Bad Inventions: Dumpling Compass!

This is hardly a bad invention. It is sheer genius, because dumplings are fucking delicious. And because I don’t have time to create it, I give it to you. The Dumpling Compass!

Dumpling Compass is a phone app that points you towards the nearest dumpling source.

Consider the miracle of the dumpling. The basic idea is some sort of grain delicately prepared and cooked, often surrounding a tasty filling. There are so many nuances to this amazing food. Behold the Wikipedia entry for the Dumpling, and swoon in awe!

Dumplings!

Using Dumpling Compass, you can filter by the doughy substrate (corn, rice, wheat), the method of cooking (boiled, steamed, fried, served in soup), the type of filling, and the national or ethnic background of the dumpling you most desire to find at any particular moment. Your compass will point you to it.

Someone go ahead and build this. You will make ONE MILLION DOLLARS.

Think how useful. Not like the Sockerchief or the Catula.

p.s. Tamales count!

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Bad invention: The Catula!

The Catula, or Cat Spatula, is a ridiculous invention meant to help kind-hearted cat owners to move their cats from one place to another. It would gently pick up and move a cat from a shady place on the floor to a new, sunny patch. If your cats are asleep in a cute position on a chair or the couch, and you want to sit down, just use your Catula!

cats in chair

I came up with this in 2003, picturing it as a thin sheet of plastic with handles attached. Then recently I saw this video for a motorized conveyor belt picker-upper-thingie that can move a smear of ketchup and mustard without disarranging its smeariness. The video is oddly hypnotic, as the disembodied human hands swirl the ketchup with a spoon into increasingly more messed up ways, then pick it up and put it back.

This would obviously be perfect for sleeping cats – if only it were completely silent. Not a hair out of place!

It’s really the perfect bad invention. It would never work, and having a special gadget just to avoid waking up your cat, well…

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Beer Hat Neti Pot

I have endless frivolous bad inventions! World, I bring you . . . the Beer Hat Neti Pot. Beer hats are those contraptions that rig up two cans of beer on your head, one on either side of a hat, with plastic tubing so that the beer siphons into your mouth.

Beer Hat

You can be too drunk to lift up your own beer and still keep drinking. Grrrreat.

Neti pots are those little teapot looking things that you stick up your nose to irrigate your sinuses with salt water. They’re very effective at helping a stuffed up nose!

So obviously, there is a socially useful medical application for the Beer Hat!

Yes, the Beer Hat Neti Pot will bring joy and healthy nasal passages ! Even if your sinus infection is so bad you can’t bear to bend over the sink to rinse your sinuses in salt solution, you can wear the BHNP in bed or around the house. The tubes come down from bottles of salt water attached to the hat, and go right up your nostrils. An elastic band will help keep the nose tubes securely attached.

Perhaps some intrepid voyagers in the world of terrible inventions would want to irrigate their sinuses with beer!

Using a nose mask or perhaps a snorkel, the backwash from your snotty nose could then be channelled into another tube that goes into a Camelbak backpack.

Or if you live on a boat like I do, you could go on deck and let your nose water flow freely into the harbor.

I have allergies and get a lot of sinus infections so I’ve had a lifetime to think about this important issue!

I will make ONE MILLION DOLLARS.

Someday I’ll blog seriously about books and politics and poetry again, I promise.
Beer hat photo by Dave Nicoll

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Cat eggs: another bad idea

This weekend one of my sister’s chickens laid an egg for the first time. I can’t wait till I get to find and eat an actual home-made egg. Everyone was super excited about this egg. My brother-in-law showed me an entire photo slide show of the egg, its yolk color, what it looked like cooking, and the egg on the plate with some toast, half eaten. I stared at their newly mature hen. Suddenly instead of looking delicious, like a cartoon moment where a starving shipwrecked sailor sees the chicken turn into a roast chicken, the hen morphed into a weird science-fictional egg-producing machine, and I saw it like a little robot centered around manufacturing this very complicated object, in cross section like a diagram of the Digesting Duck. OMG chickens.

