Category Archives: me

Daydream Games

According to my notes, in the last week I’ve read Heart-Shaped Box, seen District 9, and knit the sleeve of a sweater. I’m also up to 17,000 words on my NaNoWriMo project, which has been eating my brain when I’m not working on something else.

Part of the fun of this is that by writing every day, at a pretty steady pace, I’m giving myself permission to daydream that I too could be a Real Professional Writer, with books on shelves at Powell’s and fans who give me 5-star ratings on Amazon. I imagine that I will finish this book, and I will revise it and sell it to a publisher, and I will write another one that will be even better. And really, this is an easy dream to indulge. I’ve been writing stories on and off since I first learned to read and write.

This fits in nicely with Russell Davies’ notes from his Playful talk, about things that are barely games, exercises that tend to be open-ended and have a minimum of rules. He says,

When I walk through the crowds on Oxford Street a tiny part of me is pretending I’m an assassin slipping steely-eyed through the crowds in order to shake the agents on my tail. And I bet it’s not just me. I’m not saying I’m massively deluded, just that, very often, some bit of us is always trying to play those games, to make mundane things more exciting. … I think that’s why we find Jason Bourne so resonant. It’s easy pretending to be him. Because most of the time he’s just commuting.

Click the link for the full thing with some fun pictures, graphs, and interesting ideas. The comparison of time spent in “moody commuting” vs. “fighting & killing” cracks me up.

Pretending to be a writer is enough fun that a lot of people do it, though most remain at the stage where they haven’t gotten around to putting words on paper (or screen, as the case may be) just yet. Right now I have a third of a novel, which may or may not massively suck (probably does, since it’s an unedited first draft), and I don’t have to have a real plan. But the possibilities seem endless, especially if I just continue to write. I like this feeling; it’s a good place to be.

# # #

A quick “things for sale” reminder: I have yarn and felt things in my Etsy shop. They make lovely gifts. I’m also thinking about setting up some sort of photo print shop, and putting last year’s family cookbook Christmas project up for sale as a food bank fundraiser. It has a jello salad recipe in honor of my aunt, who died last spring, as well as a number of other tasty things.

Progress Report

Back in September I started keeping a daily log of everything I make, read, and watch, along with excursions like meetings or trips to the farmers market. It’s on paper to discourage over-analyzing, and excludes my “day job” work (I try to keep that in its own area).

Anyhow, this lets me go back and see how I’m spending my free time a bit more clearly, which is nice when you’re juggling a bunch of different side projects.

Open Source Bridge is winding up again, starting with an initial fundraising push. If you’d like to get involved, we started a new mailing list (we weren’t very happy with how we split things up before). Sign up and see where you can help.

I haven’t forgotten about I <3 Food Carts, but I also don’t have any new news other than plans to start the layout this week. The cart owners survey has received some neat responses, but there’s definitely room for more.

There’s some neat stuff going on around the City of Portland and open source, but not much that’s ready to point to yet. My part mostly involves going to meetings, and later asking people I know “so if there was going to be [a regional data apps contest|a professional association for open source developers|a bouncy castle with kittens and rainbows], what would you want it to do?”

Glycon

I’ve been doing some more drawing. Right now I’m inking the sketch from the Lovecraftiana post (I finally learned out how to use the pen tool in Photoshop, and to make better use of layers for lighting and coloring, and now it’s up there with photo editing for “most relaxing computer activity”). The picture above is my first attempt to put some of these new skills to work.

My Etsy shop has been barren a while, but after a fair amount of waffling, I relisted some of my favorite unsold items. There’s still several skeins of handspun yarn, hand-dyed sock yarn, scarves, and bags available, and I have more I may list if these sell.

All of the knitting projects have stalled again, possibly because I’m reading instead. I started Planetary, which is interesting timing because the last issue just came out, and now I’m in the middle of Unseen Academicals, which is succeeding in cramming in all the football [soccer] culture jokes possible (I’m not even convinced I’m catching them all, myself).

