April 21, 2011
All the Cool Kids Are Doing It: My WisCon 35 Program Schedule
Join the Mod Squad: Enhance Your Moderation Skills
Ever go to a panel and spend your time thinking, "With a good moderator, this would be a much better panel?" You won't become a hippie if you attend this panel, but we will review several ways to be that good moderator, offer tips and tricks, and generally work on improving WisCon's already high standards for panel moderation. We strongly encourage you to attend this panel if you are moderating at WisCon, especially if it's your first time. It's also a great experience if you ever have, or think you ever will, be a panel moderator anywhere.
Assembly, Fri, 4:00–5:15 pm
M: Alan Bostick. Ann Crimmins, Christopher Davis, Beverly Friend, Elise Matthesen
If Someone You Know Has Been Affected by Slacktivism, Please Post This as Your Status
Retweeting, changing your userpic, uploading a video ... is this just a substitute for actual activism? Is this "slacktivism" helpful or hurtful? Are some methods better than others? Does it depend on the cause? Does it matter who started the meme? How do we counter slacktivism or move beyond it to effect real change?
Conference 5, Sat, 4:00–5:15 pm
M: Alan Bostick. Andy Best, E. Cabell Hankinson Gathman, Rosemary / Sophy, Xakara
"The Personal is Political" Revisited
The title of Carol Hanishch's 1969 essay "The personal is political" became one of the best-known slogans of the feminist movement. Women were challenged to see their life circumstances not as individual situations of choice, but within a broader context of gendered oppression and societal structural inequalities. The panelists will look at the intersections between the personal and political in their activist work, and will examine the meaning and relevance of the slogan today.
Capitol A, Sun, 10:00–11:15 am
M: Susan Marie Groppi. Susan Simensky Bietila, Alan Bostick, Karen Ireland-Phillips, Pamela K. Taylor
Your Fandom is OK!
It's important to remember that just because you don't like a particular fandom, you don't have the right to put down those who do. (We're looking at you, Twilight haters!) Everyone's fandom is OK! In this panel, we'll discuss why this is true, and what we can do to encourage better understanding among all members of fandom.
Conference 4, Sun, 1:00–2:15 pm
M: Trisha J. Wooldridge. Molly Aplet, Alan Bostick, Caroline Pruett, Xakara
(WisCon 35 will be held at the Concourse Hotel, Madison, Wisconsin, on May 26-30, 2011)
June 23, 2008
Novelty Candy with a Kinky Bent
It's a flogger, put together out of two strands of candy beads on strings.
Please don't put it to its apparent purpose. The candy beads would likely shatter on impact, leaving sharp edges that could break skin (and contaminate the candy with bodily fluids). Lots of sting, not much thud.
Also seen on in the same store from the same manufacturer: a candy bra ("one size fits most"), a candy waist chain, and candy handcuffs.
You can order these products online from the manufacturer, Spencer & Fleetwood Ltd., at www.rudefood.com.
February 27, 2008
Top Ten Sexy Ads for Toys and Lingerie
Originally uploaded by
My favorite is the X-ray shopping bag from German lingerie vendor Blush, with honorable mention to Stringfellows' pole-dancer posters affixed to Parisian lampposts.
(via Violet Blue)
February 26, 2008
Animated Map for Gardeners Shows Progress of Global Warming
image source: The Arbor Day Foundation
Hardiness zones are a geographical tool developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to assist farmers and gardners to choose plants to cultivate that will thrive in their local climate, based upon average annual low temperature. The USDA most recently published its hardiness zone data based on climate data from 1990. The Arbor Day Foundation produced its own hardiness zone data for 2006, based on climate data from the preceding 15 years provided by the NOAA National Climatic Data Center.
The animated map plainly shows the northward movement of warmer temperatures beween 1990 and 2006.
(via Pat Kight)
February 19, 2008
Study: Fears of Online 'Sexual Predators' Are Greatly Exaggerated
image source: Yello Dyno
Frank Greve, writing for McClatchy Newspapers, quotes Wolak: "Actually, Internet-related sex crimes are a pretty small proportion of sex crimes that adolescents suffer."
The study is based on two surveys of 3000 youths between the ages of 10 and 17, one each in 2000 and in 2005, as well as interviews with 612 investigators at agencies that deal with Internet-related sex crimes involving minors.
- Internet predators are driving up child sex crime rates.
Finding: Sex assaults on teens fell 52 percent from 1993 to 2005, according to the Justice Department's National Crime Victimization Survey, the best measure of U.S. crime trends. "The Internet may not be as risky as a lot of other things that parents do without concern, such as driving kids to the mall and leaving them there for two hours," Wolak said.
- Internet predators are pedophiles.
Finding: Internet predators don't hit on the prepubescent children whom pedophiles target. They target adolescents, who have more access to computers, more privacy and more interest in sex and romance, Wolak's team determined from interviews with investigators.
- Internet predators represent a new dimension of child sexual abuse.
Finding: The means of communication is new, according to Wolak, but most Internet-linked offenses are essentially statutory rape: nonforcible sex crimes against minors too young to consent to sexual relationships with adults.
Finding: Most victims meet online offenders face-to-face and go to those meetings expecting to engage in sex. Nearly three-quarters have sex with partners they met on the Internet more than once.
- Internet predators meet their victims by posing online as other teens.
Finding: Only 5 percent of predators did that, according to the survey of investigators.
- Online interactions with strangers are risky.
Finding: Many teens interact online all the time with people they don't know. What's risky, according to Wolak, is giving out names, phone numbers and pictures to strangers and talking online with them about sex.
- Internet predators go after any child.
Finding: Usually their targets are adolescent girls or adolescent boys of uncertain sexual orientation, according to Wolak. Youths with histories of sexual abuse, sexual orientation concerns and patterns of off- and online risk-taking are especially at risk.
Update: 2-26-08 Here is a PDF of the paper, Online “Predators” and Their Victims: Myths, Realities, and Implications for Prevention and Treatment by Janis Wolak, David Finkelhor, Kimberly J. Mitchell, and Michele L. Ybarra.
February 14, 2008
High Heels Improve Women's Sex Lives, Claims Researcher
Slingback High Heels
Originally uploaded by shielaannkeller.
In a letter published in European Urology, Dr. Maria Cerruto reported a study of 66 women under the age of 50 in which she found that:
those who held their foot at a 15 degree angle to the ground — the equivalent of a two inch heel — had as good posture as those who wore flat shoes, and crucially showed less electrical activity in their pelvic muscles.
This suggested the muscles were at an optimum position, which could well improve their strength and ability to contract.
The pelvic floor muscles help support abdominal organs in women and men alike. Gynecologist Dr. Robert Kegel developed the so-called Kegel exercises (or "kegels") to strengthen these muscles as a treatment for women with urinary incontenence, and discovered from the reports of his patients that they were experiencing stronger and better orgasms during sex.
Dr. Cerruto claims that women who regularly wear high-heeled shoes can also experienced the sexual benefit of strengthened pelvic floor muscles.
February 09, 2008
'Tis the Season for Marshmallow Peeps
2012: Survivor: Easter Island
Originally uploaded by andrea z.
Peep in a Microwave:
February 08, 2008
Police Find Crack in Man's Buttocks
image source: Fox Television Stations, Inc.
The headline reads, "Police: Crack Found in Man's Buttocks." One wonders how they found it. Were the man's trousers riding low on his hips, giving them probable cause to search for the crack?
(via Charlie Stross)
February 07, 2008
What the Heck Is a "Chyron," Anyway?
image source: Welcome to Pottersville
February 05, 2008
Dubai Developers' Plans Resemble Las Vegas
Falconcity of Wonder
No, it isn't Las Vegas, it's Falconcity of Wonder, now under development in Dubai.
Let's see: I can pick out the Venetian, Paris, and the Luxor, but I can't find the Mirage, Bellagio, the Wynn, or Circus Circus. And I have to say: laying the lots out in the shape of a hawk doesn't make up for leaving out the Fremont Street Experience.
And let's just hope that the developers aren't duplicating Las Vegas' housing foreclosure crisis as well.
(via Ellen Kushner)
February 03, 2008
Don't Watch the SuperBowl With Organizational Psychologists
A group of spectators sat watching a football game. They saw two groups of eleven men facing each other, heard a whistle blow, then suddenly action erupted, followed by another blast of the whistle, whereupon everyone stopped. One of the spectators said, “That was a good draw play, we gained eight yards.” When questioned about his jargon, he said, “Well, the quarterback handed the ball to the fullback, who counted off several seconds, waiting for the opposition to be drawn in, and then crashed into the middle of the line and advanced eight yards before being tackled and stopped. That's what is called a 'draw play.'” Someone asked a second spectator, “What did you see?” “Well,” he replied,”I saw the acting out in different degrees of the needs for aggression and achievement in the players and the effects of how each views himself in relation to the other twenty-one men.” A third spectator said, “I saw eleven men on either side engage in a pattern of coordinated behavior with very well worked out expectations of action for each position in regard to other positions, until these patterns were disrupted by the other side.” A fourth spectator said, “I also saw your role relationship and integrations. But additionally, I saw a leadership structure, which included a man in one position calling signals during the play and a captain exercising some limited authority. I saw a social system of eleven men opposing another social system, each of which was composed of many subsystems and structures like leadership, conflict, plus a coach attached to each system.” A fifth spectator said, “I saw two kinds of traditions: the ritualistic and emotional meaning of a game of this sort and the heightened excitement and tension of this particular game due to the traditional rivalry between these two teams. Both traditions reflect the competitive and peer values of our young adult culture.”
(From Benne, Kenneth D., Robert Chin, and Warren G. Bennis: Science and practice. From The Planning of Change: Readings in the Applied Behavioral Sciences, edited by Warren G. Bennis, Kenneth D. Benne, and Robert Chin, Holt Rinehard & Winston, 1961)
A football game is very like a snake. No, wait — a tree! A wall...?
January 27, 2008
The Truth Behind the Southwest Airlines "Stripper Plane"
Gadling's Neil Woodburn relates a lurid story about a Southwest Airlines flight from LAX to McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, each Friday afternoon, crammed with exotic dancers on their way to work the gambling Mecca's strip clubs for the weekend:
Every Friday evening, some time before most people have clocked out of work and begin heading home for the weekend, a plane takes off from LAX.
Like so many other flights at this time, this one is also heading to Las Vegas. It's not full of gamblers, however, but rather a disproportionate amount of silicone that bounces and jiggles through the warm, desert-air turbulence all the way to Vegas where, for the remainder of Friday and Saturday night, it will continue quivering away at $20 a pop.
This, folks, is the Southwest Stripper Plane....
No one really knows what time this legendary, perhaps even mythical flight leaves Los Angeles. Seats are reserved months in advance and few mere mortals are able to secure a reservation. A friend of mine claims he once found himself on this flight but can't seem to remember the details, as though some powerful force scrubbed his brain clean, leaving only a trace of glitter on his sweaty forehead.
Gadling is part of the Weblogs, Inc. blog network. Maybe the pittance that Jason Calacanis pays his indentured servants is not enough to reward or encourage fact-checking. But it takes only a few minutes of playing with the Southwest Airlines reservation system to discover that, except on particular high-traffic weekends, seats are available on all Friday afternoon flights to Las Vegas, not just from LAX but from Burbank, Long Beach, and Orange County's John Wayne airports as well.
There is a seed of truth from out of which grew this male fantasy of a pleasure plane packed with pulchritudinous pole-dancers. The strip clubs of Las Vegas do indeed receive an influx of transient dancers from out of town every weekend, and many of these dancers do spend the rest of their week somewhere in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area. If you fly on any Friday afternoon flight on from any of the area's airports to McCarran, some of the passengers will be women on their way to a weekend of work as exotic dancers.
But mark this, horndogs: If you find yourself one one of those flights, sitting next to one of these women, she is not at her job yet. In a strip club you get to ogle and flirt and maybe even grope — because you are paying the dancer directly for the privilege. On the the plane, however, she is just another working stiff commuting to her stressful, emotionally demanding job, so leave her alone. She doesn't want to talk to you.
(You might not even know it: she's wearing street clothes, not a camisole and T-back thong, and she won't put her war paint on until she gets to the dressing room at Cheetah's. Without her glamour on, you might never give her a second look.)
(via Flight International)
January 23, 2008
Airline Re-Brands as "Ank Air" With Embarrassing Results
Flight International reports that Turkish air carrier World Focus Airlines has rebranded itself as Ank Air — with a new logo that bears an unfortunate resemblance to the letter "W." As Travolution Blog puts it, "Thankfully the web address will be less embarrassing."
January 21, 2008
Advice for Relationship Problems from Golden Age Wonder Woman
(via Avedon Carol)
January 09, 2008
The Wire - Fifth Season Link-O-Rama
Here in these parts, we love The Wire, HBO's series about crime and punishment in the mean streets of Baltimore, Maryland, also known as The Best Show on TelevisionTM. The show's creator, David Simon, makes Joss Whedon look like Aaron Spelling, and that's saying a lot, because Joss Whedon makes everyone who isn't David Simon look like Aaron Spelling.
The fifth and final season began airing last Sunday night. The occasion of the final season is marked by a great deal of ink (and magnetized ferrite) being put out in the media. Here is some of what I have been seeing:
In The New Yorker last October, Margaret Talbot's 11,000-word profile of David Simon, Stealing Life, looks at both The Wire and Simon's next project in development.
This Nick Hornby interview with David Simon appeared in the August 2007 issue of The Believer.
Slate has just reissued Meghan O'Rourke's 2006 interview with Simon, as well as Jacob Weisberg's analysis of the show, the one in which he called it the best TV show ever broadcast in America because it portray[s] the social, political, and economic life of an American city with the scope, observational precision, and moral vision of great literature.
Now appearing in The Atlantic is Mark Bowden's The Angriest Man in Television damns The Wire and David Simon with faint praise, going on to call the show a bleak fiction and Simon a hack.
"Bleak" is the epithet tossed around like a Karl Rove talking point by the show's detractors. The Bleakness of the Wire is the title of Reihan Salam's critique at at The American Scene. Salam wags his finger at Simon for portraying the situation in Baltimore as hopeless. Matthew Yglesias chimes in with David Simon and the Audacity of Despair: Fundamentally, I think [Simon's] vision of the bleak urban dystopia and its roots is counterproductive to advancing the values we hold dear. David Simon responds in the comments. At the blog Shadow of the Hegemon, Demosthenes raps Yglesias on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper
Lastly, HBO's Web site presents three videos of the backstory, episodes in the lives of some prominent characters -- Proposition Joe, Omar Little, and the first meeting between Jimmy McNulty and Bunk Moreland.
Of course, if you like sipping from firehoses, you can find more at del.icio.us.
December 28, 2007
Are 3-D Movies Evidence of Creative Thinking in the Studios?
3-D movies are back. After fads that died off in the 1950s and 70s (memorialized only in revivals of House of Wax or Lollipop Girls in Hard Candy) there has been a spate of recent 3-D cinema releases: Meet the Robinsons. Beowulf. U23D. The upcoming Hannah Montana.
Maybe it's just a perennial fad making a reappearance. But Mitch Golden, guest-blogging at Ed Felton's Freedom to Tinker thinks something else might be going on:
Could it have something to do with the fact that a 3d movie cannot be pirated? ...
Isn’t it just possible that the studios were thinking: Hey guys, I know you could just download this fantasy flick and see it on your widescreen monitor. But unless you give us $11 and sit in a dark theater with the polarized glasses, you won’t be seeing the half-naked Angelina Jolie literally popping off the screen!
August 06, 2007
The Surge of Abstinence Education Will Succeed in a Friedman Unit
As we all know, abstinence-based sex education doesn't work to promote abstinence among the young people who receive it.
But wait...! Barbara Ehrenriech has spoken to abstinence-education advocate Joneen Mackenzie, executive director of WAIT (abbreviation for "Why Am I Tempted?"), and asked her about this:
There is, however, one shadow hanging over the abstinence training industry. A study commissioned by Congress revealed in April that abstinence training doesn't work: Students exposed to such training turn out to be no less likely to have sex than those who are not, leading some to question the over $100 million the Federal government spends on it annually. Mackenzie dismissed the study out of hand, saying it had been undertaken before serious abstinence training really got off the ground.
In other words, it's just like Iraq: We need to allow more time for the surge of abstinence-based education to work.
(via Avedon Carol)
July 27, 2007
Susie Bright Interviews Jamie Gillis
Susie Bright interviewed male porn star and director Jamie Gillis last week. That is, I think it's her interviewing him, but it seems like she did all the talking.
Gillis started making pornographic loops in 1970. Then the porn movie business exploded in the seventies (the "Golden Age"), and exploded again into videocassettes in the eighties. He invented the "Gonzo" genre of porn in 1990 with his video On the Prowl.
SB: For those people who don't know, what is gonzo? What did you want gonzo to be?
JG: All I wanted to do was just go out into the streets and meet people. Bring a girl out – maybe to a dirty bookstore or something — and just throw her to the wolves.
SB: Your first movie in that style was "On the Prowl." You took a pretty girl out and she said, "I'll fuck whoever wants to if you'll let us tape it." A lot of people will think everyone jumped at the chance. But of course, they didn't! There was a lot of tension. People were afraid of being conned, or that it wasn't real, or that she would cut their balls off in some crazy... There's this tension that they don't know if they can trust you with their nuts.
JG: It's a very unusual offer. Sure!
SB: (Laughing) Yes it is!
And in the late nineties, Gillis was a regular in the Oaks Club, playing (what else?) seven-card stud. That was where I met him and played against him from time to time. It's been a few years since I've seen him, but Susie Bright explains why in passing: he is living in New York now.
I got search hits a few days ago for "jamie gillis poker." It turns out that someone was asking about him on 2+2. According to rumor, he is now a poker pro. That's funny – he wasn't that good a player when I knew him. But then again, neither was I.
(via Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing)
July 11, 2007
My First Disemvowelment
It started out with a claim provable with pathetic ease to be a lie, and it ended with another; and in between it was filled with vitriol unleavened by fact. In fact, it was a total driveby. The clown found As I Please through a Google Images search for "home," and thought that the right response to finding something he didn't like in an ill-refined search was to post a nastygram as a comment.
The nastygram is still there. Well, most of it, anyway.
July 04, 2007
The Fourth of July
Light up the barbecue in the back yard. Fill the cooler with beer and spend the afternoon emptying it. Cover your hot dog with ketchup, mustard, relish, onions, maybe even sauerkraut. Find a good place to watch the fireworks, or maybe even set off a few of your own.
And all the while, remember that you are doing this because
a two hundred and thirty-one years ago today, a group of men were gathered in Philadelphia to pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to the cause ending the rule of the greedy villains who were using the powers of government to rob them blind. The King was deaf to their protests and in fact was quite mad. Parliament would not act, but was in fact part of the problem. And so these men saw no other choice before them but to band together to refuse and resist the tyranny.
We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed.
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is in the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.
