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make a cup of tea, put a record on

maura @ 10:12 pm

We are having a weird home-screen-viewing summer. Should have been catching up on movies, but instead we watched the whole season of Fringe. Which ended up being pretty good. I mean, it’s an unabashed X-Files wannabe, but it’s always nice to see Pacey getting work, and the plots are interesting and full of weird stuff that is sometimes gross but not too much. Also the location titles floating in the sky are pretty nice (though a friend finds them ominous).

Continuing the catching-up-on-TV-we-missed-last-season trend,* this week we started watching Dollhouse. Finally! Yes, I know, what took us so long? Partly it was self-preservation: it’s so hard to get really into a show only to have it canceled. But now it’s been renewed so I feel like we should watch it before the new season starts.

* When we really should be watching The Class, which Netflix sent us ages ago and which I really really want to see. But sometimes it’s hard to commit to 2 hrs of watching, esp. when we can’t guarantee that our wee sleephater will be asleep before 9:30 these days. Maybe after school starts. Say it with me: 8 more days!

Okay, Jonathan warned me that the first 6 eps. have been widely acknowledged as Not That Great, and that it gets better. Thanks to Twitter I know that Felicia Day is in ep. 13, too, yay! But we’ve watched 2 episodes so far and I have to say that I am wavering on whether to continue. It’s just so mysoginistic. Of course Buffy was hilarious and moving and sad and bleak, and the main character was female and bad things happened to her. Some of those bad things happened because she’s a girl. But bad things happened to other people on the show, male people. And, you know, Buffy kicked ass, so that was cool.

Echo gets to do some strong stuff too, some fighting, etc. But overall she is just being used, man. The violence in ep. 2 really threw me; it was so hopeless and bleak. And mean. It’s so confusing — Joss, what are you doing?

Of course I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. It’s great to see so many of the Joss regulars and the BSG refugees too (Tahmoh Penikett kind of looks like my brother, so I like him). I’m sure I’ll become a convert in the end: Jonathan referred me to the blogosphere which is full of commentary on feminism + Dollhouse + Joss (and which I’m not reading yet for fear of spoilers). But geez, til we get there, it’s hard to watch. We’re cuing up ep. 3, which I hope helps me shake off ep. 2.

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i thought of stories they told us long ago

maura @ 11:18 pm

So, as you may have noticed, Google was down for awhile this morning. I was at work, merrily (ha!) transcribing the instruction stats out of Google Calendar into a spreadsheet,* and suddenly event details wouldn’t load. But most of the info I needed was still cached, so I didn’t even realize something was wrong until our library technician swung by my cube to tell me that the library website was down (our Web Librarian was off campus at a meeting).

* Why yes, Google, I would very much like you to include the ability to export to a spreadsheet into Calendar, thus saving me a couple of hours of monkeywork each semester. Thanks for asking!

A little pounding on the keyboard confirmed that yes, the website was down. Our tech went to talk to the college IT folks while I set to posting notices on the library’s blog and Twitter. But the funny thing is, Twitter was excruciatingly slow and kept hanging, too. And I noticed in the status bar at the bottom of Firefox that it was spinning on I clicked around a little more and found that lots of the internets wasn’t loading, and they all seemed to be hanging on Google Analytics or Google Ads. Our library’s site uses the former to track usage stats, and we also use Google for our site search.

By the time I’d talked to our tech and we’d opened up the homepage and I determined that I don’t know enough javascript not to break the code, Google had fixed itself and all was right with the world. But I’ve been left all day with a lingering weirdness. It’s not that I use EVERY service that Google offers, and I’m definitely intrinsically suspicious of big giant companies that ostensibly provide lots of stuff for free. What do they do with our data? And what recourse do we have if when they fail? As Jonathan always says, we are not Google’s customers: the companies that pay to place Google Ads are.

But there’s no denying that over the past year I’ve become a heavy user of Google products, some might say junkie-level. We use Google Calendar to track reference, instruction and meetings at work. I use Google Docs and Spreadsheets to collaborate w/colleagues at MPOW and other colleges and do work from multiple computers (ref desk, my desk, home).

