio-video calls successfully; people on more and more networks and protocols will be able to use Empathy for audio and video chat.
- Andres Salomon backported Empathy to debian-stable (lenny).
- Will Thompson, Rob McQueen, and Sjoerd Simons drafted a Telepathy spec for encrypted channels and how that works for off-the-record conversations.
- Siraj Razick, Simon McVittie, and Dariusz Mikulski worked on cleaning up some Telepathy-on-Windows code; Dariusz is making sure the contributions the RealXtend developers have made can make it upstream.
- In the oFono world, Olivier Lê Thanh Duong shepherded an oFono patch through, and Andres uploaded oFono 0.8 for Debian.
- Jonny Lamb uploaded new Debian packages of Empathy and telepathy-gabble (Telepathy's Jabber/XMPP connection manager, which can handle single- and multi-user chats and voice/video calls), in addition to lots of other Empathy work.
- Vivek Dasmohapatra worked on telepathy-gabble and wocky (XMPP library).
- And several Telepathy components saw new releases:
Collaborans also worked on Tubes, Teamgeist (part of Zeitgeist), Maemo packages, GStreamer, Farstream, and other projects. Just a few items, because it would be exhausting to cover everything:
Collabora also encourages its staffers to go to conferences to talk about open source. Last weekend, participants in the GNOME Boston Summit and the Amsterdam Maemo Summit led several discussions (Marco Barisione's Telepathy on Maemo slides are especially valuable).
And more FLOSS conferences are coming up soon: Gustavo will be at a WebKitGTK+ hackfest in Spain in December, and Helio will be at Latinoware 2009 later this week in Brazil.
Sorry to those I left out or didn't link. This list is obsolete even as I hit Post...
# (1) 24 Oct 2009, 10:41AM: Foremost:
Leonard and I have been together for eight and a half years, and today was the first time he took me through his high school yearbook. (Triggered by me reminiscing about various unusual academic experiences in my schooling, triggered by others' hyperlexia and dealing with disbelieving or frustrated teachers.)
Evidently Leonard was the male voted both "Most Likely to Succeed" and "Most Disorganized" by his high school classmates. The latter surprises me; the former does not.
Update: Leonard reminds me that he was also Most Likely To Be Famous. He's probably the most Internet Famous of anyone in that graduating class.
# (2) 26 Oct 2009, 09:27PM: Seemlier Sumana:
I use Ubuntu Linux for most of my computing these days; it's what runs on my work laptop. Each version of Ubuntu has a codename consisting of an adjective and an animal name (e.g., Breezy Badger, Intrepid Ibex, Dapper Drake). The upcoming release is 9.10, "Karmic Koala", and I don't care for the adjective. It continues an unfortunate tradition of using "karma" and derived words in completely nonsensical ways. And it's certainly not as positive as previous adjectives (Edgy, Dapper, Jaunty, &c.).
The Ubuntu Release Name Generator has better suggestions, such as Kindly, Keepable, and Keyless Koala. It also suggested "Seemlier Sumana" and "Localizable Leonard," which are fun.
All kidding and grousing aside, I am looking forward to Karmic, which hits the streets on Thursday the 29th. My colleagues who have beta-tested it find it an easy upgrade (with a few exceptions). And it comes with Empathy built-in as the default chat client, which gives me a little hometown pride since Collabora's Telepathy is the engine behind Empathy.
And with all the uncertainty in life recently -- health care reform, the should-we-move-to-England discussion, new and challenging tasks at work, even small decluttering choices about what items to discard -- it's nice to anticipate something about which I can be unabashedly enthusiastic. Three days till Ubuntu 9.10!
# (1) 31 Oct 2009, 08:36AM: More brainwanage:
I decided to pony up my $5 and join MetaFilter. So far I seem to be answering a lot of questions about technology. You'd think I was a geek or something.
# 04 Nov 2009, 12:22AM: Near-term Travel Plans:
I'm going to be in Salt Lake City tomorrow night through Saturday evening visiting John & Susie. Then on Saturday the 7th I start a Bay Area swing, then return to New York City on the 13th. I'm hoping to work full 7-hour days the five weekdays that I'm in San Francisco/Berkeley/Mountain View, which means I'll unfortunately have to limit the number of friends and mentors I see. Perhaps the incredibly short notice will act as a first-pass filter so I don't overschedule.
If you are reading this and live where I'm going to be, I almost certainly want to see you! Please tell me so we can attempt scheduling! The Bay Area is, however, home to so many people I care about that a proper visit would take a month; my apologies to friends I'm inevitably going to miss.
# (2) 08 Nov 2009, 04:14AM: Also, I'm Only Two Degrees From Stephenie Meyer:
Quotes from the Utah visit included:
It was lovely getting to meet Dalton. I got past Novice level in learning to hold and soothe an infant (If I Had A Hammer is my go-to lullaby, backed up by Down By the Riverside), and changed my first diaper. Yay, experience points.