June 07, 2007
SF's Marina Safeway *Is* a Meet Market
The Safeway supermarket in San Francisco's Marina district has had a reputation as a cruising ground for heterosexual singles at least since the days when Armistead Maupin was writing Tales of the City.
Violet Blue decided to check it out. She and a companion trolled three different Safeways, in the Castro, Marina, and "South Beach" (the beach-less area south of Market Street, by China Basin and TPC Park, that was industrial grunge before developers turned it into a yuppie trap).
They struck out in the Castro and in "South Beach." But the Marina Safeway lived up to its reputation:
While not as packed as the Market Street store, this Safeway had the goods and the groceries. The candy looked sweeter. The produce (allegedly the place to meet and be met) all looked so … young and ripe. The bananas looked eager. People were dressed up. And they were eyeing my (ahem) basket. It was eerie how sexually charged the atmosphere was.
Suddenly, we weren't dorks with striped socks and way too many condoms and bananas and tubs of cupcake frosting in our shopping baskets — we were the hunted. When a sexy Asian boy found himself flirting with both Michelle and me, trapped between us in a hot moment of blushing and smiling, I knew the legends were true. People don't go there just to shop for dish soap. Score one for scoring (and Michelle) at the Marina Safeway.
The Marina Safeway is indeed the place to go if you're shopping for a hookup.
June 05, 2007
500 Years of the Same Nose in Western Art
With the sound turned down, this video could conceivably be taken as an indictment of artists through the ages for drawing and painting stereotypes of women's faces rather than what artists actually see. But the sonorous cello solo he chose for the soundtrack makes it pre-eminently clear that video artist eggman913 wants us to accept this as a demonstration of the Timeless Verities of Great Art.
Debbie Notkin and Laurie Toby Edison, writing together at Body Impolitic, have pulled some counter-examples off the Web after just a few minutes of googling. Not only do not all women, or even all beautiful women, look like this, but there are and always have been artists who represented a wider variety than eggman913 does.
The film-maker did a great job at two things: his (presumably “his,” the nickname is “eggman”) morphing from face to face is brilliantly done, and his ability to pick similar faces and similar sizes and positions to make the morphing work is superb.
But there’s one catch. By picking the faces that work most seamlessly together, he has neatly excised a huge variety of women painted by the same painters or schools that he selected, and left us with the impression that for the first three hundred and fifty years every woman in Western art was not only white, thin, and young, but had a long nose, dark eyes, and a demure downward gaze. In his last hundred and fifty years, only three-quarters of women fit that description.
In the comments, Lori S. writes, Yes, I think it’s fair to call the video “500 years of the same nose in Western Art.”
June 04, 2007
Repression and the Roots of Rape
Samuel R. Delany writes, in his essay "Pornography and Censorship"  of two sexual encounters: the first between on Harold Norse and W.H. Auden and the second between Delany and a musician friend:
In the early eighties, some years after Auden's death in 1973, in the gay press Harold Norse published a journal account of an afternoon's sex with Auden. I do not have the article to hand. But memory tells me that the encounter involved a pounce by the older poet; the coupling was brief, desperate, and — while, by Norse's description, the encounter was consensual in that he had known certainly that the pick-up was sexual — nevertheless the physical exchange between them verged on rape. The word that remains with me from the writer is that he found the experience "appalling."
My autobiography, The Motion of Light in Water (Plume/New American Library, 1988), gives an account of a similar sexual encounter that happened to me about 1960, which, to my mind, has many things in common with Norse's encounter with Auden. When i was eighteen, while we were at the piano bench together, a musician friend in his late thirties, with whom I was collaborating on an opera, suddenly, and clearly in a state of great distress, pounced on me and physically dragged me to his bed. So I know first-hand the sort of thing Norse was recounting.
Delany goes on to write:
In a population that basically feels that Sex is Bad — or at best a necessary evil — often sex will occur, whether within the bounds of marriage or outside it, only at those moments of extreme need, and then in a paroxysm of guilt, so that the sexual incident itself is likely to be infrequent, desperate, brutal, and brief — and satisfactory, if such a word can even be used for an act which, in their different ways, both "perpetrator" and "victim" probably come to dread — for only the most basal needs of the more aggressive partner.
Within such a populace, where this is the basic sexual model and where this is the sort of act arousal leads to, it's small wonder that situations of arousal in general — which include the pornographic — are thought by all concerned to be basically Bad Things.
The fear of pornography is summed up in the anti-sex-feminist's canard, "Pornography is the theory, rape is the practice." And Delany's anecdotal evidence certainly calls into question another feminist slogan, that "rape is violence, not sex." Some rape is sex as an instrument of violence; but by no means all.
Sex in this pouncing mode is certainly violent, or coercive at the very least. This approach to sex is, ultimately, that of many sexually motivated serial killers. 
But this mode of sexual behavior exists apart from pornography; and it flourishes and spreads itself wide under conditions of sexual repression. What's more, this mode of sexual behavior is itself a motivation for sexual repression. If all, or even most, sex is rape-like, then it is obviously something to be repressed!
And without anyone explicitly wanting or desiring a society where rape serves, among other things, as a tool of social control of women, the social control nevertheless is exerted. The individual rapist is not aiming to keep all women in a state of permanent terror; but every individual woman must always fear that every individual man is a potential rapist, and so the terror persists. And, as we have seen in the program of anti-sex-feminists, the omnipresent terror of rape is a motivation for campaigns of sexual repression.
(This mode of sexuality is rape, but it is certainly not the only sort of rape there is. Some rape explicitly is an overt tool of terror and social control, for example the systematic and widespread rape campaigns by soldiers in the wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia or the ongoing civil wars in West Africa.)
When sex is shameful and rape victims are shamed, those victims are silenced -- and rape, by its taboo nature, becomes a problem we cannot address because we cannot talk about it sensibly. Contrariwise, in an atmosphere of sexual openness, we can talk openly of rape, and in doing so work more effectively against it. True sexual freedom includes the freedom to comfortably decline to participate in sexual activity every bit as much as it includes the freedom to participate. And as such, true sexual freedom is itself freedom from rape.
If the practice is rape, the theory that underlies the practice is sexual repression.
This is why irredentist sex-phobes like the Warriors for Innocence pose such a clear and present threat: despite their stated intent of protecting children from rape, their stated method is the wholesale suppression of information, including information in support of survivors of childhood rape. By imposing fearful silence, they mandate that victims' cries must go unheard. And this is one reason why the thoughtles capitulation of Six Apart's Barak Berkowitz to WFI is so deeply disturbing, and why his equally thoughtless backpedaling is ultimately unsatisfying.
Avedon Carol writes about the ways in which imagined or invented sex crime against children is used to punish society's identified villains when real crimes are unprovable or never occurred in the first place. Greg Costikyan warns of a law making its way through the New York state legislature that would brand as child molesters people who sell to minors video games with violent or sexual content. Garance Franke-Ruta is pushing an intolerable extension of the definition of children. And now WFI is using child sex hysteria as a cover to attack same-sex erotica.
I am terribly afraid of the re-emergence of a full-scale moral panic over child sexuality, with witch-hunts, show trials, and ruined lives. The anti-sex creeps are pulling hard on the Overton Window of sexuality. Those of us who live on the opposite fringe are in grave danger, and the people now in the middle may soon find themselves on the uncomfortable fringe.
Make no mistake: the world the anti-sex creeps are working for is a world of misery in which sexual trauma would be compounded and redoubled, with its victims smothered by a blanket of silence.
 Delany, Samuel R.: "Pornography and Censorship," in Shorter views: Queer Thoughts & the Politics of the Paraliterary, Wesleyan University Press, 1999.
 Ressler, Robert K., and Tom Shachtman: Whoever Fights Monsters, St. Martin's Press, 1992.
May 26, 2007
Don't Call It "Speculative Fiction"
The expression "speculative fiction" seems to be escaping out of academic circles into general usage. It grates on me like fingernails on a chalkboard. It has always struck me as the sort of expression that would be used by a junior academic who has not yet achieved tenure and who therefore feels she has a lot at risk if her colleagues look askance at "science fiction" or, worse, "sci-fi." Look, Doc, don't use your anxieties about your future career to mislabel me.
I've been feeling alone in this point of view, until I came across this gem, written by SF author and critic Chip Delany, currently professor of English and of Creative Writing at Temple University, in his essay collection Shorter Views:
"Speculative fiction" was a term that had a currency for about three years — from 1966 to 1969. ... Robert A. Heinlein first used it in a Guest of Honor speech he gave at a World Science Fiction Convention in 1951:he said that "speculative fiction" was the term he felt best fit what he was doing as a writer: whereupon everyone immediately forgot it for the next 15 [sic] years — until 1965 or '66, when a group of writers centered around the British SF magazine New Worlds resurrected it and used it for a very specific kind of thing. Basically, as these writers — the New Wave — first used the term, it meant anything that was experimental, anything that was science-fictinal, or anything that was fantastic. It was a conjunctive, inclusive term, which encompassed everything in all three areas. ...
By the end of 1969, in the world of practicing SF writers, editors, and fans, speculative fiction (like most conjunctive terms) had degenerated into a disjunctive, exclusive term (rather like the honorific "Ms.," which began as a conjunctive term meaning any wooman, married or single, but which today, through use, has degenerated into a disjunctive term used [almost] exclusively to mean an unmarried woman who's also a feminist): By the end of '69, "speculative fiction" meant "any piece that is experimental and uses SF imagery in the course of it.' ... A year later, the term simply dropped out of the vocabulary of working SF writers — except to refer to pieces written within that '66-'69 period, to which (usually) it had already been applied.
At about the same time, various academics began to take it up. Most of them had no idea either of its history or of its successive uses; they employed it to mean something like "high-class SF" or "SF I approve of and wish to see legitimated." Now that's a vulgar and ignorant usage of the worst sort. The way to legitimate fine quality SF is by fine quality criticism of it — not by being historically obtuse and rhetorically slipshod. I deplore that particular use of the term — and though I support your right to sue any terms you want, including "fuck," "shit," and "scumbag," I simply won't use the term in that way. It's uninformed, anti-historical, and promotes only mystification — all three of which are fine reasons to let this misused term die the natural death it came to fifteen years ago.
(Samuel R. Delany, 1990: "An Interview with Samuel R. Delany." Science Fiction Studies, 17, 1990. Reprinted as "The Second Science Fiction Studies Interview: Trouble on Triton and Other Matters," in Shorter views: Queer Thoughts & the Politics of the Paraliterary, Wesleyan University Press, 1999, pp.346-347)
Now I no longer alone, and have a well-respected ally in my dislike. So don't call it "speculative fiction" — it's uniformed, anti-historical, and it promotes only mystification. So there.
Actually it was 1941, the DenVention, in Denver, Colorado.
The interview was recorded in a classroom in 1986, and was not transcribed for publication until 1990.
May 19, 2007
Canon Formation in Harry/Draco Slashfic
Here's something that makes me wish I were (or at least had the academic chops to be) one of the group bloggers at Crooked Timber:
Ever so slightly longer but not quite as thick: Toward a quantitative literary sexology of Harry Potter fanfiction
Abstract: Discussion regarding fanfiction tropes produced the observation that in one subset of Harry Potter fanfiction, "Harry/Draco slash" [HDS], Harry has a short, thick dick, while Draco's penis is long and thin. We tested the hypothesis that there was a consistent difference in how these two characters' genitalia were described. Additionally, we tested the hypothesis that slash fiction authors in this subset of fandom did not place equal emphasis on the description of testicles as compared with penii. We surveyed 100 HDS stories in online fanfiction archives and collected data on sexual description and content. Here we present the first quantitative test of fanon stereotypes and show that these explicitly sexual stories contain low levels of visual/sensory genital descriptions. Qualitative comparisons demonstrate trends in support of both hypotheses, although sample sizes prevent statistical significance. We use these findings to discuss how fanon may develop despite the incorrect assumption of perceived ubiquity.
What strikes me about this paper is that it is at once utterly clear that it is a joke and that the authors had a tremendously good time putting it together, and it is a serious work of quantitative literary analysis with a rigorous methodology. It both parodies and celebrates academic analysis of the paraliterary. What's more, serious students of the paraliterary will find this a useful example in an area where scholarship is otherwise unknown or hidden. Read the whole thing.
May 16, 2007
Violet Blue's Guide to Porn for Women
People of other genders shouldn't let the "for women" rubric put them off. This is one of the best guides to video and Internet pornography I have ever seen, and it is certainly the best single-page guide.
Along with some links to excerpts from her book, the page lists: "Hot porn I think women will especially enjoy," "A few porn sites girls will dig," "New porn I love," detailed reviews of particular favorite videos, links to a number of articles Blue has written about porn, and "women watch porn, fastfacts."
I am adding this page to my my permanent bookmarks. If you are at all like me, you will, too. I anticipate it providing a welcome starting point for lots of fun sexy Websurfing.
May 11, 2007
New Food Fad Emerges From the Delta
There's a story they tell down south in the Mississippi Delta, that if you wait by a crossroads after night falls, at midnight a dark man that some say is the Devil himself will come to you and teach you the secret of making Kool-Aid pickles ... in exchange for your soul!
May 02, 2007
The answer: 0x09F911029D74E35BD84156C5635688C0
The question: What is the MD5 hash of the ISO-8859-1 null-terminated string "I am Spartacus!"?
April 28, 2007
"Harlan's Bounce" MP3 by Richard Thompson
Richard Thompson composed and performed "Harlan's Bounce" for the soundtrack of filmmaker Erik Nelson's documentary Dreams with Sharp Teeth, A Film about Harlan Ellison.
"Harlan's Bounce" is an instrumental piece featuring Thompson playing guitar with a Django-esque swing.
(via Debbie Notkin, who got it from Emma Bull)
April 26, 2007
US Farm Subsidies Put the Junk in Junk Food
In You Are What You Grow, published last Sunday in the New York Times Magazine, Michael Pollan tells us:
- Junk food is the cheapest food in the grocery store, calorie for calorie.
- Junk food is cheap because its raw materials are cheap.
- The farm bill, renewed every five years, provides massive subsidies to growers of corn, soybeans, wheat, and rice -- and non-foodstuff cotton.
- US farms overproduce these five crops, particularly corn and soybeans.
- The farm bill does little to support growers of fresh produce.
- The price of fresh produce increased by 40% in constant dollars between 1985 and 2000.
- The price of soft drinks (water, corn syrup, and flavoring) declined 23% in constant dollars in the same time frame.
- The school lunch program buys agricultural surplus to feed to students "chicken nuggets and "Tater-Tots."
- The farm bill is coming up for renewal.
Historically the farm bill has been left to midwestern legislators to craft to the desires of their farming constituencies. But Pollan describes combination of interests coming together to change the way things are done. The public health community is concerned about the farm bill's impact on the obesity and diabetes epidemics. Environmentalists worry that chemical and feedlot agriculture jeopardize clean water. The international development community is speaking up on the impact of massive US food exports on developing nations' agriculture and trade. People who are concerned about the food they eat want to do something about the torrent of high-fructose corn syrup.
Pollan says that it isn't a "farm bill," in reality it is a food bill, key legislation that determines what we, as a nation, are going to eat. One of these years, he writes, the eaters of America are going to demand a place at the table, and we will have the political debate over food policy we need and deserve. This could prove to be that year: the year when the farm bill became a food bill, and the eaters at last had their say.
April 17, 2007
Bill Clinton to Create Crossword for New York Times
Quoth Editor & Publisher:
Former President Bill Clinton has signed on to create a crossword puzzle for the Web site of the New York Times, according to an article in Advertising Age.
Clinton, whose passion for the puzzles was on display in the crossword film "Wordplay," will pen the answers for a puzzle that will appear May 6 on NYTimes.com, which will coincide with an issue of the New York Times magazine with a Baby Boomer theme. It will remain free online until the end of the month.
Clinton's puzzle will coincide with the revamp of the paper's games and puzzles section, according to the Ad Age article. "This is all part of building out the game portal," said Robert Z. Samuels, senior product manager, games and mobile, New York Times Digital, is quoted as saying.
But the real question remains: Will the answers to Clinton's puzzle depend on what your definition of the word "is" is?
Lynn Kendall tells me that a mutual friend's father had connections to Clinton when he was governor of Arkansas passes on an anecdote of "Clinton simultaneously having one conversation on the phone, another with people present, all while doing the Times crossword in ink."
April 15, 2007
More on the Media Racism Scapegoating Ritual
Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are not the only black people in America, and more than that they do not have the ability to force themselves onto your news shows. There's a pattern here:
1) Bigot eruption somewhere
2) Lots of people condemn it
3) Al Sharpton goes on every teevee program
4) The media people turn around and use Sharpton's past as a distraction/excuse for the current bigot eruption
If Al Sharpton is an imperfect spokesperson for an issue, and you keep putting him on the teevee to be the spokesperson for that issue, then the obvious conclusion is that this is a deliberate strategy.
If the talking-head shows called upon people like Michael Eric Dyson or Cornell West, they might wind up actually getting people in the audience to look at their own behavior. The advertisers would never stand for that.
April 03, 2007
Passover Peeps: The Ten Plagues
Now I want to see a whole Haggadah illustrated with Peep pictures.
(Note: Peeps are not kosher for Passover.)
(via Lynn Kendall)
March 31, 2007
The NFL: Socialism for Capitalists?
Miss Laura at The Daily Kos highlights an op-ed by Derrick Z. Jackson in today's Boston Globe entitled "Football Socialism":
Enter the National Football League. This week, it agreed to revamp what is arguably the most successful form of socialism in the United States. It made some adjustments to its revenue sharing plan. The league's teams, which currently number 32, have shared equally in national television revenues going back to the early 1960s. The Mara family of the New York Giants and George Halas of the Chicago Bears realized that it had to be done to give tiny cities like Green Bay a chance to field competitive teams. Halas even once advocated a new stadium for the arch-rival Packers.
Four and a half decades later, the Chicago Tribune wrote that the decision to share revenues was "the single most important reason the NFL enjoys unmatched prosperity" today and has become the nation's top spectator sport. Shared prosperity means more teams with a legitimate chance to win the title. More competitive teams mean more fans.
What a peculiar sort of socialism we have here: From each capitalist according to his ability, to each capitalist according to his needs! MissLaura says that the US should follow the NFL's lead here.
I'm sure that Levitra DeShill, spokesperson for Billionaires for Bush would agree.
Corporations are People Too
Originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.
March 29, 2007
Students Claim Anti-Plagiarism Service Stole Their Work
The Washington Post reports that a group of students are suing an anti-cheating service for copyright violation, claiming that the service copied and archived their school papers without permission.
Two McLean High School students have launched a court challenge against a California company hired by their school to catch cheaters, claiming the anti-plagiarism service violates copyright laws.
The lawsuit, filed this week in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, seeks $900,000 in damages from the for-profit service known as Turnitin. The service seeks to root out cheaters by comparing student term papers and essays against a database of more than 22 million student papers as well as online sources and electronic archives of journals. In the process, the student papers are added to the database.