The amazing taste and healthy yolk color of the fresh eggs from your very own hipster chickens, the fact that you fed them mealworms from your own urban homestead worm farm and the tops of the organic beets you had for dinner, are all lovely thoughts. But that’s not the point of chickens to me. My main love of the idea of eggs right from the chicken are about a farm girl mythos. I totally wish I could be a farm girl. In reality wouldn’t go well at all.

In books about kids on farms, chickens are awesome. You go into the barn or the henhouse amid soothing clucks and happy peeping chicks. It’s equal parts peace and bustling. You put your hand under the fluffy butt of a warm chicken into the sweet-smelling hay, and it sleepily protests as you take out the eggs and put them in basket lined with a red-checked cloth. It’s like this primal experience of nurturing comfort. Nice mother hens! Eggs! Yay! A little child could do it!

In reality, I’m allergic to chicken dander. Last time I touched a chicken, my face swelled up so much I could barely see. And hay makes me sneeze. It would be 4am and freezing on the farm. The hens would peck the hell out of my arms and face as I tried to reach under them. Even an inch-long cockroach flying into my face would make me scream and freak out, so a flapping chicken would basically be like a super powered palmetto bug that could knock your glasses right off. There’s no way. Also, in my real world, there would be no basket and everything would be covered in smelly chicken poo. Likely also covered in the blood streaming from my face and arms from being pecked half to death.

So the obvious way to fix these problems is to create cats that can lay eggs. A little genetic engineering and wham, we get CATS OF THE FUTURE. Cat eggs! There you are in bed in your cosy house. You get up and in its nest box your cat has laid a lovely unfertilized chicken-tasting egg. Hens are *not* peaceful and cosy and sleepy. Cats are! You simply side your hand under the fluffy cat and remove the egg. Instant breakfast!

Cat eggs!!!!!!!

Justbeinlacy suggests modifying the cats to also provide coffee. That sounds great in theory, but I draw the line at milking my cat.

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Deep, then flippant, thoughts on SXSWi

I’m getting ready to fly out to Austin for SXSWi, where I’m going to talk at a session on Sunday afternoon, “Fictional Blogging”. Marrit Ingman at the Austin Chronicle interviewed me here: Where the Wild Things Blog. For once, I’m not talking about myself or making anyone’s eyes glaze over with my wild Theories About Twitter:

Liz Henry, who will present the Fictional Bloggers panel with blog-novelist Odin Soli of Plain Layne fame, emphasizes the importance of disclosure. “We want lying we can trust, lying that’s transparent,” she explains. “We don’t want to feel stupid and be tricked by hoaxes. But some lying, the lying of fiction, is good and ethical. It creates distance between a person and the world, and in this distance we can explore crazy, fascinating ideas.”

Henry adds, “If corporations used fictional blogs seamlessly and with artistry, a lot of people wouldn’t mind the fakitude. They’d be entertained. We could potentially love the PSP2 fake bloggers just as we love Chaucer Hath a Blog if the PSP2 blog was any good.”

Instead of being good, the ad company responsible for Sony’s viral campaign, Zipatoni, drew the ire of consumers with the blog’s lack of corporate disclosure, ostensibly teenage pidgin, and blatantly fake “flogging.” (“so we started clowning with sum not-so-subtle hints to j’s parents that a psp would be teh perfect gift,” read the first entry on www.alliwantforxmasisapsp.com/blog, itself shut down last December.)

“Companies who want to build out a fictional character should hire novelists and playwrights, role-playing gamers and LARPers, bloggers and social media people – creative world-builders who understand how to bring life to an online presence. Blog readers and Web-entertainment consumers are sophisticated. They want depth to a character,” Henry says.

Odin is an awesome geek and all-around internetty consultant sort of person as well as a novelist. I like how he includes his old .plan files as part of his web site. I always thought of them as old school blogging… And I wish I still had mine!

I’m working now for Socialtext now, as their open source community manager, but my panel has nothing to do with that and everything to do with my history as a bookish and writerly and bloggity person.

