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April 30, 2012
Stand your ground
Posted by Teresa at 10:22 AM * 232 comments

The trouble with stand your ground laws is that the entire transaction can take place inside the other guy’s head: they decide they feel threatened, and then they decide to shoot you. If they have no duty to pursue non-lethal alternatives, you’re at the mercy of their imagination.

For extra credit: How would you demonstrate in a court of law that the shooter didn’t actually feel threatened?

April 29, 2012
I said to the man, “Are you trying to tempt me?”
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 08:29 AM * 270 comments

One of my pastimes is playing Minecraft.

For those unacquainted with the phenomenon, it’s a computer game that starts with the player awakening at dawn, empty-handed, in a wilderness. There isn’t really a goal, but it’s advisable to spend some time and effort acquiring materials, making tools, and building some kind of shelter before nightfall. Because that’s when the monsters spawn: creepers, who come up hissing behind you and then explode; skeleton archers; giant spiders; zombies. It’s also a good idea to acquire some food, because if you’re hungry you don’t heal from injury, and when you’re really hungry you lose health.

Beyond those basic goals, it’s a game about living in an uninhabited world1. People do different things with it: some build magnificent edifices; some delve deep and collect treasures; some make electronic devices with redstone, the in-game magical equivalent of electricity. YouTube is full of videos of the things they create, including many variations on Rule 352.

My pattern of play is to start a new world and spend a bunch of time building up food security3 while living in makeshift accommodation. Then I build a pleasant-looking house. Then I do something spectacular: hollow out an entire island, build a replica sailing ship (which the game mechanics don’t allow to move), or cut a vast arch all the way through a mountain. And then I grow bored, among my chests of wood and diamonds and multicolored wool, and start all over again on another world.

But this most recent time, when things got dull, I decided to become a nomad. Minecraft creates the world as you travel through it, so it’s as infinite as your hard drive can handle. There are wonders to see: vast falls of water and lava, mountains and deserts, forests and grasslands. There are surprises, like the sandstone water temples that appear to be generated alongside the natural features. I have come upon perfectly circular rooms6 deep underground, and watched shoals of squid swim at sunset far out to sea.

But I’m finding this mode of play surprisingly difficult. Not because I’m struggling to feed or defend myself, but because it requires a completely different attitude toward things. The game has an encumbrance model, meaning that I can only carry so much. Everything I keep, necessity or luxury, reduces what else I can pick up. I have had to reconsider my entire way of interacting with possessions in the game.

It turns out to be really hard for me to walk by a seam of coal or iron and not mine it, though I have more of each than I’m going to need for some time to come. When I cut down a tree to get the apples its foliage turn into, it’s not easy to leave the wood on the ground. This impulse to thrift comes from both early in-game shortage and real-life training. And playing in a world of abundance (which Minecraft is) makes the problem worse in many ways: there are so many opportunities to acquire. There is so much to hoard.

Also, accumulation is a hard goal to replace. The joys of travel pall after a while: the quest for novelty itself grows old. On a solitary world, there aren’t the other riches we seek in real life, the friendships, love, knowledge, and wisdom that aren’t accounted for in the inventory popup.

One outlet has been to return to Christo-like gestures: an entire hill covered in torches; a fountain taller than the trees around it. But even that activity is transformed: not only do I have fewer resources to make things with, but when I’m done with them I walk on and leave them behind7. I am collecting the experience of having made them and the memory of the sight of them receding into the unrendered mist behind me. In a finite world, I think I’d disassemble them.

The challenge of playing this way makes me think of the conversations we were all having a couple of years ago when the bubbles started to burst, about moving to a post-growth economic model. As we pass peak oil (and peak plastic, and maybe peak cod, and possibly peak dirt), it’s increasingly believable that leaning forward and running to keep up is an unsustainable way to live in the ecological equivalent of a brick-walled house. Perpetual growth is impossible; eventually we run out of atoms.8 We need a new model, something closer to a steady-state universe than a big-bang one.

But living in a new paradigm, coming from the old, is even more difficult in meatspace than it is in a virtual world.

