“I suppose earlier generations had to sit through all this huffing and puffing with the invention of television, the phone, cinema, radio, the car, the bicycle, printing, the wheel and so on, but you would think we would learn the way these things work, which is this:
1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;
2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;
3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.
Apply this list to movies, rock music, word processors and mobile phones to work out how old you are.”—
“Yes, the Bechdel Test. It’s named for Alison Bechdel, who is a comic book creator. The test is, are there two named women in the film? Do they talk to each other? And is it about something other than a man? I actually think the Bechdel Test is a little advanced for us sometimes. I have one called the Sexy Lamp Test, which is, if you can remove a female character from your plot and replace her with a sexy lamp and your story still works, you’re a hack.”—Comic book writer Kelly Sue DeConnick (Captain Marvel, Avengers Assemble)
I must tell you what my opinion of my own mind and powers is exactly—the result of a most accurate study of myself with a view to my future plans during many months. I believe myself to possess a most singular combination of qualities exactly fitted to make me preeminently a discoverer of the hidden realities of nature.
Firstly: owing to some peculiarity in my nervous system, I have perceptions of some things, which no one else has—or at least very few, if any. This faculty may be designated in me as a singular tact, or some might say an intuitive perception of hidden things—that is of things hidden from eyes, ears, and the ordinary senses…This alone would advantage me little, in the discovery line, but there is, secondly, my immense reasoning faculties. Thirdly: my concentrative faculty, by which I mean the power not only of throwing my whole energy and existence into whatever I choose, but also bringing to bear on any one subject or idea a vast apparatus from all sorts of apparently irrelevant and extraneous sources. I can throw rays from every quarter of the universe into one vast focus.
Now these three powers (I cannot resist the wickedness of calling them my discovering or scientific trinity) are a vast apparatus put into my power by Providence; and it rests with me by a proper course during the next twenty years to make the engine what I please. But haste, or a restless ambition, would quite ruin the whole.
Thoughts on recent discussions regarding the “FakeGeekGirl”:
The anti-female slant of this stereotype is particularly reprehensible, but this attitude is not limited to cosplayers, comics, nor even to women. The elitism in geek subcultures rivals even the bloody tradition of the OS wars. Real Star Wars fans hate the prequels; real gamers played old school Nintendo, real programmers use emacs.
Elitism is human nature. We are pack animals. We divide ourselves into countries, religions, sports teams, pirates vs. ninjas. We measure our worth by these distinctions; we create our identities from them. We are like this, they are like that, and those who don’t fit into the neat little boxes can start to feel very, very alone.
To me, it has always been important that the geek ‘tribe’ be one of diversity and inclusion. The comic-book collector, the electronics hobbyist, the guy who wrote his thesis on the Silmarillion, the girl who makes amigurumi versions of Doctor Who characters … in all our myriad degrees and shapes, with all our voices, we belong here and should be cherished. In a society of divisions, we geeks are united by dreams, by passion, and by our desire to connect and share and create. When we show our geekiness to others—with costumes or hastily-written blog posts—we are opening ourselves up, sharing those things that we love regardless of when (or if!) they became cool, and reaching out for kindred spirits. There is nothing fake about that.
Every so often I remember that I have a blog and I realize that I haven’t put anything in it for a while. This is one of those times.
Generally, I’m either not posting because nothing much is happening or I’m not posting because quite a bit is happening and it’s happening all at once. More often, when I do have time, it doesn’t occur to me to write about the occasions when I did not.
As promised, I spent August travelling. It was a massive undertaking; a journey from Sapporo on the northernmost island of Japan to Naha in the far south. I travelled almost exclusively on local trains, at a pace the very patient would call “leisurely” and the very impatient would call “excruciating.” I stayed in hostels all over the country, planning and booking only a few days in advance at any given time. I saw more in that single month than in the rest of this year combined. It was simultaneously exhilarating, thought-provoking and terrifying. It is an epic tale encompassing many days and miles and cities and people. And it is a thousand fractured stories beginning with “This one time in….” to be spun out one by one. Either way, it is a narrative too vast and tangled to be communicated by a photo album and a handful of paragraphs; my travels, if I choose to tell them here, will be told in their own time.
I have fewer excuses for my last month of silence. I arrived, exhausted, in Tokyo on a thoroughly unremarkable Saturday and started my internship the following Monday. My apartment is small and empty, requiring a considerable amount of settling in which occupied my first couple of weekends. Unfortunately, no sooner had I settled in than I developed a case of pneumonia which is only just now clearing up. As such, I have lived in Tokyo for a full month and seen only the neighbourhood around my apartment, my office, and the shopping district where I bought my work clothes. Updates on this exciting, bustling metropolis will follow when I begin to feel that I have actually experienced it.
School is winding down right now and with that comes exams and preparations for my internship and moving out and various logistics. I’m leaving Tottori in one week, with plans to travel before moving to Tokyo to work, and I suspect that my remaining time here will be filled primarily with neurotic anticipation as I attempt to get my affairs in order.
I’ll try to keep the internets up to date after I leave. No promises.
In the meantime, here’s a sandcastle that I made for you.