# (8) 10 Nov 2009, 01:26PM: Here It Comes:
The Queen has approved Leonard's dependent partner's visa, so it's now official: in about a month, we'll be moving to Cambridge, England, so I can work side-by-side with colleagues at Collabora headquarters. Many more details to follow.
# (1) 16 Nov 2009, 02:03PM: Of Course I've Fallen Ill:
Well, getting sick when I had nothing urgent to do just wouldn't have any drama to it.
# (3) 17 Nov 2009, 09:07PM: Removal:
The one-way tickets are bought; December 8th is our date of departure. We'll return to the States in 2011 or 2012.
Now: estimates from movers, giving away and selling belongings, I haven't even started address changes/cancellations, and have I mentioned that this cold has me working at like 40% cognitive capacity? Whine complain blog.
Update: A bit premature as it turns out! The move's on hold till early spring for a variety of reasons; it'll be nice to have a somewhat more leisurely approach to the logistics.
# 22 Nov 2009, 10:29PM: Career Analysis Stuff:
You might be interested in my analysis of my career history in a longish Crooked Timber comment.
I'm very glad that I had so many different work experiences before making irrevocable choices, and that I delayed grad school till I had a specific purpose.
Tonight I thought a little about loyalty to one's workplace in a comment on Venkatesh Rao's thought-provoking business management post.
Loyalty to an organization? Identifying with an organization? For a fairly smart hard worker, who actually believes in the stated goals of the organization, it's fairly seductive, especially if they conflate their specific subcommunity with the institution as a whole.
I learned via Mel Chua that Gerald Weinberg, whose work has influenced my industry and my career profoundly, is very ill. My thoughts are with him.
# 23 Nov 2009, 06:03PM: Can't Play Tour Guide Without A Map:
GNOME Journal just published my Telepathy overview, and my colleague Danielle Madeley's "Telepathy, Empathy and Mission Control 5 in GNOME 2.28".
I'm not a developer, but I can at least help create accessible documentation. Telepathy world domination depends on accessible documentation: like the Telepathy book, but even more so. Newbs likely have trouble finding comprehensive overviews of some aspects of Telepathy: design issues, misconceptions, and the status of various efforts. They come to #telepathy (on irc.freenode.net) and ask us questions, or just drop the idea of developing with Telepathy, or struggle in silence and make mistakes.
Danielle's book and article will help. I hope my article helps. I've made a small list of areas where I think a concise "here's the deal as of today" blog post or article or mailing list post (or wiki page clarification) would be cool. Basically, they're what I've had to learn to grok the direction & momentum of the project. I hope to create, improve or encourage friendly overviews of the following (in my Copious Spare Time):
(a) the major connection managers & their state of readiness/stability
(b) the up-&-coming CMs and their potential promise (e.g. yafono)
(c) mobile, Moblin, maemo-extras
(d) encryption/privacy/OTR/SRTP issues
(e) Muji/wocky work
(f) expanding our reach to KDE
(g) testy stuff like telepathy-ashes & echobot
(i) Python bindings
Anything to add to that list?
# (2) 25 Nov 2009, 02:02AM: Pick:
I recently read Linda Gordon's The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction (Harvard University Press, 1999). It's an edifying and engrossing read. Let me quote the publisher's blurb:
In 1904, New York nuns brought 40 Irish orphans to a remote Arizona mining camp, to be placed with Mexican Catholic families. Soon the town's Anglos, furious at this 'interracial' transgression, formed a vigilante squad that kidnapped the children and nearly lynched the nuns and the local priest. The Catholic Church sued to get its wards back, but all the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, ruled in favor of the vigilantes. In resurecting this shocking tale of the American West, Linda Gordon brilliantly recreates and dissects the tangled intersection of family and racial values, in a gripping story that resonates with today's conflicts over the "best interests of the child."
Here's a biting excerpt from Chapter 5, "The Anglo Mothers and the Company Town."