Substituting non-acquisitive goals for acquisitive ones is difficult but not impossible. Our society already does that, whether people are collecting photos of themselves in exotic locations or status in whatever communities matter to them most. Measuring wealth in whuffies makes deep sense. After all, aside from fetishists like Scrooge McDuck, who really wants to swim in gold coins and light cigars with $100 bills for the pure aesthetic pleasure of it? People do these things to be seen to be doing them. Beyond a certain level of necessity9, money is mostly a counter of monkey-status.

More difficult is the other engine of growth and acquisition I’ve been running into: security. It’s difficult to pass up usable resources, even if I already have a good store of them, because I know I will run out eventually. But it’s easier to walk by this vein of coal if I can trust that I’ll be able to find another one to dig out when I need it. Minecraft’s abundance is consistent and reliable. Sadly, though, the real world contains unfed hunger and unmet need. There is always competition for resources, and real penalties for failure. There are visible losers in the race for everything necessary and useful to human life, from clean air up.

Growth is the promise of future plenty, and thus a mental escape hatch from zero-sum thinking. Make the pie bigger is the standard communitarian, non-competitive advice to someone trying to take a bigger slice of a limited resource. I don’t encounter competition for resources on my solitary server, but shared servers address the matter the way that the United States did in the 1800’s: geographic expansion. Players range further from the spawn point to find unexploited territory. Again, they tap into the unlimited abundance of the virtual world.

Here in the real world, we seek growth partly because that’s our headroom for surplus. And surplus is our present peace and our security against future need.

There’s an ongoing conversation in the SF and futurist communities about “post-scarcity” societies. I first encountered them in the Culture books by Iain M Banks, but there are plenty more examples in the literature. It’s more than a little unclear how such a society could come about. But absent its advent, I’m struggling to see how we could move to a post-growth economy.

  1. There are also shared servers where one can cooperate with other players, as well as a creative mode with no monsters or physical demands and unlimited resources.
  2. For every internet phenomenon, there will be a My Little Pony mashup.
  3. I’m a vegetarian on Minecraft (even though I am not one in real life)4. This makes this cycle markedly more difficult, because wheat takes time to grow, it’s hard to find the kinds of mushrooms one needs for soup, and one has to chop down a lot of oak trees to get enough apples5
  4. No, I don’t understand it either.
  5. The Minecraft developers are not botanists.
  6. As circular as a world of cubes can make, anyway
  7. It’s true that the “build a world, get bored, abandon it” pattern is a larger example of this behavior, but it’s different to do it within the same world.
  8. Particularly while remaining only on this planet.
  9. I’m aware that this is a big handwave, eliding, among other things, Sam Vimes’ boots.

April 28, 2012
Someone’s lost cat: a question to the hive mind
Posted by Patrick at 08:39 AM * 73 comments

cat.jpg This black cat, pretty clearly not feral, has been huddling in front of our basement door since sometime early yesterday evening. None of the neighbors we’ve spoken to recognize it. We figured it was a house cat that had gotten outside and then become cold—temperatures have dropped in NYC in the last couple of days, and it’s warm on that bottom step. But this morning it’s still there, and when Teresa took it some canned tuna, it raised itself up enough to show evidence of a broken foreleg.

We’ve spoken to Animal Care and Control of New York and they’ve told us that, notwithstanding what it says on their web page, they don’t actually pick up animals.

We can’t bring the creature into the house—I’m seriously allergic to all cats—and we don’t have a car with which to get it to the Brooklyn Animal Control shelter some miles from here. We don’t really know how to move it without injuring it further. Does anyone in our readership have an idea what we should do?

UPDATE: Situation resolved, thanks to the excellent staff and volunteers of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals. The cat has been taken away by a volunteer who will convey it to shelter and medical attention. Relief all around. Thanks to many people for offers of serious material and practical help, particularly fellow Brooklynite Nora Jemisin and Sunset Park neighbor Paul Witcover. Whew.

April 24, 2012
Tor and its associated imprints to go DRM-free
Posted by Patrick at 12:49 PM * 114 comments

Really and truly. Below is the announcement we’re sending to the trades right now.