It’s been quiet here recently, so here’s a little list I’ve been compiling. These are little bits of English that I’ve seen on T-shirts, buildings, etc. Not an exhaustive list, just the one’s I remembered to write down.
Championship at collage
She obtained victory, great person voluntarily
The gentle relationship with quality
Toss of the room that joey greenly brand
It is a salon that can be pleased with an individual customer of everybody of everybody in the valuing region
It is praying for the days when you who chose the clothes are pleasant every day coming on
One day in the woods, bear encounter
The thing which is necessary for the life, courage and imagination. It is it and a little money. I do not get into doing the same thing repeatedly.
I am suddenly overcome by a burst of wishi-washiness
I have about a month off later, after school and before work, and I intend to pack as much adventure into that month as possible. Above is a link to a map of places I want to visit. Some of these might be accomplished in weekend trips either now or during my internship, others (like Hokkaido and Okinawa) are too far and will need to be done in August or not at all.
If you have an idea, let me know! If you have a bunch of ideas, also let me know and I can make you a collaborator on the map.
It’s been a while since I’ve given a proper update, but honestly I’m not sure I’ve had much to say. School is fine, the students are nice, the language continues to frustrate but I can order food, ask directions and apologize for things so I get around.
Explorations near and far continue unabated; this month included trips to Osaka and Hiroshima on two consecutive weekends. I suspect a full account of these activities would be tedious, suffice to say that the guidebooks have not lied to you.
Of course, there are a dozen little stories. I put my hands in the Sea of Japan for the first time since I landed here. I ate takoyaki and took in the nightscape of Doutonbori. I glimpsed part of a Shinto wedding and admired the bride’s very fine hat. I traded the story of Turtle Island for the tale of Urashima Taro and the Tomatebako. I walked out at low tide and touched the Miyajima Torii with a thousand tiny hermit crabs underfoot. I have compared the Osaka and Hiroshima styles of okonomiyaki and drawn the all-important conclusions.
My most recent adventure involves fireflies. Japan’s most important seasonal happenings are not just holidays and festivals but the turning of the seasons themselves. Like the cherry blossoms, the firefly season is as anticipated as it is fleeting. Our city maps are marked with tiny fireflies, indicating the best park for viewing. The nearby museum hosts a tiny exhibit displaying ukiyo-e prints of firefly viewing next to more modern long exposure photographs. There’s a calendar outside showing the entire season (3 weeks) and the firefly count for each night thus far. Without knowing it, we arrived at the season’s peak.
There were a handful of people at the park, but most were leaving by the time we got there. Beyond a certain point, the park is not lit aside from tiny lights studding the path, placed there for the occasion. The darkness is so complete that more than once Eura and I thought ourselves separated when standing only feet apart. The path winds through dense trees and up stone steps, following a small river to the shallow places where the fireflies are.
There aren’t very many of them; no clouds or swarms, just yellow-green pinpricks in the dark. The float leisurely, fading in and out. They defy my small, touristy camera; even if they shown shown up in the image, i couldn’t capture their movement. They are sweet. They are captivating.
I am intrigued by this notion and have been contemplating its feasibility.
Apparently this is the latest project from Luis Von Ahn, the creator of Recaptcha. Like all of his work, it’s based on a sort of symbiotic Mechanical Turk principle which, if nothing else, sounds awesome in theory.
I’m not exactly an expert on language learning. Many denizens of the internet seem to have favourite methods that they will defend to the death, but I suspect it depends at least partially on how a person is wired. On the one hand, Duolingo seems to work by direct translation, which might be slower than association with pictures or concepts, and it seems to lack an oral component. On the other hand, by drawing material from the web, it immerses the user in a reasonably useful set of vocabulary and grammar and then forces them to learn by trial-and-error.
Ultimately, very few learning tools stand well on their own. By itself, Duolingo would be woefully incomplete; but, if done right, it might constitute a fun resource in a larger toolset.
I’ve just finished reading The Door into Summer by Robert Heinlein. It’s about a man living in an alternate 1970 who enters suspended animation and wakes up in 2000. All of this was apparently written in one draft in 1957 and it’s one of the best things I’ve read in a while.
One of the awesome things about old science fiction is the bizarre way that it can be completely wrong and yet still relevant or even oddly prophetic. Farenheit 451, for example, is hauntingly familiar in its predictions for mainstream media but fails to account for the influence of the internet. It’s an odd change of perspective.
There are some glaring anachronisms. The lack of personal computers or information tech in general, newspapers delivered by pneumatic tubes, the belief that only people with breasts can type… At other times, Heinlein describes what are essentially really nice versions of ATMs, autoCAD and the Roomba imagined years before their time.
Also cool: The main character, Dan Davis, is a mechanical engineer who narrates like a hard-boiled PI. Everything about him and his work feels like a throwback* to the days of slide-rules and T-squares, and it couldn’t be more perfect for the story. Functionally, the technical commentary adds a level of suspended-disbelief plausibility to a hypothetical future that mostly didn’t happen. But, more importantly, Davis has this boundless enthusiasm for invention that was characteristic of engineers of that period, and he carries it forward into an environment where everything is new. It’s his excitement that makes the narrative so involving.