These clubs were exclusively Anglo, and included Jews, Irishmen, Slavs, and Germans. As always in Clifton-Morenci, the line grew fuzzy as you moved further south in Europe. Some Italians were in. Spaniards usually were not. The first Mexican got into the Elks in the 1950s. The Catholic Church was not unhappy with this particular form of anti-Mexican discrimination, as it detested and feared the attraction of these orders, all of them, in its view, tainted by Freemasonry. Father Mandin described the Anglos in Clifton as either Protestants or Freemasons. (The Mexican Church had long experience with Freemasonry, a germinator of anticlericalism, so some Clifton-Morenci Mexicans would have been familiar with the movement. Mexican Masonry was not a working-class movement, but some of Clifton-Morenci's Mexican businessmen might well have liked to join.) Many fraternal orders today flirt with racial ambivalence and attraction to the exotic, such as the Shriners with their Muslim names and imagery. In 1904 Arizona, the Improved Order of Red Men insinuated, not at all subtly, the temptations of the forbidden: Dedicated to preserving the customs, legends, and names of the Indians, the lodges were called tribes, met on a lunar schedules, in wigwams, where they lit council fires, referred to money in their treasury as wampum, and named every "paleface" member for a bird, animal, or other natural organism. Their ritual consisted of stagings of imagined American Indian rites. Claiming to be the largest fraternity of purely American origin, its bylaws provided that the "Americanism of the order is the true American spirit which ... stands for equal rights for all." Red Men were required to be white.
There's a great chapter musing on vigilantism, lynchings, militias, and American political theory and values; I wish I could quote the whole thing. Overall, Gordon is thorough and thought-provoking on the intersections of geography, race, class, religion, and gender. Gordon's discursions on theory of history, her footnotes (Las Gorras Blancas? I'd never heard of them), and her narrative style are accessible and intelligent. Thanks for the recommendations, Crooked Timber thread.
# 25 Nov 2009, 11:57AM: I'd Buy An Album Of Costello Covers By Colbert:
From the Thursday, 19 Nov 2009 episode of the Colbert Report: Elvis Costello showed up for an interview and a song. But he'd lost his voice, so he had Colbert sing. Just wow. (Link that won't break in a month; embedded below from Colbert Nation since I can't figure out how to embed a user-selected timeline from Hulu. Sorry, both are probably US-only.)
# 30 Nov 2009, 09:09AM: Sci-Fi Awards & Best-Of:
I've been finding Jed Hartman's Year's Best SF Info site very useful in my Thoughtcrime Experiments publicity/submissions work:
This site is primarily intended for editors of science fiction, fantasy, and horror magazines and original anthologies who want the work they've published to be considered for forthcoming Year's Best reprint volumes.
It's easy to lose track of which volumes are being published, when the deadlines are, and how to contact the editors of the volumes. This site hopes to become a central source of such information.
Another great resource: Science Fiction Awards Watch. They point to, for example, the Gaylactic Spectrum Awards, the James Tiptree, Jr. Award for speculative fiction that addresses gender, and the Carl Brandon Awards for works by people of color or dealing with issues of race and ethnicity. All three of those welcome nominations from the general public (that's you!), although you only have a couple more days to nominate fiction from 2008 for the Carl Brandon; on 2 December you get to start nominating fiction published in 2009.
# (2) 03 Dec 2009, 04:19PM: Spare Ticket to Vienna Teng Tonight:
I have two tickets to Vienna Teng's sold-out 7:30pm concert tonight at Joe's Pub near NYU. I found out today that my companion can't come. If you are free tonight, let me know ASAP and you can accompany me!
# (1) 08 Dec 2009, 05:35PM: Repurposed Email:
Some of my ad hoc social writing recently has been to email lists. With a bit of editing I can decontextualize a few paragraphs into something to amuse you.
After a recent shooting:
Elliot Aronson's The Social Animal and Gavin de Becker's The Gift Of Fear made me think a lot about the role of the news media in basically
encouraging copycat killings. Any loser with a gun and the will to use it
basically becomes a role model. As de Becker puts it, the most important
question regarding a potential assassin is, "do you believe you have the
ability to kill [whoever]?" If the answer is "well, no, he has all these
bodyguards, etc." then you don't have to worry about the nut, even if he's
fantasizing about doing it all the time. If the answer is yes, then there's
a problem. And so when an attacker attacks, the news media become a PR
machine whose message is "this attack is
Nerdy humor recommendations:
Cory Doctorow's "Cheap Facts and the Plausible Premise" has
the somewhat hyperbolic line "...we now inhabit a world where knowing
something is possible is practically the same as knowing how to do it."
This is incredibly encouraging regarding, say, childrearing techniques, bike
repair, activism, crafts, entrepreneurialism, and travel. It means that
initiative, resourcefulness, and not-being-oblivious pay very high
dividends. But that goes for IEDs, too.
Science jokes, just real groaner puns --
read the comments on BoingBoing for more. I have hearted Brian Malow
for years and evidently was and am right to do so.
"Dear Mandy," a fairly nerdy and British political rap song.
Danny O'Brien! "I have volunteered to take the meetynge notes in the style of a 17th
century essayist.... So up, and to Noisebridge, where I did attend the
meetynge of the week, and was so pressganged there into beynge a recordist,
and did solemnly type this at that time into my computationeristic
This includes "Steven, a cabler from this parish, did offer to fixe the
cabling in our place, and did offer so to put his plannyng unto the wiki,
the builde mailynge list and discuss."
