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Following In Other's Footsteps

My pinned tweet on my Twitter timeline gets favourited every so often, which is always a good reminder that I, as a white male in the United States, am VASTLY over-represented and over-sampled in the culture at large. The "default" audience for nearly everything including videogames, TV shows, movies, even food and petrol are all aimed squarely at me: the white guy with spare cash. So, as my tweet reminds me:

But as a white male feminist, my single greatest job is to LISTEN. I must must MUST remember that. I MUST LISTEN.
 One of the ways I work to make sure that that's happening is my twitter feed. Not too long ago I was challenged to retweet ten things from women in one day, and I found it easier than some others, but WAY too hard for my own preferences. So I ruthlessly cleared out my twitter following list -- if you were a white dude, and I didn't personally know you, then off you went. I started following people of colour, especially black men who were doing signif…

Jessica Jones: The Review

Not spoilery, but may be triggery. Gonna talk about AKA Jessica Jones on Netflix.

Here is the thing about Jessica Jones.

There's no artistry or metaphor, no allegory or subtext in it. I mean, there is, but it all points to the text: that toxic masculinity hurts everyone, that consent matters very much to women and almost never to men, that in our culture men are impervious and always believed while women are victimized no matter how "strong" they are, that abusers more often get believed than the abused, that you can't trust the cops, and that people, all kinds of people everywhere, are fucked up and hurt each other and support each other and hopefully we can all live with ourselves and our choices at the end of the day.

It's incredibly noir. Not in the sense of the common understanding of "noir" to be black-and-white, but rather in the classical sense of the movies (and especially the books): that every person lives their lives in the shadows and grey spa…

Better Living Through Chemistry

The only way I can manage to even function as a semi-reasonable human being in situations like Blizzcon is because of alprazolam. It's the generic form of Xanax, and often even just a quarter of a pill will allow me to not have a panic attack or a total freakout when surrounded by people who can't seem to figure out where they're going and feel it's appropriate to stop at random times and places without regard to anyone else including the bloody bastards following them. Or, y'know, things like that.

Having a couple of pills in my purse means that sometimes, I don't even have to take it; just knowing it's there allows me to manage the anxiety well enough (though, I will say, not at Blizzcon; at Blizzcon I'm taking half a tab in the morning and half a tab in the afternoon and even then I have to manage my exposure pretty consciously). That said, I love to see my friends, so I'm willing to take the pills and make the effort.

On the one hand, it's a…

Pre-Blizzcon Report

After a slight delay in our flight, we arrived in Anaheim and secured our badges and bags for Blizzcon. We also went to the pre-party, saw some friends, and had some drinks.

Travelling, crowds, and uncertainty all combined to make it a very stressful day and thus, I am exhausted in this tiny, slightly run-down bed in a hotel with terrible wifi and grody rooms. But hey, I'm at Blizzcon!

We'll see if I do more of this tomorrow...

The Digital Life

I have friends, good friends, that (before my current job) I spent time with every week, and enjoyed their company and shared their lives, and only saw once a year for a couple of days in person. I have friends that I consider close, personal, intimate friends that I interact with on a regular basis that I haven't seen in years. I have, in short, a modern distributed social circle that closely resembles the current experience of many people of my generation (and younger).

When I read an article or hear a pundit moaning about the "impersonal" or "virtual" lives that some people live these days, wondering why they don't just put down their phones and talk to someone, I have to admit I question how these people live. If I'm using my phone, I probably am talking to someone -- though it's possible the conversation may be asynchronous -- about my day, or their day, or the recent political election in Canada, or the news out of Saudi Arabia, or the weather…

Time Off

Tomorrow afternoon I start my vacation from work. We're heading to BlizzCon 2015 and then Disneyland, and I'm really looking forward to seeing in person a bunch of people I haven't seen in ages. And I'm very much looking forward to not thinking about work.