What really struck me today (and I know I’m not the only one, but it’s late and I’m too lazy to link to anything else) is that it wasn’t just that you couldn’t access Google services. All over the internets the sites that rely on Google Analytics and Ads were toasted. And my random clicking around made me think that it was a whole lotta internets that were affected.

Maybe Google is becoming Skynet.

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that’s when their eyes got big

maura @ 5:28 pm

You may remember that time last year when I saw a manhole cover with the word TELEPORT on it. (Or maybe you didn’t, which is why I linked back to it just there.) And then I couldn’t find it later.

A couple of weeks ago I thought I found it again, except that I’m not exactly sure that this is the same one I saw before. I could swear that I saw the other one a few blocks away, but I haven’t walked that way to work in a while.

It’s funny, it never even occurred to me that this could be Art, but Jonathan suggested it might be so the last time I passed it I looked verrrrry closely. And it looks as solid and authentic as any other manhole cover. Plus, it’s right near a big old Verizon building and there are other manhole covers in the vicinity that feature the same hexagonal patterns (though they all read BELL TEL or have a bell on them).

That’s the boring explanation for its existence, though. I’d prefer it if you could really teleport. And, as Jonathan pointed out, there are little rocketships in between the hexagons. Interesting…

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and i don’t feel so bad

maura @ 10:15 pm

This morning* I had an idea for a short story/novel/work of fiction, the second this month. I don’t want to write it, but I do want someone else to, because it sounds like a cool story.

* Where this morning = 4/29, because that’s when I started the draft of this post.

Today’s idea is about pens. Yesterday I went to a meeting and passed around my own pen with the sign-in sheet, and of course it didn’t make it back to me. Which is not a big deal — frankly, the library is nothing if not a repository for pens left behind, so I never want for pens. But I started thinking about pens, how they move around between people. What if there were tracking devices in them, cameras and recorders? What if the pens were semi-intelligent and they had a plan, an agenda?

(Probably this was inspired by the evil pen that kills people in The Lost Room, btw.)

Pens left behind in the library might be part of the story, too. You decide!

The other idea actually got a bit more fleshing out because I started thinking about the last time we visited my mom; it’s a 2-ish hr drive, so I made Jonathan talk to me about it for a while. The basic framework sprang from archaeology: archaeologists assemble knowledge of prehistory from an incomplete record.* No one knows how incomplete it is, and while they work in scientifically rigorous ways there’s still never 100% certainty with any interpretation of the past.

* I remember a great diagram in the shape of an inverted triangle from my archy days that depicted the estimated amount of stuff (animal bones, I think, because that was my bag) that makes it into the archaeological record. Each level of the triangle depicted something else that happens to the bones: carried off by scavenger animals, crushed by accumulating sediment, etc. Probably under copyright; I can’t find it on the interwebs.

(This goes for historical archaeology too, but I feel like the existence of historical records can make a big difference in interpretation.)

Anyway, then I started thinking about ground-penetrating radar, and how it’s been such a boon to archaeology to have the technology to “see” sites before digging them up (and even instead of excavation, in some cases, since excavating a site essentially destroys it). And I started to wonder: what will the next technological breakthrough be? What if a machine were invented that could not only see the shapes of buried objects and features but actually tell you with certainty, this posthole is from a dome-shaped structure made of wood and skins, or this bone fragment is from a domesticated goat? That kind of technology could potentially completely rewrite prehistory and even history as we know it.

As Jonathan and I talked about it we tried to come up with a plot, since this is really just a setup, but we couldn’t come up with anything that didn’t involve aliens, which is kind of lame (and makes the whole dealie too much a derivative of Battlestar Galactica anyway). And this is probably a book only an archaeologist would love, sigh.

