Hard ass.

Being a hard ass is occupying so much of my thinking time these days that I might have to add a whole blog category for it. Category: Does this count as being a jerk? Or, Category: Suck it up, everyone! Or Category: Fishing for compliments is not advised in THIS pond, sucka.

Oof. Rambling follows.

I make a point of not offering unsolicited judgements about people (I’m not so arrogant as to think I know what people need to hear), but for my own sanity I do pipe up and extricate myself from the kind of sweeping statements that my friends make a lot. “We’ve all been there.” “We all know this is great.”

Category: does this count as being a jerk? What if I don’t manage to be witty about it every single time? What if sometimes it reminds people of things that make them twitch?

That makes people feel bad. I don’t like to make people feel bad. But I love getting to the bottom of unflattering truths because it’s so helpful and satisfying in my own life, and I don’t want to give that up just so some wimps can keep their vanity intact. (See? Being a jerk. Who calls her friends a bunch of wimpy peacocks?) This whole situation makes me uncomfortable, so I’m pretty sure there is something unflattering I need to find out about myself (rather than a good reason for me to find new friends).

An obvious starting place is that I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people feeling bad. Or rather, I don’t have much sympathy for people who fail to take responsibility for their feelings (e.g., blaming jealousy on someone else), or who fail to adjust their silly expectations (e.g., confusing what you want with general manners or laws of physics).

I’ve been trying to track down reading material to give me ideas about how to be honest about everything without being a jerk. It’s become the major crisis of my self-esteem.

So far, I’ve come up with a list of virtues I should probably work on: compassion, patience and forgiveness to soften the blows; silence and apathy to contain the damage; and trust to make it all possible. I’m pretty good at the patience and forgiveness, but not much else. I think I’ll make a chart, Ben Franklin style.

The one clear benefit of all this pondering is that I’ve finally figured out my gang name, 7 years after Galen the Lucky Ass, Matt the Ghost Ass, and Rebecca the Tight Ass founded The Asstastic Four. With me. The Hard Ass.

Data slob

My friend and erstwhile coworker Justin just found 1.3GB of my old MP3s in the dark recesses of his work hard drive, from last December when I was briefly stationed on his machine. He was happy to have “Common People.” Thinking about it, I believe I deposited that song on at least 3 workstations on that campus, and possibly also on a network drive.



  1. Alchemists thought it was cool to leave bits of gold laying around unattended to show they were not chasing wealth, and that their metallurgic investigations were mystical and divine. (I recently read Quicksilver.)
  2. Cory Doctorow and Lawrence Lessig are both Disney superfans. Are these activists for restricted copyright leaving a giant copyright-hungry corporation lying around?

Comforting glitches

Two tier one ISPs were down today. It’s totally annoying, but I love when the internet gets physical. I love hearing people explain that this wasn’t a problem with users or servers— it was the internet itself that was broken. Hello, internet! You’re a physical item! That doesn’t come into focus very often.

From Slashdot:

Why couldn’t this have happened during my business day? For just once when a user calls and asks “is the internet down?” I’d like to be able to say “actually, yes, it is.”

Just passing the time

A vagina fan wrote me today, with a kind little note about how I’d helped him expand his perspective on women, etc. Apparently he’d been reading my site for awhile, but was finally motivated to write when he realized I was a knitter.

“Personal experience had taught me that knitters, cross-stichers and crafters are sexually repressed introverts just passing the time until they die. Golly, another theory blown all to Hell.”

I am going to tell people that all the time now. “Oh this? I’m just passing the time until I die.”

Granny to 11

My granny just called to see if I would accompany her to a protest march on Monday, in support of the teachers’ strike. Of course I will!

This is not a usual activity for granny, but criticizing the BC provincial government is. Part of the reason I’m so excited to help her with this is that it seems like an excellent expressive outlet for her, and I think she likes that too. It’s granny to 11. She seems to feel exactly the same way I do about her being 85 and protestin’ the government: it’s awesome, it’s admirable, and it’s kind of cute.

I’m intrigued yet again at how aware she is of her age and other people’s perception of it. She’s not embarrassed or righteous about being 85, she just rolls with it. I think she might make a sign, which I would love to see. I mean, everybody would want to see my soft, white marshmallow of a foremother carrying a “support workers’ rights” slogan constructed out of cereal boxes and recycled Christmas paper or something, right?

I probably sound like I’m making fun, but I’m really, really not. I find my granny hilarious most of the time, but she thinks I’m ridiculous too and that’s half the fun of hanging out. She makes me spazz by using her Depression-era instincts to save broken rubber bands, and I make her spazz by getting my tongue pierced and building web sites. But we see each other’s point most of the time. I think granny likes being scandalized by her grandkids as much as we like scandalizing her, and vice versa.

I need to save this feeling for when the old bird is being stubborn and long-winded about some boring medical issue. Last night we had a beer together (mildly scandalous) and sorted her knitting box, and now she wants to go protesting, and our relationship is perfect.

Long ponderous rant about simplifying the internet

I’m about to launch the next website in what will eventually be a sort of stable of websites that I publish. This one is a knitting wiki covering techniques, patterns, people, gear, etc., and linking the diverse partial references that are already online. In general, my vision for this stable of sites is for each to be a sort of calm at the center of a chaotic storm of information, a viewpoint on the fray, a simple starting point into the endless details.