Work is one of those things that I have trouble putting away, because often the most difficult part of work for me is not the actual work, but the acknowledgement that others (usually my bosses) make decisions with given factors that result in outcomes that are not always my preferred outcome. It's Not My Raid has become a significant mantra; not because things are necessarily "wrong", but often because there are pressures or forces of which I am either not aware or feel should be prioritized differently. But I'm not the boss; I'm a team member, not a team lead. And that means that getting worked up about stuff is likely at best counterproductive and at worst is harming both my own reputation an…

To Boldly Go

Since CBS just announced that there's another Star Trek series in the works, I'll take a moment or two to put my particular thoughts about Star Trek as a franchise and as a headcanon in one place so that I can just refer to this rather than trying to remember what I need to type out whenever the Star Trek discussion comes up again in some thread somewhere.

Here's what I think the perfect Star Trek show is about: cooperation in the face of cruelty, diversity as a given rather than some sort of quota or question, diplomacy as a powerful solution, and violence as both a last resort and an acknowledgement of failure. I want to see, basically, The West Wing in space, where fantastically intelligent people from radically different backgrounds are fighting with all of their brains to prevent terrible things from happening by talking very, very fast and using extremely big words, all of which are currently available in a dictionary.

I have a personal belief, based on my experience…

Testing The Time Travel Technique

Since I'm never, ever actually going to do NaNoWriMo (mostly because I can never figure out how to either make things happen or how to end things), I thought I might try NaNoBlogMo, and do one post a day for the month.

If I can do a little time-travel cheating, that is; I guess we'll see if this actually shows up as publishing on the 1st?

Explaining my Title

I believe I got the quote from Cory Doctorow, and he credited a designer who's name I've never been able to find or credit, so feel to let me know if you know the source. But the quote as I remember it is this:

"The default state of technology, any technology from stone axes to modern computers, the default state of technology is 'broken'."
It's true, too; technology as a definition is something that is created and thus must be maintained. The axe is possibly the earliest and easiest example: axes that aren't sharp are spectacularly bad axes. For really, really long time we survived on technology and tools that were only moderately more complicated than our own fingers and teeth, and thus technology was relatively easy to maintain and manage, but still: a dull knife is a failure mode. A snapped bowstring is a failure mode. And it requires time, attention, and effort to keep the technology of life out of failure mode and in a usable condition. And this…

The Question of Sheets (Or: all Metaphors are Faulty)

Think of your business as a bedroom -- let's say you're a homeowner and you're looking to rent out your spare bedroom on AirBnB or something like that (we'll leave the troublesome methodology of companies like AirBnB or Uber for some other day when I have the ability to produce TWO multi-thousand-word rants about business decisions). Your bedroom is a business, and your production environment is the bed -- mattress (front-end), box-spring (back-end), bedframe (infrastructure). Your Operations team is the woman who changes the sheets (product release), and this is where things get tricky.

If you're running a shady, quasi-illegal operation out of your spare bedroom, the woman who changes the sheets is probably you, and you're probably not a professional housekeeper. You just want clean sheets that keep the mattress from getting horked up by the weirdo from Brooklyn with the Macbook Pro who leaves beard trimmings in the sink. In this case, you do what any reasonab…

Ticketing: A Narrative

In any organization, IT or not, that is larger than zero people, there needs to be a way for the organization to identify, track, and resolve work. The tricky part is how you define "work", because that actually means a bunch of things: Work means "hours spent by workers on tasks", but it also means "the product of the hours spent by workers on tasks" and "future hours to be spent" and "future products as a result of spent". 

For the purposes of this rant/manifesto, we're going to define "you" not as a generalized vagary, but a very specific person. You, in this case, are "Tanya".

Because this is fiction, I'm going to really go out on a limb and be wildly divergent from reality, so you, Tanya, are a young woman in tech (you can already tell this is fiction). You've spent your college years suffering through the horrible sexism and racism to finally graduate with your Computer Science degree, and you and fi…

Inclusivity is a Bad Thing.