Tom Doherty Associates, publishers of Tor, Forge, Orb, Starscape, and Tor Teen, today announced that by early July 2012, their entire list of e-books will be available DRM-free.

“Our authors and readers have been asking for this for a long time,” said president and publisher Tom Doherty. “They’re a technically sophisticated bunch, and DRM is a constant annoyance to them. It prevents them from using legitimately-purchased e-books in perfectly legal ways, like moving them from one kind of e-reader to another.”

DRM-free titles from Tom Doherty Associates will be available from the same range of retailers that currently sell their e-books. In addition, the company expects to begin selling titles through retailers that sell only DRM-free books.

About Tor and Forge Books

Tor Books, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, is a New York-based publisher of hardcover and softcover books, founded in 1980 and committed (although not limited) to arguably the largest and most diverse line of science fiction and fantasy ever produced by a single English-language publisher. Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, is also the home of award-winning Forge Books, founded in 1993 and committed (although not limited) to thrillers, mysteries, historical fiction and general fiction. Together, the imprints garnered 30 New York Times bestsellers in 2011.

April 23, 2012
International Pixel-stained Technopeasant Wretch Day
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:12 AM * 40 comments

Today is the sixth annual International Pixel-stained Technopeasant Wretch Day celebration, dedicated to professional writers who donate free stories to the world.

In honor of the joyous occasion, we dress as writers and stand around our Technopeasant Trees drinking Pixel Punch and singing Wretched Carols.

How to make a Technopeasant Tree
  1. Take an old-fashioned paper newspaper (if you can find one), and open it out so that you can get the individual sheets.
  2. Take the first sheet, lay it on the floor, and roll it, beginning on a narrow side, into a loose tube, When about a third-to-a-quarter way from the end, lay another sheet of newspaper onto the first, and continue rolling. When a third-to-a-quarter way from the end of that sheet, add another. Continue in this wise until you run out of newspaper.
  3. Then make four equally-spaced tears down the sides of the cylinder, about half-way down its total length. These form the leaves of your Freebietree.
  4. Grab one of the leaves in the center of the cylinder, and, whilst grasping the untorn bottom, commence pulling. This is your tree! If you used enough newspaper it can be of impressive height.

Pixel Punch
  • 750 mL of red wine (e.g. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Rioja, or Shiraz)
  • 175 mL brandy
  • 175 mL raspberry liqueur (e.g.Chambord)
  • 80 mL fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Mix ingredients, allow to sit overnight (or a couple of hours, anyway) in a covered glass container. Pour over ice. Garnish with an orange slice. (Be careful: This stuff stains.)

On Technopeasant Wretch Eve, pixel-stained writers slip through the ‘Net, giving free stories, poems, and plays to all the good boys and girls around the world. The boys and girls, for their parts, leave out martini glasses and bottles of gin in hopes that the Pixel Wretch will come again the next year and leave more stories on their hard-drives.

This Techopeasant Wretch Carol reflects the mirth that these jovial writers bring:

A Wretched Carol

Cheery pixel-writing folk
Post some tales today
Don’t you pay a minute’s heed
What the haters say.
Technopeasant day is come
So you scribbling crew
Write a tale that’s full of joy
If that’s what you do.

When the deadline’s drawing near
And the people shout
Please don’t stop then to revise
Ship that puppy out.
Post a short that’s out of print
Post your latest book
Post it proudly on the web
Tell us where to look.

Casey likes strong characters
Parker wants strong plot
Sandy is a pornerast
Please write something hot
Whate’er genre you may choose
To upload today
We will scarf and ask for more
‘Cause that is our way.

It’s okay (invited, even) to put links to free stories (yours, or legally-uploaded others) in the comments here.

April 19, 2012
Getting more than two bits’ worth
Posted by Avram Grumer at 03:15 AM * 129 comments

Over in the current Open Thread, albatross commented about a Salon article. The article’s about whether there’s are meaningful differences between the Big Two political parties and the author finds some, but admits that both parties operate within what’s commonly known as “the Washington Consensus”. One of albatross’s complaints is that “Voting for the marginally better candidate means that there is no way to push back on the ruling class consensus”, which reminded me about something I’d been meaning to write about for a while.