Regarding the virtues of pain:
There is an aspect of temporary pain that's soothing to the self-loathing mind. "I'm not supposed to feel good; my default state is stressed, distressed, sad, somehow in emotional pain; that's how I know I'm working hard enough, being productive enough, struggling hard enough, not wasting time. If I feel minor physical pain (even if I have to deliberately incur it), it's like getting drunk. It numbs the voices telling me that I'm not doing enough. I must be doing enough, I'm in pain! If I'm in pain it means I can relax."
And there's Gate Control Theory (on pain & nerves)...
The virtue of pain is that it stops?
I once knew a guy who trained martial arts, a lot. He had a proverb he was fond of. He used to say "Pain is just the sensation of weakness leaving the body". And so he kept on training, even when it really hurt, because he knew it was just weakness leaving his body. And it worked; over a period of twenty years, nearly all the weakness left his body. When I last saw him, there wasn't enough weakness left in his knees or ankles for them to even bend. He walks with a stick, of course. Turns out that you probably ought to leave a bit of weakness in there.
On dress codes in job interviews:
I'm really wondering how much of this "oh you gotta wear a suit to an
interview" is a male thing, a New York City/Eastern US thing, and a BigCorp
thing. I'm glad I don't use that particular shibboleth when hiring -- I get
superior access to qualified candidates who get turned down by other
interviewers for stupid reasons, score! Some nice lines from Moneyball that get at my perspective:
As the thirty-fifth pick approaches, Eric once again leans into the speaker
phone. If he leaned in just a bit more closely he might hear phones around
the league clicking off, so that people could laugh without being heard. For
they do laugh. They will make fun of what the A's are about to do; and there
will be a lesson in that. The inability to envision a certain kind of person
doing a certain kind of thing because you've never seen someone who looks
like him do it before is not just a vice. It's a luxury. What begins as a
failure of the imagination ends as a market inefficiency: when you rule out
an entire class of people from doing a job simply by their appearance, you
are less likely to find the best person for the job. - p115
"You know what gets me excited about a guy? I get excited about a guy when
he has something about him that causes everyone else to overlook him and I
know that it is something that just doesn't matter." - Paul DePodesta, p116
Sure, we're all playing the probability game, and if I were a male in New
York City looking for a desk job at a publicly owned corporation, I'd
probably put on a suit for that interview, in case I got a superficial interviewer. But let's be clear that it's about probabilities, and not some
kind of handed-down-by-God Rule about who's hireworthy.
Relatedly, from a conversation about job interviewers asking personality-related or personal questions:
This discussion is reminding me of how different jobs customarily have
different intake rituals and customs. The more creative industries expect a
certain well-roundedness and ability to deal well with curveballs.
Academics expect you can churn out erudite-looking prose, including a custom
cover letter, basically at will. Software managers expect that developers
can list a few dev jobs on their resumes, and might interview in an
unsociable manner but can code in front of you if you give them a puzzle.
I used to interview really badly, so I didn't get various scholarships or
into selective summer programs or jobs. I would always make it to the
interview, basically never past it. Now I'm much better, but it's not
because I specifically worked on My Interview Skills, it's because I (mostly
unconsciously) improved my general people skills. And I can see a sensitive
hiring manager trying to balance the need to get someone personable with the
wish to help nervous people relax -- by, for example, asking them ahead of
time for something personality-related that she can ask about in the
interview, to get the interviewee speaking more informally.
We put a lot of emphasis on the ability to "communicate" - in person, on
paper, etc. But just as a timed essay during Finals isn't the best test of
my day-to-day intellectual abilities, an incredibly pressure-laden,
ritualized submission process (double entendre intended) isn't the best
way to see how a person communicates day-to-day. The abstracted crucible is
sometimes easier to game, and is much less worthwhile than the work and
skills it's meant to symbolize. I know every hiring manager needs a
screening mechanism, but I don't want hiring managers to think that
mastering the interviewing/cover-letter-writing kabuki dance is an
unambiguous thumbs-up for a candidate.
By the way, here's a great cover letter we got while editing the anthology:
Dear Money Guy,
Sorry, I've had it out the arse with boring, yet professional, cover
letters. And since the worst thing you can say is no, I figured what the
hell. I hope you enjoy my 3500 word submission. But, if not, I look forward
to hearing no from you soon. And feel free to be as brazen as you like. It's
refreshing, I promise.
I haven't been writing much in the blog since work has consumed me. I may take requests, though.
# (1) 10 Dec 2009, 08:55PM: A Mess of Geekiness Thoughts:
Liz Henry's thoughts on geekitude got me wanting to post my own half-formed thoughts on the topic.