Two Arizona high school students also are plaintiffs. None of the students is named in the lawsuit because they are minors. ...
According to the lawsuit, each of the students obtained a copyright registration for papers they submitted to Turnitin. The lawsuit filed against Turnitin's parent company, iParadigms LLC, seeks $150,000 for each of six papers written by the students.
One of the McLean High plaintiffs wrote a paper titled "What Lies Beyond the Horizon." It was submitted to Turnitin with instructions that it not be archived, but it was, the lawsuit says. ...
Andrew Beckerman-Rodau, co-director of the intellectual property law program at Suffolk University Law School, said that although the law regarding fair use is subject to interpretation, he thinks the students have a good case.
"Typically, if you quote something for education purposes, scholarship or news reports, that's considered fair use," Beckerman-Rodau said. "But it seems like Turnitin is a commercial use. They turn around and sell this service, and it's expensive. And the service only works because they get these papers."
(If I post this quickly enough, I just might scoop Boing Boing!)
March 24, 2007
Nutritionists Call Chinese Food "Unhealthy"
The Associated press reported Wednesday that nutritionists associated with the Center for Science in the Public Interest released a report last Tuesday that highlighted the health risks of food served in Chinese restaurants,
The AP account of this report describes a meal of General Tso's chicken, steamed rice, and egg rolls. pointing out that this meal is high in calories, high in sodium, and high in saturated fats.
This is the sort of thinking that Michael Pollan dissected and found wanting in his New York Times Magazine article late last January,
Someone is stacking the deck here. Both the main dish and the egg rolls are deep-fried in oil, while most fare at a Chinese restaurant is lightly stir-fried in a wok. Moreover, General Tso's chicken as I have generally seen it made, is mostly battered, fried chunks of chicken in a sweet, spicy sauce. A more typical dish served in a Chinese restaurant has more vegetables.
What's more, although Chinese food is singled out for nutritionist demonization, it's not even the worst cuisine. In a throwaway aside, the article mentions that both Italian and Mexican cuisines are worse than Chinese, according to the nutritionist ideology.
An uncritical reader will come away from this article with the message "Chinese Food Is Bad For You." But this is not true. This is the sort of dietary fear-mongering that the high priests of nutritionism have been foisting upon us for decades.
What's going on here? Racism? Xenophobia?
A person who tries to eat by Pollan's brief guidelines ("Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.") will have a much easier time of it at a Chinese restaurant than, say, at a diner.
AP has done the public a significant disservice by running this piece of scaremongering propaganda. And unless the piece's author has misrepresented the report they cite, the Center for Science in the Public Interest is in fact acting against the public interest in reporting such information.
March 20, 2007
No Australian Policewoman Breast Photograph Here
The damnedest things turn up in referral logs. Starting yesterday there was a spike of hits on my dream archive. The search terms were "photograph of a young Australian policewoman's breasts" coming from a number of different locations. So I googled the same phrase myself and found this report from Reuters:
SYDNEY (Reuters) - A photograph of a young Australian policewoman's breasts, sent to her boyfriend as a get well message on her mobile phone, has sparked an investigation after it was circulated on internal police e-mail.
The Victoria state police constable was in her police uniform with her name badge visible, her shirt undone and her breasts exposed when she was photographed, Australian Associated Press (AAP) reported Monday.
The image was circulated widely through the force's internal e-mail, landing in the inboxes of top-ranking officers and ethical standards department detectives....
And I was getting hits because, in the surreal mishmosh of my dreams, the archive has all the terms in the search. For a while yesterday it was on the first page of Google's hits.
I can guess what happened: The story went out on the Reuters wire and began to appear in online news pages, and eager horndogs started googling in hopes of finding the actual picture.
Keep looking, horndogs; the picture isn't here. And might I suggest that you look for breast pictures at a site like Sensual Liberation Army [NSFW], where the models' consent is much more clear-cut.
300, Racism, and Ignorant Ethnography
Author and geek icon Neal Stephenson has an op-ed in Sunday's New York Times about the film 300, about which he is mostly favorable. In addressing the negative criticism the film is receiving, though, he says, Many reviews made the same points: ... All of the good guys are white people and many of the bad guys are brown. (How this could have been avoided in a film about Spartans versus Persians is never explained...)
Dude, get a clue! To the extent that "white" means anything at all, Persians were and Iranians are white. Hint #1: "white" is a synonym for "Caucasian"; the Caucasus is due north of modern Iran. Hint #2: "Iran" is linguistically cognate with "Aryan."
In modern American formulations of racism, of course, Iranians are "brown," not "white." Ask any Iranian about how they get treated by shop clerks, for example. But here's the twist: Greeks get the same treatment. Remember when Michael Dukakis ran for president in 1988, and some commentators were referring to him as "brown"?
I don't feel any more comfortable about adopting the role of the arbiter of who is (and implicitly, who is not) white, than I do about Stephenson adopting that role.
Nevertheless, he inhabitants of the sun-drenched Peloponnessus are neither more nor less white than the inhabitants of the sun-drenched Iranian plateau. Cinematically depicting one side of a war, the Good Guys, as pale-skinned and the other side, the Bad Guys, as dark-skinned when the original combatants looked much alike, is an expression of racism, pure and simple.
March 18, 2007
Twitter Considered Harmful
You may have heard about Twitter, a new Web 2.0 application that has been getting good buzz over the past several weeks and exploded into geek and hipster fashionability during SXSWi last weekend.
What is Twitter? Quoth Webware's Rafe Needleman:
Twitter is an online service that lets you broadcast short messages to your friends or "followers." It also lets you specify which Twitter users you want to follow so you can read their messages in one place.
Twitter is designed to work on a mobile phone as well as a computer. All Twitter messages are limited to 140 characters, so each message can be sent as a single SMS alert. You can't say much in 140 characters. That's part of Twitter's charm.
In effect, Twitter is like LiveJournal for cellphones. You can broadcast messages to everyone who follows your message or to a restricted list of friends. The messages are retained on the user's Twitter page, functioning as a very terse blog. It also interfaces with instant messaging programs, and one's Twitter page also has an RSS feed.
Things Twitter is useful include: tracking contacts at a conference (like SXSWi), tracking friends while clubbing, staying in touch with a cluster of people over the course of a day, and so on. People who use it and get over its learning curve (which, as much as anything, consists of discovering what it is good for) are liking it a lot.
Twitter scares me. For all its popularity, I see at least three issues: 1) it's a near-perfect example of the psychological principle of intermittent variable reward, the key addictive element of slot machines. 2) The strong "feeling of connectedness" Twitterers get can trick the brain into thinking its having a meaningful social interaction, while another (ancient) part of the brain "knows" something crucial to human survival is missing. 3) Twitter is yet another--potentially more dramatic — contribution to the problems of always-on multi-tasking... you can't be Twittering (or emailing or chatting, of course) and simultaneously be in deep thought and/or a flow state.
Sierra states that her view is very much a minority one, saying that opinion about Twitter seems to run 100:1 in the other direction. But her criticisms ring true to me.
I am especially concerned about what Sierra says about Twitter's potential addictive qualities, because Twitter is far from unique in this regard. I would say that this feature is common to many commonly used Internet applications, from email to LiveJournal to instant messaging to message boards to.... The intermittent reward of reading or seeing something new has shaped my own Internet surfing habits in ways that are less than constructive.
Sierra's third point, on the importance of interruption-free time to getting into the flow seems familiar and obvious to me, and at the same time it is something that I need to be reminded of over and over again.
When I first heard of Twitter, I was a little hesitant to get into it, on the basis that I wasn't quite sure what it was good for. I now have a better idea of what it's good for, but now I'm afraid of it: Internet junkies don't need a new form of Net Crack.
March 17, 2007
This past Thursday, San Francisco Chronicle reporter Pia Sarkar took us comparison shopping for women's black T-shirts. A black tee that costs $7.90 at H&M and costs $14.50 (two for $20) at Gap. Go to the Armani section of Bloomingdales, however, and a woman's black tee costs $275.
There are subtle differences: the shirt at H&M is cotton with a bit of spandex woven in; the Gap tee is 100% cotton; and the Armani tee is 70% nylon, 25% polyester, and 5% Elastane. The Armani shirt is also "superior in cut and finish." Is that alleged superiority really worth more than $265?
Unlike much of branded designer clothing, the brand on an unadorned black T-shirt is invisible to everyone except the person buying and wearing it. The value of the brand is invisible. Why, then, would anyone buy it?
Milton Pedraza has an idea why. He's the chief executive of the Luxury Institute, "a research company that focuses on the top 10 percent of the country's wealth." Says Pedraza, "It may be incredibly wasteful to some people, but it makes you feel powerful. It makes you feel wealth. You're paying for that intrinsic value."
(I do not think "intrinsic value" means what he thinks it means.)
To be sure, even Pedraza notes that when times get tight, "[t]here are some things you're going to compromise and some things you aren't, and in my mind the black T-shirt is the first to go."
In essence, Pedraza is telling us that people with sufficient access to money will buy $275 T-shirts because they can. It's the same impulse that leads someone to light a cigar with a hundred-dollar bill.
I wonder, though. Nobody is going to Bloomingdales just to buy a T-shirt. They may well be bedazzled by the Armani brand, but it seems to me that a more likely scenario is that the tee is intended to complete ensembles the shoppers are buying. It isn't that the shoppers value the tee that much; but rather that the $275 is buried in the overall cost of whatever ensembles. The shoppers simply don't notice that they are paying that much for the T-shirt until perhaps they get home and examine the receipt. If they ever examine the receipt, that is.
A $275 T-shirt makes me think of the $300 that defense contractors are reputed to bill the government for hammers.
It also makes me wonder what is going on in the minds of the people at the highest levels of wealth in American society. Could it be that they are as disconnected from reality and reason as the people they have hired to run this country?
March 16, 2007
"At This Event, Nobody Would Even *Notice* If the Wifi Went Out"
As a tonic to the Tech Boys Club packing the keynote speeches and program panels at the latest Web 2.0 circle-jerk — to say nothing of lists of the N Most Studly Tech Boys on the Web — Six Apart's Anil Dash has put together a list of speakers covering The Essentials of Web 2.0 Your Event Doesn't Cover:
Do you want to learn about the future of web applications? If so, when choosing an event, you might want to make sure it's one that cares about including speakers based on merit, instead of based on arbitrary gender qualifications. I judge merit to be those who meet these criteria:
1. They've already been successful
2. They have done something innovative and unique
3. They are well-known names who will draw an audience and make the event compelling
4. Their work impacts a large audience, or has great influence on the space....
- danah boyd: The younger generation of web users have different definitions of "public" and "private" than you do.
- Mitchell Baker: How to take something from being an interesting technology to being a mainstream tool
- Caterina Fake: How to get things done even within the constraints of a big company
- Mena Trott: How to design an application that delights its users, instead of confounding them
- Liza Sabater: Your project won't succeed unless you reach people who are different from you
- Amy Jo Kim: How best practices from game design can make your web applications like crack
- Linda Stone:What we will be paying attention to in the future
- Kathy Sierra: How to design products that make your users smarter, sexier and hungry for more
- Heather Armstrong, Meg Frost, and Gina Trapani: One person can be a successful media outlet
- Lynne Johnson: How to credibly bring new media to an old-media company
- Jane Pinckard: Anybody with half a brain could have seen that the Wii was going to win, but you were busy bickering about the Cell processor
- Meg Hourihan: A real mashup: How to combine technology with something you love
- Heather Champ: How to manage a web community shitstorm with grace and tact
- Susannah Fox: You talk about "accessibility", but what do you know about people who are sick, old, or disabled?
- LeeAnn Prescott: Everybody talks about traffic and stats -- what about someone with actual data?
- Charlene Li: What are the criteria by which real-world analysts create their make-or-break analyses? ...
To conference organizers: If you haven't heard of these people or their work, or you think that Yet Another Bookmarking To-Do List Guy is more important, perhaps you owe some refunds. At this event, nobody would even notice if the wifi went out.
March 14, 2007
The Male Gaze
As an almost-throwaway at the end of a piece on the influence of eyetracking studies on Web page design appearing in Online Journalism Review, the authors include a fascinating tidbit: Apparently, men and women look at pictures differently, with men spending measurable time staring at the crotches and private parts of figures, both human and animal.
(via Boing Boing)
March 13, 2007
My Can't-Miss Web 2.0 Business
For too long Web browsers have stored cookies on the users' own machines. A wealth of information has gone unexploited.
At MyWebBiscotti.com, you will be able to upload your browser cookies to your very own page, where they won't be mere cookies, they will be Biscotti!
Downloadable plugins for every major browser will enable your Biscotti to be updated transparently as you surf the Web. Even if you don't use one of these plug-ins, participating partner Web sites will be able to set Biscotti for you as you browse.
MyWebBiscotti's social networking feature will allow you and your friends to share Biscotti. Biscotti RSS feeds will be available to everyone in your network! You'll be able to track the most popular Biscotti, either on our main page or as a feature on your customizable MyBiscotti personal page.
Information shared is information multiplied! Join the Web 2.0 revolution by joining MyWebBiscotti.com today!
Coming soon: YouPoint.com, the site for sharing PowerPoint presentations...
All You Need to Know About Acting in One Easy Lesson
Sir Ian McKellen explains: It's all just pretending:
(via Ellen Kushner)
March 12, 2007
Will Writing About Women's Privacy on the Web Haunt Journalists' Careers?
There's a growing constellation of stories the unintended impact of the Internet on privacy, particularly relating to employment, particularly relating to women. The Washington Post had a story last week about AutoAdmit, a law school discussion board that evidently is having a negative impact on the hiring prospects of law students who are gossipped about there. Lindsay Beyerstein and Jill at Feministe talk about it; Jill was slimed on the board also.
Melissa Gira at Sexerati pointed us last month to Emily Nussbaum's article in New York Magazine, "Say Everything," about how youth participation in as MySpace, FaceBook, Flickr, and other Internet social networking phenomena are changing their understandings of the meaning of privacy. The link has been sitting around in my to-be-blogged queue, to the point where Xeni Jardin picked it up for Boing Boing last Friday, so that means I better blog it quickly, if I do at all, because its hip factor has started to decay exponentially.
Laurie Edison and Debbie Notkin are in dialogue with Susannah Breslin about The New York Times Magazine's
exposé sober examination of college sex magazines like Boink and H Bomb. To be sure, these college sex magazines appear to be more printed presences than Internet ones; but something about the discussion seems to me to fit in.
And today's San Francisco Chronicle warns young ladies of the Web 2.0 generation that those sexy photos on the Web "could plague women in years ahead." The article leads out with the story of Y.M. Chang, participating in CollegeHumor.com's America's Hottest College Girl competion at the same time she is interviewing for engineering jobs after graduation. A male friend submitted Chang's picture, and she discovered only later that she was a finalist competing for $10,000.
Why are all these articles focusing on women? It could be because of the naughty picture angle – there are many more naughty pictures of women than of men, and our culture doesn't regard barechested men anywhere near so sexually as it does barechested women. Men don't get slut-shamed the way women do.
I predict, though, that in 2008 there will be more than one race for national office in which the Internet activity of one of the candidates will become an issue. It might be blogging, it might be something on MySpace, or perhaps some pol's pseudonymous account on Alt.com will be outed.
March 10, 2007
Singularity? Or Gravitational Collapse?
What particularly gets up my nose is the claim that syndications like RSS, Atom, FeedBurner et al. RELEASE CONTENT FOREVER FROM THE STRICTURES OF FORM ZOMG!!!!11!
You can't separate content from form. Content cannot exist without form. The interpretation of form is how we determine content.
The reason syndications enable display of content in a variety of forms is that the content so displayed is highly constrained.
I've heard these "There will be Pie in the Sky when you join MySpace" claims before. Remember the cypherpunks and crypto-anarchy? Strong cryptography was supposed to bring on the Infocalypse and end government. Well, we've got strong cryptography, and the Feds are still tapping our phones.
You would have thought that in this internet age that we might have learned that clarity of internet protocol design is a great virtue and that management, diagnostics, and security are not afterthoughts but primary design goals.
There is a lot of noise out there about internet stability. And a lot of people and businesses are risking their actual and economic well being on the net, and the applications layered on it, really being stable and reliable.
But I have great concern that our approach to the internet resembles a high pillar of round stones piled on top of other round stones - we should not be surprised when it begins to wobble and then falls to the ground.
I am beginning to foresee a future internet in which people involved in management, troubleshooting, and repair are engaged in a Sisyphean effort to provide service in the face of increasingly non-unified design of internet protocols. And in that future, users will have to learn to expect outages and become accustomed to dealing with service provider customer service "associates" whose main job is to buy time to keep customers from rioting while the technical repair team tries to figure out what happened, where it happened, and what to do about it.
What's the bloody use of a vast externalized memory and reasoning capabilty that takes ten minutes to load a page and is filled with dead links because the routers are down?
March 08, 2007
How Much More Proof that Microsoft Is Evil Do You Need?
Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing points us to a research report indicating that, thanks to the cycle of software obselecence, users of computers running Windows upgrade their machines twice as often as those who run Linux.
The report stresses the impact of downversion computers on the waste stream and landfill. There is another important factor, however: the resources used to make the new machines, and the human toll that acquiring those resources takes.
Yesterday, Chris Clarke at Pandagon highlighted the connection between the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the mining of tantalum there.
Tantalum is a relatively scarce element that is a key component of the dielectric material in the capacitors used in the manufacture of just about every piece of electronic equipment made. The world's largest known reserves of tantalum ore are in the DRC, and with the personal electronics industry boomed in the late 1990s, the price of tantalum ore skyrocketed. Tantalum is mined in the DRC, smuggled out through Rwanda and Uganda, and sold to the world electronic manufacturing markets from there.
Millions of people have died in the bloody war, known as the African World War from the number of nations involved. The prize is the Congolese mineral resources, including gold and diamonds, yes, but the real treasure is tantalum ore.
The demand for electronics drives the price of tantalum ore, and as that price rises and falls, so does the level of violence in the Congo, the wholesale rapes of area women committed by the various militias and armies, the number of area residents impressed into service in the militias, the number of slaves working in the mines at gunpoint, the number of women forced into sexual slavery to service the miners and the soldiers, the overall human misery.
So anything that cuts into the number of new computers manufactured reduces the intensity of the agony of the Congo. To use Microsoft Windows and committing oneself to an hardware upgrade every time the software is rendered obsolete is to increase the toll exacted of human misery.
So does getting a new iPod, or mobile phone, or PDA, or GPS receiver, or just about any of the gadgets we take for granted in the privileged segments of Western society.
March 07, 2007
Can You Be Too Buffed?
(This is a repost of a guest post I wrote for Body Impolitic)
I've been thinking about Nicolas Cage in Ghost Rider, which I saw just over a week ago.