(This post inspired by Michelle Lyons-McFarland; check her out at http://scmusing.blogspot.com/ among other places)

There are a lot of white dudes in IT talking about "inclusivity" in their culture and how it's important, as if "inclusivity" is an end-stage boss they can beat, or a card they can move from the "actionable" to the "done" part of their burn board. It's often used in concert with "diversity" (which is another tricky concept that I might go into later), and is touted as a good thing in and of itself.

I can claim a lot of things as a cis white guy in IT, but here's one thing that you should probably trust me on: Inclusivity Is A Bad Thing. It's bad for the individual, it's bad for communities, it's bad for teams and organizations, and it's bad for society as a whole.

It's bad because at best it means nothing, and at worst it means a deliberate and willful choice to avoid making decisions. I…

The Cognitive Gap Of Why

So a non-trivial number of people whom I respect and enjoy have made the very same mistake about a bunch of inter-related application usage patterns specifically about social media tools and the infrastructures therein.

That's a complicated starting sentence, so let me give a specific example (which is just the latest in a long line of argumentation all of a theme): the excellent CGP Grey made an argument about Youtube and why it can't be better at serving up videos and be more like Netflix when presenting content. It's an excellent point, to be fair: Youtube is fantastically bad at serving up content that I want in the way that I want it when I'm trying to watch stuff, and I'm not even a publisher; CGP Grey's problems are at least twice the difficulty level from mine.

The problem is, of course, that the problem reverts to a very old axiom that I've used since I heard it the first time: nearly every question that starts with "why" can be answered …

The Experience of Diversity (and the blindness of privilege)

Last year I made a vow to myself that I would only read books written by authors who were not straight white men. By and large, with two explicit exceptions, I was successful in my goal. And I learned a bunch of things.

The first (and most important) thing I learned is that my reading habits were already moderately diverse; I made a list of ten of my favourite authors and nine of them were women, so I didn't really have to give up on anyone that I was particularly invested in.

The second thing I learned was that my "historical read" list is actually pretty white/straight/male, though; I often go back and read a book again for comfort's sake, to go over familiar territory and comfortable writing and try and find something new or at least interesting. That means I haven't been doing a bunch of rereading and that led to...

The third thing I learned, which is there are a LOT of non-cishetwhitemale writers in SF, both historically and especially currently. Just lookin…

Day 40: Agnus Dei

A thing that I like in music: switching instruments. I love listening to Andres Segovia playing Bach's Cello Suites on a Flamenco guitar. I really enjoy Two Cellos playing pop music, or Apocalyptica doing Metallica songs on a string quartet. I think a version of Danse Macabre for violin, viola, and cello is one of the best versions of that tune I've ever heard.

I am also a big fan of human voice music. From the traditional choir a cappella and Jewish cantor, to barbershop quartet, to Tuvan Throat Singing, to Pentatonix,]; music that humans make with themselves alone (solo or in groups) makes the hair on my arms stand up. I love it unabashedly and unapologetically.

So in steps Samuel Barber. In 1936 he writes what is possibly the most haunting piece of American Classical Music of the 20th Century, and in 1938 Arturo Toscanini records it with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. It's a big hit, and cements Barber's early career as composer par excellence. And then, in 1967, Barbe…

Talking Through The Problem

So we were in raid chatting it up like one does when one is waiting for stuff to get going, and a friend of mine was talking about how on their podcast they were asking listeners to call in or email with which fandom they'd like to live in and why. Many people mentioned their favourite universes: Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, even World of Warcraft. And I tossed out Gilmore Girls.

Yeah, that was the reaction of many of my friends, too. "Gilmore Girls? The TV show about the mother and the daughter?" Yes, that show. Exactly that show. That's the universe that I'd like to live in. Seriously. It's awesome there.