But because I’m being soaked up to my eyebrows in wikis right now, I talked about them with Marrit too, so bear with me while I write that up and quote myself at enormous unquotable length:

I’d love to see companies blog creatively from the points of view of minor characters in a novel or other fictional series. I don’t want Harry Potter’s blog; I want Dobby’s blog or Neville’s or Pansy Parkinson’s. Or better yet, a network of interlinked fictional blogs and worlds. In the imaginary world, we aren’t limited by truth, reality, history, or time. We can have Genghis Khan blogging in dialogue with Caroline Ingalls and Picard and two hundred different Harry Potters, with real people thrown in the mix. A smart company would interlock its fictional worlds and information and allow participation from everyone in the building of alternate fictional realities. There’s a lot of energy in fanfiction, for example. This energy should be welcomed by media owners and publishers, who need radical change in their approach to intellectual property.

Book publishers aren’t getting wikis either – or not enough of them are getting it. Every book needs a wiki. Every book needs a blog, but I’d push it further and say that they need wikis too, or blikis.

Wikis have enormous creative potential. Socialtext uses wikis and blikis to increase collaboration and speed up communication in big corporations. Corporate wikis change the ways people talk with each other at work, or how they approach the definition of a project. But novelists and creative writers need to play with wikis in many other areas. Wikis are clearly useful for worldbuilding in science fiction and fantasy. But let’s push it further. We could write a novel as a wiki. Someone should do that for Nanorimo! Maybe they already have. It’s a scary thought, isn’t it, if you’re a writer? It challenges the idea of authorship, authority, style, and the singular voice of the genius artist. That’s a fine challenge with a ton of potential. When we get our first excellent bestselling novel written by a wiki collective — better yet by an open collective — we’ll know that our society’s approach to the generation of knowledge has evolved. Fans groups of particular wikinovel hive minds will spring up. Literary criticism will change as well, and academia’s resistance to collaboration will have to evolve to change with the times.

Book publishers aren’t getting how to make a blog into a book. What is the value of the book? Besides editing the blog and making it portable, a book should annotate. The book of Riverbend’s blog, for example, could have been a fantastic book rather than just a nicely bound bundle of printouts. Add information, indexes, annotation, glossaries, diagrams, geneologies. Enrich a blog; don’t just print it. Publishers think people don’t want footnotes. They’re wrong. When people love a world, a character, or a subject — or a blog — they want to know everything, on different levels. A generation that grew up listening to DVD commentary tracks and writing complex Wikipedia articles about Pokemon characters does, indeed, love footnotes, and the option for depth of information they provide.

Anyway!

The conference was great last year. It was supposedly the year of everyone marveling at OMG there are girls and brown people here OMG OMG there is a line for the women’s room at a tech conference! Diversity was nice, I think it will continue, and I hope it has positive and tangible results for the “diversity-providers” as well as making everyone else feel all warm and fuzzy. The conference itself benefitted, if you think of their increase in attendees as being correlated with the array of speakers from different backgrounds – and I do think that’s true. I had to laugh a bit at the SXSW magazine that came in the mail last month, and its article on the British Invasion. What a spin. “Last year we had women! This year omg white guys are invading our conference! It’s so radical!” Every cliche was invoked. It was sweet, really! I’m not complaining — British geek guys are super sexy, they dress nicer than American white guys, they don’t make the bathroom lines longer for all the women (that’s important!) and I think they grace any conference with their cute accents and snarky comments and the way they act sort of uptight and then get drunk and let it all hang out. Kind of like Spock. The invasion’s fine with me!

In fact, right after I talked with Marrit about collaboration, world building, and wikis, I had lunch with Paul Youlten from Yellowiki, a very fascinating multi-tentacled person who is now building a collaborative fictional Latin American geographical space, Batán. I did not quiz him too deeply on the imperialist implications of his Bruce-Chatwin-esque wiki thing because I think it’s a fine cultural experiment, and if English-speaking people are going to construct a fake Latin America, they might as well make it overtly fake rather than constructing it on real cities where people actually live. (I realize that only about 3 people will get this or laugh at it, but it’s worth it to make them laugh really hard. This means you, Brian, Prentiss, and Gabby!)

