Back on my bullshit!

I’m back from my trip to Seattle, Vancouver, Whistler, and beyond! Now that I’ve taken the Coast Starlight train to all its destinations I can’t wait to take some more long distance train journeys!!

Danny has often pointed out to me how I go down a social class for every bag I’m carrying and it was even more true for this trip. As I went from my friend Els’s house near the giant geodesic dome thing in downtown Vancouver, to the train station, at 4:30am, laden with giant backpack hanging off the back of my wheelchair, smaller backpack at my feet, and duffel bag balanced on my lap, a little group of maybe 30-somethings was heading away from the crosswalk I was approaching. One of them veered off towards me holding out a bag. “Would you … would you like breakfast?”

Now…. what a question since I was just looking around wondering if anything was open so I could get a muffin or whatever before getting on a 3 hour bus to Seattle where I’d get back on the train. Perhaps this young man had been at some sort of … early meeting rife with donuts, or was a baker carrying home some fresh pastry and a MAGICAL CROISSANT was going to appear for me.

Thus I paused a bit, consideringly, and said “Um… what is it?”

“It’s my leftover McDonald’s pancakes. Please, take it, go on!” (Earnest eye contact, look of deep and pained concern.)

Maybe I should have taken it so he could feel good about himself but I did not and I may have giggled inappropriately without explaining but I did smile and was as nice as possible at 4:30 am on the street. Then I passed through a sort of encampment in the park and at the train station a cab driver was screaming at a definitely homeless dude who was asking for change and so I gave the homeless dude my leftover Canadian money mentally attributing it to the nice man with the free bag of (gross!) Mcdonalds pancakes.

Completing my downwards journey to squalor I then just flat out laid down and fell asleep on the (relatively clean) floor of the bus.

p.s. I did get breakfast from a nice man in the train station who opened a tiny cafe at 5am and sold me a slice of lemon cake!!!

p.p.s. Wait staff in Vancouver AND Whistler sensitively offered me a straw, multiple times! They lean over and say it with soulful discretion, while making eye contact and touching my arm a little! “Would you like a STRAW, ma’am?” (They have HEARD that disabled people have this whole straw thing so…….)

More about the amazing adventures on my trip later !!! A little at a time!!!

p.p.p.s. CRIPS!!

Reading The Cruel Way

I am reading Ella Maillart’s The Cruel Way, about her road trip from Switzerland to Kabul in 1939 along with her friend Annemarie Schwartzenbach. This book was in theory free from University of Chicago, but I ended up buying it after several failed attempts to get the free book in a readable form, having installed several ugly and pointless pieces of bad software which I then had to uninstall. Better to buy the book and crack the DRM myself! Ridiculous!

Maillart is an ethnographer and writer, is interesting, often fantastically racist, hates Hitler, and is trying to help the famously “androgynous” men’s-suit-wearing Schwartzenbach clean up from a heroin addiction (what better thing to do than bring someone straight to Afghanistan????!!!) and get over some sort of stormy lesbian heartbreak. While I hoped initially they were lovers, now I think not – Schwartzenbach seems to have some other affairs along the way, though. Their relationship is pretty cool though. I enjoyed the moment where Schwartzenbach moans that Ella is more famous because her books have been translated (even though Schwartzenbach had more publications). Still true and no one seems to have translated her to English yet. Also fascinating, Maillart’s recordings of sentiment from people in various countries about Hitler, Mussolini, Britain, the US, Russia on the eve of war.

Neat stuff looked up in Wikipedia along the way
* Windcatchers of Hyderabad http://localcode.org/2017/03/windcatcher-passive-cooling-and-cultural-identity/ https://www.fieldstudyoftheworld.com/searching-windcatchers-hyderabad/

* The Tomb of Kabus and the Qabus-Nama

So many other things but it’s now a week later and I have moved on to read some other things! Oh well, I’ll post this anyway.

Making a cinderblock bench

I’ve been looking to build or buy some kind of patio sofa. The ones I like that would be comfortable to lie down and work on for any length of time (for me anyway) are two thousand dollars or more! Ridiculous! So I am setting out to build a sort of bench or sofa out of cinderblocks and 4×4 beams. They look way nicer in people’s photos than mine are going to be. But, thinking it through and doodling different designs, and going to the hardware store, all the logistics of getting the stuff here and mobilizing help to do that has been amazingly fun. I love building things!