So if anyone wants to take these ideas and run with them, please do! Just write them quickly, because I’m almost out of things to read.


how’d you get on the ceiling?

maura @ 8:41 am

I’ve had a hard time keeping up with leisure reading this semester. I think it’s partly because I’ve been reading lots for a research project I’m starting soon, and also trying to keep up w/general library + higher ed news. Or maybe it’s TV — there seems to have been much more good stuff on lately (and we haven’t even started watching Dollhouse yet).

Another reason for the leisure reading drought is probably because the last piece of fiction I read was Neil Stephenson’s latest 900 page bruiser “Anathem.” It was intense + awesome: compelling and academic scifi with lots of good plot twists in all the right places. I haven’t been so sad about finishing a book since “Time Traveler’s Wife” (which still hurts to think about, actually).

A couple of weeks ago I finished 2 disappointing nonfiction books. And afterwards I experienced an incredibly intense need for fiction, it was really weird. Now I’m reading “Never Let Me Go,” courtesy of our building’s ad hoc basement lending library. It’s pretty good so far, creepy + atmospheric + engaging.

Next up I think I’ll read an old collection of Kelly Link stories, “Stranger Things Happen.” Jonathan recently reminded me that it’s available for free for Stanza, the awesome iPhone ebook reader. And I have a bunch of meetings in Manhattan coming up this week so it’ll be convenient not to have to carry an extra book with me.

One of our recent TV diversions was this 6 hr miniseries that ran on the Scifi Channel a few yrs ago called The Lost Room. The intriguing premise is that there’s a hotel room that disappeared 50 yrs ago, no one knows why. The objects that were in the room have weird powers, and the key makes any door open into the room (and when you leave you can come out of any door that you can envision). It was a good ride for the first 5 episodes — the plot moved fast + hung together well — but the last ep was kind of weak, as if the miniseries had been a pilot for a show that wasn’t picked up.

When we finished watching the show Jonathan proposed that it was kind of like reading Borges or Donald Barthelme or Steven Millhauser or Kelly Link: “They’re all working on the same project. I don’t know what that project is, but clearly they’re all involved.” Which is what made me remember that Kelly Link book in the first place.

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cause the days change at night

maura @ 10:38 pm

Woah, has it really been 2 weeks since my last post? Time flies when there’s teaching teaching teaching and then bam, Spring Break. Now the teaching is over (though Spring Break isn’t quite yet) and I’m a little sad, just like last semester. Curious, it is (see Yoda reference below).

Thanks to the spring non-secular holidays, Gus’s Spring Break was extra-long this year, so we hightailed it to Our Nation’s Capital for a few days to reprise our vacation 2 yrs ago. We even stayed at the same hotel! It was nice to be sort of familiar with everything. And we finally figured out the metro. Such a weird system, with the whole pay when you exit thing and how 2 people can’t use the same card and the fares are different between locations. Duh!

The trip was pretty fun. We did a few new things: Lincoln Memorial, which I found so moving (realized I had never been there), Vietnam War Memorial (ditto), pedal boats in the Tidal Basin to ogle the Jefferson Memorial (tho someone w/short legs was a pedal slacker), and the Museum of American History (which had been closed 2 yrs ago). Gus was tired + crabby for the latter so we let him play his DS while Jonathan ogled Julia Child’s kitchen and I grooved on Within These Walls, a reconstructed historic house with info about 6 families that lived there from the late 18th-mid-20th c. Go, historic house nerds!

We also hit a few of our old faves from last time. The cafeteria of the National Museum of the American Indian has dee-licious food (mmm, fry bread. and fiddlehead ferns!). Maybe one of these days we will have time to visit the rest of the museum, too. And it’s right next door to the Air + Space Museum, which you may have heard is the most visited museum IN THE WORLD, a fact which I could not help myself from mentioning about a jillion times as we slowly swam through the ridiculous crowds of people inside.