Voting is a lousy way of influencing politics. In a two-party system, your vote is basically one bits of information: donkey-vs-elephant. The choice of whether to cast a vote or not is a second bit. Toss in a primary election, and you’ve got a total of four bits, which isn’t even enough information to define a single English letter.

But there are other ways. For example, remember back when candidate Obama said he was gonna repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and then got into office, and President-Elect Obama was more like yeah, not right away, but we’ll probably get around to it in the first year, and then towards the end of the year President Obama was like sure, I’m committed, but I’m not saying when, and it didn’t get done that year, or the year after, and it looked like he was going to put it off to his second term? And to make matters worse, there was that offensive defense of DOMA. Remember all that?

What happened then was that gay rights advocates turned off the money spigot. Contributions from gay rights groups (and individuals devoted to gay rights) dropped 58% in 2010 compared to the 2006 mid-term elections. And then the Dems actually started moving on the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The following year, the Obama administration announced that it would no longer defend DOMA in court, presuming it to be unconstitutional. Not bad, eh?

And remember the defeat of SOPA/PIPA? It was just three months ago! All those pages going dark, all those kids unable to do their homework because Wikipedia was offline, good times. A nasty piece of legislation with lots of money behind it was defeated without a single voter having to step into a booth. How’s that for pushing back on the ruling class consensus?

Sure, this required action by people of unusual wealth and/or influence; I doubt Wikipedia would’ve gone black if Jimbo Wales had been opposed to doing it, and I don’t know if there’d have been nearly as big a splash if the protest hadn’t involved cutting off a resource that journalists use daily. But ordinary people can be part of a movement that pulls in people of wealth and influence. I’m sure many of you have attended rallies, or written to your congresspeople, or both. I’m pretty sure writing has more effect on the president’s behavior than what you do in the voting booth this November, especially if you live in state that leans towards one party.

April 18, 2012
XKCD on comment order
Posted by Teresa at 08:32 AM * 70 comments

An astute observation from XKCD about astroturf and comment order. Naturally, I want to see his cartoon about the effects of “most recent first” comment order.

Randall Munroe clearly understand a point that many people are still assimilating: passably good writers are cheap compared to many other opinion-making mechanisms. Over the long run they cost more than normal consumer advertising, but during election campaigns — high stakes, short duration, lots of slushy money — they can be quite cost-effective.

I know of two answers to the comment order problem. One is to give readers a button that will flip comment order from “first posted” to “most recently posted” and back again. The other is to do your best to suppress sockpuppets, and give readers a “view all by” button. Few things will so thoroughly undercut one’s impression of a commenter’s candor, sincerity, and independence as finding out that they’ve posted a long string of repetitive and superficial comments that are all in support of the same candidate or issue.

April 15, 2012
It was sad when that great ship went down
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:11 AM * 124 comments

Today is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of RMS Titanic.

Others will note it.

Instead I want to memorialize Captain Arthur Henry Rostron of RMS Carpathia. On receiving Titanic’s distress call he turned toward and ran all ahead flank into a known ship-killing ice field. Captain Rostron stood on the starboard bridge wing, eyes closed, praying—talking to the only person with whom a ship’s captain at sea can speak as an equal.

Without his courage, forehandedness, and seamanship, the toll from the Titanic disaster might have been far worse.

Well done.

April 13, 2012
The pattern of sunlight on oak
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 06:37 AM * 96 comments

As a sophomore in college, I took a 2-credit Library & Information Sciences course, mostly because it led to a stack pass. (I don’t need to explain to this community why a person would want a stack pass at the University of California at Berkeley. To other people, I tended to link it to my habit of exploring the stream tunnels off of Strawberry Creek and wandering through buildings whose subjects I did not study.)

One lecture covered the card catalog—a glorious thing in oaken cases, filling a whole room on its own. The instructor mentioned that the drawers still contained a number of handwritten cards. That afternoon, after class, I decided to search for one. I still retain a strong visual memory of the moment I succeeded, twenty-three years ago: the color of the sleeve of my T-shirt, pushed halfway up my forearm; the pattern of golden woodgrain in the sunbeam; the precise shade of the ink of the copperplate entry describing an 1872† edition of Apollonius Rhodius’ Argonautica.