It's pretty clearly a post-scarcity universe, since no one ever pays for anything or does any sort of work that they don't want to do. I mean, Lorelei manages a hotel and works pretty hard, but given the size of the house she lives in it's pretty clear that the money thing isn't really an issue (I mean, the crazy cat lady and the jazz mus…

Reading is Fundamental

My partner upgraded to the new Kindle Voyage, which is great and awesome and very slick. We're a reading household, so to my mind this is money well spent, in fact. I in turn received the hand-me-down Kindle Paperwhite and I've been experimenting with it over the last week or so. My go-to reading solution for the longest time has been my Nexus 7 tablet, which I bought on a whim and then it took over my life for a while, which was an unusual experience because I didn't expect to want or need it so much having lived without a tablet at all, and then getting an iPad for a while. The change from the full-size iPad to the N7 form factor sealed the deal for me, and I've never even considered a full-size tablet again. Plus, the latest generation N7 has a great screen, a beefy processor/RAM combo, and integration into the Google ecosystem which now basically acts as my adjutant brain.

The downside of an N7 (or really any tablet) is that the screen light turns out to be exactly…

Daily Jukebox: Brothers in Arms

Feeling pretty poorly for health reasons, but every so often I trip over one of those classic tunes that doesn't fit into my "Angry Women With Guitars" patch and it gets stuck in my head. Like ELO, Dire Straits is one of those bands that I arguably shouldn't like, because they're everything I don't like about music: bunch of guys with a noodly guitar and an inflate idea of their own position in music. Except that Mark Knopfler is so damned talented that it is undeniable how good the music is.

Brothers in Arms is a slow ballad. It's a quiet, careful song, which is pretty different from most of the stuff that came out of Dire Straits, and it gets stuck. It has it's own gravity, and soon you're humming the deceptively simple melody and imagining the broken, almost-whisper of the lyrics in your head, and wondering if there is someone who can attempt a cover of this song and really do something special with it, like Lorde did with Tears for Fears.

And …

It Comes In Waves

It's often hard for me to recognize that I'm dealing with a depressive cycle from the inside, because as a general rule my depressive symptoms don't manifest as "being sad" (although there is a significant emotional content). More often, I'll look back over the last couple of weeks and realize that all of the energy just basically drained out of my life. I'm still joking around and punning on Twitter and being clever on G+ or even in person, but I'll suddenly notice that I haven't posted to my blog in two weeks, and I haven't washed any clothes, and I haven't done the dishes, and... you get the idea.

The sudden realization that in fact, I haven't even read a book or listened to a podcast or even checked a news site. The sudden cognizance that I've been letting old movies play on Netflix in the background and I've done nothing but sit in front of my computer and poke at things, not even really engaging in the various and sundry …

Day Fifteen: No Cities to Love

So, remember when I talked about Angry Women With Guitars? I'm amazed I've gotten this far without talking about Sleater-Kinney. I got into them with their album The Woods in 2005, which was their seventh album, and I scoured the music stores both on and offline to find their back catalog. They were basically a band invented to play explicitly for me.

And then I found out that they had broken up. Just about the time I got into them. Which is exactly my kind of luck.

And then, last year, they announced they were getting back together. And then they started streaming music. And I hear that moment in an album when there's a song that just sings to you (no pun intended).

That's what I felt when I heard No Cities to Love, which is the title track of the new album.

The album drops January 20th, but you can stream it on NPR.

Obligatory (non)-Youtube Link: http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=376085344&m=376086219

Too Cool For School

Aside from a couple of aborted attempts back when I was a teenager, and therefore incapable of making good decisions or long-term thinking, I haven't had any formal college-level education. I found myself incapable of following instruction sets, which was odd because I rapidly got involved in the IT industry which is effectively all about following instruction sets. And so I skipped the college degree in order to accrue a significant amount of experience in the IT industry in general and in Operations in specific, spending most of my time hammering away at various architectures and ticketing systems and in the meantime teaching myself how to do things like ssh and grep and write SQL queries. 
I had a string of good colleagues and mentors that turned me into a valuable and capable Operations person, but it's also managed to leave big holes in my experience and my brainmap, so while I know where to go to get the information, I often don't have it in my brain on recall at an …

Going Camping

Today I spent most of my day in a windowless room cut off from the internet and the greater world, with no access to electricity, writing in my notebook, while a couple hundred other people did mostly the same thing. It was called Puppet Camp, and sadly it was not a day-camp where they taught me to make puppets (though, given that this is Portland, I'm sure that's actually something I could do). Today was when a handful of people talked at me about Puppet Enterprise application, which is a configuration and automation management tool from Puppet Labs.