Evidently I have the capacity to continuously raise the standard for what makes a real obsessed fan of, say, Star Trek or Cryptonomicon or whatever. I read the Memory Alpha wiki (Star Trek compendium), but I don't contribute to it; I only know a word or two of Klingon; I haven't *memorized* more than, say, ten lines of Cryptonomicon.
So I can always say, "oh, I'm just a regular person who happens to like this thing, there are OTHER PEOPLE who are really obsessed." But that's just No True Scotsman in reverse. These goalposts must be made of new space-age alloys, they're so easy to move!
But when I come across an enthusiasm more ardent than mine, there is a kind of intellectual squick, a cooler and more abstract horror. And there's relief -- at least I'm not like that, at least there's someone below me on this imagined hierarchy. Which makes little sense; to whom am I proving this alleged cool?
Obsession is a derogatory synonym of mastery.
Mel's post on how she learns tickled my brain. When I learn, I like to hypothesize internally consistent systems of rules. And then I take pride in the architecture I've built, in my mastery of my personal social construction, and bond with new tribe members when we learn that we share intersubjectivities.
New skills are tools and catalogs of tools. If you learn what I know, then you'll realize certain tasks are far easier than you thought. I can be uneasy with that power; it's like the disorientation of suddenly driving an SUV, getting used to a bigger, stronger body.
But an expert also confidently says, "No. That's far harder than you realize." While the fairy tales usually scorn naysayers -- they're just obstacles in the hero's way -- in our real lives, over coffee and beer, we shake our heads and say, "I told him it wasn't gonna work."
I had a dinner with an out-of-towner once, and happened to mention that Roosevelt Island's tram is a major means of transit for RI's residents, and that when it gets taken down for construction/maintenance for several months (sometime soon, I believe) it'll be a big hardship for those residents. It would suck to commute by car (that teensy bridge would get backed up real fast), and the RI stop on the F subway line will get uncomfortably crowded. She started making suggestions. Run more F trains? Well, that would probably throw the rest of the system out of whack. Get a bigger bridge? Probably not worth it for a five-month workaround, and besides, building bigger roads means asking for more traffic. She finally said in bewilderment, "Well, they should just fix it!" And I said, eh, it is complicated, isn't it? And we moved on.
I felt very superior and sophisticated at this - scorn is shorthand for status. There's a whole other thread here about urban systems, interdependence, respect for homeostasis. But basically, I'm ashamed of that impulse to snobbishness. Had I time, love, security, and patience enough, I'd be about sharing, not shaming.
I like being enthusiastic. I like sharing myself. My opinions, my judgments, and my ideas sometimes feel like an extension of myself, as much as my adopted culture says I should take criticism of those opinions impersonally.
But sometimes I have a snobbish geekiness, so complacent & happy to bond with one person by slamming another. Either because I have more mastery than her (e.g., re: transit), or less (e.g., re: Star Wars).
So, the Twitter version: Parallax sucks, and I love mastering worlds because I can't master myself.
# 12 Dec 2009, 12:15PM: And A Round Of Applause For Yourself For Coming Out And Supporting Live Theater:
Sepia Mutiny got me to go see a bunch of Asian & black comics doing standup Friday night and it was great. Hari Kondabolu & Kumail Nanjiani were especially awesome, but I also enjoyed seeing Ali Wong's, Sheng Wang's, and Baron Vaughn's acts. (I'm now at the age where I suspect I've seen several of these performers before but can't remember unless they reuse jokes.) Now to get on a bunch of email lists. I only saw Aziz Ansari live once or twice when I had the chance, and now he's off Hollywooding; not again! Kondabolu made me point and say YES more than any stand-up I've seen in years.
Before that, I saw Mike Daisey's The Last Cargo Cult: fantastic as always, as good as the best Daisey. It's playing through the 13th and you should catch it if you can. I often have a hard time visualizing scenes, but Daisey made me feel like I was in a Maine college dorm, or on a bare-metal plane, or watching the John Frum Day celebrations, or in a car driving to the Hamptons. Some of his phrasings and lines stay with me, like splinters; some of the story has sailed through my conscious recollection and I'm not sure yet which appendage is bleeding.
Quick fun: Baron Vaughn on movie parent cliches and agribusiness, Kondabolu on "found" artifacts, and Nanjiani on Benjamin Button, or, the difference between science fiction and fantasy.
# (5) 12 Dec 2009, 12:26PM: Charitable Giving Suggestions:
For several years I've preferred people give to charity rather than give me Christmas or birthday gifts. This year I may also just donate rather than give gifts to anyone, up to and including my husband. I hope no one takes this as a sign that I don't care about them.