And you know, other stuff. Like noticings and Freakangels and thinking up ideas for when Newspaper Club is open for business and enjoying the pre-Halloween surge of Lovecraftian crafts being linked everywhere. But not very many events because I seem to want to hole up at home and think, more than anything else right now. It’s a good change from the first half of the year.

Lovecraftiana

Part One:

Lurky

Lucas and I have a running joke about Mudshark being the Lurker in the [Hallway, Bookshelf, Closet, ...]. When we were working on Yog’s Notebook [1], we both read the Lovecraft/Durleth novel The Lurker at the Threshold, which is about an encounter with Yog-Sothoth, the zine’s namesake.

I don’t remember who started it, but Mudshark is kind of an odd furry monster of a cat, so it stuck.

Part Two:

I came down with a cold on Friday, forcing me to cancel all my plans in favor of lying around coughing. I barely felt well enough to read (a dire situation!), so I was browsing around on my phone thinking about Halloween costume ideas when some line of free association got me thinking about historical expedition gear and Lovecraft [2]. This led to finding some very nice patches and pins commemorating the 1930-31 Miskatonic University expedition to Antarctica (sadly, all sold out).

And that reminded me that I’ve never read “At the Mountains of Madness” (which describes the doomed expedition to Antarctica), but it’s available through Feedbooks for the Stanza iPhone app, so there you go. [3] Then I read “The Call of Cthulhu”, and “The Dunwich Horror”, and a few others. I think I’d been putting off reading much Lovecraft because I was afraid of liking the beasties more than the style of writing, but everything I picked up over the weekend was a lot of fun.

One thing I kept noticing was what sorts of details were emphasized, and what was glossed over. There’s a lot of “oh, I dare not speak of it!” with respect to the monsters, but at the same time a certain amount of gleeful scientific curiosity, and artifacts are often described in terms of how they match no known artistic lineage or culture (apparently the protagonists are well-educated in this area). Our narrators tend to be complete nerds about something (geology, medicine, architecture…) and enthusiastic about sharing everything through that lens.

Anyhow. All of this is a long way of explaining what’s going on with the image at the end of this post. [4] In “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”, we encounter a town full of people who’ve been mating with the Deep Ones, a race of fish-frog people who provide them with food and wealth in exchange for sharing in their Cthulhu-worship, and eventually, creating a town full of fish-frog-human mutants who will then take over the world. [5] The narrator is happy to dissect the town’s architecture, but apparently he really does not want to ponder how you go about making fish-frog-human people, so we look the other way.

I’m sure I’m not the only reader to consider how the biology of this would work, but I’m a little scared to Google it. So I drew my own version. I think this is hilarious [6] but YMMV.

What happened at Innsmouth

Maybe “Scenes Lovecraft Left Out” will be my next comic?

[1] Copies of both issues are still available, if you don’t have them yet. Buy them through the site or email me to pick up at an event.

[2] Alas, I don’t remember how I got these two topics combined. I was thinking about Dürer, and demon ladies, and …?

[3] Another case for ebook readers on the phone: sick days. If I could just download hot tea to go with it, I’d be completely set.

[4] It’s like a shaggy dog story. A creepy, wet, slimy one.

[5] Or something.

[6] Ask Lucas, I was laughing so hard I had to get up and have a drink of water before I could finish the sketch. I do not actually expect anyone else to have the same reaction.