Yesterday I got the cinderblocks and some primer paint. The Lowe’s dudes were somewhat difficult to deal with as always, but I finally hit on a responsible and helpful person who made one of the unhelpful ones go get a forklift and reload their brick area with cinderblocks. I could see his forklift wasn’t going to fit int he space when he came back with it loaded, because there were a couple of bags of Quikrete in the aisle behind him directly opposite the spot for the blocks, and tried to tell him without like accidentally cutting his entire dick off with my POWERFUL EVIL WOMAN WORDS but he could not accept my vision of reality so kept backing into the quikrete, then plunging forward into the floor to ceiling metal rack full of cement and bricks rattling it visibly in a way that made me retreat like, 4 aisle back so as not to be crushed when the whole thing fell. It didn’t fall and the Responsible man came back around and made him move the bags, eventually. Really what the fuck, though. Forklift guy was such a downer, there was no dealing with him.

Then another guy was made by Mr. Responsible to load some onto a cart for me and help load them into my car. Cart loading guy was another story, fairly cheerful and chatty, but it became clear as we traversed the expanses of parking lot that his talkativeness could veer way off the rails about like, corsets or girdles or something, and then even worse when he started explaining to me how the San Francisco Mayor (London Breed) was actually a yoga lady from Marin (untrue) who was also Donald Trump’s cousin and who had once yelled at him over the phone and then went to jail for it. I was like, Uhhhhh hmmmm! and nodded along only commenting when he pressed me that I had no idea who Trump’s cousins might be or anything about them. Our conversation went OK for a while but then as the brick loading into my car continued he suddenly started throwing the bricks in (on top of my scooter, which, uncool and also it chipped the bricks) and getting very loud and red faced yelling about how the Mayor had thrown some bricks right at Trump’s face because she was just so ANGRY about THROWING BRICKS! This got disturbing but he was nearly done and I didn’t want to make any waves. So, he finished up, I tipped him, and drove off thinking that it is good that he has a job. Whew.

On the other side at home it became swiftly clear to me that I could not really carry a giant brick to the back patio even once so I pressed Ada into service. She had just been saying she planned to exercise and lift weights. “Hiiiiii you know how you were going to lift weights? Well what if they were BRICKS and you could also get PAID.” Obligingly she wore some work gloves and learned how to operate a hand truck as I painted a rosy future where she becomes a falconer on some land in the mountains somewhere and needs to know how to build an aerie out of cinderblocks! (Not needed to persuade, and not persuasive, but I can’t resist spinning a line of bullshit, and who knows maybe it will someday be true!)

Today I got her dungeons and dragons group to help move the bricks onto an old sheet, spreading them out for painting. I put a layer of primer on them & then went to writing group meetup and back to the hardware store for spray paint. Who should unlock the paint for me but our friend of the story about the mayor! He was more restrained today. I got 6 colors of paint figuring we could paint the blocks all different colors.

The D&D players enjoyed the brick spray painting I think. We started out doing solid color block faces and then ended up with stripes, spots, all sorts of weird patterns. It’s going to be fun to pick which ones are most visible in the bench construction.

spray painting cinderblocks

Lowe’s is going to deliver the six 8 foot long 4x4s (when? no way to fucking know!?) and I really hope it is not the brick throwing guy driving the truck. I liked him, and was cool with his stream of consciousness, but I also ended up feeling a bit unnerved by his yelling and roughness.

OK, so, then there will be 4 blocks on either side as the base, 8 really, but the seat will be 4 times 8 inches so 32″ deep. I have a very thick cushion coming from Amazon that is 30″ deep and 70″ long, which I hope will work out OK. I haven’t worked out exactly what I want to use for the bench back, yet. The extra 10 inches of bench will have another rectangular pillow of the same thickness and then maybe a wedge bolster on either end (also not sure what will work till I build it.) And, I have two 2′ by 4′ plywood sheets also being delivered with the beams, in case I need them as the base under the foam cushions.

This all made me ridiculously happy. It’s fun to think about & plan and I am excited to see how it will end up. If it isn’t useful or comfortable then maybe I’ll have to buy a real couch. Ideally this will work though and it can be a comfortable spot on the patio for me to lie flat while working. And it should be big enough for me and Danny to both lie on it as we do on the living room couch!

Huzzah for Krypto!

I just got a sweeeeet backup Model CI chair off ebay from a nice guy whose mom used it and as he delivered the chair to me just now we were chatting about crypto. So, I don’t usually name my chairs, but perhaps this one, which I can’t wait to hack on, will be named Krypto! Or, I could go obliquely over to Supergirl’s cat and call it Streaky. (Which just makes it sound like I’m planning to ride around naked and, that is unlikely though I could be persuaded IN THE RIGHT CONTEXT.)