I was thinking of that moment as I read this article*, by Professor Greg Downey. He teaches a freshman class on Media Fluency for the Digital Age at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. (He also runs a really good blog on the subject, unsurprisingly). One of the class assignments was:

Finding information that’s not online. Find an article (research journal article, analytic newspaper article, serious magazine article, or scholarly book chapter) that is on the topic of the Internet or new media, but not available (at least, not to you) on the Internet, and acquire a digital copy of that article. In a one-page, single-spaced write-up, document the steps you took to (a) find the article, (b) ensure that it was not available to you online, and (c) find out how to get it offline, (d) digitize it, (e) use optical character recognition software to make your text searchable, and (f) save the file to MyWebSpace and give your TA permission to view it. Paste the full URL of your file at the end of your write-up.

The assignment forced students to move out of their usual research modes. Some of the things they did were traditional: go to the library, ask a librarian, read a book. Others were interestingly modern, such as finding items on eBay. It’s worth reading the whole article to get a shape of the work they did.

It’s tempting to harrumph and grumble about how the Young ‘Uns are missing out on a wealth of information sources because they’re not digitized, and to be pleased that they’ve finally got access to the Good Stuff (like wot we had). It’s easy to turn the story into a New Media versus Old Media turf war, yet again, as always. But the real reason I bring the article to your attention is how well Downey conveys the pleasure of seeing students find the deep roots of their knowledge, and how he, from their reaction, gives us a glimpse of the world that they inhabit.

And that, more than anything else, is the heart of the academy.

† Date corrected after reference to the record in the online catalog.
* link via @jkaizer on Twitter

April 11, 2012
South American Drugs
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:57 PM * 126 comments

As we all know, chocolate is poisonous to dogs and cats.

It is with great regret that I inform you that chocolate is also poisonous to people. The LD50 for a hundred kilo adult is circa five kilos.

It strikes me, too, that the defining moment (if you can speak of two centuries as a “moment”) that made Western European civilization what it is, was the simultaneous discovery/dissemination of tea, coffee, chocolate, and clockwork on the continent.

April 10, 2012
Open thread 172
Posted by Teresa at 02:08 PM *

Once, twice, thrice, force, quince, sects, sense, ox, nonce, tense.

Wasting just a bit of my goddamn life
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 09:51 AM * 28 comments

One of my favorite comments from Patrick, one I’ve quoted and linked to a number of times, is about how much energy we should put into caring who is surprised about what and when.

I have an inchoate, perhaps indefensible, and yet powerful sense that conversation about this whole range of issues would be improved immeasurably if we could all just fucking stop one-upping one another over what is and isn’t legitimately surprising.


If we spend our goddamn lives sneering at one another over whether we were angered or amazed or appalled at exactly the right time or not, we’ll have wasted our goddamn lives.

But I’m a tester, you know, and I always knew I would eventually find an edge case to prove that rule. Well, now I have, in a quote from the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne. In an interview in the Telegraph today, he says,

I was shocked to see that some of the very wealthiest people in the country have organised their tax affairs, and to be fair it’s within the tax laws, so that they were regularly paying virtually no income tax. And I don’t think that’s right.

I’m talking about people right at the top. I’m talking about people with incomes of many millions of pounds a year. The general principle is that people should pay income tax and that includes people with the highest incomes.

“Shocked”! Really? Honestly? Or, as the internet says, What is this I don’t even.

With notable self-restraint, Guardian writer Polly Curtis treats this statement as fact and attempts to check it. While she admits that emotions cannot be proven or disproven, she looks at his previous speeches and widely available information to determine if he should be surprised. Her article is remarkable both for the amount of linked evidence she brings to the BGO* and the constructive tone she uses to discuss it. But in the end, there’s not much to say beyond duh, so she discards fish-in-barrel marksmanship and gets interested in what his comments mean for the future of British tax avoidance†.