Some recent recommendation lists come from BoingBoing, Jed (from last year), and Charity Navigator's guide to holiday giving. The charities that really speak to me this year are about freedom, sex, and science fiction:
- The ACLU, which is at least trying to hold Obama's feet to the fire on civil liberties. Charity Navigator gives them four stars. Incidentally, there's an "American Civil Rights Union" founded in 1998 that gets one star.
- The Electronic Frontier Foundation, also four stars, probably the charity closest to my heart.
- The Sylvia Rivera Law Project comes recommended by my awesome lawyer Danielle Sucher. Its mission: "Fighting Discrimination against Gender Non-Conforming People: Focusing on People of Color and Poor People." (SRLP is not yet on Charity Navigator, but is on GuideStar.) I welcome further recommendations for charities that serve the transgender community specifically and well. I know there are a lot of fine LGBT organizations but this year I am particularly interested in the last letter.
- Scarleteen, sex ed for young'uns who can't get it any other way. As that page explains, you can give via the 501(c)3 charity Center for Sex and Culture if you want tax-deductibility.
- Strange Horizons (501(c)3, not yet listed in Charity Navigator, transparent about budget, listed on GuideStar). To repeat myself: When I started realizing that they've been publishing quality fiction and nonfiction weekly for more than seven years, paying pro rates, and generally been ahead of every curve I thought I was exploring, I couldn't believe that I hadn't been a fangirl earlier.
- Duotrope's Digest (not a 501(c)3), a writer's resource that lets you slice and dice statistics about markets' responsiveness and acceptance rates.
Leonard, per his request, will probably get a donation to Heifer International or Oxfam. I sometimes also give via DonorsChoose, and other friends have recommended to me several charities including:
- "the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), which operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline as well as a bevy of other really good resources for victims of sexual assault"
- Children's Aid Society "(we appreciate its focus on New York children and families)"
- Immigration Equality (for GLBT immigrants)
- Robin Hood Responds (feeding the hungry in NYC)
(In talking with some people about this, I realized that "what charities are you giving to?" can be an awkward question along the lines of "what books are you reading these days?")
And please don't worry that I'm going all ascetic. I'm getting a huge end-of-year gift already, a free N900 mobile computer, from my bosses. Incidentally, this means I don't need to hunt down a Linux-friendly portable music player, but I do need to look for a guide to the best aftermarket tweaks and apps, along the lines of "Top things to do after installing Ubuntu Linux 9.10 Karmic Koala". Playing .ogg files would be nice.
# (1) 13 Dec 2009, 02:49PM: To Consume:
Last night, Leonard & I looked at recent Hulu uploads to see if we want to watch anything. Promising selections:
We also looked at recent New York City Craigslist posts for amusement, shock, sentiment, and "what does THAT acronym mean?" edification. A few (click soon, they'll disappear off the site in a few days):
- Almost a rap. Why is the age "99"?
- "Hot chocolate with milk, not water!" Is that a metaphor? Code? Or just a rant about bad hot chocolate?
- That sentence in the second paragraph just goes on and on, and not where I expected. Also, the photo and caption make teddy bears more ominous than Teddy Ruxpin did.
- Really rappish. Leonard cannot stop laughing at the acknowledgment-of-slant-rhyme couplet at the end.
- Actually platonic! (But why does the author specify a male partner? Larger probable appetite?)
I want Chips and Guac. - w4m - 21 (Greenwich Village)
Date: 2009-12-08, 5:45PM EST
I am studying at Bobst right now (aka memorizing every detail of the jcrew website). I want some chips and guacamole but I don't want to eat a whole serving myself. I just want someone to eat them with me (and pay for half of them, obviously). I am awesome and you should be too.
[photo of guacamole & tortilla chips]
- This is satire, right? NSFW. "PS I am a well known conceptual artist."
An N+1 article on online dating by Katherine Sharpe had some great Craigslist analysis:
Reading Craigslist, I feel as though I am dipping my cup straight into the swift-flowing stream of human need. Laid-back is the only thing these people aren't. When I step back onto the "regular" dating sites, I feel like someone coming out of bright sunshine into a darkened room; it takes a while for my eyes to re-adjust. Everything's so … subtle. On Craigslist, people say what they want; on Nerve or OK Cupid, they say who they are, and you infer the rest. Craigslist is scattershot, confessional, desperate, and sleazy. It's like a wholesale thrift store where nothing is hung up, no two items are alike, and the savviest shoppers wear rubber gloves. The other dating sites are for discerning petit-bouregois who like to read Consumer Reports and make informed decisions. Craigslist's the insane, open-all-night corner store where you go at 3 a.m. for unhealthy snacks, where a bony cat roams the aisles and there's a permanent card game going on in back. You go there for what you want right now and will most likely consume in private. Or you go there because you just can't sleep, and you need somebody else to know it.