I like Puppet; it's pretty nifty and if I were starting up my own company *shudder* I would probably mandate using Puppet from the get-go to reduce technical debt. One of the speakers today said "There is no future where IT is smaller or less important" and I agree, but I often feel like there are companies out there that don't understand how important dedicated Operations tools and Operations personnel are. The…

Day Eleven: Everybody Wants to Rule the World

I'm a huge fan of covers. Lots of my favourite artists will take a great song (or even a bad song) and do something really interesting and different and clever with it, like Jonathan Coulton's cover of "Bills, Bills, Bills", or Johnny Cash's cover of "Hurt", or Carolina Chocolate Drops cover of, well, nearly everything they've ever covered.

I'm also a huge fan of Tears for Fears, so the idea that someone was doing covers of music I already like was pretty exciting.

And then I actually heard Lorde's version of the song. And I was fucking blown away. It's such a good version of a great song, with a totally different vibe just by changing key and pace. It's a brilliant cover and I can't help but like it basically every time I hear it.

Check it out.

Obligatory Youtube Link: http://youtu.be/smSSSs46rng

Day Ten: Nobody Loves You Like Me

I've been in a funk for the last couple of days, which is why I missed yesterday (among other things).

Since I'm in a funk, here's a good song from an artist who specializes in that "wait, what?" kind of music I like so much; music that sounds like it should mean one thing but actually means something much darker and much stranger when you pay attention to the lyrics. That artist is Jonathan Coulton, and he's basically made a career off of writing those sorts of songs. For a while, it was just him and his guitar, but then he started to get moderately popular and started stretching his artistic legs, and ended up with a great album produced by They Might Be Giants, which was great in all sorts of ways.

You should check him out if you want some weird and messed up music with really catchy tunes stuck in your head.

Obligatory Youtube Link: http://youtu.be/9LR_5yk7bgc

Day Eight: Car Wheels on a Gravel Road

The first unabashedly Country album I ever bought as an adult was Lucinda Williams. She's everything I love about modern women's country music: soulful, intelligent, moving without resorting to cliche, she is an amazing songwriter and singer and I'm often sad that my cultural dislike of country music kept me from listening to her earlier in my life.

I'll probably cover "Can't Let Go", another song of hers that does a great job of taking a pretty standard lovelorn theme and does something fun with it, but for now, Car Wheels is a great and fantastically evocative song, and you should do yourself a favour and buy a copy of it.

Obligatory Youtube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxpPL_aY190

Day Seven: What Can I Say

I had an interview today, so I'm a little wrung out. So here's some of my go-to music: a woman's voice and an acoustic guitar.

Brandi Carlile drew me carefully back into that folksy, country music that was present a lot of the time when I was was a kid growing up, that I was dismissing out of hand because of the guys with pickup trucks and cowboy hats that I really was afraid I'd become. But the woman's voice in country music is much more complex, complicated, and nuanced than many of the male voices in country music, probably because of the complex, complicated and nuanced place that "traditional Midwestern culture" allows for women in general. Including all of those edge cases and outliers that are present but often unacknowledged. I spent a lot of time denying that Neko Case and Melissa Ethridge and other artists I liked were connected to country, because I didn't like the label Country Music, when in fact I liked and often admired many of the arti…

Day Six: Mister Blue Sky

So there's this band that I've basically got to watch go from playing five-song sets in the back of gaming stores to doing tours and headlining their own shows. It's been pretty awesome, and they're a great band that I encourage everyone to check out.

