Sunday, August 28, 2011

Year of the Bug: All Tied Up

I take pictures of tied up dogs. You can see some of them that i've taken with Instagram in this little montage:


and many more on my "All Tied Up" set:

It's one of the things I "collect" in my photography because I think it's fascinating the situations people will put their dogs in. Some of the dogs seem fine with being tied up. I used to tie Mac out for brief seconds in the first year that I had him, because he would just sit there, as he sits in the car, all alert, but not stressed. This was before he was posed a threat to small dogs, cats, or any kind of human. I never left him longer than it took to get a coffee or soda. I see dogs tied out like this, that look comfortable or relaxed, and I see dogs that are clearly bite risks, and I see dogs so stressed out they look like they're going to shit themselves. I've seen a few dogs lately tied up wearing muzzles, one dog I saw twice in front of a bag of kibble, and some dogs I see seem truly not to care that their owners aren't there. During one heatwave, I saw two dogs hiding under cars, they were so hot.

Anyway, this is Mac, tied up next to Gordos, where I see a tied out dog every single time I go. Mac was not unattended at any point. I promise blogging will resume shortly. I'm caught up in the World's Longest Book, which slowed me up, and my laptop was at the Vet. We're all good now, and should return to regularly scheduled programming.

Week 34: All Tied Up

Monday, August 22, 2011

Year of the Bug: Do You Want This?

The look I get when I say "do you want this?"

Week 33: Do You Want This?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

GB Tran: Vietnamerica

When I told a friend about this book, she asked me "Where has themacinator gone, and what have you done with her?" She had recently read my posts about my forays into gaming and when I mentioned that I had checked out a graphic novel at the library, it was true, it sounded like I had swapped myself out for a new, kind of creepy version of myself. In my defense, I had no intention of checking out a graphic novel, and also in my defense, the book is actually not a novel, it's a graphic nonfiction novel. Go figure that one out. I believe the term is graphic memoir, but I'm not an expert in this particular type of geekery, so I can't be sure.

"Vietnamerica" by GB Tran is a family story of Tran learning his family history in Vietnam, and to some extent, of the cultural breakdown as the family becomes Vietnamese-American. There is a pretty cool clip of the story of writing/drawing the book on Tran's website, that actually helps make the book more intelligible. As my first graphic (nonfiction) novel, it took me about half of the book to get used to the format, and I found myself not really following until the second half. By then, I was used to the characters- I could visually understand who Tran was, who was his dad, his mom, etc. Partially my confusion was due to the vast number of family members (the family tree was incomplete, vast, and introduced way too late), and partially it was due to my rookie-ness at the format. Only in the second half did I realize that the tight cursive script was Tran's mother speaking her story, and that the boxed writing was a different voice. I could then distinguish Tran's voice, his father, etc. It was an "aha" moment- I didn't always need to follow visual cues- the writing was a "font," and I could use the fonts to tell what was going on. This probably should have been obvious.

I also found myself victim to sensory overload. The art in this book is incredible. "Vietnamerica" is full color, but the schemes for each type of scene are muted and limited; the visual themes repeat as story lines come up. The art is really beautiful- Tran is clearly a gifted artist. I almost felt guilty skimming over the art, as each frame is visually arresting. Again, I'm a reader of traditional books, though, and really didn't know how to take it all in. The book is not enough to be a "standalone" traditional book, and I can't really judge it as a graphic (nonfiction) novel, since it's my first. But it's gorgeous, and the story is moving, if a bit thin. Glad to see that my library carries it!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Louisa Thomas: Conscience

Louisa Thomas has written a masterpiece, against some substantial odds. First, "Conscience" tackles a very well-covered subject in World War 1. Second, the hook Thomas uses to get into WWI, while a lesser-known subject, Norman Thomas, is a family member- Thomases' grandfather. It would be easy to slip into sycophantic flattery of the great man, but Thomas avoids this, for the most part. Norman Thomas (Louisa Thomas refers to him generally as Norman, to avoid confusion with his three brothers- Arthur, Ralph, and Evan) stands out as a historical figure: he served the poor, had progressive beliefs about pretty much everything, and eventually one of the founders of the ACLU. The book doesn't read as an ode to Norman, though I imagine much has been white-washed. Thomas writes of the disappointment Norman caused his father as his beliefs strayed farther and farther from his Presbyterian upbringing, his tendency to flip-flop on his political beliefs, and the reliance on his wealthy wife's money. None of these can really be pointed to as strengths on Norman's part.