Cage is an actor who alternates between heavy-duty action-hero roles (as in Con Air) and more serious, thoughtful parts (e.g. Bringing Out the Dead or Adaptation). Ghost Rider is not a serious and thoughtful movie -- it's an adaptation of a B-list Marvel comic.
As a contemporary action hero, Cage needs to present a buffed,muscular physique. The paragon of the genre is seven-time Mister Universe and known "juicer," i.e., steroid-user (Arnold Schwarzenegger. The film Adaptation has one unintentionally funny moment when Cage, playing out-of-shape screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, did a shirt-off scene, trying to look fat and out of shape. He's hunched over, sort of hiding his washboard abs. Nice try, Nick. Where's that Hollywood movie magic when we need it? (How tall was King Kong?)
One way I exercise is by lifting weights. I enjoy how it makes my body feel. One effect of my years of weightlifting has been that I have added substantial muscle bulk to my frame. I like how working out makes my body feel, and I like the resulting strength it has given me. The experience of gaining muscle bulk was transformative experience, largely positive, in a way that's worth an essay on its own. At the same time, though, bodybuilding seems misguided to me, and I find its aesthetic to be grotesque. The bodybuilding ideal looks to me like a body that has been flayed, the skin and fat removed to show the muscles beneath.
Just as the women of Hollywood do not look like real women, the men of Hollywood do not look like real men. I remember noticing, when I first saw The Empire Strikes Back in its original release in 1980, that Mark Hamill, playing Luke Skywalker training to be a Jedi under Yoda's tutelage, showed what looked to my eye then as remarkable muscle development in his arms and shoulders. Since then (and since I took to weight training myself) I realized quite how many of the men in the movies were buffed and toned. Even Actors' actors like George Clooney, Tobey McGuire, Matt Damon, and so on, have that look. I imagine that the great actors live with the fear that the next job might go to someone who might not act as well but whose physique looks good enough to make up for it.
I now know, from my experience of weight training, that the visual ideal of manliness as propagated in the media takes extraordinary determination, attention, time, and effort to approach. The ordinary man in the street doesn't come close. Even the man who works out in the gym multiple times weekly only loosely approximates the ideal -- and not even loosely if he is a "hardgainer," someone who gains relatively little muscle bulk through weight training. To get there, one has to cross the line to obsession, and (if one isn't blessed with the right metabolism) resort to risky artificial aids such as steroids.
Cage has a shirt-off scene in Ghost Rider, too, just out of the shower and in front of a mirror. His torso and arms have the grotesque, alien appearance of the hypermuscular bodybuilder, looking as if they were drawn by a pulp artist more fond of muscles than knowledgeable about human anatomy.
In that scene, Cage does not look healthy to my eye. Without any direct knowledge, I imagine that he too, was juicing. His body doesn't seem to have an ounce of fat. Indeed, througout the film I was noticing how gaunt and haggard his face appeared.
Now maybe this is an example of Hollywood movie magic at work. After all, Cage was playing Johnny Blaze, a damned soul whose head transforms at night into a flaming skull. Or maybe he was cast for the part because of his gaunt appearance.
But seeing him in the role, particularly with the scene with his bare torso, was watching someone who I believe was doing damage to himself in the service of trying to attain an arbitrary and unnatural ideal of manliness.
The effect is that he doesn't represent that ideal so much as serve as an unconscious parody of it. He looks like a cautionary tale: If you overdo it and pursue the image rather than pursuing health and well-being, you could wind up looking like me.
As a man, and especially as a heterosexual man comfortably partnered in long-term relationships, I don't have the social pressure on me to look great in order to attract and keep a mate. "I don't see people like me on the silver screen" is a different experience from "If I can't make myself look like that, I will fail in my life and be unable to find happiness." I'm not, by a long shot, the only man seeing these images over and over and over.
Marvel Kills Off Captain America
The Associated Press reports that Marvel Comics is killing off superhero Captain America in the edition of the comic of the same name that hits the stands today.
The AP story says Marvel Entertainment editor-in-chief Joe Quesada hints that Captain America could conceivably return. Indeed, he's done it before. What's more, in the Marvel universe, there is no form of death, destruction, vaporization, or annihilation sufficient to prevent a character's return.
But it's interesting to me that Marvel is chosing to kill him off now.
(via Avedon Carol)
March 03, 2007
TONIGHT at Marcus Books
Tribute to Octavia E. Butler with Nalo Hopkinson and friends. Saturday, March 3, at 6:30 PM, Marcus Books, 3900 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Oakland, California.
One of the friends will be our own true Debbie Notkin. Will we see you there tonight?
Octavia E. Butler Memorial Tribute Fundraiser
(I should have posted this sooner. Better late than never.)
Join Nalo Hopkinson, Jewelle Gomez, Susie Bright, Jennifer de Guzman, and Guillermo Gomez-Peña for a fundraiser reading to benefit the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship.
Sunday, March 4, 5 - 7 pm
The Starry Plough
3101 Shattuck Avenue
The Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship will enable writers of color to attend one of the Clarion writing workshops, where Octavia got her start. It is meant to cement Octavia's legacy by providing the same experience/opportunity that Octavia had to future generations of new writers of color. In addition to her stint as a student at the original Clarion Writers Workshop in Pennsylvania in 1970, Octavia taught several times for Clarion West in Seattle, Washington, and Clarion in East Lansing, Michigan, giving generously of her time to a cause she believed in.
Contact Claire Light for more information.
After the benefit, Debbie and I will be hosting an open house reception at our house, just around the corner from the Starry Plough (details available at the benefit). Be there or be rhomboid.
March 02, 2007
Dough We'd Like to Knead
Mark Harris at Preludium points us to this remarkable video of a talk-show appearance by Cornell University history professor Steven Kaplan, who tells us what goes into great bread (caution: this might not be safe for some workplaces):
I bet you thought I was kidding when I called it "Bread Pr0n."
There's a more sober profile of Prof. Kaplan in the Washington Post. He is the author of Good Bread Is Back: A Contemporary History of French Bread, the Way It Is Made, and the People Who Make It (Duke University Press, Nov. 2006).
(via Lynn Kendall)
February 15, 2007
A Valentines Day Tradition
Hundreds smack each other around in SF pillow fight
The annual Valentine's Day pillowfight in Justin Herman Plaza at dusk on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007, in San Francisco. Chronicle photo by Katy Raddatz
(Alas, I couldn't attend as I had a class to go to that evening.)
Update: Cindy Emch points us to this video:
February 10, 2007
Get Your Do It Yourself Tornado Kits Here!
The The ORIGINAL Illustrated Catalog Of ACME Products unfortunately has no ordering information. Come on, guys, it's 2007 — how hard is it to code an e-commerce shopping basket application?
(via Avedon Carol)
February 08, 2007
Food Network Smackdown
Anthony Bourdain, author of Kitchen Confidential, guest-blogs at Michael Ruhlman's eponymous blog Ruhlman. The subject: Bourdain's impressions of Food Network celebrity cooks.
RACHAEL [RAY]: Complain all you want. It’s like railing against the pounding surf. She only grows stronger and more powerful. Her ear-shattering tones louder and louder. We KNOW she can’t cook. She shrewdly tells us so. So...what is she selling us? Really? She’s selling us satisfaction, the smug reassurance that mediocrity is quite enough. She’s a friendly, familiar face who appears regularly on our screens to tell us that “Even your dumb, lazy ass can cook this!” Wallowing in your own crapulence on your Cheeto-littered couch you watch her and think, “Hell…I could do that. I ain’t gonna…but I could--if I wanted! Now where’s my damn jug a Diet Pepsi?” Where the saintly Julia Child sought to raise expectations, to enlighten us, make us better--teach us--and in fact, did, Rachael uses her strange and terrible powers to narcotize her public with her hypnotic mantra of Yummo and Evoo and Sammys. “You’re doing just fine. You don’t even have to chop an onion--you can buy it already chopped. Aspire to nothing…Just sit there. Have another Triscuit…Sleep….sleep….”
Bourdain's entertaining rants tickled the back of my mind. Hadn't I read something similar not too long ago? Yes! The simple expedient of typing "new yorker food network" into the search box at Google yielded Bill Buford's report on watching a marathon of Food Network shows.
The two essential premises of “30 Minute Meals”—no one knows how to cook and everyone is in a hurry — now inform most instructional cooking shows. If you have time to watch a Saturday morning of the Food Network, you will learn that you have time for nothing else. There’s urgency even in the names — “Good Food Fast,” “Quick Fix Meals,” “Semi-Homemade Cooking,” “Easy Entertaining,” “Good Deal” — and a reassuring friendliness in the ingredients, which, like Rachael’s, so uniformly come out of the fridge sealed in plastic wrap that it is impossible not to suspect an executive order. You don’t have to know how to cook, just how to shop; and everyone knows how to shop. The appeal of squash is that it’s a limited time investment, Robin Miller says on “Quick Fix Meals,” illustrating how to prepare one in under fifteen minutes. Sandra Lee recommends pre-peeled carrots — the ones sold by Dole. (Who has the time to peel carrots?) In the supermarket, you can get your melon already cut up—it’s over there by the salad bar. Near the meat section, Dave Lieberman tells us on “Good Deal,” you can buy an already cooked rotisserie chicken. (Who knows how to cook one, anyway?)
I found myself taking stock not of what I’d seen during the preceding seventy-two hours but of what I hadn’t. I couldn’t recall very many potatoes with dirt on them, or beets with ragged greens, or carrots with soil in their creases, or pieces of meat remotely reminiscent of the animals they were butchered from — hardly anything, it seemed, from the planet Earth. There were hamburgers and bacon, but scarcely any other red animal tissue except skirt steak, probably, it occurs to me now, because of its two unique qualities: its texture and its name. It cooks fast (two minutes on each side, according to Rachael Ray — less, according to Robin Miller), and it sounds like something you might pick up at the Gap.
(via Jerrod Ankenman)
February 03, 2007
Kno Gurlz Aloud
Violet Blue replies in her column on SFGate to the boy's-club treatment she got from Leo LaPorte, John Dvorak, Patrick Norton, and Robert Heron on LaPorte's podcast This Week in Tech in response to Forbes including her on its Web Celeb 25 list of Web celebrities. The boys on the aptly-named TWiT trashed all the women on the list.
It's nothing new that the lions of tech appear to regard the Intarwebs as their own private boys club — see, for example, Badgerbag on the topic. It gets old real fast, though. Come on guys, it's the twenty-first century already, grow up a little? (I don't know about the others, though, but John Dvorak isn't about to grow up. As I put it in a comment on Majikthise, "John Dvorak is the Bob Novak of computer journalism.")
December 16, 2005
Sometimes, the people on my side of the aisle are downright embarassing.
Atrios and Dave Sirota are piling onto Trent Lott, big-time tort-reform advocate, for hypocrisy. Lott, the Wall Street Journal reports [subscription required] has just filed suit against the State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. to force the insurance company to pay for Lott's house in Pascagoula, Mississippi, which was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
Sirota's post includes a bunch of Lott quotes about how suing to solve problems is something Democrats do.
I am no fan of Trent Lott. He's a racist hypocrite. At the same time, Katrina was completely blind to the state of the souls of the people she killed or whose houses she ruined. When I was in Mississippi, I did not hesitate to assist even the racist hypocrites who stood in dire need of assistance.
Sirota omits the real story: That State Farm and other insurance companies are seeking to evade their responsiblities to policy-holders by claiming that much of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina was flood damage, not hurricane damage, and is therefore not covered by the hurricane riders to homeowners insurance.
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood has filed suit against several insurers with policies in Mississippi, including State Farm, to force them to honor their policies for damages resulting from the hurricane.
What's more, insurance adjusters on the scene have been advising policy-holders to sue. I have been told by homeowners in Biloxi that their adjuster said something to the effect of, "It's just a position taken by the insurance company. The legal issues simply have not been resolved. The courts are going to decide this."
Many of the affected homeowners, including many I've spoken with myself, are people of limited financial means. No small number of them are Democrats.
"Justice for All" means exactly that: justice for everyone, whether or not they are on my side of the Great Divide in our political landscape. I would love to see Trent Lott brought to justice for his political misdeeds – and I also want to see him get his due in the hurricane recovery. The story here isn't that Trent Lott is a hypocrite; we've known that for years. The story is that State Farm, in its arrogance, is trying to screw Republican Senator Trent Lott along with everyone else.
December 07, 2005
Stephen Wells, writing in the Grauniad, takes note of the American fascination with British soccer hooliganism and the simultaneous blindness to the violence and mayhem associated with sports events in the U.S.:
There's not much soul-searching about sports hooliganism within the US - and what little there is tends to focus on the behaviour of African-American basketball players rather than predominantly white football fans. For no matter how many college games end in drunken mob violence (as many do), no matter how many American city centres see running battles between sports fans and riot police, the US sports media continues to present hooliganism as something utterly un-American. (This blinkered provincialism has parallels with the 1996 decision by the US State Department to "red flag" parts of south London as no-go areas for American tourists, claiming that Millwall was as dangerous as Guatemala - which, at the time, was overrun by right-wing death squads.)
When it comes to hooliganism, the US media really is the pot calling the kettle black. Riots at US sports events occur far more frequently than they do in the UK. And yet, in American popular culture, the "hooligan" is almost without exception portrayed as a soccer fan (and nearly always as English).
Wells focuses in particular on the fans of the Philadelphia Eagles, who seem to have a particulary extreme reputation for mayhem. Or perhaps Wells happened to be in a position to observe Eagles fans and took his story from there.
The connection between sports, violence, and the impulse to war is a deep one. It deserves close examination. It is interesting that, rather than examining it, we so conspicuously look the other way.
December 05, 2005
What to Do When (Not If) Someone Calls You on Your Racism
I'm embarassed to say that I missed marking December 1 as Blog Against Racism Day. (Does it count that I Blogged Against Racism on November 10, or that for me, the entire month of October was Work My Ass Off Against Racism Month? Perhaps not.)
I have good company: the redoubtable Ampersand at Alas, a Blog was a day late:
Prometheus 6 wrote something that has stuck in my head ever since:Not to put too fine a point on it, but "racist" is the only word that makes white people as crazy as "nigger" makes Black people.
It's true - a lot of white people, hell, most white people turn ten different colors of pissed off and shoot steam out their ears if someone suggests they've said something racist. And if you make a point of talking about race and racism, sooner or later someone will accuse you of being racist, fairly or unfairly.
Frankly, I think we whites - especially, we whites who think of ourselves as against racism - have to get over it. So here it is, in honor of "blog against racism day" (okay, it's now the morning after blog against racism day, so I'm slow):
Amp's Guide to Not Being an Insane-O White Person When Accused of Racism.
1) Breathe. Stay calm. Stay civil. Don't burn bridges. If someone has just said "I think that sounds a bit racist," don't mistake it for them saying "you're Klu Klux Klan racist scum" (which is a mistake an amazing number of white people make). For the first ten or twenty seconds any response you make will probably come from your defensiveness, not from your brain, so probably you shouldn't say whatever first comes to your mind.
2) Take the criticism seriously - do not dismiss it without thinking about it. Especially if the criticism comes from a person of color - people of color in our society tend by necessity to be more aware of racism than most Whites are, and pick up on things most Whites overlook. (On the other hand, don't put the people of color in the room in the position of being your advocate or judge.)
3) Don't make it about you. Usually the thing to do is apologize for what you said and move on. Especially if you're in a meeting or something, resist your desire to turn the meeting into a seminar on How Against Racism You Are. The subject of the conversation is probably not "your many close Black friends, and your sincere longstanding and deep abhorrence of racism."
Think of it as if someone points out that you need to wipe your nose because you've got a big glob of snot hanging out. The thing to do is say "oh, excuse me," wipe your nose, and move on. Insisting that everyone pat you on the back and reassure you that they realize you don't always have snot hanging from your nose, before the conversation can be allowed to move forward, is not productive.
4) Let Occasional Unfair Accusations Roll Off Your Back. Sometimes, even after you've given it serious thought, you'll come to the conclusion that a criticism was unfair. Great! Now please let it go. Don't insist that everyone agree with you. Don't enlist the people of color in the room to certify you as Officially Non-Racist. Don't bring it up again and again, weeks or months after everyone else has forgotten about the original discussion. In other words, see point #3.
Shorter Ampersand: Don't make it a whacking huge deal if you say something racist, or something others perceive as racist. Apologize, move on, and consider the criticism seriously so that you can improve your thinking, if need be.
October 03, 2005
Greetings From Sunny Biloxi, Mississippi
I'm alive, well, and working my tail off.
I'm living in a tent suburb - like a tent city, only safer and with better schools - in back of a church. I'm spending my days driving around in a pickup truck with guys I connected with through Katrina Direct Relief. We hand out things like bottled water, mops, buckets, chlorine bleach, and miscellaneous things that the guys came with. We talk to the people who we meet and find out what sort of needs they have clearing debris out of yards and homes. It takes about five minutes of driving to find enough volunteer work to keep us busy all day long.
Gulfport and the western part of Biloxi look almost normal, except for the occasional spraypainted plywood signs that read "Open for business!" or "Now Hiring!" Wal-Mart is open, as is Winn-Dixie, Taco Bell, and a host of other businesses. East Biloxi is entirely another matter. Parts of the city were completely flattened. Residents are living in tents, or under tarpaulins nailed to frameworks made of two-by-fours. A lot of people are shellshocked, with that characteristic thousand-yard stare. When the wind blows from the ruined part of town, you can smell that something-died-in-the-wall smell. The psychic atmosphere is raw and anguished.
My Internet access is spotty, but I may be able to post more than this later.
September 28, 2005
Off to the Gulf Coast
Tomorrow morning I'm off to the Gulf Coast to do hurricane relief work. I'm flying from San Francisco through Houston to Biloxi, Mississippi.[ 1]
I was in Portland, Oregon, from the end of August through the middle of this month, for a series of classes. I'm a second-year student in a three-year MA program in "conflict facilitation and organizational change"; it's a distance learning program punctuated every six month by two-week residencies. It amounts to a lot of learning and practice in group facilitation, strongly grounded in psychology and psychological practice.
The night before the first day of classes was when Katrina made landfall. So, no shit, there I was, sitting on my hands in help-the-world class when it was increasingly clear that the world needed helping right now. I had a few tough nights, lying awake and wondering if I should just gas up the car and go. I did some investigating, and found that even though the Bay Area chapter of the Red Cross was completely uninformative about whether or not they could use or train volunteers, the Portland chapter had disaster relief training scheduled for just after my classes were over. I decided to stick around for a couple more days to take the training. I did so, and now have a certificate that says I've taken "Introduction to Mass Care" and "Shelter Management".
The advice of the RC staffing people in Portland was that I should go home as I had hoped to do and volunteer through my local chapter, certificate in hand. I drove home on Friday the 16th, filled in an application at the local RC chapter on Saturday the 17th, talked briefly with the staffing coordinator on the following Thursday, and took another training class ("Client Casework") on Friday, just hours before Hurricane Rita made landfall.
