Monday, May 18, 2015

Forests and Trees

I sometimes think it must be exhausting to be a young person with liberal tendencies. So many minefields, so much to remember in order to be sufficiently sensitive. A case in point is the most recent Accidental Tech Podcast (No. 116, "Women Aren't a Minority"). ATP has three guys in the tech industry talk about Apple news, software development, file systems, and whatever they feel like. (The start of episode 116 concerned the relative merits of raccoons versus ducks.) It's generally fun to listen to, even if I don't fully follow the technical details of some of the topics. (I was fully on top of the raccoons versus ducks discussion, I must say without false modesty.)

A big chunk of the episode was devoted to a reasonable enough question: what can the podcast do to attract more women listeners? Co-host John Siracusa acknowledged that the gender breakdown of listeners was just an educated guess. He also postulated that the best way of increasing listenership was to go after the relatively underserved market, i.e., women. I'm not sure that's true - as an obvious example, suppose there were a podcast called All Things Left-Handed, and consider whether the best way of increasing listenership was to attract a bigger share of right-handers - but there's nothing inherently wrong with trying to increase listenership, or even to target a particular demographic.

Siracusa (and co-hosts Marco Arment and Casey Liss) also get credit for rejecting the obvious suggestions, such as having women co-hosts. In their view, that would change the show sufficiently that it would be a different show. (I couldn't help but be reminded of the view of some Doctor Who fans that the next Doctor needs to be a woman. Nothing wrong with a show about a Time Lady, but it would be a different show. I suspect I will one day be on the losing side of that argument, however.)

Then the conversation devolved into the usual blather of more-sensitive-than-thou political correctness. The three hosts started discussing whether they should reject advertisements about products that are targeted toward men, such as Harry's razors. (My reaction to that: I don't drink beer, but I still watch the Super Bowl and even manage to enjoy some of the better beer ads.) They then discussed whether ad reads should be more "gender inclusive." My eyes rolled and I could feel my fingers twitch toward the fast-forward button.

The final straw was when a listener complained that the hosts of the podcast should not presume to "speak for all women." That's the kind of bullshit statement that makes me stop taking a topic seriously. To give Arment, Liss, and Siracusa credit, they never came close to suggesting that they spoke for any women, much less all of them. However, even acknowledging the comment cheapened the discussion to the point where I had to fast-forward until the segment was, mercifully, over.

I don't think I'm out of the mainstream when I make the following statements:
1. Criticizing a female or minority politician's policies is not misogynistic or racist. (It *is*, however, beyond the pale to suggest that a female candidate is a "serious" candidate only because of her gender, as Washington Post columnist wrote about former H-P CEO Carly Fiorina.)
2. Stating an opinion generally carries with it the implication that the opinion is that of the speaker, and not of an entire group of people, such as an entire gender. If the speaker prefaces the remark with "all [group] believe," then the foregoing statement does not apply.
3. A man who states an opinion is not "mansplaining." A statement can be condescending in either words or tone, but, without more information, I will take statements at their face value.

Relatedly, the idea that groups of individuals are, collectively, fragile flowers that need special protections from the mean world, is itself an insulting one deserving of mockery. The feminists in the UK who needed "safe spaces" and found that clapping was alarming and therefore suggested the use of "jazz hands" to indicate appreciation were deserving of mockery. Campus liberals who demand "safe spaces" when conservatives speak on campus or the school screens the movie "American Sniper" are deserving of mockery. The First Lady, who recently said that blacks don't go to museums because they don't "feel welcome," is most certainly deserving of mockery. (Has she ever been to the Smithsonian museums on the Mall in Washington? Lots of minorities, many of whom are children, don't seem to feel that they're not welcome.) Back in the real world, your boss might give you a bad performance review, or a peer might object to your ideas. Some people may react poorly to criticism, but it is insulting to think that entire *groups* need coddling.

My advice to the ATP guys: keep making a good podcast, don't worry about the composition of your listeners, and you'll increase the size of your audience. Let the discussion devolve into who best passes some test of political correctness, and listeners will go elsewhere.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Soliel's Garden

A few pictures from the memorial garden in memory of Soliel Snook. What an amazing job done in such a short time!

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Get Off My Lawn

Yes, this is going to be a Cranky Old Person Rant.

I work in a federal agency with about 1,000 employees, give or take. My little brain can’t possibly remember 1,000 names. Fortunately, I work in a smaller group that has about 100 people, most of whom are now on a single floor of our building. I know a lot of those people: everyone in my division, everyone in senior management, and pretty much everyone over 40 years old in the other divisions. Call it 60 people I know by name. When we meet in the hallway, I say hello to them, they say hello back.