So what's the big deal about the Thomases? As the tag line for the book tells the reader, Norman was one of four brothers involved in the war: two became pacifists, and two became soldiers. Norman was the oldest. All four went to Princeton, and the pacifists both followed in their father's footsteps and became ministers (though both faced challenges in actually passing the minister test when they wouldn't be nailed down on literal interpretations of the bible). The Princeton thing is a big deal, because the four Thomas boys became very well-connected, to the point that they were on speaking terms with Woodrow Wilson up to and through his presidency. Norman, especially, was in with movers and shakers, especially in New York. He married well, and started his career path high, as the minister to the church to the mucky mucks on 5th Avenue, before realizing that he was destined for smaller worldly things and bigger spiritual paths. By the end of the book, he's left the spiritual world all together for a more moral and ethical truth, though whether or not he attains a clear idea of truth is debatable.

His brother Evan also struggles with truth, though in a more self-focused way. While Norman seems to have a picture of what he is fighting for: class and racial equality, a sense of justice in the world; Evan thrashes about looking for purpose. Thomas either can't figure out what Evan was doing with his life or nails it that Evan couldn't figure out what Evan was doing with his life. Eventually he decides that he is a pacifist, and an "absolutist" at that. Although he is abroad when President Wilson decides to enter into the war, Evan returns to the states in order to get drafted and then object to the war. While Norman struggles with how to take an appropriate anti-war stance, Evan takes his marching orders in order to defy them, and is insulted when the army cannot let him go as far as he would like to take them. For me, this is the most thought provoking part of the book. Thomas writes, quoting a reporter of the time,
Conscientious objectors represented "a residue" with "peculiar beliefs"- and yet there is a note of respect here, the refusal to subordinate oneself and submit to the "opinions of others or to force." That ambivalence is part of the American ethos, in which community is forever balanced against the individual, the state against the rights of men. Conscientious objectors demanded to be released from the heaviest burden placed upon citizens, the willingness to kill and die for one's country. The health of a democracy requires minimal coercion. But the health of a state sometimes requires that men do things they object to. Conscientious objectors brought that tension to the fore. That is why they could not be ignored.
It is exactly this ambivalence that makes America America, that makes peace patriotic, that makes me un-American. Without the ability to object to serving the state in the most serious way, there is no freedom of speech, and there is no democracy- there is only The State, and perhaps fascism, or totalitarianism. The will of the state is all there is. On the other hand, at least the way it is now, without the state having the ability to force service onto its subjects, there is no state, and only a few on the extreme left (right?) would argue against the state altogether. Further, it is an enormous privilege to say "I don't believe in fighting," and then leave the fighting to some one else. Evan had the option of doing alternative service, like working on a farm, but being an "absolutist" was jailed instead. Where does privilege end and conscience begin? Thomas does a fascinating job at bringing up these issues through individual characters and leaving the questions open. The foils of Norman and Evan, who take two separate paths to objecting the war, are good ones: Thomas presents the reader with two of the possible paths, and leaves her alone to find her own.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Games, Gender, and Glitch

I have never played a "game" before I played Glitch. I've played games, but not GAMES games. Like MMO games, WoW (I don't even really know what this stands for- I think the second "W" is for something about war, but whenever I try to say it, "Witchcraft" comes out.) I've played card games online, scrabble, you know, really intricate things like that. I defaced myself before people were playing games on there all the time- or maybe they were playing games on Facebook already, but I wasn't into it. What I'm getting at is that this is Very New to me. Maybe this is just a really long caveat, though I've thought about it for long enough to stand behind what I'm going to say.

About a week ago, a man posted on the Glitch forums (which get REALLY cranky between tests) that he suspects Glitch of being "too estrogen driven to attract male players." He explained his position: he's a "normal" guy a little older than me with a wife and kids, enjoys the game, but finds it "girly"- my word, not his- the original quote is his. In short, the game is too pastel, there aren't enough wardrobe options that are masculine (they might even have been designed by gay males, conflating gender and sexuality), and the mark of a subscriber is a pink heart. The poster was ripped a new one, chastised, and generally told to fuck off. The thread spiraled more and more out of control and in different directions. As I've been known to, I managed to stick in my $200 and "take it too far." I've decided to reformat and reshare my thoughts on the gender implications of Glitch here now that you've got my caveat and context (you bored yet?).