After the class, the instructor was in the front of the room giving us advice on filling out paperwork, and she said, "We aren't likely to deploy for Katrina any more; and since Rita hasn't landed, it isn't a disaster yet and so we don't have any plans." While she was speaking, Interstate 45 north out of Houston was lined with the cars of evacuees who had run out of gas in the traffic jam.
I was already having doubts about the Red Cross at that point, and this sealed them. I decided to go on my own as a freelance volunteer. Badgerbag, who had volunteered to work on information services at the Houston Astrodome, put me in touch with Grace Davis's Hurricane Katrina Direct Relief, and this in turn led me to the people in Biloxi with whom I expect to be working.
I expect communications to be iffy while I'm out there. I've been less than assiduous about keeping As I Please up to date, and this isn't likely to get better any time soon. I hope to have notes to upload when I come home, though.
Wish me luck.
September 21, 2005
I Feel Like a Character in a John Barnes Novel
According to the National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Rita is now a Category 5 storm, and is predicted to slam into Texas somewhere between Corpus Christi and Galveston late on Friday night.
And we've got ten more weeks of hurricane season ahead of us.
September 19, 2005
What Would You Pack?
Suppose you were headed into the heart of the disaster zone, where Katrina's eye made landfall, to do relief work. You expect that, once in the zone, you will need to be self-reliant, with neither food, water, nor shelter provided you for at least two days. You also expect that you may have to walk at least part of the way to your destination, so you can only bring what you can carry on your back. (Assume you are able-bodied and strong.) What would you pack, and how would you carry it?
You can find one generalized set of answers at Jim MacDonald's Jump Kits page. How would you modify it for the Gulf Coast in September?
September 03, 2005
Any Port in a Storm
Elf Sternberg is watching Fox News' coverage of the Gulf Coast emergency so that you don't have to:
I will say that of all the channels on the air, I can understand why FOX gets the attention it does. They're most in-the-midst of it, they get the best folks on the air, they're actually interviewing cops and doctors on the ground rather than politicians or theorists. They're good at covering disasters.
At one point some reporter was interviewing a doctor at a Red Cross recovery center in Gulfport and the talking head in the studio asked, "Who are all those people in the bright shirts behind you?"
"The ones in red vests are Red Cross. The ones in the bright yellow shirts are Scientologists, who are volunteering their expertise as grief counselors."
More like grief vultures.
I imagine that in general my opinions about the Scientologists are very similar to Elf's. In this particular case, though, I don't want to criticize. Those people are there on the ground, on the scene. They are doing something, and it is almost certainly making at least a little difference for the better.
This leaves me with a question: In between cracking wise about the 101st Fighting Keyboarders and taking part in Operation Yellow Elephant, what are you doing to relieve the suffering that Katrina left in her wake? Besides clicking on a button labeled "Donate", I mean.
May 14, 2005
Help Me With My Homework
You may be aware that I am enrolled in a master's degree program in conflict facilitation offered by the Process Work Center of Portland. I would like your help with a homework assignment for one of my classes. In addition to helping me, if you are curious this will give you a chance to find out about some of the things I am learning.
My assignment is this: for me to facilitate a group interaction (or "group process") of six or more people, recording it on video for me to analyze later. The video recording will be viewed only by me and one teacher. At the time we come together, the group will select a topic for us to work later. The video recording will be viewed only by me and one teacher. At the time we come together, the group will select a topic for us to work on.
I need a minimum of six people for the assignment, and I have space for as many as twelve.
I invite you to my house Oakland, on the evening of Thursday, May 19. The doors will open at 7:00 PM, and we'll get started at 7:30. I expect to be finished by 9:00 PM.
Because space is limited, please RSVP. I'll reply with the address and directions.
Please email me if you have any questions about this event or about process work or group processes.
I look forward to participating with you in this exciting and fun event!
April 06, 2005
Nobel-prize-winning author Saul Bellow died in Brookline, Massachusetts, on Monday at the age of 89.The latest celebrity death hits closer to home, literally, than most of them. Bellow is family, to a degree: his granddaughter Juliet is married to Debbie's cousin Charles Schulman ("I met a man whose brother said he knew a man who knew the Oxford girl....").
The NY Times obituary coyly steps around the fact, at once amusing and embarassing, that Bellow fathered his fourth child, his daughter Naomi, five years ago at the age of 84.
March 29, 2005
The Easter holiday is over. What is to be done with the leftover marshmallow peeps piled in boxes in the closeout sections of grocery and drug stores?
That's easy ... sacrifice them to Cthulhu!
(via the Nameless Dread – who, alas, has been smitten by the wroth of Bill Keane's lawyers)
March 12, 2005
A Spectre Is Haunting Gaming
Greg Costikyan seems to have lit a fire at the Game Developer Conference that just wound down at Moscone Center in San Francisco, when he spoke on a panel called "Burning Down the House – Game Developers Rant." A blogger named Alice has been taking notes, and posts the details here:
Greg Costikyan: I don't know about you but I could have been a lawyer, or a carpenter. or a sous-chef. How many of you are here because you’re after a paycheck? [One bloke raises his hand, audience laughs and crows]. Ahuh. And how many of you are here because you love games? [all hands go up]. Right. So we’re being told that everything’s going to get bigger. Paychecks. Budgets. Consoles. But is it going to get better? I’ve been researching old board games and I’ve spotted a pattern. A new genre: it’s called One Hit Game And Its Imitators. One fishing game appears in mid-19C and dozens follow. Games grow through innovations. Creations of new game styles that spawn imitators and whole new markets. The story of the past few decades is not about graphics and processing power, but startling innovation and industry. That’s why we love games. BUT IT’S OVER NOW!
As recently as 1992: games cost 200K. Next generation games will cost 20m. Publishers are becoming increasingly risk averse. Today you cannot get an innovative title published unless your last name is Wright or Miyamoto. Who was at the Microsoft keynote? I don’t know about you but it made my flesh crawl. [laughter] The HD era? Bigger, louder? Big bucks to be made! Well not by you and me of course. Those budgets and teams ensure the death of innovation. Was your allegiance bought at the price of a television? Then there was the Nintendo keynote. This was the company who established the business model that has crucified the industry today.. Iwata-san has the heart of a gamer, and my question is what poor bastard’s chest did he carve it from? [audience falls about]
How often DO they perform human sacrifices at Nintendo?? My friends, we are FUCKED [laughter]. We are well and truly fucked. The bar in terms of graphics and glitz has been raised and raised until we can’t afford to do anything at all. 80 hour weeks until our jobs are all outsourced to Asia. but it’s ok because the HD era is here right? I say, enough. The time has come for revolution! It may seem to you that what I describe is inevitable forces of history, but no, we have free will! EA could have chosen to focus on innovation, but they did not. Nintendo could make development kits cheaply available to small firms, but they prefer to rely on the creativity on one aging designer. You have choices too: work in a massive sweatshop publisher-run studio with thousands of others making the next racing game with the same gameplay as Pole Position. Or you can riot in the streets of redwood city! Choose another business model, development path, and you can choose to remember why you love games and make sure in a generation’s time there are still games to love. You can start today.
Read the whole thing, because Warren Spector (who has haunted gaming for years), Jason Della Rocca, Brenda Laurel, and Chris Hecker also have important things to say.
February 22, 2005
Bet You Haven't Done These
There's a meme going around LiveJournal that is worthy of wider propagation: List ten things that you have done that people on your LJ friends list probably haven't. I thought it was cute the first time I saw it; unlike the typical LJ meme (Which New York Yankee Are You?) it has appealed more and more with each example I've seen.
So here's my list. My readership extends past my LJ Friends List, but I still think the chances are pretty good that if you routinely read As I Please you haven't done any of these:
- Defeated a bracelet-holding World Champion in a heads-up duel to win a no-limit hold'em poker tournament.
- Defeated a Hugo- and Nebula-award-winning science fiction writer in a heads-up duel to win a pinball tournament.
- Celebrated a birthday on the summit of a volcano, drinking tequila and singing.
- Stood on the screw of a capsized German battleship.
- Paid for a semester's tuition at graduate school with the winnings from a single hand of poker.
- Collaborated on a short story with William Gibson.
- Invented a formalism that could be used to apply perturbation theory to optical resonators.
- Watched an ICBM and its warhead re-enter the atmosphere.
- Barked like a dog at the opening of a graduate seminar.
- Leaned back while sitting on the rim of a redwood hot tub, fell backwards onto the stairs leading down from the deck to the yard, rolled down those stairs in a reverse somersault, and stood up, completely uninjured. (Don't try this one at home.)
On my Friends List, either or both of Paul Phillips and Patti Beadles may have done the first one; if anyone in my wider readership has, post a comment, because I'd like to know about it.
February 10, 2005
Catherine MacKinnon evidently made a complete and utter fool of herself at a panel discussion that took place at the New York premiere of the documentary Inside Deep Throat:
This time, the hapless lot of directing a post-screening panel fell to Elvis Mitchell, former movie critic at the NY Times. The panel was made up of HarperCollins publisher Judith Regan, journallist Peter Boyer, criminal defense attorney Alan Dershowitz (who defended Harry Reems in the famous obscenity trial), and feminist professor Catherine McKinnon.
Mitchell looked on helplessly as McKinnon did her thing, claiming that the film we had just watched was promoting the acceptance of rape. At one point, however, her righteous zeal became unhinged when she claimed that it was not possible to do deep throat safely, that it was a dangerous act that could only be done under hypnosis. "What's so funny?" she snapped as the audience rippled with mirth. Todd Graff's hand shot up – "I can do it," he said, and the room echoed with a chorus of gay men going "me too!" (Gigi Grazer – wife of Brian – later told Graff to stop bragging and that she could do it better than him and had the rocks on her fingers to prove it. Touché). But La McKinnon was not to be discouraged; she claimed that emergency rooms were filled with women victims of throat rape, not to mention the ones who hadnt even made it that far and had died in the act.
"Emergecny rooms are filled with the victims of throat rape." I guess that's why I had to wait so long to get my toe straightened and taped a year and a half ago.
February 08, 2005
The Disembodied Head of C.S. Lewis
"It was Digory Ketterley. He said, 'Look, all of you, upon Aslan –'"
And here, a strange thrill passes through Lucy's heart, as if that name contained every beauty and every joy –
"'Aslan, supporting on his shoulders the suffering of the world. It is through his virtue that all of you may sin. It is through his pain and his labor that all of you are sustained. He is the cause for all your iniquity. Well, it's not fair! Why should he take it? What if the lion that bears up this sinful world were to . . . shrug?'"
"Oh," says Lucy.
"And when he heard these words, it was as if a great burden fell away from the king of beasts, and his shoulders, that had slumped, grew high. And he roared, and it was full of joy and sorrow. And then he turned. And he walked away from us, then, away from the talking animals and the fauns and the women of the wood and the wells, and left us alone, and one by one the humans followed, until there were no more Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve in all of Narnia."
The home of the piece is well worth exploring. Is it a blog? Is it a game? Is it a developing fiction in blog format? All I can say is that if Fafnir, Giblets, and the Medium Lobster regularly took their stabilizing meds and developed an interest in philosophy and theology, the result might look something like Hitherby Dragons.
January 21, 2005
Violence Against Women
Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, and at the University of New Mexico have released the results of a study that purports to show that the large-scale structures of the brains of men and women are different.
In general, men have approximately 6.5 times the amount of gray matter related to general intelligence than women, and women have nearly 10 times the amount of white matter related to intelligence than men. Gray matter represents information processing centers in the brain, and white matter represents the networking of – or connections between – these processing centers.
This, according to Rex Jung, a UNM neuropsychologist and co-author of the study, may help to explain why men tend to excel in tasks requiring more local processing (like mathematics), while women tend to excel at integrating and assimilating information from distributed gray-matter regions in the brain, such as required for language facility. These two very different neurological pathways and activity centers, however, result in equivalent overall performance on broad measures of cognitive ability, such as those found on intelligence tests.
The author of the UCI press release bends over backwards to stress that "there are essentially no disparities in general intelligence between the sexes.". Nevertheless, this study is destined to become ammunition in the war between the sexes. I can easily see someone like James "SpongeDob Stickypants" Dobson framing Rex Jung's assertion quoted above as 'women's brains are suited to thinking girl-thoughts, while the brains of men help them excel at things that are more manly.'
The timing of the announcement seems like quite a coincidence to me, following on the heels of the scandal over Harvard University President Larry Summers suggesting a biological basis for the disparity between men and women in math and science careers. The paranoid in me fears that a concerted attack on the underpinnings of feminism and women's equality is under way. (I know, I know, blah blah blah Susan Faludi yadda yadda Backlash....) The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health; and the Bush-era NIH is known to be politicizing its reported research results.
Assuming that these research results are on the level, there are huge unanswered questions about whether these differences appear innately, automatically, or whether individuals' brains develop according to the use to which they are put. Since by and large women's social experiences differs from those of men, difference in brain structure may well be a consequence of that different experience. It would be worthwhile, in my opinion, doing a similar structure comparing the brain structure of (say) musicians to those of Wall Street traders, Olympic atheletes to accountants, or computer programmers to factory workers.
In the absence of such studies, and notwithstanding the tepid protests of men's and women's parity on general intelligence tests, these results will surely be used by the patriarchy to try to put women in their place.
January 14, 2005
What Are They Teaching Kids in School These Days?
Students at a Palo Alto middle school learned more than school officials ever expected when a recent "career day" speaker extolled the merits of stripping and expounded on the financial benefits of a larger bust.
The hubbub began Tuesday at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School's third annual career day when a student asked Foster City salesman William Fried to explain why he listed "exotic dancer" and "stripper" on a handout of potential careers. Fried, who spoke to about 45 eighth-grade students during two separate 55-minute sessions, spent about a minute explaining that the profession is viable and potentially lucrative for those blessed with the physique and talent for the job.
According to Fried and students who attended the talk, Fried told one group of about 16 students that strippers can earn as much as $250,000 a year and that a larger bust – whether natural or augmented – has a direct relationship to a dancer's salary.
He told the students, "For every two inches up there, it's another $50, 000," according to Jason Garcia, 14. ...
Principal Joseph Di Salvo, while insisting the matter had become overblown, agreed that the topic was inappropriate. He drafted a letter Thursday to parents of the school's eighth-grade students saying that, while many students were not offended by the talk, it should not have occurred.
"Our goal was to expose to students a variety of careers, but our intent was not strippers or exotic dancers," said Di Salvo, saying Fried will most likely not be invited back next year. "Dancing is fine, but dancing in a sexual way is not fine because of where the kids are in their lives." ...
Reached at his home, Fried said he understands that some may have felt he crossed the line, but he stood by his overall conduct. His remarks were part of a larger presentation entitled, "The Secret of a Happy Life," which he's given at the last two career days. The talk is aimed at inspiring kids to find happiness by settling on careers that they love to do and are especially equipped to perform.
As part of the presentation, he handed out a brochure featuring a list of more than 100 fields to investigate, including advertising and investment banking but also poker, stunt flying and stripping.
"I believe you should be honest and open with everyone, and there is no such thing as inappropriateness," said Fried, 64, who owns a sales consulting firm. "Eighth-grade kids can digest a lot more than their parents believe they can. The mind will put it in its proper niche. I don't believe any kid was marred or harmed by any of the talks." ...
In hindsight, Fried, who has no children, said his message didn't need to stray so far afield.
"Maybe I could have probably spent less time on exotic dancing," he said. "But I think the kids were entertained."
(via SF Gate)
December 23, 2004
Especially for Stef Maruch: It's Hello Cthulhu!
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. – H. P. Lovecraft
(via Avedon Carol)
December 19, 2004
Diagnosing medical and mental conditions from literary descriptions has many years of tradition and precedent. Researchers in the Department of Mental Health Sciences at the Royal Free and University College Medical School, in London, have published a paper examining and diagnosing Sméagol, the hobbit whose lifespan was stretched unnaturally due to the effects of possessing the One Ring:
Gollum displays pervasive maladaptive behaviour that has been present since childhood with a persistent disease course. His odd interests and spiteful behaviour have led to difficulty in forming friendships and have caused distress to others. He fulfils seven of the nine criteria for schizoid personality disorder (ICD F60.1), and, if we must label Gollum's problems, we believe that this is the most likely diagnosis.
December 16, 2004
On the Fabrication from Clay and Subsequent Animation of Loyal Servants
Fafnir has conducted researches into a subject dear to the heart of all friends of magic:
For those of you playin at home here's how YOU can make a golem! First make a big thing outta clay an earth which is but a shadow of the true glory that is divine creation. Then write the hidden name of God on its forehead an pronounce the secret invocation:
I had a little golem, I made it out of clay
And when it's dried and ready, Prague armies it will slay.
Golem, golem, golem, I made you out of clay.
Golem, golem, golem, with golem I will play.
Fafnir has obviously modeled his method on the one laid out by Jacques Belasis in The Instructions. The other known version of the incantation was recorded by Walter de Chepe, who, disdaining violence in any form, put the second line as And when it's dried and ready, with golem I will play. It is recommended that beginners use de Chepe's spell, leaving Belasis' to magicians of greater experience and ability.
December 09, 2004
The Misuses of Fantasy
Henry at Crooked Timber points us to "The Uses of Fantasy," a review by Jennifer Howard of Susanna Clarke's novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell that appears in the December 2004/January 2005 issue of the Boston Review:
But aren’t the showier sorts of magic – magic that battles for the soul of the world – exactly what we need, now more than ever? “There are people in this world,” says one of the fairy gentleman’s human favorites, “whose lives are nothing but a burden to them. A black veil stands between them and the world. They are entirely alone. They are like shadows in the night, shut off from joy and love and all gentle human emotions, unable even to give comfort to each other. Their days are full of nothing but darkness, misery and solitude.”
This sounds very much like a description not of enchantment but of clinical depression. Throughout Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, wondrous if familiar conceits fight to break through the tangles of literary reference Clarke has planted, yet she cannot, or will not, free her story from its many progenitors. Clarke’s novel doesn’t parody the genre; it displays in a lifeless cabinet of wonders all its elements – every element, that is, but the epic sense of Good and Evil, of things larger than ourselves, that makes the best fantasy so powerful and so necessary.
If a writer of epic fantasy isn’t willing to trust her imagination and her story – is afraid to let it matter – can a salve for the troubles that afflict us still be found in books? There was a time when one could turn to fantasy, if not for escape, then for a working-out, a cathartic reimagining, of the world’s crises. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell takes epic fantasy down a road that leads away from large moral conflict and instead doubles back on itself and the reader. There is no help and no escape for any of us in a story that can’t escape its own bookishness.
Howard seems to believe that it is the the job of fantastic fiction to provide escape from the sorrows of the everyday world. I wonder whether her reaction to, say, Isak Dinesen would be to disparage her because her protagonists are not cut from the cloth of Allan Quatermain or Lord Greystoke, on the grounds that these are the sort heroes about whom readers of African adventures wish to read.