Gus reeeeeeally wanted to see the planetarium movie about black holes, so we did. It was narrated by Liam Neeson and I spent the first part of the show feeling really bad for him. But then his voice got all spooky and he told us that many galaxies have black holes at their centers and Gus said “does our galaxy have a black hole?” and I said “uhhhmmm…” and Liam said “there is even a black hole at the center of our own galaxy!” and Gus grabbed my arm so tight it hurt. So Liam Neeson, I am sorry for your loss, but thank you very much for freaking out my child. Stupid black holes.

After that we had to get ice cream, even though it was 50 degrees and raining, because we wanted to drag Gus to the Hirshhorn to see some modern art, which we <3 and he despises (“I hate art!”). The pin book wasn’t on display, but we stumbled (literally, as we had to piggyback Mr. Crabby + Scared of Black Holes throughout the museum) upon a great exhibit of the sculptor Louise Bourgeois’s work. My most favorite of her pieces were the little rooms made up of wire cages or spirals formed by wooden doors joined together with cool furniture and other weird stuff inside, sometimes only visible through a window or via a mirror. Red room (child) was the neatest, with spools of thread and wax hands. Creepy.

Gus was mostly happy just to swim in the hotel pool, eat Frosted Flakes at the free hotel breakfast and watch cable (he discovered Clone Wars on the Cartoon Network — see, there’s the Yoda reference!). It was kind of weird to see real TV (esp. Fox News at breakfast, ugh), but it’s good to experience it every so often if only so we have the chance to engage in what passes for media literacy education in our house. When loud obnoxious kid commercials come on (like a horrible one for a card game called, appropriately enough, Chaotic), Jonathan and I mock it loudly and whine to Gus to buy it for us. He’s also started reading advertising claims to us (from all media): “Mom, is this really the best yogurt you’ve ever tasted?” which is hilarious.

Also one night in a totally hilarious, Bart Simpson moment, Gus called Jonathan “farty fart mcweiner butt.” And we completely blew it by laughing until we cried. Oh well.

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a shiny object caught my eye of course

maura @ 9:33 pm

This past week was a pretty intense TV week for us. So intense that I need to blag about it!

Last weekend was the final episode of Battlestar Galactica. Overall it was a great show though of course there were weak points — last season, for example, and nearly every scene with Apollo (and his hair). But I was quite sad, somewhat unexpectedly so, after watching the last episode. When it was good, it was the best show on TV. Not a space show, not really, but a show about big meaty ethical issues that just happened to be set in space. And Starbuck was awesome.

The “angels” in the last ep were kind of weak, but I was glad that Helo didn’t die from that awful leg wound (I have a soft spot for Helo because he kind of looks like my brother). And the mitochondrial DNA bit at the end made my old archaeology self smile.

The other TV we’ve been obsessed with around here lately is Avatar: The Last Airbender, a cartoon/anime series that ran on Nickelodeon from 2005-2008 (I think). We started getting the disks from Netflix for Gus but by the end Jonathan and I were equally hooked. It’s just really frakking good.

It’s a fantasy martial artsy kind of premise: the world has 4 nations (earth, air, water and fire) and certain people called benders can control these elements. The Avatar can bend all elements and has traditionally kept balance in the world, but the old Avatar disappeared and the Fire Nation has been at war with everyone else since then. A bunch of kids (early teens) find the new Avatar, also a kid, and set out to defeat the Fire Lord and make things right. There’s action, adventure, friendship and well-drawn, beautiful animation (for a TV show, at least). Plus the girls kick at least as much ass as the boys (tho the Avatar is a boy).

And big meaty ethical issues are front + center. In one of my favorite episodes the kids go to a library (yay!) in which a spirit has amassed knowledge from all over the world. The spirit makes them promise that they won’t use the knowledge they gain to do harm to anyone, and they lie because they need to find the Fire Nation’s weakness. When the spirit finds out about the lie he’s furious and destroys the library, and the kids narrowly escape. Gus and I had a long conversation about the morality of war after that one.

A live-action Avatar movie is planned for sometime in the near future, though we may have to boycott it because all of the main characters have been cast with white actors. The cartoon is entirely made up of kids/adults of color. Hello, Hollywood, it’s 200-frakking-9, what is your damage?

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