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the various and sundry creations of sylvus tarn

20jun2014

Happy Summer Solstice, everyone:)

Finished danah boyd's book on teenagers and social media, which basically can be summed up as, ‘the real problem is not your average [white, middle-class] teen hanging out in hir bedroom (unless the thought of them occasionally looking at porn really, really bugs you, but even then, they probably spend less time doing that than you would think) but the poor, under-resourced [let's be honest, black and latin@] kids who, lacking support in other ways, surprise, tend to screw up online, for much the same reasons they do off.

In fact, the teens said over and over again they'd really rather hang out face to face, even going so far to go to the mall when they didn't care for shopping, or sports events when they didn't give a rat's ass about the sport—just to have a ‘justified’ way to be together. I was extraordinarily lucky in that my parents, my mother in particular, consciously made an effort to balance our lives between academics, (scheduled) sports/activities, chores and ‘down’ time to do with as we liked. However, boyd reports—and it's my experience with other parents as well—that many of them keep from their children the freedoms they had, sometimes merely by persuasion that the world out there is simply too dangerous.

So they hang out in the digital world, which they can do from their bedrooms. The early adopters, like boyd herself, tended to seek out other loners (actually, my eldest did too) but a lot of modern (i.e. 2007–2013, when she conducted her interviews) teens were simply using fb, (or whatever) to reinforce their local connections. And it's more than a little ironic that crime rates have been dropping. (All sorts of reasons have been proposed, the current popular contender being the banning of leaded gasoline.) Unless they live in the ghetto, the thing to be afraid of is auto accidents. Those being abused are likely suffering from people they know; not strangers everyone likes to envision.

What's particularly interesting to me is that as the author notes, women used to be driven from public spaces a hundred years ago (that whole angel of the hearth thing, though of course poor women hadn't that option)—and some people would argue they still are (with catcalls, frex, or fear of rape after dark) with much the same arguments—that they're not competent; and they're too dangerous (to the proper, manly public.) The women, of course, were thought to be sexual temptresses; modern teens, especially male youth of color, are seen to be violent, though it seems to me they're in far more danger from the white middle aged ‘mainstream’ than vice versa—though I expect the constant suspicion, stop and frisk, etc., doesn't exactly improve their attitude.

Yet women—mothers—are wholeheartedly participating in this restriction of their children: teens have it much worse. boyd reports driving through suburban neighborhoods that looked ‘deserted’ because no-one was on the streets. I can attest to this: it's one of the things I hated about living in the wealthy suburb my parents moved to when I was 17. Like one of the teens noted, trying to walk to school was a no-go, because there simply wasn't a route, except along 45–55 mph mile roads, and apart from the traffic noise, there weren't sidewalks. For the same reason, riding my bike was out. I detested it. I hated the crime, gunshots and breakins when I moved back to Detroit, but at least I could walk to things again, because the Penn-style neighborhood sidewalks connected up.

To be sure, Child protection laws and the cultural expectations they engender make it difficult to impossible to let one's children roam around ‘until the streetlights’ come on even for more lenient parents. I pushed the boundaries, and was so grateful when we finally got cell phones, because it meant freedom for we, the parents, who could now roam, because our home-alone preteen children could call us if there was a problem. But I still worried if something ever happened, and CPS heard of it. I deeply resented this undermining of my efforts to teach my children responsibility in stages, which I felt was critical to their development.

Long story short, we slowly seem to be moving back to a model where children (including teens and tweens) are treated as individuals, with certain rights. Clearly we don't want to go back to the days of sweatshops, the proximate cause of protectionist model, but kids, like most people, will amaze you—if you give them the chance.

With, albeit, perhaps a few stumbles along the way (again, as do we all.) Speaking of which, this bead is definitely one such analog of the whole has potential, but... thingie.

19jun2014

Via my bead buddy Frances, some productivity tips for the terminally procrastinative (that would be both of us;) It's particularly apt today, because, nearly four and a half years after I had hardware installed in a broken collarbone, it was permanently removed. Yay.

This method, from the work-a-4hour day week guy, basically boils down to, pick one thing that would make you feel good about the day's accomplishments if you completed it, and then work on it for 2–3 hours (one continuous block). Don't beat yourself up if you stray, just gently return yourself to the task at hand kinda exactly like meditation, actually... Note that after you've put your time in, you can let go if necessary (he doesn't actually say this, but it's pretty strongly implied.) Then the rest of the day you feel airy and guilt-free. These tasks, he notes, tend to be the ones that persist, day to day, on to-do lists.

He's got that right.

For those of you familiar with John Scalzi's variation of ‘butt-in-chair’, this will seem very family familiar—he anchors himself in front of the screen, with no distractions allowed, from nine to noon to do (paid) writing; then knocks off for the rest of the day, unless he's on a roll, and feels like continuing. Cory Doctorow actually forces himself to stop after 500 words, on the theory that having a bit more in the mental queue will jump-start the process the following day. (He also is disciplined enough to squeeze in his writing here and there, which Ferris and most authorial howto-guides deprecate.)