Of the people I don’t really know – maybe I’ve seen them around, maybe they were recently hired – I still say hello in the hallway, but most of them say nothing in return. Nada. They don’t acknowledge my existence. When this happens, I’m sorely tempted to ask to see the person’s identification. “Say, I haven’t seen you before. Do you work here? Could I see an ID?”

The thing about it is that almost everyone who refuses to say hello is under 35, maybe even under 30. Is this a generational issue? Do young people not bother to acknowledge the existence of (a) colleagues or (b) older colleagues? (A friend of mine of similar age says that the kids know we’re has-beens and see no percentage in talking to us. Cold, but perhaps right.) What gives, kids? Have video games robbed today’s youth of social graces?

While I’m on the subject of antisocial behavior, here’s a picture of one of our two refrigerators, taken at 7:30 a.m., when almost no one is in the office. Somewhere around 50 people need to share this thing. What do we see? A pitcher of water, a big orange juice container, a bottle of water, and some large object wrapped in a plastic bag, all taking up space on the top shelf. Another big bag o’ stuff on the bottom shelf, sharing space with a container of Greek yogurt and several containers of berries on the right. The bottom drawer is also filled. The door has a blue Gatorade bottle, several bottles of salad dressing, and several containers of milk (some are out of the frame), with a big ol’ bottle of milk lying down on its side on the lower shelf of the door. Egads, people! This stuff sits there for days. Play nicely, children.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Remembering Soliel Snook

As Caledonians (and former Caledonians, and…) know, long-time resident (and Radio Riel presenter, and creator of gardens, and…)  Miss Soliel Snook passed away in real life on April 23.

Her friend, Miss Gabrielle Riel, has organized a memorial to Miss Snook for tomorrow, May 12, starting at midnight SLT in the Sal Island region, on what would have been her eighth Rezday. What a lovely and thoughtful tribute!

I can’t claim to have known Miss Snook well, but I have chronicled her skills several times in this Journal, from a whimsical garden (way back in 2009!), to Clos Normand, next to her home sim of Giverny (2010), to Caledon’s Highlands (2011).

My prayers go out to her family and friends, both in real life and Second Life.

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Snook’s Garden Center in Caledon Highlands, August 2011

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Mad Peas' UNIA

The crazy game people at Mad Pea have struck again. Their latest, UNIA, is now open. Several people, including Inara Pey and Ziki Questi, have already blogged about it. There’s a web site devoted to the game, including a “Prologue” and a good description of how the game works.

The game description begins:
What an amazing day! It was a trip you had been dreading, but your friend's wedding turned out to be a memorable one. You're driving home, tired, but smiling and laughing to yourself, replaying the favorite moments of the event in your mind. Your head in the clouds, you don't notice right away the subtle shaking of the car. Suddenly, the shaking turns into violent bucks, smoke curls out from under the hood, and the whole heap starts to lurch out of control. 
Snapping out of your reverie, you grab the steering wheel with both hands and white-knuckle it, wrestling the bucking, heaving car to the side of the road, where it crashes to a stop. 
Coughing, you stumble out of the mess and look around. 
"Where am I?" 
You hadn't really paid much attention to the road signs, but you spot a run-down building with the town's name painted over its doorway: "Molimo." 
The dusty town is strangely quiet. With no other choice at hand, you wander around, hoping to find help. What you find instead is entirely unexpected ....
An intriguing beginning!

The game requires a HUD, available for purchase in three different levels: Bronze (L$400), Silver (L$750), and Gold (L$1000); the different levels provide increasing amounts of equipment to start. Game play involves looking at objects, collecting certain objects, and solving the central mystery of what’s going on, all the while trying to avoid getting killed by lurking monsters.

I’m not a big fan of first-person shooter games, and this aspect of UNIA doesn’t particularly appeal to me, but I can help but feel I’ll give the game a try at some point.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

SL History

I visited the “History of Second Life” exhibit - part of the Linden Endowment of the Arts program - a while back and forgot to post the picture. The build, by Sniper Siemens, is actually titled “The greatest story ever told… SL History 1999-2015,” and it’s as advertised (well, the history part; I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it replaces the Bible as the greatest story ever told).

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The path takes visitors chronologically through important developments in Second Life’s history, starting with the Linden Lab building in San Francisco.

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Major events, including advances in the platform, controversial decisions by Linden Lab, and spats among Second Life communities, have written explanations and often a depiction of the event.