December 02, 2004
Christmas Time Is Here, by Golly!
If you aren't dismayed by the mumblety-umpth rebroadcast of stop-motion reindeers cavorting to the music of Burl Ives, perhaps you should take a look at John Scalzi's The 10 Least Successful Holiday Specials of All Time:
Ayn Rand's A Selfish Christmas (1951)
In this hour-long radio drama, Santa struggles with the increasing demands of providing gifts for millions of spoiled, ungrateful brats across the world, until a single elf, in the engineering department of his workshop, convinces Santa to go on strike. The special ends with the entropic collapse of the civilization of takers and the spectacle of children trudging across the bitterly cold, dark tundra to offer Santa cash for his services, acknowledging at last that his genius makes the gifts – and therefore Christmas – possible. Prior to broadcast, Mutual Broadcast System executives raised objections to the radio play, noting that 56 minutes of the hour-long broadcast went to a philosophical manifesto by the elf and of the four remaining minutes, three went to a love scene between Santa and the cold, practical Mrs. Claus that was rendered into radio through the use of grunts and the shattering of several dozen whiskey tumblers. In later letters, Rand sneeringly described these executives as "anti-life."
November 23, 2004
Essay Question on Video-Game Violence
Fafnir may have put his finger on what's behind Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA)'s concern about box-turtle miscegenation: Is Super Mario Brothers responsible for the recent escalation of plumber-on-turtle violence in America? Plumber-on-mushroom violence? Discuss.
(Aside: Does Fafnir have fingers?)
November 12, 2004
Off the Bus
Included in SF Gate's New Flicks newsletter today is this little squib:
Go FurtherIn this documentary, actor Woody Harrelson pilots a hemp- fueled bus down the Pacific Coast Highway to raise eco-consciousness. Directed by Ron Mann. Not rated. 80 minutes.
Oh, puh-LEASE.... It sure sounds like someone wants to be Ken Kesey when he grows up (if doing so can be called "growing up," which is open to discussion).
Unable to resist, I checked out Walter Addiego's review:
Actor Woody Harrelson is in his full activist mode in this low-key and loose documentary about the bike-and-bus tour he led in 2001 to extol the virtues of simple, organic living. Accompanied by a brightly painted support bus running on hemp-derived fuel, Harrelson and friends cycled from Seattle to Southern California, stopping at college campuses and other friendly venues to spread the word that individuals can change the world by being kind to the environment....
The carnival atmosphere of the whole affair isn't surprising, since Harrelson and company were inspired by the adventures of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, and early in the movie visit the grand old man of the counterculture at his Oregon farm. (Kesey died several months after the filming.) The visitors even get to see the original bus used by the Pranksters for their psychedelic-laced wanderings.
I am reminded of nothing so much as Marie Antoinette and her ladies-in-waiting going off to their country cottage to pretend to be milkmaids.
November 03, 2004
This Age Wanted Heroes
Shut up. Listen. There is something calling, Paulinka. If you still retain a shred of decency you can hear it – it's a dim terrible voice that's calling – a bass howl, like a cow in a slaughterhouse, but far, far off... It is calling us to action, calling us to stand against the calamity, to spare nothing, not our blood, nor our happiness, nor our lives in the struggle to stop the dreadful day that's burning now in oil flames on the horizon. What makes the voice pathetic is that it doesn't know what kind of people it's reaching. Us. No one hears it, except us. This Age wanted heroes. It got us instead: carefully constructed, but immobile. Subtle, but unfit to take up the burden of the times. It happens. A whole generation of washouts. History says stand up, and we totter and collapse, weeping, moved, but not sufficient. The best of us, lacking. The most decent, not decent enough. The kindest, too cruel, the most loving too full of hate, the wisest, too stupid, the fittest unfit to take up the burden of the times. The Enemy has a voice like seven thunders. What chance did that dim voice ever have? Marvel that anyone heard it instead of wondering why nobody did anything, marvel that we heard it, we who have no right to hear it – NO RIGHT! And it would be a mercy not to. But mercy ... is a thing ... no one remembers its face anymore. The best would be that time would stop right now, in this middling moment of awfulness, before the very worst arrives. We'd all be spared more than telling. That would be best.
(Tony Kushner, A Bright Room Called Day)
America I've given you all and now I'm nothing.
America two dollars and twentyseven cents January 17, 1956.
I can't stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb.
I don't feel good don't bother me.
I won't write my poem till I'm in my right mind.
America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?
America why are your libraries full of tears?
America when will you send your eggs to India?
I'm sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?
America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world.
Your machinery is too much for me.
You made me want to be a saint.
There must be some other way to settle this argument.
Burroughs is in Tangiers I don't think he'll come back it's sinister.
Are you being sinister or is this some form of practical joke?
I'm trying to come to the point.
I refuse to give up my obsession.
America stop pushing I know what I'm doing.
America the plum blossoms are falling.
I haven't read the newspapers for months, everyday somebody goes on trial for murder.
America I feel sentimental about the Wobblies.
America I used to be a communist when I was a kid I'm not sorry.
I smoke marijuana every chance I get.
I sit in my house for days on end and stare at the roses in the closet.
When I go to Chinatown I get drunk and never get laid.
My mind is made up there's going to be trouble.
You should have seen me reading Marx.
My psychoanalyst thinks I'm perfectly right.
I won't say the Lord's Prayer.
I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations.
America I still haven't told you what you did to Uncle Max after he came over from Russia.
I'm addressing you.
Are you going to let your emotional life be run by Time Magazine?
I'm obsessed by Time Magazine.
I read it every week.
Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candystore.
I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.
It's always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious. Movie producers are serious. Everybody's serious but me.
It occurs to me that I am America.
I am talking to myself again.
Asia is rising against me.
I haven't got a chinaman's chance.
I'd better consider my national resources.
My national resources consist of two joints of marijuana millions of genitals an unpublishable private literature that goes 1400 miles an hour and twenty-five-thousand mental institutions.
I say nothing about my prisons nor the millions of underprivileged who live in my flowerpots under the light of five hundred suns.
I have abolished the whorehouses of France, Tangiers is the next to go.
My ambition is to be President despite the fact that I'm a Catholic.
America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?
I will continue like Henry Ford my strophes are as individual as his automobiles more so they're all different sexes.
America I will sell you strophes $2500 apiece $500 down on your old strophe
America free Tom Mooney
America save the Spanish Loyalists
America Sacco & Vanzetti must not die
America I am the Scottsboro boys.
America when I was seven momma took me to Communist Cell meetings they sold us garbanzos a handful per ticket a ticket costs a nickel and the speeches were free everybody was angelic and sentimental about the workers it was all so sincere you have no idea what a good thing the party was in 1835 Scott Nearing was a grand old man a real mensch Mother Bloor made me cry I once saw Israel Ameter plain. Everybody must have been a spy.
America you don't really want to go to war.
America it's them bad Russians.
Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Russians.
The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia's power mad. She wants to take our cars from out our garages.
Her wants to grab Chicago. Her needs a Red Readers' Digest. Her wants our auto plants in Siberia. Him big bureaucracy running our fillingstations.
That no good. Ugh. Him make Indians learn read. Him need big black niggers. Hah. Her make us all work sixteen hours a day. Help.
America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.
America is this correct?
I'd better get right down to the job.
It's true I don't want to join the Army or turn lathes in precision parts factories, I'm nearsighted and psychopathic anyway.
America I'm putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.
– Allen Ginsberg
(Thanks to Lori Selke)
October 15, 2004
Worldwork Class in Berkeley, 11/10-12/15/04
Transforming Conflict into Community and Enemies into Allies
Conflict, for better or worse, is a fact of life. Our beautiful country is divided along political, racial, and economic lines. Our exquisite world is torn by war and injustice. Our loving relationships are punctuated with stress and tension. How can we stand up for what we feel is right without becoming the thing we are fighting against? How can we facilitate when a conflict is painful and complex?
Worldwork invites and values all points of view, as well as the emotional reality of conflict situations. This follows the belief that every position should have a voice, and that marginalized views and communication styles sometimes need support in order to be heard. The inherent wisdom of a group or community emerges when all parts are expressed and have a chance to interact. The same dynamics that create conflict, when handled with awareness, can create understanding, reconciliation, and community.
In this series of classes, we will learn about some of the dynamics that cause conflicts to cycle and perpetuate. We will directly address and work with issues that are present among the participants, as well as world issues, in order to learn more about how to work with conflicts in general. In this way, we will get a chance to practice powerful and effective tools that can help us to create intimacy, community, and social change.
TIME: 7pm to 10pm
DATES: Wednesdays Nov 10, 17, Dec 1, 8, 15
COST: $20 per class (Need-based fees considered)
CONTACT: Lane (510) 558-8805
WHERE: 1452 Cornell Avenue. Berkeley (Please park in lot across street)
All are welcome to the first class. Commitment required after first class.
WORLDWORK offers powerful and effective tools that can help us to work toward wholeness, well-being, social justice, and community. Developed by Arnold Mindell, Ph.D. (author of Sitting in the Fire, Dreambody, etc.) and his colleagues from around the world, Worldwork is based on a trust that even the most disturbing experiences – including physical illness, conflicts and world issues – can lead us in the direction of change, growth, and connection.
LANE ARYE, Ph.D. is an internationally known Process Worker and Worldworker. In the Balkans, he co-led a UN funded project working with Serbs, Croats, and Muslims on ethnic tension, war-related trauma, and community building. Lane has also worked with conflicts between high-caste and low-caste Hindus from India, anti-Semitism in Germany and Poland, as well as racism, sexism, nationalism, homophobia, and class issues in the US and Europe. Author of Unintentional Music: Unleashing Your Deepest Creativity, Lane lives with his wife, Lecia, and has a private practice in Berkeley and San Rafael.
October 11, 2004
Revenge of the Backlist
Over at Wired is an astonishing article about the unintended consequences of online delivery of entertainment content. It's all the more astonishing because it's written by Wired's editor-in-chief, Chris Anderson. (Who'da thunk that the lead editor of the chief bastion of fatuous New Economy cheerleading would come out with something so substantial and important?) The article is called The Long Tail.
An analysis of the sales data and trends from [Amazon.com, Netflix, iTunes Music Store, and Rhapsody] and others like them shows that the emerging digital entertainment economy is going to be radically different from today's mass market. If the 20th-century entertainment industry was about hits, the 21st will be equally about misses.
For too long we've been suffering the tyranny of lowest-common-denominator fare, subjected to brain-dead summer blockbusters and manufactured pop. Why? Economics. Many of our assumptions about popular taste are actually artifacts of poor supply-and-demand matching - a market response to inefficient distribution.
The article opens with:
In 1988, a British mountain climber named Joe Simpson wrote a book called Touching the Void, a harrowing account of near-death in the Peruvian Andes. It got good reviews but, only a modest success, it was soon forgotten. Then, a decade later, a strange thing happened. Jon Krakauer wrote Into Thin Air, another book about a mountain-climbing tragedy, which became a publishing sensation. Suddenly Touching the Void started to sell again.
Random House rushed out a new edition to keep up with demand. Booksellers began to promote it next to their Into Thin Air displays, and sales rose further. A revised paperback edition, which came out in January, spent 14 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. That same month, IFC Films released a docudrama of the story to critical acclaim. Now Touching the Void outsells Into Thin Air more than two to one.
What happened? In short, Amazon.com recommendations. The online bookseller's software noted patterns in buying behavior and suggested that readers who liked Into Thin Air would also like Touching the Void. People took the suggestion, agreed wholeheartedly, wrote rhapsodic reviews. More sales, more algorithm-fueled recommendations, and the positive feedback loop kicked in.
Other tasty quotes:
Combine enough nonhits on the Long Tail and you've got a market bigger than the hits. Take books: The average Barnes & Noble carries 130,000 titles. Yet more than half of Amazon's book sales come from outside its top 130,000 titles. Consider the implication: If the Amazon statistics are any guide, the market for books that are not even sold in the average bookstore is larger than the market for those that are (see "Anatomy of the Long Tail"). ...
The same is true for all other aspects of the entertainment business, to one degree or another. Just compare online and offline businesses: The average Blockbuster carries fewer than 3,000 DVDs. Yet a fifth of Netflix rentals are outside its top 3,000 titles. Rhapsody streams more songs each month beyond its top 10,000 than it does its top 10,000. In each case, the market that lies outside the reach of the physical retailer is big and getting bigger. ...
[T]he success of Netflix, Amazon, and the commercial music services shows that you need both ends of the curve. Their huge libraries of less-mainstream fare set them apart, but hits still matter in attracting consumers in the first place. Great Long Tail businesses can then guide consumers further afield by following the contours of their likes and dislikes, easing their exploration of the unknown.
For instance, the front screen of Rhapsody features Britney Spears, unsurprisingly. Next to the listings of her work is a box of "similar artists." Among them is Pink. If you click on that and are pleased with what you hear, you may do the same for Pink's similar artists, which include No Doubt. And on No Doubt's page, the list includes a few "followers" and "influencers," the last of which includes the Selecter, a 1980s ska band from Coventry, England. In three clicks, Rhapsody may have enticed a Britney Spears fan to try an album that can hardly be found in a record store.
Rhapsody does this with a combination of human editors and genre guides. But Netflix, where 60 percent of rentals come from recommendations, and Amazon do this with collaborative filtering, which uses the browsing and purchasing patterns of users to guide those who follow them ("Customers who bought this also bought ..."). In each, the aim is the same: Use recommendations to drive demand down the Long Tail.
On the Importance of Knowing What's Important
Dear Miss Manners:
On only a few days' notice, I was married in February to a wonderful woman. Having not had time to properly invite friends and family to our nuptials, and since we already had been living together for 14 years, we didn't expect to receive gifts.
Nevertheless, we did receive many wonderful cards and calls of congratulations, and a few relatives did send us thoughtful gifts. Of course we promptly wrote them thank-you notes and telephoned them to show our sincere appreciation. Unfortunately, a decision by the California Supreme Court voided our marriage, along with the marriages of approximately 4,000 other same-gender couples.
What is the proper etiquette with respect to keeping or returning these special gifts now that the court has forced us to untie the knot?
Wedding presents may be properly accepted during the couple's engagement, and need only be returned if they no longer wish to be married. You have, after all, met Miss Manners's basic and non-negotiable requirement: You wrote thank-you letters.
October 06, 2004
My Id, after spending all day yesterday in a profound sulk, has just gone and dug something truly horrific out of its toybox to play with. Howard Phillip Lovecraft. And it gets worse, the mad little wretch's other fist is still stuffed with Harry Potter, and it's bashing them together while chortling with malevolent glee, and...
And they're starting to fit!
Let's begin with Professor Snape, shall we? Yeah, Snape – slightly oily; BIG hooked nose; ill favored; named 'Severus" (which is an ancient Egyptian name, and I DO mean ancient); sallow of the sort which would be swarthy if he ever saw the sun, but because he spends all his time in the chill depths of the earth, is just yellowish; dead brilliant with bubbling, questionable substances; and with a mind slippery enough to keep Voldemort confunded perpetually? That's the one. He's Nyarlathotep – the one and only SANE Great Old One. The Man ... er... Thing With The Plan. The one who dictated the Necronomicon to old Al Azif as he was slowly going bananas from just the words on the page. Butler to the Greater Gods, facilitator to many of their nefarious plans; ...
And did anyone else happen to notice that Little Haggleton seemed to greatly resemble a town on the other side of the pond, name of Innsmouth? Perhaps Greater Haggleton is some twelve miles out off the coast, where the summer homes are? It would explain a few things about Our Tom, it would.
August 27, 2004
Communication Breakdown – Communication Breakthrough: Being Whole in the Heat (A Six-Week Class Starting 9/15/04)
(Another Wednesday evening class in process work from Lane Arye, who is now my advisor in the graduate school program I'm starting next week)
Communication Breakdown – Communication Breakthrough:
Being Whole in the Heat
A Six Week Series of Classes in Worldwork and Process Work
with Lane Arye, Ph.D.
Skillful communication can be very helpful in conflict situations. What happens, though, when communication breaks down, either because we have never learned skillful communication, because the “correct” way does not go along with our cultural or personal style, because we are feeling too much emotion, or because we are too deep in the conflict to remember what we know? Then it can be useful to trust the process, to follow the wisdom of our bodies, to let our double messages and “wrong” communication lead the way.
In this series of classes, we will learn and practice communication tools that can help us to be more effective and compassionate, to get our point across and really listen. We will also learn to follow ourselves when we are in the heat. Through group process, individual work, theory, discussion, and practical exercises, we will learn to be more fluid, authentic, playful, and free with friends, enemies, lovers, and co-workers.
TIME: 7pm to 10pm
DATES: Wednesdays September 15, 22, 29, October 6, 13, 27
COST: $20 per class (Need-based fees considered)
CONTACT: Lane (510) 558-8805
WHERE: 1452 Cornell Avenue. Berkeley (Please park in lot across street)
All are welcome to the first class. Commitment required after first class.
PROCESS WORK and WORLDWORK offer powerful and effective tools that can help us to work toward wholeness, well-being, social justice, and community. Developed by Arnold Mindell, Ph.D. (author of Sitting in the Fire, Dreambody, etc.) and his colleagues from around the world, Process Work and Worldwork are based on a trust that even the most disturbing experiences – including physical illness, conflicts and world issues – can lead us in the direction of change, growth, and connection.
LANE ARYE, Ph.D. is an internationally known Process Worker and Worldworker. In the Balkans, he co-led a UN-funded project working with Serbs, Croats, and Muslims on ethnic tension, war-related trauma, and community building. Lane has also worked with conflicts between high-caste and low-caste Hindus from India, anti-Semitism in Germany and Poland, as well as racism, sexism, nationalism, homophobia, and class issues in the US and Europe. Author of Unintentional Music: Releasing Your Deepest Creativity, Lane lives with his wife, Lecia, and has a private practice in Berkeley and San Rafael.
August 08, 2004
The Dude Abides
August 03, 2004
Creativity in Thirteen Easy Lessons
6. Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten.
Then when you hit puberty they take the crayons away and replace them with books on algebra etc. Being suddenly hit years later with the creative bug is just a wee voice telling you, "I’d like my crayons back, please."
Other advice includes "Keep your day job" and "Put the hours in". Sounds simple. It's also valuable. Check it out.
(via Boing Boing)
Gregg Easterbrook, Flat-Earther
The editorial standards of The New Republic are even lower than I had supposed. Brad DeLong has delivered a smackdown to TNR's senior editor Gregg Easterbrook. Easterbrook has taken the news that Stephen Hawking has refined some of his key ideas on the nature of gravitational collapse and black holes as an opportunity to denounce Hawking as a kook.
To read Easterbrook, Stephen Hawking has been getting away with nonsense pronouncements because other scientists are too embarassed to call him on them, perhaps because they feel uncomfortable contradicting a cripple. But now Hawking has confessed, the game is up, and we can now forget we ever heard of black holes.