They're the Doubleclicks, a sister duo from Portland, Oregon and they're brilliant. I have a t-shirt where my "fan" number is printed on the back, and the number is 001. I'm literally their number-one fan. I've been so excited and happy to see these two artists go from singing on weekends to quitting their jobs and becoming full-time creators and musicians.

Their musical style is a little quirky. The best way I can think of it is that they're a female-version of Paul and Storm, but with fewer jokes about seamen (yes I spelled that correctly). They're also my heroes; watching women who are into subcultural things stand up for not just themselves but for all women has been inspiring and a l…

Day Five: The Worst Day Since Yesterday

Some days, you listen to music that doesn't really reflect your experience, but it's a good song so you end up singing it anyway.

This is one of those days.

Obligatory Youtube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDSud7vAH_0

Day Four: Swee Swee

Every so often, I have this thing where I'll be poking around on Pandora or Youtube or something and I'll stumble across a group or an artist that is so incredibly the middle of my wheelhouse that I am shocked that I have never heard them before. Like, for a little bit of time I'm actually angry at the world, because I didn't know about this music before.

And then I stop, because now I have a whole new thing to go diving down the rabbit hole for, and that's an incredible gift some days.

I had that experience today, with a group called Mountain Man. It's a three-person voice-and-guitar folk group. They're mostly into quiet hymn and folk tunes, and they remind me strongly of the Wailin' Jennys. They're awesome.

You should check them out. If you're into that sort of thing.

Obligatory Youtube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5ivBnosEJo

Day Three: Comfort

I am sick.

I hate being sick. I especially being the kind of sick where all the energy drains out of you, but you can't just sleep it off, because you're achy and uncomfortable and blech-y. So you sit and want play games on the computer but you can't because that requires more brainpower and energy than you actually have, so you end up just staring at the computer and maybe watching something you've already seen before because there's no spare energy to process new things.

And that's the mood you're in when your partner comes in and hands you a box of tissues and a mug of hot tea and kisses your forehead and makes you feel a little better, even though you know you're definitely going to die.

Yeah, that's the mood I am in right now.

So here's one half of the Weepies (who will definitely be appearing later in the year, I'm sure) talking about that feeling.

Obligatory Youtube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TolHm9GLL4k

Day Two: The Closer

An ex-partner of mine once joked that a majority of music in my library was effectively described as "Angry Women With Guitars". I'd like to think that my taste has grown since then, but as a general if you were to pull up the playlist of, say, Lilith Fair, I'm probably going to know the majority of the lyrics.

One of the groups that acted as sort of feeder band for my obsession with the kind of music you hear a lot in (just as a purely hypothetical, totally not based on my experiences) Chicago Lesbian Bars is a band called Tegan and Sara. I kinda fell in love with them once I decided that I actually wasn't terribly fond of all that 80s and 90s hypermasculine hairmetal music I listened to in High School so I would fit in with a bunch of people that I didn't actually want to fit in with, when I was secretly playing my tapes of Siouxsie and the Banshees so much that I had to buy replacements.

Tegan and Sara had a pretty good string of albums that catered to a p…

Day One: Rox in the Box

One of the things I realized as I was doing a yearly review of my personal life this morning (sometimes I do that; it's a Jesuit Thing) is that I don't listen to enough music.

I used to listen to music basically all the time; I had songs in my life since the time I was old enough to have an object that made noise into headphones (at the time, a battery-powered portable tape deck). I would order my thoughts and my days by the music flowing into my brain, and if my life didn't have a narrative, at least it had a good soundtrack. But as I've gotten older, I've gotten less into radio and music and more into podcasts, and most of those podcasts are people talking into my brain and me trying to learn something new or interesting. Which is fine as far as it goes, but it does mean that effectively music has disappeared from my life.

I got a little of it back over the last couple of years as a succession of Rock Band games came out, which was a brilliant series and hey if a…