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Even the Greenies make a return visit.

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The exhibit closes May 31.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Bryn Oh's "Lobby Cam"

The latest exhibit from Bryn Oh on her Immersiva sim is called Lobby Cam, which draws the visitor into the story and then makes the visitor part of the story.

Bryn Oh Lobby Cam 001

From the painting-filled lobby, where one can obtain the (free) HUD that will record progress, proceed through the painting shown below to emerge into a Saskatchewan wheat field.

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As you watch the wheat blow gently in the wind and survey the vast expanse that reminds me of AM Radio’s The Far Away, keep an eye out for pieces of paper. Click on the paper and the HUD records them as diary entries. Piece by piece, a story builds: a man, sitting by himself watching television, changes the channel to find a young woman in an apartment lobby. As days go by, the man finds himself drawn to this mysterious channel, drawn to the woman he has never met in a city far away from him. You become a voyeur into the man’s voyeurism.

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Some familiar Bryn Oh characters make cameo appearances:

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I found myself eagerly scanning the ground, or in various nooks and crannies, to locate the next diary entry to read how the story would end. I’m not quite there yet, but, according to Ziki Questi, there’s yet another level of engagement between the visitor and the artist to be found. The next time I’m in-world, I’ll be back to see how Lobby Cam turns out.

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Saturday, April 4, 2015

Metamorphosis in Black and White

Far above New Babbage’s Quarry Hill is a sprawling work of art by Miss Beq Janus, modeled after M.C. Escher’s “Metamorphosis” wood cuttings. From the artist’s note:

My sim was inspired directly by a section of the 1939 woodcut Metamorphosis II - though the scene appears both in the earlier Metamorphosis I and the final Metamorphosis III, created towards the end of his career. 
Metamorphosis is itself a journey and the artwork "morphs" from one tessellated shape to another from a simple chequered grid through lizards and hexagons into bees and fish then birds, capturing many of the themes of his early paintings. It then morphs back into blocks before becoming the view of Atrani.  
I have left many other "journeys" around the sim, some that draw on the notion of infinity that informed one of Escher's key themes. I leave you to find them and to find your own journeys.

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I didn’t have time to explore the entire installation, from nooks to crannies, but I was fascinated by how the buildings changed from black to white and back again as one rotates around the image.

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Read more about the exhibit in Ziki Questi’s blog or Steadman Kondor’s Google+ entry.

As the artist’s note says,
From the still, black waters emerge flat square blocks, flipping noisily from black to white as they build into a chequered land. With a pop and a jiggle the squares deform and evolve; black and white take on a grey and form into solid blocks that rise dramatically from the ocean. These blocks of stone, stable and solid, now shape and reshape to evolve into architecture. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

In the “new” Caledon Pensans the new Vayandar Gallery is hosting a selection of art from Mrs. Tehanu Marenwolf-Brentano. The show is entitled, "Welcome to Nest of Dreams: The Art of Crowgirl Studio."

From the artist’s statement:
There’s something about being able to do something well that is akin to flying. Running, riding a bike, dancing, making music, writing: there’s this sense of freedom and motion inherent in making or doing something wonderful. That same sense of freedom and motion is what I feel when I dream of flying…or when I create a piece of art. 
Some people dream of worlds of ancient mysteries, of boundless exploration of the universe…worlds and stories on a grand scale. I dream of worlds where dreams find their way into the waking world, where people and animals are friends, where we sometimes have wings with which to fly. I create collages to share those dreams. 
Collage is a rich visual language - water from a deep and sweet well. I see myself as drinking from the same creative wellspring as artists such as Nick Bantock, Anahata Katkin, and Catrin Welz-Stein. I usually start with an image that catches my attention and then try to share the secret story it hints at to me. I create collages using material from a variety of sources, generally vintage images that are in the public domain, photographs and watercolor textures that I create myself, and other digital resources. I take great joy in bringing new life to old or forgotten images.

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Even though the opening party was long over, I helped myself to a glass of absinthe.

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My goodness, it’s Her Majesty!

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Monday, March 16, 2015

A Walk Among the Ruins

I found myself wandering through the watery ruins of a crumbling town, buildings now no more than bricks and even those not complete.

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Rickety walkways connect some of the structures, evidence of a recent presence.

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The views are desolate, but beautiful.

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Still, the only things that prosper here are the wildflowers, adding a pop of color into the gray landscape. Life, as a famous philosopher once said, will find a way.

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Ruins, by Cica Ghost, runs through March.

(Via Ziki Questi.)