Her colleague Larry Elliot is much less patient, comparing Osborne to Claude Rains in Casablanca.

In one of the best scenes from the film, Rains says he is “shocked, shocked” to find gambling going on in the establishment, only to be handed his winnings by a member of Humphrey Bogart’s staff.

Elliot is blunt where Curtis is tactful:

Osborne is not short of a few bob himself. He has plenty of prosperous friends and is supposed to know a thing or two about the UK economy. If he is genuinely surprised by the tax arrangements of the well-heeled in the UK, he has either been living in a cave for the past 20 years or is unfit for his current post.

I think everyone who follows British politics knows that Osborne is neither clinically insane nor terminally stupid. So I wish to hell that he—and all of our politicians—wouldn’t act like they think we are.

But I’m not surprised when they do. Just in case anyone’s wondering.

* Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious
† Technically, tax avoidance is the use of legal means to reduce one’s tax burden. Tax evasion is the use of illegal means to do so. This entire discussion concerns the former, not the latter.

The Morning’s Best Comment Sp4m
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:31 AM *

Hot from the moderation queue:

Ive to say, I dont know if its the clashing colours or the poor grammar, but this weblog is hideous! I mean, I dont wish to sound like a know-it-all or anything, but could you have possibly put just a little bit far more effort into this subject. Its truly interesting, but you dont represent it nicely at all, man.

Note the iron law of the Internet: Any grammar-flame (even a computer-generated one) must have at least one grammatical error.

What tripped up this robot and dumped its spew into the moderation queue? Using a common contraction with no apostrophe. (We get anything from dozens to hundreds a day with that marker.)

Oh, and the hideous (nevertheless truly interesting) post with the terrible grammar? Jon Singer’s turkey algorithm

SEO delenda est!

April 09, 2012
Equality? What’s That?
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:02 PM * 36 comments

Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, has signed a bill that repeals enforcement of equal-pay-for-equal-work between males and females. He’s facing a recall election, too. Guess he doesn’t need women’s votes to stay in office.

Pay discrimination. It isn’t just a bad idea, it’s the law.

April 08, 2012
The Cuff Link Museum
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:59 PM *

DURING the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the spring of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, by auto, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the afternoon drew on, near the reputed location of the Cuff Link Museum.

I had first learned of the Cuff Link Museum through the book, Curious New England. Yet I had not visited it, even though I had indeed visited places far more remote from my home (e.g. The Glowing Tombstone and Madison Boulder). And so, on a bleak April morning in the year 2012, while Mud Season gripped the North Country, I made my way to Conway.

Details of the Cufflink Museum are scanty on the Web. [Conway Public Library]Despite a mention in an “article” on cufflinks that seems to be plastered at every content-site Google-spam-farm on the Web, there is little real information. From one single entry I got a street address: 71 Hobbs Street, Conway, New Hampshire. (Curious New England had been less exact — “Take Route 16 north until you come to the high school on your right. Turn left there and go half a mile to the Ham Arena skating rink. You’ll see the Yield House and Renovators sign on the left. The museum is on the third floor of Yield House Industries.”) I knew where the high school was, and I recalled Yield House and Renovator’s Supply, but I knew that Yield House had changed location at least twice over the past decade, and it had been years since I’d seen a Renovator’s Supply catalog. Other tantalizing web-based hints included a report on the museum’s non-profit status from more than a decade ago.

The best description of the Cuff Link Museum was in an article by Polly Bannister called The Cuff Link King. It speaks of Claude Jeanloz, an entrepreneur, the owner of Yield House, who amassed a huge collection of cuff links, and put them on display for the wondering public:

The Cuff Link Museum is housed on the third floor of Yield House Industries in Conway. The building, located on Hobbs Street, off West Main, is industrial looking, a factory, not a museum. But don’t let this fool you — once inside you’ll be mesmerized by row upon row of cherry-colored pedestal cases, chock-full of cuff links, a collection that numbers over 50,000. Above the cases oval plates describe the contents. For every category of gem and metal the cuff links are broken down by shape: “Rhinestones: round, oval, square, rectangle; Gold: round, oval, square, rectangle,” and so forth.