# (6) 19 Dec 2009, 07:54PM: Everything I Knew (About Battery Care) Was Wrong:
Today I learned that I've been working from an obsolete understanding of how to keep my cellphone and laptop batteries from losing gobs of capacity over time. A simplistic summary follows for your benefit.
The batteries in my phone and my work laptop are lithium-ion batteries. Check yours -- the "Li-Ion" abbreviation means it's lithium-ion. As detailed sources explain, charging/discharging battery care for lithium ion batteries is the opposite of the conventional wisdom I had in my head, left over from the old days of nickel-based rechargeable batteries.
It used to be that you'd want to run batteries all the way down before starting to charge them again, because otherwise the capacity might get messed up. That's not true with lithium-ion batteries; it's recommended that you only rarely let an Li-Ion battery run down below 10% of its charge.
Lithium-ion batteries lose capacity, in the long run, if they sit overcharging a lot, or if they run hot a lot. So don't let them sit plugged into a charger all the time, and if you usually run your laptop plugged into AC power, think about removing the battery and setting it someplace cooler.
The moment a lithium-ion battery gets manufactured, it slowly starts losing capacity. So buying a primary battery + a spare battery simultaneously might be a worse decision than using a primary battery, then getting the spare battery years later, when your capacity has substantially degraded.
This came up because I assumed I should let my new N900 run down completely (on the partial battery charge from the factory) before plugging it in, and I was annoyed that plugging in the USB-to-microUSB cable to transfer files meant it was getting juice while the battery hadn't totally discharged. But I was wrong to worry! Thanks for straightening me out, Sjoerd.
# (3) 20 Dec 2009, 06:53PM: Some Follow-Ups:
Drunken Master is fairly boring and the main character is offputting, although the Jackie Chan fight sequences are indeed very Jackie Chan-esque.
I only have first impressions of the N900 so far, like "how nice that copy and paste works just as I intuited it would!" and "hey, these speakers are really nice" and "I could use this video camera to upload reviews for the Rotten Tomatoes TV show" and "I think I need to install some more codecs so that random downloaded fanvids play properly." I have been spending much of the weekend happily playing with it.
I hear it's snowing in England, and am glad I'm not moving till the spring.
I upgraded to Ubuntu's latest big release, Karmic Koala, and everything seems fine; there was an issue interfering with resume-from-suspend but that seems fixed now.
I seem to be posting about once a day on Twitter (it just repeats everything I post to Identi.ca) and post comments twice a week on Ask MetaFilter.
Recently I saw a Kevin [Maher] Geeks Out holiday best-of (Kevin's site, including Muppets trivia), the German film The Lives of Others, and my friend John Stange on stage as Jerry in Albee's The Zoo Story. All three were ridiculously good, but I'm still trying to figure out what happened to my head when I saw John do that on stage. My jaw was dropped for a minute after. What do you do when a friend suddenly (to you) blazes like a sun?
# (10) 24 Dec 2009, 08:43AM: Balk-eye Bartockomouse Here?:
Vacation! I'm off work today till Monday 4 January. Leonard and I are staying in NYC and hella available to hang out, including perhaps a quiet New Year's Eve at our place with games.
Recently our friend Beth heard me order a pizza and give my fake name. It always causes amusement when people first hear me do it; I try rather hard not to lie, and I wonder whether that causes some of the incongruity. I explained that it's less trouble for everyone if random taxi dispatchers and restaurant hosts don't have to try to write down and repeat "Sumana." (Incidentally, this is one nice thing about call centers; they usually get my name right.)
[Vaguely relatedly, many acquaintances think my name is Sumanah, because my email address starts with sumanah@ and my chat nickname is sumanah. (The "more suitable anecdote" here explains why.) So I get email starting with "Hi Sumanah!" but don't usually bother to explicitly correct them, since they'll figure it out eventually when they see my signature.]
We told Beth that Leonard's fake name for these purposes is "Jake," although we haven't yet told her that some people therefore think Leonard's friend Jake Berendes is a hoax. Evidently, if Leonard gives the name "Leonard," the name he gets back is at best "Benard," "Winter," "Maynard," or "Ayers." At worst, he muses,
"Your name is LeRGHGHGAGH?" It's like they think I couldn't have that name. It's like I don't have a name. It's like I've cast a glamour over them to make them forget my name -- it's like the opposite of fame.
And I told her the eerie tale of the time we hung out with Ben and his gal-pal-at-the-time Irina, and discovered that they'd also decided on the fake names "Jake" and "Vicky," separately, before they had met us or each other.
Beth then surprised me by telling me that random phone people get her name wrong! They call her "Bev." Bev! So even fairly common US names get messed up by substitute teachers, telemarketers, taxi dispatchers, supermarket clerks ("Thanks for shopping with us, _____!"), maitres'd, and all the other strangers who have to grab hold of your name. What names are the most and least awkward handles to grab? And when such folks get your name wrong, what do they usually call you?