First task I need to switch the right and left arm thingies since it’s set up for a left handed user. Then, must figure out where its brain is so that I can remove the excrescence that is the tilt detection (to stop it, I hope, from slowing down when I hit a bump or go downhill). Stretch goal, figure out what controls the voice of it and hack it to say amazing things on command. What if its phone app were ACTUALLY FUN?!

Krypto, except really robot-Supergirl’s giant rideable robot cat! (New headcanon.)

My main chair of course remains . . . Murderbot.

Reading Richard Hughes

I started reading Richard Hughes with High Wind in Jamaica (or, The Innocent Voyage) which was so strange and charming and unsettling that I had to set out to read this guy’s other books as well. In High Wind the adults in the book (and the reader) realize how amoral the children are – they’re terrifying, not innocent. You get a small taste of the protagonist, a 10 year old girl, starting to become conscious in an adult way. Glimpses of what we might think of as the reality of her situation appear to her and then melt away like mist.

My memories of these moments were like looking at mortality directly (since not only would I die but, the continuity of existence meant that the “me” of that moment would disappear and be forgotten) so I would vow to myself to remember particular things and write them someday so as not to lose the self of that time (paved over by some blithe future me.)

Next I tackled his incomplete trilogy, The Human Predicament. Also good and disturbing, with half the books taking place in England and the U.S. (with a detour to Morocco) and half in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power. It is pretty wild to read a novel that has Hitler as a character making his cameos. Hughes can get very digressive in a Melville sort of way, prosing on about philosophy and psychology, which I enjoy but I’m sure not everyone will. Augustine, our young protagonist, wanders around rootlessly having just missed the Great War by a hair as an 18 year old cadet when Armistice was declared. Cut off from the generation of men above him who experienced the war directly, and having grown up expecting to die in the trenches, he had no plan for how to live his life.

I was thinking of Anthony Powell and his protagonist Jenkins (comparing him a bit unfavorably with Hughes’s narrative point of view which hovers & dips into many people’s minds, crossing class & gender & other boundaries)… Then wondered if Hughes is a character in Dance to the Music of Time and if so… who…. I have to poke around and think about it. He was a bit older than Powell so they weren’t at Oxford at the same time. Bonus tangent: find and read The Loom of Youth by Alec Waugh to find the controversial queer bits.

I’m now in mid-read of In Hazard, a novel based on a steamship caught in the 1932 Cuba hurricane, which is even more obviously Melville-ish than the others. I wondered about the casual racism of the British seamen towards the Chinese crew members and then happily the point of view switched to some of the Chinese crew, without making me cringe. We first see the thoughts of a young man, P’ing Tiao, praying to T’ien Fei. Then a young Christian guy Henry Tung, trying to keep up the spirits of his mates with tall tales, and then the view switches to Ao Ling, P’ing Tiao’s friend, who isn’t religious at all and who lived through famine and became a follower of Mao. (I enjoyed Hughes’ asides comparing Chiang Kai-shek to Hitler – calling him the first fascist revolutionary whose first act was to start shooting leftists). Oh, god, then the cringe when the Brits come down the hatch and start talking the worst condescending pidgin (they are terrified of mutiny).

Interesting books – I’m so sad not to have the rest of book 3 of The Human Condition (there are 12 chapters of it.)