What a busy 2008

Mudshark in an ill-fitting hat

In 2008, I

  • Started Calagator.
  • Served on the Legion of Tech board.
  • Helped organize Portland editions of BarCamp, Ignite, and spearheaded WhereCamp Portland.
  • Attended WhereCamp in the Bay Area.
  • Presented at the last (for now) Portland OSCON.
  • Went to way more other events than I can enumerate.
  • Met Matz and several other members of the Shimane Japan open source community.
  • Set up Planet PDX to aggregate Portland tech blogs.
  • Appeared on OPB’s Think Out Loud program to talk about open source in Portland.
  • Had a knitting pattern published in a book.
  • Spent a lot of time talking to people about the Portland tech scene.
  • Worked. We did client projects, we did internal projects, we tried out new bug trackers (so far Pivotal wins), we talked about development and design and client interaction and how to be the best at what we do. I finally (mostly) got over my fear of Javascript, and leveled up my front-end HTML/CSS skills (but I still hate IE). I also wrote a lot of code. With specs. Yay.
  • Appeared in Ultimate Northwest magazine as one of Portland’s 25 most creative thinkers.
  • Celebrated my 5 year anniversary with Lucas with a weekend at the beach.

In 2009, I will

  • Appear on Strange Love Live (very soon: 1/9).
  • Co-chair an awesome Open Source Bridge conference.
  • Travel to Austin TX for SXSWi.
  • Help the rest of the Calagator community finish getting to 1.0 and figure out what’s next after that.
  • Other exciting things, yet to be discovered. Suggestions?

The Current State of Me

I’m going to try to start a meme. I don’t know whether it’ll work, but let’s try. Using the community success questions I posed in my last post, I’ll tell you how I did this year. You do the same. Maybe we can get a better idea of where people are struggling and succeeding.

In 2008:

  • Did I earn a living? Yes, this has been a good year in that regard. I’ve been with the same company, Elevated Rails, since fall ’07.
  • Was I able to incubate new ideas? Sort of. This is the area where I’ve struggled the most. I’ve been so busy building and organizing things that I didn’t leave much time for reflecting, writing, and tinkering. That’s been educational and interesting in its own way, but I know in 2009 I need to leave more space for messy, purposeless, creative activity.
  • Did I grow in ways I wanted? Oh yes. I continued co-organizing community events like BarCamp and Ignite, took the lead on a new one (WhereCamp PDX), and started an open-source project (Calagator). As a result, I learned a huge amount about organizing groups of people, listening to needs, and how to keep things rolling without being a crazy dictator. I also feel like my work is starting to have an effect beyond my own social bubble: this fall I was named one of Ultimate Northwest Magazine’s 25 creative thinkers.

For 2009, I’m trying to continue the interesting community projects and still leave time for new ideas. I won’t be continuing on the Legion of Tech board, in part to ensure that I can give our new Open Source Bridge conference the attention it needs. Calagator is still making progress toward its 1.0 development goal. I’m also taking some time off at the end of this year to rest and catch up on backlogged projects. I have video to edit (cat vs. Roomba!), a sweater to knit, electronics to solder—more than enough to keep me occupied.

What I hope to see from other Portland technologists in the next year is more people stepping up to work on community projects that address their particular needs. I think the Hacklab effort is great. Phil suggests a skill share to help people keep current. I bet we’ll see more work on funding models that better fit Portland business interests, too. Think about what resources would help you be successful, and if they’re not out there already, who can you collaborate with? Then tell the rest of us and we’ll spread the word.

How to Find Me Online Reminder

I set up a couple of things last year to help organize my online activities. I might have some newer readers here who haven’t seen them yet, so here’s a recap.

One of them is a combined feed from this blog, Twitter, Vimeo, Ma.gnolia, and a few other services. I don’t always get around to blogging about whatever I’m working on, and not everyone reads Twitter, but you can subscribe to the amalgam at http://feeds.feedburner.com/spinnerin_tumblr (note: it says Tumblr, but I recently moved to Soup.io). This is the same feed that powers the front page of lifeofaudrey.com.

The other thing is a wiki page listing the online accounts I try to pay attention to (and ways to reach me, like email and IM): http://aeschright.pbwiki.com/HowToFindMeOnline. As the page says, they’re not the only ones I’m on, but if it isn’t listed, it’s a lower priority.