I determined to go, to bring back a report to the fluorosphere. And so I arrived at 71 Hobbs Street, to find that it was indeed a light-industrial area, but no hint of Yield House, no sign for Renovator’s Supply, and no cuff link museum.

As one does when thwarted thus, I retreated to the Conway Public Library to ask the reference librarian where the Cuff Link Museum might have gone. Alas, she did not know, and, although she emailed the town historian, his best suggestion was that I check the Internet.

It was another library patron, standing beside me at the reference desk, who had an answer: “I remember the Cuff Link Museum,” he said. “Fella died four, five years ago. It’s gone now.”

Out of curiosity and vexation
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 11:02 AM * 228 comments

Can anyone tell me what to what kind of writing it’s appropriate to respond with threats of rape, comments about the writer’s fuckability, or belittling, sexist insults?

Because I’m reading a lot of stuff in comment threads which come damn’ close to saying that that sort of thing is OK, if the blogger is rude enough or criticizes the wrong stuff.

As it happens, I disagree. I disagree when people do it, and I disagree when they defend it because “men get crap on the internet, too”, or “it’s not that bad”. Because it’s not the same from the other side of the gender divide, not when one in six women are sexually assaulted at some point in our lifetimes, not when we’re socialized to be shut up by men, not when we’re outnumbered and outshouted in these masculine communities.

(And even if it were the same, would that make it acceptable?)

If you don’t believe it happens, gentlemen, I dare you: choose a female name and log onto a gaming board, or a deep geek IRC channel, or a heated political discussion. Disagree with the common herd and see what you get back. Then do the same with a male name. And then remember that you’re being kicked on undamaged flesh; it’s much worse when there’s already a deep bruise there from all the charming things people do in meatspace, too.

Look. Let me be clear on this, dear friends of the male persuasion. You want to be in my good books? You want to be among the righteous in my pantheon? Speak up. Stand beside women. Speak up and be counted, because the people who do this stuff, they don’t listen to us. That’s kinda their whole point.

This includes, by the way, women you disagree with. Give us the space to be ordinarily wrong, misguided, angry, weird, biased. If only the rational angels of sweetness and light are allowed to speak unmolested, that’s just another kind of gag. I want an internet where a woman can be angry and not be called a bitch; where she can say something stupid and not be told to make a fucking sandwich.

I am so tired of this crap.

Edited to add: Let me just forestall one of the usual lines of commentary that appears in these conversations. I’m only interested in “that’s just the way the internet is, whatcha gonna do?” comments and other More Cynical Than Thou fan-dances if you also include links to at least three comments that you, personally, have made fighting against the problem. Otherwise, save your weary ennui for another thread. I don’t want it here.

April 07, 2012
More to follow, but —
Posted by Teresa at 07:10 PM * 34 comments

Patrick and Avram are both on the Hugo Ballot.


Congratulations especially to Avram, whose first Hugo nomination this is.

April 05, 2012
Hardware jewelry for the real world
Posted by Teresa at 07:50 PM * 51 comments

Making unfortunate jewelry out of hardware seems to be a near-universal impulse. Most of it comes out looking like macaroni necklaces for grownups.

It was thus a good thing when Erica at Honestly WTF published a tutorial for making a braided hex nut jewelry that you can actually imagine real people wearing. The technique is simple. The result is attractive. Specimens have been popping up all over the place.

Since this establishes that a small hex nut is just a large metal bead, it follows that this braiding technique can be applied to anything else that’s got a hole in it. (“Anything with a hole in it is a bead = “anything with a handle attached to it is portable.”) Personally, I’m eyeing my stashes of stick beads and wingnuts.

Honestly WTF also did a tutorial on a braiding technique that uses curb chain links as the third strand in the braid, yielding very presentable results. Erica has a good eye.

If you’re crafty, you might want to check out all her published DIYs. They’re not the usual sort of thing. Her forte is figuring out easy-to-make knockoffs of what would otherwise be very pricey baubles and clothing details by designers like Balenciaga, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, Gucci, Miu Miu, Prada, etc. It looks like fun.

Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

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