Some ideas on self-care, interdependence, and caring for others

On self-care and care for others. I keep returning to the thought of care and interdependence. By caring for myself, I am modeling for others how to care for themselves. When I am cleaning up the environment or making some food or thinking ahead to make my lunch for the next day, I can do it while thinking of those actions as loving self care, and I can extend that to others as well (especially as a parent). That sounds simple, but in practice I don’t find it to be so easy. There is also a place in life for self indulgence: I feel bad, I had a stressful day, so therefore I will get some ice cream and huddle in the blankets and play video games. (Or, weirder than that, the idea that you go get a manicure or something….) That can be part of self-care but it shouldn’t be mistaken for all the work of care, which is 99% maintenance and chores. And who hasn’t had the thought, “Oh, god, here I am slogging through this work again, doing the dishes (or whatever) and then it will need to be done all over again!” and just brushing your teeth feels like this dreary sisyphean task. I have had very good luck practicing the work of transmuting maintenance and care, you could even call it service work, into love or doing it in a spirit of kindness to one’s self. If you have had the experience of trying to do those things, and getting abuse as a result (not doing it well enough, or right, being scorned, mocked, yelled at, or punished, for example) then it is even harder. I have to bite back my thoughts and words (Can’t you even ____?! Can’t you just???! ) A little patience is so useful. (With myself or with, well, teenagers). If a person is feeling depressed and anxious, they need more care, done in a good spirit, and to me, it honestly felt revolutionary to see that, and say outright, “You’re feeling so bad, let me take care of you, it’s ok to feel sad and ask for care from friends and family… and… we can figure out what can you do to take good care of yourself too” And then make some healthy dinner and dig them out from chaos. Because, what I’d expect myself when I was a kid was that my sad feelings and need of care would result in others being angry with me. Danny has pointed out to me over the years that my family’s ultimate insult is to call someone a baby. Don’t be a baby! What a baby! What does it mean to be a baby, in this family language? It means to need help or care. That’s a sad subtext that I want to correct.

Occasionally as an adult in the world I get a feeling of surprise care and humanity where I didn’t expect it. Like, I was moved nearly to tears when someone came round the grocery checkout and offered without fuss to put the grocery bag handles on the back of my wheelchair. She settled it carefully with the handles criss crossed just the way I do it myself, with out jolting me or doing anything strange (either she knows someone well who is a wheelchair user, or she just notices) and she made eye contact first – I can’t remember if she asked outright but we had a eye contact and body language interchange that was essentially asking and consent. True access intimacy. How rare and precious that simple interaction is. All our help and care for others should be in that spirit as well.

Notes on some Web4All talks

Back at Web4All, part of The Web Conference. Here’s some notes on talks I liked.

Dragan presented the talk “AudioFunctions.web: Multimodal Exploration of Mathematical Function Graphs” and I also got to see a demo on Monday afternoon. AudioFunctions works in desktop and mobile browsers to show visually impaired users the shape of a function through sound pitch and volume using a touch screen or mouse. As you move around on the graph with mouse or finger (or keyboard with arrow keys) the pitch rises and falls according to the position on the y axis, and the further away from the line you are the softer the tone. And you can double tap for the graph to read out the coordinates. It’s very elegant! I also had a nice time talking with Dragan and his friend Cole from CMU about Ingress, indoor and outdoor navigation apps and maps, Inform7, and other fun stuff.

I caught just a bit of a talk by Lora Aroyo on CrowdTruth, which is a system for annotating information while allowing for ambiguity and disagreement, and had a look at the tutorial. It made me think of the CYC project (which I nearly worked on 30 years ago… but rejected the job offer (with regrets)) – I wonder if they are putting data into CYC now through Mechanical Turk instead of by hiring poets.

A talk called “Addressing the Situational Impairments Encountered by Firefighters through the Design of Alerts”, very interesting to see the design and testing process explained. Though I was annoyed at how this was introduced as being more convincing to designers that they need to pay attention “because firefighters are so rugged and not permanently disabled.”

Another talk on designing and piloting web dev classes for blind/visually impaired screen reader users. Looks like a good project. (opinion…. As so often with these kinds of classes the level of knowledge your students start with is important and you have to spend 90% of the initial time providing background on computers, the internet, programming languages, tools, etc and either you acknowledge that and make it a hella long course, or you end up creating a sort of hothouse dev environment so that students can experience the gratification of publishing something that works)

An interesting trend in some of the talks – use fairly sophisticated analysis to figure out (on the fly) what users might want or are trying to do or what barriers they’re running into based on how they interact with a page. For example it doesn’t matter to the vast majority of users that a site or a browser is infinitely configurable because they are reluctant to change defaults for fear they will break something, so, it works better in most cases to analyze and guess — are they having trouble or going very slowly in clicking links in small elements of the UI? Detect that and serve them a redesigned page with larger UI elements to interact with. (IMHO just design it to be less persnickity in the first place…. but…..ok).

This is an issue near and dear to my heart, or maybe my butt or my feet depending on how you look at it, because my powerchair “guesses” what I might want to (or “should” ) do; when it thinks i am going down a steep slope, it slows to a crawl no matter what I tell it. So, sure, you can guess what i want but give me the capability to override and reprogram it!!! omg.

At lunch one day I talked with Alex Jaimes about the company he works at, DataMinr, and today I hung out with Nathanel who works on RDF data systems and his fiancee whose name I didn’t catch but who works in digital humanities. And also had a nice gossip with Amy Hurst who was at CMU and now teaches HCI at NYU and heads up the Ability Project.