This of course has nothing to do with the facts of the matter. If you do the math (I have; has Easterbrook?) it is straightforward to see that the ideas about black holes that Hawking propounded thirty-odd years ago were in fact reasonable ones.
Easterbrook clearly hasn't done the math. Brad DeLong catches him out as an almost total ignoramus about gravity. What is gravity? Easterbrook asks. No one has the slightest idea. That gravity exists is indisputable, and the equations by which it functions have been so precisely refined that NASA can guide space probes moving amid the outer planets. But the what of gravity – how it works – is a total unknown. ... Einstein speculated that the mass of every object causes space-time to curve, and then less massive objects roll downward on the curvature, and that's where gravity comes from. But wait, even if space is curved by mass, why do objects roll down the curvature – what pulls them?
Anyone who has taken a class in modern gravity physics would recognize this as the same kind of idiocy as that of those critics of space travel who insisted that rockets can't work in a vacuum because there's nothing to push against. DeLong says, in general relativity objects don't "roll downward" on the curvature. Objects that are not pushed by the strong or the electroweak force move through curved space along that space's "straight lines" – i.e., they follow the shortest distance between any two points – according to the (relativistic version of) Newton's First Law of Motion: a body in uniform motion will continue in uniform motion. That's right: a freely falling object follows a geodesic path in curved spacetime. Matter and energy, in the form of the stress-energy tensor, change the shape of spacetime.
What's more, the equations that NASA's scientists use to guide space probes around the outer planets are Einstein's equations, not Newton's. Newton's theory of gravity isn't good enough for the necessary precision. Einstein's description of curved spacetime does the job. The curvature of spacetime is detectable, observable, measurable.
The only question that remains is this: Why does Marty Peretz give this nutbar Easterbrook the space to peddle such sophmoric twaddle?
June 30, 2004
Tech Support for Otaku
Next time your software isn't making it to the hard drive, you might want to Ask The Tech Girl. If the Web site is to be believed, there are hot young Windows Certified women just waiting for your call.
Is it straightforward tech support? Is it phone sex? Maybe it's both. (If it isn't phone sex, with that presentation it won't be long before the heavy breathers start calling to find out how to clear their browser caches.)
(via Amy Thompson)
May 21, 2004
Game Licensing ... the Cart or the Horse?
Here is Anthony Lane reviewing the film Van Helsing in this week's New Yorker (the link will go bad within a week):
Indeed, you wonder what youthful viewers will get from this movie. Any reference to Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi will sail over their heads, and they will never know the loaded, entrancing silence in which those superior monsters advanced upon their prey. I suspect that they will regard “Van Helsing” as a low-budget trailer for the real business of the moment, which is “Van Helsing” the Xbox game, available now for $49.99. I have not yet had the pleasure of its company, but the promises made by the manufacturer are stirring to behold: “Unlock hidden content when you play through three different difficulty modes.” This has to be an improvement on the movie, which has virtually no content at all, hidden or otherwise, and whose only mode of difficulty arises when Hugh Jackman has to shout to make himself heard above the screech of the flight attendants.
Lane, like most critics, doesn't like the film (there are exceptions to this, like our own true Roz Kaveny). But that's rather beside the point he's making in this paragraph: that in his perception the film is the tie-in to the Xbox game, not the other way around.
Anyone who has any understanding of the economics of filmmaking, especially of SFX-laden summer blockbusters, knows this is hogwash. But isn't it interesting that Lane would think so, or at least would make a show of seeming to think so?
May 19, 2004
Costikyan on E3
Just in case you actually read As I Please for commentary on gaming (don't laugh – at least one blogger lists me in his blogroll under the category of "Games"), I want to point you to Greg Costikyan's writeup of E3, the electronic gaming conference that just took place in Los Angeles. In his trenchant style, Greg takes on the dominance of licensed material in electronic games:
Out on the entrance hall floor is some classic muscle car; hired bimbos stand in front of it wearing dangerously short cut-off jeans and halter tops. Above it is a banner for the game they're promoting; the Dukes of Hazzard, forsooth. Only in the game industry would such a shit license find a home. Are the suits morons, or are they just desperate? Why in god's name would anyone think a fucking Dukes of Hazzard game is likely to outsell something half-way original?
(To give the Devil his due, one BK tells Greg in the comments that the first Dukes of Hazzard game was a piece of crap that was developed on a shoestring ... and sold something like one and a half million copies through Wal-Mart.)
Greg describes and analyzes the new generation of handheld gaming platforms (N-Gage QD, Nintendo DS, and Sony PSP) and the Infinium Phantom home console platform. And in a subsequent post he links to Gamespot's interview with security analyst Michael Pachter. Pachter corroborates Greg Costikyan's view that the plethora of sequels and licensed properties in the electronic gaming world are a sign of trouble.
GameSpot: Four days after the trumpet call that closes down E3, what do you recall most from the show?
Michael Pachter: Sequels, sequels, and more sequels. People just aren't taking any risk on new intellectual property (IP). Obviously there are some new games but very few.
GS: Is that an advisable tack at this stage in the consoles' cycles?
MP: Apparently that's what all the publishers seem to think.
GS: But from a financial perspective, does it make sense?
MP: The question is, how are consumers going to react? If consumers are fine with a bunch of Rambo 4s or Star Wars 6s at the movies, then fine. But I feel there's a point where sequels wear off. I think you still need to introduce new content to get people excited. I'm afraid that the [software] companies are being a bit too conservative.
April 15, 2004
Russian "Anti-Barbie" Too Young to Be Miss Universe
Friends entered the name of Alyona Pliskova into a Web-based contest to select finalists for a competition for the position as Russia's entry to the Miss Universe beauty contest in June.
Alyona was quite different from the other entries, all polished and photographed in the mode of high fashion. Her photo showed her in loose, unstyled hair, without makeup, and wearing a red sweatshirt bearing the slogan "Barbies No Pasaran!"
In a runaway victory, Alyona led the rest of the field in the online voting. According to a BBC report, she collected 40,000 votes, at least twice the number of her nearest competitor.
The contest organizers disqualified her because she is only fifteen years old, too young to compete. They gave her the "Viewer's Choice Award."
But supporters, who have put up the Skazhi Nyet "Kuklam Barbi" (Say No to Barbie Dolls) page are claiming victory:
People, who voted for Alyona, VOTED AGAINST:
- Not naturally looking beauties, who cannot be distinguished from each other;
- Fake emotions, smiles and gazes reflected in the lenses of professional photographers;
- Imposed standards 35"-23"-35" (in inches)/90-60-90 (in centimeters);
- Mass-media standards and the models it imposes;
- Products of the same type and trademark, which are made into cult objects for specific layers of the populace;
- Popular music, which is imposed on us and which becomes popular for this reason only;
- Cigarettes without nicotine and coffee without caffeine.
And VOTED FOR:
- First and foremost, we vote for Alyona, who helped us to look at the beauty contest from an alternative point of view;
- Real people, individuals, who do not want to apply to themselves standard stamps of society;
- Products, which are needed by a specific person, not being designated for some average consumer;
- We vote for individuality, for ourselves!
(via Suzy Charnas)
The House That Smut Built
The house was six years old when they bought it. They redid the walls in hand-painted fake stone and marble finishes and in a leatherlike finish in their bedroom. The front door, of glass and hand-forged metal, is 20 feet high. "It weighs in excess of a ton," [Jameson's husband Jay] Grdina said proudly. The entrance hall floor is marble and stone inlay and there is a bronze and alabaster chandelier. There is also a gold-plated custom-frame low-rider bicycle that Ms. Jameson gave Mr. Grdina for his birthday.
She showed off her walk-in closet, with 400 to 500 pairs of shoes and hundreds of matching handbags. "I'm psychotic about purses and shoes," she said in her slightly hoarse smoker's voice.
The master bedroom has a king-size bed with an ostrich-skin headboard and feathered pillows. The bathroom contains a 6-by-7-foot bathtub-Jacuzzi on a raised platform. The couple say they plan to have children and will someday add a 1,500-square-foot guest house with a garage, gym and office.
Perhaps this depiction of the life of luxury led by someone at the top of the adult entertainment biz can serve as an inspiration to my friends and loved ones who toil away in its lower levels.
April 06, 2004
Elena, a motorcyclist who lives in Kiev, maintains a guide to motorcycling through the Chernobyl dead zone:
I travel a lot and one of my favorite destinations is through the so called Chernobyl "dead zone", which is 130kms from my home. Why my favorite? Because one can take long rides without encountering a single car or living soul. The people are gone now and nature is reasserting itself in blooming plants, woods and rippling lakes.
In places where roads have not been travelled by trucks or army vehicles, they are in the same condition they were 20 years ago - except for an occasional blade of grass that discovered a crack to spring through. Time does not ruin roads, so they may stay this way until they can be opened to normal traffic again........ a few centuries from now.
(via Farah Mendlesohn)
March 21, 2004
Of Course It's Work-Safe! It Says So Right Here!
Avedon Carol points us to Safe for Work Porn by Edouard Levé. All the models are fully dressed in fashionable clothes fit for all but the stuffiest of workplaces. Their comportment, however, is another matter.
March 10, 2004
I'm home again, dog-tired, and just beginning to settle back into what we laughingly refer to around here as "normal life".
I've just scrubbed out a bunch of comment spam. I'm much obliged to the spammers for making it particularly easy to delete this time.
February 29, 2004
It's Sunday morning at Potlatch, and a bunch of people are sitting in the consuite watching a video projected onto a screen: a video of an interview with Bill Gibson. I've been watching the video with half my attention, and with the rest of it I've been surfing the Net, checking email, and now posting to this blog.
And while I've been doing this, the recorded image of Bill, twice life-sized, has been talking about how totally mediated people are nowadays, how communications technology has become what he describes as a prosthetic external nervous system. The truth tells itself to the truth, spoken by an electronic avatar of an old friend.
February 18, 2004
"But for these medd'ling kids and this their dog."
This recently discovered folio edition of "Hamlet" follows other known versions closely until Act V, Scene II, where it begins to diverge at line 232, as will be seen:
KING ...`Now the king drinks to Hamlet.' Come, begin,
And you the judges, bear a wary eye
Trumpets sound. HAMLET and LAERTES take their stations
HAMLET: Come on, sir.
LAERTES: Come, my lord.
Enter FRED, DAPHNE, VELMA, SHAGGY, AND SCOOBY
SHAGGY: Stop the fight!
HAMLET and LAERTES put up their foils
KING: I like this not. Say wherefore you do speak?
FRED: Good lord, I pray thee, let thy anger wait.
For we, in seeking clues, have found the truth
Behind the strange events of latter days. ...
February 17, 2004
A Zendo in Schenectady
C.E. Petit, in Scrivener's Error points us to a wonderful interview with Ursula Le Guin that appeared last week in the Guardian.
The quoatable throwaways include Le Guin's answer to the inevitable "Where do you get your crazy ideas" question
Q: What I would most like to ask you is where you get your inspiration.
UKL: I sit and listen.
as well as this gem, worthy of Stef Maruch's .sig file:
Q: Perhaps you feel a bit out of step with your contemporaries?
UKL: Why should a woman of 74 want to be "in step with" anybody? Am I in an army, or something?
But read the whole thing, because of the more substantial content as well.
December 13, 2003
The Law of the Ring
This is what happens when law students get fed up with studying:
Sauron: Offer and acceptance"As a small token of your friendship Sauron asks this," he said: "that you should find this thief," such was his word, "and get from him, willing or no, a little ring, the least of rings, that once he stole. It is but a trifle that Sauron fancies, and an earnest of your good will. Find it, and three rings that the Dwarf-sires possessed of old shall be returned to you, and the realm of Moria shall be yours for ever. Find only news of the thief, whether he still lives and where, and you shall have great reward and lasting friendship from the Lord. Refuse, and things will not seem so well. Do you refuse?"
–The Fellowship of the Ring, in "The Council of Elrond"
It seems to me that's really two, maybe three separate offers. The first seems to be unambiguously an offer for a unilateral contract (to find the supposedly piddling ring for three of the Dwarf rings of power plus the estate of Moria), to be completed by performance. Dáin wouldn't want to bind himself to produce a ring; it's too risky. This seems like the straight-forward reward scenario envisioned as a prototypical offer for a unilateral contract. ...
The Dwarves' best argument is that the contract is unenforceable under the Statute of Frauds. The One Ring itself is of incalculable value. The rings that the Dwarf-sires possessed of old are almost certainly worth more than $5,000,000 a piece, let alone $5,000. Plus Moria is a vast mining tract, so the promise to hand it over can't be conveyed by an oral contract. It's hard to imagine that a disembodied all-seeing eye wreathed in flame can produce a signed writing, and besides, all I see are oral conversations in hissed whispers, maybe a palantír conversation or two – nothing, really, that would satisfy the memorandum required by the Statute.
Read it all. Including the comments. ("You did not mention that it is likely that Sauron's 'offers' contained improper threats/conduct that would likely overcome the will of any offeree. Thus they would be unenforceable agreements and Dain could keep the ring if he met the condition and actually found it.")
(via Scrivener's Error)
December 11, 2003
That's Just Wrong!
Universal is releasing a live-action cinema revival of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's Thunderbirds TV puppet show, directed by Jonathan Frakes. Here's the trailer (all 5.8 MB).
November 12, 2003
Blizzard Chessby Blarney
We'd like to thank all our fans for making Chess the success it is - can't do it without you, guys! Anyway, we're having a few game balance issues, so we're issuing another patch to Chess. Please see details inside.
Most high-level Chess players online recently are using the "center pawn rush" every single game! In order to restore game balance, we're revoking the ability of King Pawns and Queen Pawns to move 2 squares on the first move - from now on, they will only move 1 square per move. All other pawns can move 2 squares as before, which should hopefully end the "center pawn rush" from now on.
The Rook units are severly underused, only coming into the game late or, in some games, never. In order to rectify this, we have given the Rooks a special ability. From now on, given that a Rook and the corresponding Rook Pawn have not yet been moved, a player may simultaneously play P-R4 and R-R3. This should get the Rooks into play and restore balance to the Chess units.
November 11, 2003
Especially for Mason Kong
Britney's Guide to Semiconductor Physics: They aren't silicone; they're gallium arsenide.
(via Making Light)
Costikyan on Chess
Greg Costikyan has posted to his blog an essay on the game of chess with an eye to its implications for game designers.
Digital game people – vidiots, as I have uncharitably described them at times in the past – often dismiss games like Chess as being irrelevant to their concerns. Actually, as I think I've shown, there's a lot to be learned from Chess that is directly relevant to digital games. In fact, precisely because it is so different from most digital games, it's a useful reference point when thinking about games, so much so that when someone starts generalizing about games, it's always worthwhile to ask yourself "Does this apply to Chess?" If not, perhaps this generalization is of dubious universality – and perhaps there are many fruitful design paths that do not conform to that generalization.
If you care about games, read the whole thing.
November 06, 2003
Penguins and Panthers
In his blog Epicycle Dominic Thomas responds to the news that Red Hat is reconfiguring its product line of Linux distributions into a big-bucks Enterprise version and desktop version, Fedora, aimed at "hobbyists."
I hate to say "I told you so", [writes Thomas] but, well... I told you so. It's been clear to me for years that none of the current flavours of Unix was ever going to make significant headway into the home and office PC market, and none of the spluttering and evangelising by Unix lawn dwarves has made me want to change my mind... I've based this impression firmly on my own experiences, too, as I've tried on several occasions to get to grips with small-scale Unix installations only to retreat each time in frustration.
You don't have to browse very far in Thomas's blog to determine that he thinks Windows r00lz and that Linux is teh suck.
But he is, of course, dead wrong about UNIX never getting a foothold in the home or office market. Mactinosh users have adjusted to UNIX without even blinking. Case in point: D. Potter, who I suspect would rather take a job walking dogs than rebuild a kernel, has been an enthusiastically happy UNIX user for some time now. Surprise! Mac OS X is UNIX under the hood, being a direct descendant of 4.3 BSD. (Don't tell the clams at SCO, though – they might sue!)
Keep drinking that Kool-Aid, Dominic.
(via Avedon Carol)
October 14, 2003
They All Look Alike to Me
Zed Lopez and his partner, Jennifer (whose last name, if I've ever heard it, has never registered with me), came to Debbie's and my monthly salon. As they were preparing to leave, Zed asked for the return of the bound galley of Charlie Stross's novel Singularity Sky that Zed had loaned to us.
Like a shot I leaped up and went to where I was sure I had remembered seeing it last, beside the bed. I picked up the bound galley and returned, thrusting it into Zed's hands.
There was just one problem: the galley in question was that of The Cassini Division, by Ken MacLeod.
It was a natural mistake. After all, if you've read one left-wing Scots writer of cutting-edge science fiction, you've read them all, right?
October 08, 2003
Get Those Trademark Applications Ready
Sony has just announced the release of the PSX – a combination hard disk drive and DVD recorder:
The two PSX models of DESR-5000 and DESR-7000 are equipped with maximum capacity HDD respectively to accommodate various features in serving as a digital home electronics product as well as a game device for enjoying PlayStation and PlayStation 2 games.
In otherwords the PSX serves both as a console game player and a DVD recorder/player for a home entertainment system.
That's nifty-keen, of course, but what I'm noticing about this is the device's name, PSX.
My own nifty-keen new computer runs an operating system called OS X (where the X is to be read as a Roman numeral ten rather than as the letter 'x'). The ambiguity between Roman numerals and letters, is often overlooked.
Clearly, if you want your high-tech electronic or computer product to be seen as part of the cutting edge of the 21st century, you should name it something like the QS-X or RSX. Get your application into the Patent and Trademark Office quickly. You don't want to have to settle for ZSX.
(via Charlie Stross)
October 03, 2003
Adding Spice to Life
I've been distracted for the past week, among other reasons, because I got myself a new computer: an Apple PowerBook G4 with a twelve-inch display. Say hello to cinnamon.spicejar.org.
The computer on my desktop, cayenne.spicejar.org, was an old AMD 486-clone running Windows 95. It's 24 megabytes of RAM seemed like a lot when we bought it. As time passed, it seemed more and more clunky , slow, and tempermental.
But there was a large obstacle to getting a new machine: Windows XP. From the time it was released, I was dubious about wanting to own a machine connected to the Internet through our DSL line that ran XP. My doubt solidified into certainty as it became clear that a new security flaw was discovered and announced every week, if not every day.
We had already bought one Intel box and scraped XP off its hard drive, installing FreeBSD in its place. That's spicejar.spicejar.org, the server that provides NAT service for our home network and has enough oomph left over to be a full-service Internet host. I had given some thought to doing the same again for my desktop.
But while that would give me plenty of functionality, it wouldn't give me terribly much compatibility with the outside professional world, which inflexibly demands Microsoft office software, no matter how terribly designed and implemented.