Ferris suggests writing the tasks, no more than “3 to 5” on paper, first thing, but I find putting them on the computer works better for me, because the undone ones tend to persist better on the computer, and I can link (and delink) various sub-lists. I'm not disciplined enough to do a really blechy task every day, which is probably one reason he's a world-beating entrepreneur, and I'm not, but I've found, through long experimentation, that I have an additional assumption, critical to my long-term success:

I have to adjust the dauntiness level of the task to my emotional/mental/physical resources. Today, it's simply not in the cards to do one of the ‘big’ tasks on that list, of the sort that's been hanging around on my agenda for days (or weeks, or sigh, months...never mind years) cuz I'm zonked out from surgery (and painkillers, I presume. I may not like hydrocodone, but that stuff sure as hell works.) Rather than throwing up my hands and wasting the entire day reading blogs, I tried to come up with one I thought I had a decent chance of completing (tidying up my office)...and writing this post:)

It is, in a sense, a self-kindness. And sometimes, I manage to slip in an initially too-daunting task, after completing the easier one.

And that feeling of accomplishment really is lovely, like a burden lifting: the reason I keep trying to do this, because I feel so much better afterward. Which means, I suppose, that I shall have to start in on that ‘discard one possession a day’ program, for much the same reason. Now that's gonna take some discipline.

(And one reason why is that I keep a lot of components around as I cycle through various media—today's project, frex, incorporates metalwork, kumi & glass...)

12jun2014

More than once I've encountered the idea of mathematical knitting (or crochet) but those pieces are usually one-offs designed by the fiber artist to explore the concept (with, perhaps, moebius scarves being the exception.) Indeed, fitted clothes, especially to women's bodies, is a pretty complex topological exercise. But the patterns—algorithms for reproducing items—also have a mathematical, or specifically, computational component: specifically, knitting instructions read much like computer programs. (Incidentally, one of the delights of my trip to Japan was getting to see a working Jacquard loom, which is often cited as a metaphor for early, proto-computers.)

Textiles are often cited, with justification, as an underappreciated discipline that requires mathematical thinking. Certainly that's why I like Carey's book on braids (and I was very excited to discover she had a new one out that is not, alas, readily available in the states.)

So, since the topic of the day is textiles in general and braids in particular, I featured that yesterday; today's post is about beads. So much for my organizational talents.

11jun2014

Ok, I'm back. When I left, net neutrality was a big deal. When I came back, an article referring to it was practically the first thing I saw. With, I guess, a couple of shooting sprees aimed at women in between. Yippee. Fred over at Slacktivist is again trying to figure out why people so avidly pursue imaginary monsters, and in my current rather cynical (possibly mediated by jetlag) state, I'd have to say it's because we know there's so little we can do about the real horrors of our world—global warming that is probably already too late to avert; mass murder; fracking (which my mother basically shrugged her shoulders and said, well, even if it's bad, it's here to stay because the money is simply too irresistible—gee, thanks); and the loss of my beloved internet, not all at once, oh no, but by slow degrees. Twenty years, more or less, of effort put into this site basically becoming relegated to irrelevance. Thanks, moneyed interests.

I read somewhere—and I have a lot of somewheres in my browsing history right now, because the jet lag means I'm often too exhausted, to the point of aching all over to do much more than read—that the four drivers of bad behavior were something like greed, narcissism (and two others that basically didn't register) whereas I'd always counted them as basically fear (and its flipside, anger) and indifference. But perhaps narcissism is perhaps only a fancy way of saying status-seeking: the fear of being pushed to the margins of the group, literally out in the cold: death by want of warmth, food, companions.

But in any event fear, desire, and indifference belong to us all; the monster under the bed is merely our own shadow, a legacy we all carry within us and cannot push off to formless monsters. I am, I believe, still an optimist to believe that, given hope, almost all people will strive to do the right thing. But that's an article of faith, and we atheists tend to be distrustful of such.

But the artist in me keeps making stuff, regardless.

4may2014

Well, lessee, the FCC is planning on gutting net neutrality; some evil organization abducted over 200 girls during their physics exams and, oh yeah, still madly in displacement mode. Which means I discovered a duplicate post from long ago, and so re-purposed it with content, or at least photography of said content, from roughly the same period.

With luck, I might get one or two more posts about the April and May CiM challenges (also not going well) in the next day or two. But otherwise, the plan is to give ze internets a rest for a month or so. I could use a break.

In which case, I plan to be back with the June CiM challenge. Until then....

2may2014

Yes, it's time for another round of fridayfuglies, and today I have lots.

I note that the prunus are beginning to bloom and the frogs to sing; so begins my very favorite time of year. The silver light amongst the rain-soaked clouds is just beautiful. By the way, if you appreciate clouds, Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy discusses them.

Or, you know, you can read about ugly beads.