One last note on Chet Cooper’s project for Ability Magazine, Ability Job Fair. Basically this is a super accessible online job fair. Employers pay to list their jobs and for job-seekers it’s free. The next job fair will be on July 25, 2019. I’m interested in this project because I get asked by other disabled people all the time, how to get a job “in tech” and I’d like somewhere to refer them! During the job fair, they have sign language interpreters on-call to assist with live meetings, real time talk to text for people who have difficulty hearing, a system set up to be compatible with JAWS and other screen reader applications, and support for using voice or SMS. Chet was explaining more stuff to me during a coffee break and I got the impression he has a hydra with a lot of heads. There is also Ability Jobs which has job listings (aside from the actual event of the job fair) and some other thing called Ability Corps which is a volunteer org that from the sound of it is trying not to be a sort of charity model of abled-contributor-to-disabled-client, but to actually include disabled people in some kind of mutual aid process and to be enthusiastic about disabled people doing volunteer work in a serious way.

Web Conference

I went to half a day of Web4All, part of The Web Conference. Good talks and demos & I enjoyed meeting people! More after I go to the 2nd day of the conference tomorrow.

Meanwhile – this weekend – I hung up a section of rain gutter alongside the house & planted flowers in it. Too tired to write much. It was very satisfying to figure out how make this strange planter and hang it up properly.

Reasons to like a song

My dad clipped out this article on the woman from “My Sharona” (who is indeed named Sharona) & mailed it to me. It’s been a while since my parents sent me newspaper clippings. It felt nice… Anyway he sent it because i liked that song and used to play the album, which was possibly the first album I bought with my own money, in 1980 (either that or the Freedom of Choice Devo album – I can’t remember).

I also named one of my Breyer model horses “Sharona”. It was a very beautiful one!

Here is the secret, which my dad may or may not know, as to why I liked the song. It was because my cat was named Motor and I could sing the line “Oooh you make my Motor run, my Motor run” and think of my adorable cat, who was named Motor because we lived in Detroit, my dad worked for Ford, and obviously because of loud purring (from reading the book The House of Thirty Cats, I took cat naming very very seriously. You have to name the cat something appropriate to its particular personality.)

I like the song M-bike by PJ Harvey for the exact same reason! Good chorus: “MOTOR! MOTOR!! MOTOR!!!”

I guess the new “sending clippings to your grown kids” is just sending tumblr memes over whatsapp since that what I do to mine.

Inadequate notes on recent reading

Am I ready to read The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley? Do I want a severe mindfuck experience? YES ABSOLUTELY.

*** hours later ***

Holy shit! This is a really good book. Very intense! Makes me think of Delany. Yes, and all the other logical things to think of like The Forever War. (And that Mary Gentle series too…) It’s so tight and beautifully structured & dense. I felt a little tempted to chart it out (maybe on a re-read!) Hurley just gets better & better as a writer.

Next book: Finder by Suzanne Palmer – Super fun space opera! If you like the Expanse I bet you will enjoy this interstellar repo man & his comrades.

The Book of Flora by Meg Elison – Another freaking awesome book, last in the trilogy started off by Book of the Unnamed Midwife. I nommed it for the Tiptree immediately on finishing it. Read the whole trilogy together – Book 1 stands on its own but the second and third books are better if you read them together (so that you don’t forget all the stuff that happened in the Book of Etta, which is important for Book of Flora). It is sort of a gorgeous gulliver’s travels of post apocalypse societies and how people of various genders and queernesses adapt to those different cultures & their rules (and keep leaving to try and found something new). Must add how much I loved the Librarians, and also Cheyenne – I would definitely visit though not join either!

Next book. The Mad Scientist’s Daughter. It’s ok, nicely written, but left me a little flat. It’s a little too easy for the protagonist to be forgiven and forgive herself for her actions and the whole book was so heteronormative that it didn’t grab me. I have another thing to say but it’s a little spoilery that I’ll put it in the first comment to this post.

The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach – Good, so good, but so unquestioningly and unnecessarily sexist. Why must people. So disappointing. (Like Gene Wolfe – such claims to all compassing profundity while having this absolutely ludicrous blind spot for gender.) When you hit the ending bit with the tall blond young woman and the archivist you will scream and mentally throw your book across the room. If you bracket all that and just kind of pretend everything is like some surreal leave it to beaver universe then it’s a nifty book.