(Title from Perfect Strangers, in which the delivery guy always mispronounced Balki Bartokomous's name. If it's true that saying someone's true name gives you power over them, Balki and I are pretty lucky!)
# (1) 28 Dec 2009, 10:23AM: Refracted Light:
Glurge is a certain kind of inspirational story. It's unattributed, it's a honed anecdote honoring goodness and generosity and loyalty and stamina and often faith, and it has a kitschy feel that irony-aligned people of my cohort are allergic to. Gives Me Hope made tears come to my eyes, but the saccharine gets to me after a few pages.
And then there's another kind of inspiration, from another direction, a different color of light. It's the way someone tells their specific story, or celebrates an achievement, more expository than persuasive. The author didn't write it specifically to inspire the reader to generalized goodness, but basic empathy leads a reader to consider the lessons mentioned, perhaps raise her sights a little.
Things that made me want to up my game recently:
Mel, as always. In this case, the way she actively seeks out uncertainty, and her ability and willingness to frankly say that she's good at things. My reflexive self-deprecation nearly won't let me think I'm good at things, and certainly wouldn't let me say it out loud. I need to work on that.
N.K. Jemisin, principally on a clash between an amateur writer's and a professional writer's mindset, but more profoundly on feeling secure in your past choices:
See, I think a lot of the angst surrounding this debate is happening because some folks -- particularly newer writers -- are caring about the wrong things. They're basing their sense of themselves as writers on extrinsic factors like which markets publish their work and how much their work sells for and whether they've got any sales at all, rather than on intrinsic factors like belief in their own skill. So of course they get upset when someone disparages a market they've sold/hoped to sell their work to; this feels like disparagement of them, and their skill. They take it very personally. And thus a conversation that should be strictly about business becomes a conversation about their personal/artistic worth.
This will sound cold-blooded. But the solution is for these writers to stop caring. Or rather, care better. I think the shift from extrinsic to intrinsic valuation -- from caring about what others think to caring about yourself -- is a fundamental part of the transition from amateur to professional, perhaps even more than pay rates and book deals and awards and such. It's a tough transition to make, I know; how do you believe in yourself if no one else does? How do you know your judgment of yourself is sound? I could write ten more blog posts trying to answer these questions. But for pro writers -- and I include aspiring pros along with established ones in this designation -- it's an absolutely necessary transition. Otherwise you spend all your time caring about the wrong things.
A kick in the butt to care about the right things.
Desi Women of the Decade. I bet my sister will be on this list in ten years. I love seeing us achieving in politics, arts/entertainment, science and business. Kind of hilarious that Parminder Nagra got on US TV to play a doctor. Maybe that's only funny to Asians.
I saw this seven-minute documentary about an aspiring comedian via the Best of Current video podcast. We all know the glurgy slogans: the lessons of adversity, no pain no gain, that sort of thing. But it is a different thing to see this man on stage, and then find out where he was before, and to think, of course the worthwhile thing is hard. I am comfortable and I need to reexamine my little lazinesses. And more that I don't have words for.
Yesterday, in the Unitarian Universalist hymnal, I ran across these lines from Rabindranath Tagore, which somehow get past my kitsch shields because they are personal, confessional, yearning, desperate:
Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless in facing them.
Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it.
Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved but hope for the patience to win my freedom.
Grant me that I may not be a coward, feeling your mercy in my success alone; but let me find the grasp of your hand in my failure.
# (2) 29 Dec 2009, 11:27AM: An Adventure Fifty-Five Months In The Making:
Several years ago, I worked for Salon.com, had a weekly newspaper column, and contributed the occasional review to Bookslut. (The review of Clara's Grand Tour is by Leonard; every once in a while I ask them again to change the byline.)
I used these opportunities to interview cool people, like Diana Abu-Jaber, Christopher Kimball and Alton Brown, Trevor Moore and Jimbo Matison of Uncle Morty's Dub Shack, Wil Wheaton & Bjo Trimble (for a piece on the end of Star Trek Enterprise that never ran), and Ryan Divine of Maldroid. Where I have the raw text of those interviews (email or phone transcripts), you can read them in my new low-tech "interviews" file directory.
Most embarrassingly: in May 2005, I interviewed Eric Burns of Websnark and then didn't transcribe the tape for four and a half years. My friend and high-energy stenographer machine Mirabai Knight kindly transcribed it for me this month, so I offer you my hella outdated interview with Eric Burns. Includes predictions about the webcomics industry, me ordering jalapeno poppers for the first time, and Burns praising Anacrusis.
You can hire me through Changeset Consulting.
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