And then you’ll know things like the video about making cultured butter I made earlier this week.

My Other Thing(s)

Recently I’ve been talking to people about Portlanders and their many side projects. It’s been a little while since I attempted to describe the full list of mine (my Portland on Fire profile had a shortened version), so here goes.

  • Calagator. Aka the Portland Tech Community Calendar project. Status: Always looking for volunteers. Next code sprint on 4/12.
  • Cooking. I like to cook. When I start to feel cooped up, I read cookbooks from other parts of the world. Right now I’m very interested in cultured/fermented foods, and things eaten on picnics and other outdoor excursions.
  • Etsy shop. Status: majorly neglected. Somehow a skein of sock yarn that’s been listed for most of the last year sold last week, despite no attempts to promote it. I think I need a sales rep.
  • Food Cart Map. Status: needs updating. I’m thinking about replacing the current setup with a Rails app that would make adding things and searching easier. Right now I have to hand-edit an XML file, and it’s pretty tedious.
  • Knitting. I knit, usually in huge spurts of interest that wax and wane every few months. I gave a presentation on geeky knitting at the first Ignite Portland. I also have a sweater pattern in the just-released More Big Girl Knits book. I don’t usually work from a pattern if I can help it, but other people do, so I’d like to write down more of mine as I go. I’m pdxspinnerin on Ravelry.
  • Legion of Tech. Status: very active. Our next big event is Portland BarCamp 2 on May 2-4. You should come. My mom will be there.
  • Photography. Not a for-income activity lately, but I’ve been doing occasional Holga and pinhole experiments in addition to digital. My ex-coworker Anna and I used to talk about quitting our jobs and starting a mobile portrait studio, but it never happened, and now she’s living in Spain taking pictures of olive harvests.
  • Planet PDX. I still haven’t set up feed stats, so I have no idea how many people are making use of this, but send me your blog url (if you’re in the Portland area and work on tech stuff or other geekiness) and I’ll add you.
  • Portland User Group Wiki. The problem with trying to catalog all of the user groups in town is that more are starting all the time. You can help by taking a peek at the wiki and adding anything you know of that’s still missing. (Mobile Portland? Android devs? PDX Data Plumbers? I’m sure at least one of you still needs a link.)
  • Writing. Well, there’s this blog, as sporadically updated as it is. I had an essay in O’Reilly’s Women in Technology series. I keep coming up with book ideas, and abandoning them because other things come up. Actually writing one would be a good sabbatical idea. I’ve done fiction on and off since I was a kid, but have yet to figure out how to make a story run longer than ten pages. Someday, maybe.
  • Yog’s Notebook. Status: still (sadly) on hiatus. You can still buy the first two issues on our website. We need a couple of interns/volunteers to help read submissions and write for the blog. Most of the actual layout and editing for an issue happens in the space of a couple weeks, but there’s a lot of wading through slush to get there, and I haven’t been able to figure out how to keep up on it with something else as my full time job.

I’m sure I’ve managed to forget something, but there it is. What are your other things?

Different Tools For Different Folks

I’ve been meaning to write about my personal technology toolkit for a few weeks. Reading about executive dashboards at Jive reminded me again.

My main goals are to be able to connect with people, keep track of what friends and colleagues are up to, and spot emerging patterns in my areas of interest as they’re happening.

Component A: Google Reader
Google Reader Tags
Recently I reorganized my feeds to be sorted by XFN tags, plus a few other categories. I stretched the definitions a bit.

  • “Neighbor” is anyone in the Portland metro area.
  • “Colleague” refers to anyone working on something I consider related to my own professional interests, whether they’re technically in the same field or not.
  • “Contact” includes feeds from my contacts on Flickr, Ma.gnolia, and del.icio.us.
  • “Muse” is any blog not in one of those categories that I’m excited or inspired to see. It creates some interesting emergent behaviors.