Of course, I took it too far, and got a take home message that the original poster probably didn't intend at all. For me, the bigger point about gender and Glitch (and games in general!) is actually far from cosmetic, though cosmetics are clearly part of the package. The genuine question in the poster's question: is glitch a "girl's" game? I think the original poster was asking this, although crudely, by saying he'd have to "hang my masculinity on the wall" to play the game. What kind of online games, specifically MMOs are appropriate for men? What kind of games are just "games"? Is there such a thing? On a most basic level, I'm clearly not implying that (as the poster almost suggested) girls should play princess" and boys should play "shoot 'um up," but we are socialized this way from very young, and from the tiny bit I've dipped my toe into the vast world of MMOs out there for the it seems like that's still how adults are playing.

Some examples from real life virtual games: Many of the players at Glitch call themselves "FS" refugees. Faunasphere was a game you played through Facebook (I believe), that went under earlier this year. Some descriptive language from FS's FB page:
Adventure waits in a mysterious, abandoned world, overrun with living pollution. Charming creatures known as Fauna have survived in this beautiful yet inhospitable environment. Join your friends and build a new, clean world.
and a nice summary from Joystiq. If you hadn't read any of the above description and just looked at the picture immediately below, who would you think would be most likely to play this game- men or women? While the game is also marketed to children, but the "FS refugees," as they call themselves in Glitch, are primarily adults. The adults, I believe, are majority female.

On the other hand, there's World of Warcraft. (The second "W" in WoW.) Check out this picture and guess the marketing bias. I'm not making this shit up, though I may be taking it to far. For an idea of where i'm coming from, check out the awesome site Sociological Images.) Think about who "shoot um up" games are marketed to, and gun toys, and war games, from a very young age: boys. Then think of the kind of things that are marketed to girls: playing house, barbies, ezbake ovens, paper dolls etc. We grow up from kids who play kids' games with these things to adults who play adult games with naked ladies and blood or cute animals. Of course, there are human exceptions, no denying it.

And, there are game exceptions, and in my opinion, Glitch is one of them. On the face of it, Glitch is not an exception, and this is where we come full circle to the poster in the Glitch forums who has a great point: many of the window-dressings *are* girly. On the surface, Glitch is a more traditionally feminine game: if I asked who it is marketed to according to mainstream, heteronormative, patriarchal tropes, the clear answer is women. Players dress avatars like they are paper dolls, tend garden patches and plant trees, and there are no weapons. Until the last test, players couldn't even do anything when an "attack" occurred- all they could do was cooperatively revive animals after the fact.

art 2
(photo courtesy of Fae)

The awesome part, though, is that glitch is subversive, in that it's not a particularly "girly" setup, *because* of all of the cosmetic things mentioned above. The avatars are androgynous, the clothes are cheeky, the sexual innuendos are (as far as I've bothered to read into them, being the prude that I am) not particularly "sided" (correct me if i'm wrong!). Glitch is probably not "different" enough to appeal to people who like "manly" games. People who want to bomb things and destroy things and kill people and see blood, men or women, probably aren't going to want to discover how to make salt, or be thrilled to get random kindness from a garden patch. I stand by my theory that Glitch has something to offer for the gamer who wants to opt-out.

The game also allows for both cooperative and competitive play- another area traditionally thought of as divided by gender. Players do not cooperate to destroy other players, but to do structured things like open new areas of the game, or less structured activities (like the art project pictured above). There are leaderboards, but they are deemphasized (I played for weeks before I knew where the leaderboards were) which suggests that they are not the focus. Glitch is not a game that thrives on competition. Glitch is not about winning or losing: when the player closes the window, a dialogue window pops up telling the player they were "just about to win the game!" Dying is encouraged. On the other hand, competition is not frowned on: players can take androgynous, cross-dressed avatars, and, without a weapon away. There are trophies and badges and levels, and some players say they compete against each other and some argue that they're only challenging each other.

More: A great interview from far more knowledgeable people at Joystiq about gender and video games.

An explanation of a recent study of demographics of MMO's from Geekery, using the the Bartle Test.