(Meanwhile, as I’m blogging this in a cafe, there’s a guy across from me with a big Daviswiki sticker on his laptop. Wiki Everywhere!)

Back to the conference!

I’m looking forward to seeing some people I don’t see that often – to the rush of intense conversations – to eating breakfast at my favorite breakfast place ever which I shall not name because I don’t want you all to go there and make it too crowded – And to picking up some more Turitella fossils from the limestone bed of Shoal Creek, because I gave all the ones I picked up last year to little kids. And to going to all the wiki panels and open source panels and doing more soaking-stuff-up.

Also notable in my pre-conference rush: I got very excited at getting my cute little MOO cards. I have two kinds – one for my real name stuff and one for the main pseudonymous-me.

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Some amusing ideas around Twitter

Part of the fun of Twitter is in making up stupid words with tw*tt- as the prefix. Make up the ludicrous dot-com word and the idea will follow. I am very fond of words that have sprung into being like “multiblogular,” “polyblogular,” “hyperblogulating”, “twitterlibrium“, “computerbating” or “wikibating” and now “twitterbating”. The -bating suffix is particularly interesting because it carries all sorts of associations of feelings and irony around the activity. Perhaps a slight tinge of guilt and discomfort or uncertainty towards the degree to which one is engaging with people (or no people) online rather than “real life” (which of course we must put irony quotes around because talking to people over the net is real life just as much as talking face to face.)

While I was driving to San Jose the other morning I was considering twitterzines – what would they be? I think a way of creating sophisticated “favorites” lists or sets. Twittidors would drag and drop other people’s tweets onto interestingly-themed twitterzines; they might turn out like poems or tiny magazines or scrapbooks made of snippets of other people’s lives. Being able to look at or collect tweets based on keyword would be nice, but then adding in a human editorial function would be nifty. One’s amazing words of wisdom about chicken tacos or the future or toenail-painting at sunset could then be collected by others… and perhaps you get props of some kind for the mention or for being anthologized (twitthologized? ugh!)

The timeline concept could be pushed way further & with tons of possibly pointless data so that you could look at your own or other people’s distributions of twittering – Does one tend to tweet at particular times, like during commute… at dinner… Or what? And with particular keywords associated? Just as various events have been highlighted on Twitter (Macworld, etc – and imagine the mass twitterbating that’s about to happen at SXSWi; it’ll be nuts) We could mark up or tag important moments. Like being able to collect what people were tweeting during the Superbowl. I don’t give a fuck about the Superbowl and in fact don’t know who played or won, but maybe other events would give nifty information to… someone. My mind hovers between thinking of historians and advertisers… but probably it would be the dilettantes who look.

Dragging & dropping would be a nice concept. Rather than batch editing (Okay I’m assuming anyone ever bothers… But they might… ) you could drag and drop your (or someone else’s) twitters onto a tag or into a collection (the twitterzine – which again would be a bit like a Flickr set.)

A probably easy & fun Twitter extension: A mood index or indicator that depended on various factors. On contemplating my own collection of tweets I am heavy on the “fabulous” “Yummy” “yay” and the gazillion exclamation points. Clearly my mood index would tend towards the “Give this woman Ritalin, stat” end of things. The mood index could be as simple as good mood / bad mood but I suspect that more complex would be more fun. The lists of keywords indicating mood, or the connections between word and mood could be built collaboratively, and I think keywords would be a fine way to do it (Unless there is someone out there typing “Yay, I’m fabulously pissed off and want to kill myself, omgponies!!!”) This could be pushed even further into, what’s that test that people get so obsessed with? The one where I’m like ENTJ or something? That thing. You could associate keywords or patterns or data with various of the qualities and then predict.