It isn’t just me who is inspired to focus, filter, reduce. Simplify the information. Smaller, smaller.

FM publishing is doing a similar thing (but about 20 times sexier, with celebrity power): collecting individual authors and blogs into a “federation,” a reliable brand. FM Pub approved. One less thing to worry about.

And this Squidoo thing; filtering through expert “lenses” to find worthwhile content. Rollyo allows focussed, limited searching. RSS is about checking a bunch of websites in one place instead of all over the internet.

A Kottke discussion several weeks ago about the future of the web inspired a lot of comments about simplification, unification, resolving the chaos of the web and our million interfaces into some palatable, consistent format.

Is simplification a productive way to deal with overwhelming media? It feels defensive to me. Save us from the information!

I don’t really buy the possibility of simplification. When does anything get simpler? My icon for this impossibility is the closing chapter of Death and Life of Great American Cities… Jacobs discusses the leap we need to make to thinking about complex systems in useful ways, and how everything from cities to medicine depends on it. Complex systems can’t be conceived of by scaling up a set of simple rules because there are too many interactions to keep track of, but neither can they be understood properly as broad generalizations because that misses the complexity. I wonder if some of this push to simplify the web is an attempt to make generalizations easier, and I’m wary of that. I want to find a way to engage with the overwhelmingness and know it for what it is.

But meanwhile I make these websites that collect and filter and editorialize the chaos? I guess that having a clearinghouse is not really a cop-out; it frees up energy to engage with the overwhelming media-soup in other, more useful ways. RSS doesn’t tend to reduce people’s information intake; it just makes it more convenient. It makes room for more.

A major reason that I like to do things manually on a regular basis is to get a feel for how much work is really being done. I go to individual websites instead of firing up Bloglines, I walk my groceries home. I don’t make jobs impossible by insisting on this approach, but I like to keep in touch with the inconvenient ways (yes, I know life gets a lot more inconvenient than typing URLs by hand).

When I walk instead of riding in a car, I keep a human perspective on my spatial surroundings. This is how long it takes a human to travel this distance. This is how big the space is compared to my body. Then when I drive or bike the same trip, I know how big the distance is, and how the vehicle’s capabilities compare to my body’s. I like having that perspective. It keeps me grounded.

In a similar way, I like visiting websites individually to keep a semi-human perspective on my informational surroundings. This is how many sources I’m reading; this is how much time I save by aggregating.

I’ve kind of run out of steam here without any new comment on businesses and projects that aim to simplify our interface with the internet. I’m just percolating. Hopefully something will pop out soon and I can make a website about it 🙂

Commies commies commies!

Milton Glaser in The Believer : I think the worst scam that was ever performed on the innocent American people is this idea that retirement is desirable. It’s only desirable for people who really hate what they do.

Oh, that makes me happy. I get so tired of people who don’t do work that they love. I sympathize when my friends are trying to figure out what they want to do, but I have a lot more fun when somebody is actually excited about a plan.

I remember a class debate in about grade 10 social studies, a typical assignment to argue the merits of capitalism versus communism. The argument that, as I remember it, won the debate for the commies was that money is not a failsafe motivator for work, or everyone would want to be a highly paid doctor or lawyer. People do work for love too, in greater or lesser ways. Some work is so well-loved that nobody can get paid to do it (e.g., most art, parenting).

I go through phases of being frustrated by that, that a lot of great work gets done without pay, and some people can’t afford to do the great work they’re capable of. But right now, I’m just glad for the parade of free work that constitutes the bulk of the internet. Just people making stuff out of love. Bunch of commies!

(Sometimes it is really obvious that I have a tendency to take each new idea that I like and make it the symbol of my life philosophy for a week, until it has been processed and integrated throughout my entire brain. I don’t think a grade 10 class debate really resonated with me as the height of political discourse; it just stuck as the identifiable moment when this particular idea took root with me. Mr. Hansen and his rumoured hippie butterfly tattoo awarding the day to the communists.)

Who’s a sexpot

For several years I’ve been percolating on a project relating to beauty. Specifically, I’m into people’s differing tastes. I love overhearing people behind me at a movie having a conversation that goes:

“Why didn’t you tell me your friend was so good looking? I would have worn a clean shirt.”

“What, so-and-so? I can’t believe you find him attractive!”

Just now I walked a block or two with a couple of girls from the neighbourhood, and one was going apey for a local trumpet player’s looks. Getting only vague support from her friend and me. Awesome.

I have practically no taste in common with my friends. Whenever Rebecca thinks someone is really beautiful, they just look really skinny to me. Kelby’s definition of beautiful women seems totally random to me. Growing up, I thought I just had immature taste because I could never predict who my mum would declare “beautiful,” but I still don’t agree with her most of the time.

I love this. I love that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so obviously. This is what I think about whenever anyone gripes about the evolution of sexual attraction or the media’s portrayal of women. I think: but none of my friends can agree on who’s a sexpot. I think: I can dress however I like, and someone somewhere will drool.

Galen and I have nearly identical ideas about both male and female beauty, which is a fun thing to have in common. I had forgotten, until I started making a list of my friends who have weird taste in hotties, that we used to say we had the same taste in girls. Right before the two of us got together, Rebecca made the connection that a girl I’d been a bit obsessed with the previous summer was Galen’s girlfriend at the time. That was one of the things that got counted as fate during the infatuation stage.