Year of the Bug: Brown Dog Free

week 32: brown dog free

not quite the shot i was going for, but with the Diana, you never know what you're going to get. plus, i had to stand in the middle of the street, and all of a sudden, as i pressed the shutter, there was an ENORMOUS dog bark that scared the crap out of me, so i decided against taking a couple back up shot with the iphone.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Year of the Bug: Smarty Bull

(not really)

Week 31: Smarty Bull

This was the one and only shot I took this week: I mean I literally posed Mac once and clicked the shutter once. Mac swatted my glasses off, and I can't see without them. I kinda checked the back of the camera to see if it looked tolerable, put my glasses back on and gave up. I haven't had much inspiration lately, so when it actually *was* a tolerable shot, I chose it. Shortest photo session ever.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

This is A's Baseball.

This is bad baseball.

This is why radio is better than TV: I don't have to watch it.

This is proof of my addiction: I'm still listening.

This is bad, and funny, and terrible.

This is A's baseball.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Earl Swift: The Big Roads

A few years ago, my sister coined the term "readable nonfiction." It's possible, of course, that someone used the word previously, but I'm going with this story. Earl Swift's story of America's interstates is, for the most part, readable nonfiction. It's also, and I hate to do this, quite meandering, and almost lost me to other pursuits about half way through. I suppose Swift had a big project, turning a hundred year history of road building into a readable story, and he almost succeeded.

I've mentioned Jane Kay's "Asphalt Nation" before: that book really takes an anti-interstate stance, after providing the history of the roads, in short form. Swift, on the other hand, attempts a more "neutral" stance, allowing historical figures to make their own arguments for and against the various repurcussions of 40,000 plus new miles of highway. "The Big Roads" could easily be titled "The Big (white and one token black) Men Who Made the Big Roads," and each of these men bring different perspectives bear. Although I think Swift's viewpoint is fairly clear- dismay at the homogeneity of the country now ruled by the interstates- he leaves stronger opinions to the men behind the roads. These are men like Carl Fisher, an entrepenuer who was ahead of the curve in realizing that "horseless carriages" were the Next Big Thing, and turned out to be one of The Forces behind the interstates. Quite buearucrats like Mr's Turner, Fisher and MacDonald who spent their lives as tireless public servants working to develop the Best Roads engineers could make. And those Other Guys, big ones like Lewis Mumford and little ones like Joe Wiles who spoke up for other ideas of "progress."

It's undeniable that the federal/state partnership that led to the interstates has created immense progress, not least in safety. I would venture that few of Americans can say that the interstates have brought them no discernible benefits. Sure, traffic sucks, and will continue to suck, forever. Caltrans will continue to be the butt of three quarters of all the jokes, and an enormous money sucker, but the maintenance of the highways is truly a first world problem. So what's the big deal? Well there's the homogeneity that my grandmother called "etcetera" and that Earl Swift shares some personal feelings about. Small towns were devestated by the interstates for multiple reasons. Some of them were just plain left behind: the interstates were designed for ease of construction and expediency, not for the sake of the people living nearby. So towns were left 5 to 50 miles away from the freeways, for example, and the offramps became destinations. The chain restaurants and motels that we all know are direct results of the interstates. And homogeniety isn't just seeing the same 5 chains over and over: highway planners were proud that you could drive from state to state and see a consistent road, driving without knowing you had crossed state lines. Sure, state lines are arbitrary, but in a country so proud of its heritage, and so diverse in environment and population, a unified view for 3000 miles is perhaps not a strong talking point.

This is just the beginning, and "Asphalt Nation," though over a decade old, is clearly the better read from an activist perspective. For history, and making your own call about where to go from here (man, bad pun central!), "The Big Roads" is a good start. The books probably read well together, although it's been years since I've read "Asphalt Nation," and they may overlap. Poignantly, for a Bay Area native, Swift uses the Embarcadero Freeway as an example of just how little the road planners worked with localities when planning, designing, and building freeways. Below is a picture of the Embarcadero, which was finally torn down in 1994, after the earthquake damaged it in 1989. (Photo by egcd32 used under creative commons license.)

Embarcadero Freeway (now gone)

The area near the freeway was dark and depressing, and quite scuzzy. The Embarcadero and Ferry Plaza is now a thriving area, and I imagine a tourist destination. I don't know- I go there, but I don't do much with tourists. I'm one of those tourist-scorners, and don't keep up with their destinations. It's beautiful now, too, and unfathonable that anyone, even the best planners anywhere, would have thought to block the view. "The Big Roads" is the big picture behind small pictures like this, all over the country.

Postcard Perfect

(post teardown, photo by Telstar Logistics, under creative commons license.)