One could look at patterns of whether groups of friends or followers tend to twitter in clumps. For example, if after Tara Hunt twitters about her day, half her friends obliquely respond by twittering about their day, that could turn out to be interesting information. An algorithm like… the # of followers you have, in relation to how many of them tend to twitter within a certain time period after you twitter. That might be pointless because it would lead to a level of self-consciousness and avoidance of posting immediately in response to someone or else – the other direction – gaming it deliberately. On the other hand that might be amusing as well.

Twitter is lovely for flirting and webstalking – you can see what your crush is up to or obliquely let them know as well without directly communicating or possibly intruding on their day with an IM or email. So what many dating sites haven’t achieved, Twitter does perfectly without intending it. Flirting is all about plausible deniability and Twitter offers that very nicely. I’d like to hear some cool twitter-flirting true confessions from people…

Anyway, I picture this sort of stuff being built on top of Twitter, much like the nifty and addictive little apps people build for LiveJournal. Like LiveJournal, Twitter is *fun*… And people want to play with it and poke and and mess around, which could turn out to be productive in unpredictable ways.

I shouldn’t say this, but given the level of eye-rolling some people exhibit over “those people obsessed with Twitter” with the implications of pointless narcissim & wankeriness… I’m surprised no one has made the obvious tasteless parody: Twatter.

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Trivium, twittering, gregarious behavior


twittering
Originally uploaded by Liz Henry.

Some rambling thoughts on twitteration, or twitteritude:

Twitter is fun. It’s a microblogging site; your entries are strictly limited to just a couple of lines of text. You can friend people and get their twitters on a web page, on IM, or on your cell phone. Sign up, watch the public stream go by, friend people who strike you as interesting.

Now you have 10 imaginary friends, tamagotchi who need feeding, your loneliness is assuaged, and you feel important and hip and cool as you’re standing in line or sitting in a boring meeting and you get texted on your cell. Shallow me! And shallow you if you like it. You must not be very important. You must not be busy enough. Listen to the mean ol’ grinches who love to hate Twitter! Broadcasting the trivium of your day! It’s almost like social conversation, gossip, small talk. It’s almost like the glue that holds relationships and people together. It’s not important enough to blog. It asserts the importants of daily life. It forces the compression of your own evaluation of your life into two lines a day. Are you twittering too much, to people who already have too much of an information feed, and they’ll drop you?

The more in-the-corners and unimportant you are, the more fun and important a twitter or a myspace becomes.

Maybe it isn’t a productivity tool. Or, with more focus, with groups and channels, it could be made into one. Why slam it for being what it is? Why not take the idea and run with it, tinker with it?

I had a strange moment at Writers With Drinks, when I was introduced to a guy named Yoz and realized 10 minutes later why his name sounded familiar, the sort of thing that used to happen from orkut or friendster, a familiar moment to anyone on a social network. It was because he’s the last person on the friends-badge list of a bunch of people I “know” on Twitter.

I appreciate social media’s enabling of fun webstalking, of course.

But that’s not even the interesting part.

It’s the potential for literary forms to evolve with technology. I see particular people who have immense Twitter charisma, who are more interesting in that venue than they are on their blogs or in conversation. Shouldn’t that be okay? If we are abandoning objective standards for quality, then it’s good to look at what’s good in all media. It is pointless to bemoan the fact that people like to do stupid things. Instead, look at the mass of stupid things and pick out the best of, according to the standards of that community and not just according to the standards of dominant culture or dominant literary forms. It is possible that the great internettian novel is being written right now on Twitter, or will be written next year.

Or we’ll get a bunch of poets on there and do renga. No, wait, I forgot, that might interrupt my productivity! Chatting, fun, and art: bad for productivity… of course…

It isn’t useful for some people, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t something interesting going on under their radar.

If everyone in a nursing home right now had phones with Twitter, or something twitter-like and the knowhow to use it, think how cool that would be. Loneliness is not to be sneered at. I bet we all know several lonely people who would like some imaginary tamagotchi twitter-friends. Surely, soon, we will have better two-way social networking appliances than phones, laptops, or crackberries, easier to use, easier to type on, marketed towards the senior niche. And then the great internettian novel will be written by a 95 year old former kindergarten art teacher in Modesto.

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