But Macintosh computers now come with a real operating system: OS X, which is really NextStep, a UNIX derivative by way of BSD, in a clever plastic disguise. (I know, strictly speaking, that you aren't supposed to refer to BSD as UNIX, or else the clams from Utah will come after you. Fuck them.) And, Macintosh is well-supported in terms of software compatible with the world of customers and clients.
So when I couldn't take it anymore, my decision was simple: switch to Macintosh. The further decision to get a notebook rather than a desktop machine was motivated by some future plans of mine: I may be away from home for reasonably long periods of time in the not-too-distant future, so I want to be able to take my "office" with me.
I got the new machine, cinnamon, last Friday. Since then I've been transitioning from the old cayenne to the new cinnamon – updating the network, backing up and transferring files, configuring software and the like. And playing with iTunes a lot. Yesterday, I made the big transition, taking cayenne off my desk and setting cinnamon up in its place. Today was my first day of trying to get back to normal, or at least the new normal.
September 25, 2003
New Frontiers in Grammar
We know about the passive voice, of course. The classic example is: Mistakes were made.
At my prompting, Debbie Notkin has come up with an extension to this:
The Passive-Aggressive Voice
Example: It would be nice if you noticed me.
September 24, 2003
The Demon-Spawn of Lin Carter
The Demon-Spawn of Lester Del Rey
The Quality Paperback Book Club included in a recent mailing a flyer that read:
Tired of Tolkien? Take up the Sword of Truth
Naked Empireby Terry Goodkind
September 11, 2003
From Harlan Ellison to Phil Hellmuth
Acquired Situational NarcissismWe all know that movie stars, professional athletes, rich people and politicians often act like complete jackasses, but Robert B. Millman, professor of psychiatry at Cornell Medical School and the medical adviser to Major League Baseball, thinks he knows why. The cause, he says, is acquired situational narcissism, a psychological dysfunction that Millman was the first to identify and that he treats in his celebrity patients.
(via Bill Gibson)
July 30, 2003
Bachelor Party Needs a Fix
Oh yes, there will be strippers. There will be skankiness. There might very well be illegal substances some of which are totally organic to the natural macrobiotic world and some of which most definitely are not and all of which make John Ashcroft scowl and pule and seethe with quiet jealousy.
There will most definitely be booze. And cigars. And gambling and yelling and laughter and guys sharing hotel beds to save money, and there will be music and drunkenness and all-night whoknowswhat and massive hangovers that require Bloody Marys all around, the next day, almost certainly.
Or maybe not. Maybe I'm just projecting. I have little idea what to expect. This is my first full-fledged hardcore bachelor-party adventure, and I'm part of a group consisting of more than 15 other guys, and it will all go down in Reno and the e-mails are flying and revealing and somewhat hilarious as the Single Guys vie with the Married Guys vie with the Crazy Guys as to budgets and activities and who wants to chip in for a powerboat versus the "entertainment" versus the limo versus those whose wives clearly instructed them not to do anything dangerous or illegal or naked or else. [emphasis added — ALB]
I hate to break it to you, Mark, but except for the gambling part, you and your buds can have yourselves a better, wilder time right here at home in San Francisco.
Reno's a nice town; I like to go there. But I like it for things like the view of the western Sierras from my hotel room, the Truckee River running through the center of town, the family-style home cooking at the Santa Fe Basque Restaurant, and the no-limit Texas hold'em game that gets down Friday and Saturday nights in the poker room at the El Dorado.
But aside from that no-limit game, the poker in Reno is nothing to write home about; you'll find more action at the Lucky Chances cardroom in Colma, or just about any other of the large Bay Area cardrooms.
Conoisseurs of sin and depravity agree: the strip clubs of Reno are second-rate — nowhere near as wild and crazy as those in Las Vegas to the south ... or as the Mitchell Brothers' O'Farrell Theater right here at home.
There are three ways in which Reno might be viewed as superior to San Francisco as a venue for a bachelor party:
(1) Overall gambling opportunities. Craps is one of the best damn party games around (although I don't know anywhere in Reno where you can get more than double odds; to get a more attractive 10X or 100x odds, you have to go to Las Vegas).
(2) Smoking is allowed in the bars, restaurants, casinos, etc., in Reno. (I don't personally think this is a genuine plus, but you might.)
(3) The legal brothels outside of town. Don't waste your money at the clipjoints outside Carson City, where (my sources tell me) a party can cost on the order of $500 to $1,000 per person; instead try the Old Bridge Ranch, just past Sparks, or the Wild Horse Resort, a little further east on I-80. Here you can expect to pay on the order of $200 to $300, at least if your hostess doesn't figure you for a total chump. (But if you aren't bothered by niceties of the law, those same sources tell me that you can find that sort of entertainment for cheaper in San Francisco.)
San Francisco is a wonderful town where bad boys can play, and Las Vegas is absolutely marvelous. Reno, as much as I love it, is instead a great place to take a wife, partner, or sweetie for a weekend getaway.
June 26, 2003
Faux Orwell Results
shooting the video
los angeles, ca.
It was a bright cold day in February. The frigid wind sliced through Charles Pilkington like bad tequila goes through a nun. A torn-up poster of The Leader was swirling inside a tiny vortex of wind and dust and dirt. Charles ducked into the nearest doorway for a moment of relief. But the wind had no mercy. It had found its way into the deep furrows of Charles' skin, blowing the dust out of his wrinkles. ...
I have to say that I think the winner reads more like faux Chandler than faux Orwell. My own pick would have been Holly Curtis's "Decline of Good British Retail" as a good faux Orwell essay, or perhaps "Walking, There" by Stephen Mills, which serves as an exellent pastiche of a justly obscure early Orwell novel.
June 25, 2003
NYTimes on Mobile Phone Gaming
Today's New York Times has an article on mobile phone gaming, describing the increase in availability and use of games played on cell phones.
While many developers in the multibillion-dollar video game industry seek to extend its appeal, profile and profits with bolder, flashier and ever more engrossing games - some so difficult that learning curves outlast players - a different sort of video game is quietly asserting itself into the mainstream.
Do not expect thunderous six-speaker surround sound. Forget about hair triggers, menacing artificial intelligence and fully immersive 3-D environments. This is a tamer universe of games with names like Snowball Fight, Bejeweled, Tumble Bees and Bookworm Deluxe.
These games tend to be brief amusements that are almost instinctive. They are easy to learn and can be played on a variety of devices, including PC's, laptops, digital organizers and cellphones. Even a popular digital music player, Apple's iPod, comes with the simple game Breakout installed.
The article points out the low development costs for this sort of game — ~$40,000, compared to several million dollars for a gaming-console title — and the fact that these casual games seem to be crossing the gender barrier that for some peculiar reason games like Quake and Deus Ex seem unable to break through.
None of this is news if you follow Greg Costikyan's blog. What is notable is that the Times is taking note.
And there's no mention of gambling, the grey-market secret of computer game play. But I'd lay odds that someone in Costa Rica or the Cayman Islands or wherever is looking at how to port a video poker game to BREW (the Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless).
June 23, 2003
Faux Orwell Writing Contest
George Orwell's centenary is this Wednesday. It should come as no surprise to people in the know that I'm something of an Orwell buff. I was quite delighted to stumble this morning across the Faux Orwell Writing Contest.
This year's competition closed on June 1, and results are due any day now. But I commend to you the winner of last year's competion, "The perils of rejecting tobacco," by Nigel Nichols of Luton, Beds., UK:
Even at the peak of the rush hour you can almost always find a seat in the smoking carriage of a train. The air may be a little thicker, the coughing may be a little louder or more frequent and the skin of one's fellow passengers rather more pallid, but it is, at least, a seat. You can then settle back for half an hour or so and read a pocket-novel or simply watch the green fields and terraced houses go by.
June 06, 2003
The X-Men and Their Discontents
(Disclaimer: this is entirely in response to the movies; I last regularly read the X-Men comic book in the Hank McCoy and Warren Worthington days, before Chris Claremont took up scripting. [err, McCoy and Worthington were characters, not authors!])
I find myself having a philosophical problem with the setup for the X-Men. We are told over and over again that the dichotomy between Prof. Xavier's X-Men and Erik Lehnsherr's Brotherhood of Mutants is like unto that between pacifist Martin Luther King, Jr., ("I have a dream....") and extremist Malcolm X ("...by any means necessary!") (Yes, I know this is gross oversimplification.)
Prof. Xavier's theory is coexistence and mutual understanding, but his practice is separatism: get troubled mutant children out of human society and into the isolated cloisters of his school. What's more, the X-Men look to me a lot like a private paramilitary group or militia. Prof. X. talks the talk of a moderate liberal, but he walks the walk of extremism. The real difference between Prof. X and Magneto lies in some of the details of the execution of their programs.
I'm also troubled by the way the mutant question seems to trump (almost) every other kind of difference or otherness we might see. Does it matter to Storm, who asserts she is driven by anger, if the reason she might be mistreated by a grocery store clerk is racism rather than anti-mutant feeling? What about within the team — what does it mean to her that she is expected to follow the lead of Cyclops, a rich white man who wears his privilege like a chip on his shoulder? The only difference that seems to matter among the X-Men is social class: the antipathy between Wolverine and Cyclops seems to me to be obviously class-based, the love triangle having Jean Grey at the apex seeming secondary.
I can't help but feel that the screenwriters killed off Jean because of her leanings towards polyamory, in a manner analogous to the way homosexual characters, even sympathetic ones so often get killed off in het-authored drama and melodrama. The final climax of X2 seemed broken and shoddy to me; I thought that the writers pulled a bunch of rabbits out of hats in sequence without explanation to contrive her altogether gratuitous death.
I came out of the theater holding dialogues in my head with various characters; what I wanted to say to Jean was, "You may feel different and alone, but there really are other people like you. Perhaps you should spend time in their society so you can find out who you really are." I tend to shy away from identity politics in general and would rather not play the identity-politics card with regard to my own polyamory; but Jean's treatment in this movie, second in a series trumpeted by so many as comfort and consolation for young people who get ostracized as different for whatever reason, left me feeling uncomfortable and unhappy.
May 14, 2003
Speaking of Greg Costikyan...
Greg posted to his weblog last weekend Dot Boom, a satirical card game of the Dot Com era. He designed the game last year, tried unsuccessfully to sell it, and has just now put it up for our amusement. Players take the role of venture capitalists who fund dubious dotcom enterprises in hopes of taking them public and cashing out before the bubble bursts. Whoever makes the most from IPOs before the inevitable crash is the winner.
Even if you have no intention of playing the thing, I recommend you look at the game cards that go with it. They are a hoot and a half.
May 12, 2003
Movie Tie-Ins Rule in Gaming
Matthew Yi, reporting on the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in today's San Francisco Chronicle, describes the same phenomenon that Greg Costikyan observed at the Game Developers Conference in March:
Electronic Arts, the biggest video game publisher, will tout its Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup as well as its revamped sports lineup, which includes Madden football, basketball and baseball games.
The industry's No. 2 player, Activision, will preview its Shrek 2 and Spider-Man 2 games.
Even smaller publishers like Eidos Interactive, based in London, are getting some action with Hollywood. The firm will unveil Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness this week.
Atari, formerly known as Infogrames, will start selling its new game Enter the Matrix on Thursday, the same day Warner Bros. releases its new movie "The Matrix: Reloaded."
Yi explains that the emphasis on movie tie-ins is because the console game industry is in the middle of its five-year development cycle. We are between generations of new consoles, and so the industry emphasis is on software. "Content, content, content," said Andrew House, senior vice president of Sony Computer Entertainment America. "This is the time of the life cycle where game developers kick it into high gear."
Yeah, right, game developers have kicked it into high gear — which explains the level of confidence and optimism at this year's GDC, not to mention how voracious is the game publishers' appetite for new titles from independent developers.
May 05, 2003
Ordinarily I don't bother with those silly online quizzes ("Which Beverly Hillbilly are you?"), but Teresa Nielsen Hayden points us to one that even I can't pass up: Which Springer-Verlag Graduate Text in Mathematics are you? It turns out that I am Foundations of Differentiable Manifolds and Lie Groups by Frank Warner. I find this oddly comforting.
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David Scott Marley calls attention to an article by Joshua Green in the Washington Monthly about sometime drug and morality czar William Bennet's high-rolling gambling habit. It seems that the author of The Book of Virtues has a jones for $500-a-pull slot machines. "'There's a term in the trade for this kind of gambler,' says a casino source who has witnessed Bennett at the high-limit slots in the wee hours. 'We call them losers.'"
Other people care about the seeming hypocrisy of a morality monger blowing millions of dollars on slot machines. There's quite a large piece of me that's saying, "Slot machines?? What a mug! What a live one! I wonder if there's any way of luring him out of Bellagio's salon privé and into the poker room?"
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If you are interested in generating hits on your blog, I commend to you the practice of going to live theater performances and posting reviews. My mentions of Berkeley Rep's productions of Suddenly Last Summer and Fraulein Else have garnered more search queries from Google and other search engines than anything else I've posted here.
April 16, 2003
Wang Dang Doodle
Inspired by the CD to which I'm listening, I remembered this old Usenet post of mine:
I was fifteen years old, spending the summer with my parents in a trailer in Kwajelein between sessions of boarding school in Hawaii. My parents were away at some party or other, and I was sitting up late at night, reading and listening to the local AFRS radio station.
It was after midnight, and the DJ decided to be cute with the songs he played. The first one was, of course, "After Midnight", followed by others in the same vein.
And then this song came on, about something bad and bloody about to go down, involving people toting knives and razors. The singer was bragging about it, looking forward to it. "All night long!" went the refrain. "All night long!"
Years later, I learned me to play the guitar and got a serious jones for the blues, and bought a bunch of CDs, including collections and retrospectives. And on one of them, The Great Tomato Blues Package (Tomato, R2 70386) had Koko Taylor singing "Wang Dang Doodle", written by Willie Dixon. (He wrote everything, don't you know.) The same song I remembered from twenty-five years before.
That's Dixon singing harmony in the chorus, giving Taylor's performance that extra degree of spooky menace.
April 02, 2003
What's in a Name?
The star of the Oakland Athletics' opening-night 5-0 rout over the Seattle Mariners was beyond any doubt the new designated hitter Erubiel Durazo.
Durazo batted in all five of the A's runs of the night, the first two when he hit a home run with a runner on second base in the second inning, and the other three when the bases were loaded in the fifth inning — Durazo fired off a double off the wall in center field, and all the runners on base made it home.
It was the most impressive debut for an Athletic since Matt Stairs, fresh from the farm team in Edmonton, hit a grand slam on his very first at-bat.
Even before he took his first pitch, though, when the announcer called his name, I knew that Durazo filled a vital role on the team. Not since Geronimo Berroa was traded away have the Athletics had a player whose name could raise a cheer in the stands simply from the relish with which the announcer would say it, rolling those wonderful Rs.
Miguel Tejada, Terence Long, Eric Chavez, yeah, yeah, yeah, people cheer them on when they come to bat. But those cheers won't be so loud if they slump.
But the very sound of the announcement, "Now batting, number forty-four, designated hitter Errrrrrrubiel Durrrrazooo!" will bring joy to even the flintiest hearts of A's fans. I've missed Berroa; and I'm really glad we now have Durazo. This man was meant to be an Athletic.
April 01, 2003
The Secret Life of Harry Warner
Patrick Nielsen Hayden has just blogged a new expanded obituary for Harry Warner, Jr., appearing in the Herald-Mail of Hagerstown, Maryland. The story highlights Warner's activities in science-fiction fandom, and quotes Charlie Brown and Joe Siclari. Apparently, Warner kept his fanac and the reknown it garnered him a secret from his neighbors and co-workers. The story also praises Warner's old-school journalistic chops.
March 19, 2003
Bordered in Black
For decades, essentially everyone in science fiction fandom who published an issue of their fanzine could rely upon receiving a letter of comment from Harry Warner. He was a fannish icon, and his letters were part of the glue that held the community together.
He wrote two histories of science-fiction fandom, All Our Yesterdays, covering the 1940s, and A Wealth of Fable, which covered the 1950s. For the tiny handful of people who cared about fanhistory, these were essential texts.
In his long life, he made a difference that was felt by many people around the world. I salute his passing.
March 14, 2003
This Is No Game....
Greg Costikyan came home from the Game Developers Conference in high dugeon:
A Specter Is Haunting Gaming
The mood at the Game Developers Conference this year was, fundamentally, one of despair. To even the blindest apologist for the silly, if monstrous, construct the game industry has become, the handwriting on the wall was clear. Ten years ago, you could find a dozen publishers to pitch to; today, perhaps five. And of the remaining, half are on their last legs: the Vivendi Universal game group will almost certainly be in someone else's hands by the end of the year, Infogrames is fucked, Activision is screwed, 3DO is tottering, Acclaim is in dire straits. The only companies with evident strength are the manufacturers--Sony and Nintendo and Microsoft (included on this list not because they make any money in games, but because they have deep pockets)--and EA, despite the fact that it has utterly failed to make a go of online gaming which, two scant years ago, they claimed was the future. (And it is, but EA is too fucking stupid to listen to those of its employees who understand how online gaming works, and instead try to make it work like its sports game franchise. Which it doesn't and never will.)
Costikyan laments the surviving game publishers' flight to the relative safety of licenses, franchises, and sequels, and warns that it is the independent developers, losing access to publishing and distribution channels in the course of the industry's meltdown, who are the source of the innovation and new thinking that generate hits.
His manifesto generated a storm of commentary, as has his followup postings here, here, here, and here.
I'm not much of a gamer to speak of, and most of what I know about the world of game development I've learned vicariously from my partner Debbie's experiences working with Eric Goldberg and Crossover Technologies (later Unplugged Games). Yet the little I know is enough to make this heated discussion fascinating to me.
March 05, 2003
You kids don't know how easy you've got it.
Bill Gibson explains a idiosyncrasy of his typing, and in the course of doing so writes a description of archaic technology that rivals the best of Robert Heinlein's throwaway paragraphs on the crazy way they did things in the twentieth century:
Much of my earliest typewriting experience had to do with mimeography, a pre-thermocopy form of reproduction once fairly universal in the world's offices. You typed, once, on a waxed paper "stencil", clipped this over a silkscreen device with a moving pad or drum of ink behind it, and your mimeograph ran off (or silkscreened, really) as many copies of your document as you required. Owing to the physical peculiarities of the medium, though, it was unwise to underline too frequently on a mimeograph stencil: the single unbroken line was particularly prone to tear, producing leaks and smudging.
Almost as good is his "Dead Tech backgrounder" on the IBM Selectric.
My God, did they really do that?
Yes, we really did do that. And it was nowhere near as clumsy and peculiar as Bill makes it sound — at least it didn't seem so at the time. And is fussing with mimeo stencils and slipsheeting really any more peculiar than fussing with cascading style sheets?
I have to confess: when I got the spicejar.org server up and running, I felt the same kind of pride of posession that I would have had twenty-five years ago owning a top-of-the-line Gestetner.