I can tell when my mom posts because suddenly I have new items under “parent”, “neighbor”, “met”. It creates an interesting subconscious motivation to read the posts by the people I have the most connection with first, because the game of using a feed reader is to make the numbers (unread post counts) all move toward zero, and what does that faster than reading items that are counted in more than one category?

I also have a few tags that have nothing to do with my relationship with the feeds’ writers.

  • “News” encompasses both traditional news sources, and the blogs of companies whose services I use.
  • “Fun” is my daily comics, plus a couple of low-volume sites like The Food Whore.
  • “Research” is for search feeds on my name, projects I’m working on, and other things where I want to know if there’s new mentions somewhere.
  • “Bucket” is the category for everything else. I’m interested enough to subscribe, but not enough that it’s in another category. I skim it when I’m bored or procrastinating (which are often the same thing).

This is already pretty long, so I’ll save the other pieces for other posts.

Fun time at the Social Media Club

I had a great time talking to people at the Portland Social Media Club tonight. Thanks Marshall, for setting this up and inviting me to participate.

To follow up for the attendees and anyone who managed to watch the streaming video feed, info on my science fiction publication is at Yogsnotebook.com. I received some helpful suggestions from the audience on how to make the site more engaging, so hopefully I’ll be posting more about that soon. And my main personal site is lifeofaudrey.com. I assemble the main page content by aggregating a number of personal feeds through Tumblr and then use Feedburner to create the summary for display on the webpage. This is really easy and doesn’t require any programming on my end, and as John pointed out, it’s a great way to keep blogs and other sites from going dead when we don’t know what to post.

Too old to join a gal-sa

There’s this thing that happens every time I pick up a copy of Make or Craft. The projects sound really interesting, so I buy a copy. But then as I get to reading it, I start to feel turned off. So I complain to friends, and they shrug, and I mostly forget about it until the next issue comes out. I don’t think O’Reilly cares if their magazines rub me the wrong way; I keep buying them anyhow (and why? because there isn’t anything better on the market?). But I care, so I’m going to tell you what I think of the latest issue of Craft.

Also, I’m irritated that I can’t find any other signs of these sorts of complaints when I search online. There’s certainly nothing of the sort on the letters page. The letters in the latest issue of Craft consist of: 1 correction related to an article about crochet, 2 OMG you rock! letters, and 1 OMG you rock I can buy Craft in stores in Canada now!!!

It’s a big love fest. Which would be okay, but I’m not feeling it myself.

I have this obsessive research habit. If I get interested in a topic, it’s hard for me to walk away until I’ve read all the good stuff about it online (and then sometimes I still follow up at the bookstore). It’s useful because I can get oriented well enough to explain things to someone else within a couple of days, but it’s sort of bad when I need to be doing other work.

So the Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno book triggered a bit of a research frenzy into Japanese teen girl fashion and culture. Which meant that I was particularly interested to see that the latest issue of Craft has a focus on Japan. They have origami, cute little kimono-clad dolls, etc. But I’m disappointed that while they interviewed a men’s craft group in Tokyo, and there’s an excerpt from a Japanese book, and some of the contributors have even lived there, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of direct input or contribution from anyone from there. I think this matters, because my impression from reading about Japan and talking to people who’ve lived there, is that there are things about how crafts and fashion fit into Japanese culture that are easy to get wrong from the outside.

I’m not saying that appropriating elements of other cultures without understanding them is inherently wrong (and I know Japan does plenty of this on its own), but context is interesting, and helps us avoid objectifying other people and places. Plus, sometimes the random shallow appropriation of objects can have embarrassing results.

The best example of this in Craft is Diana Eng’s Harajuku t-shirt project. It’s a cute shirt. But if you take even a minute to read the Wikipedia article for “Harajuku girl” that they link in the sidebar, you find:

The term is not used by those who gather in the district themselves, but has become a relatively popular expression in the United States. Popular use originated from the American singer Gwen Stefani’s 2004 Love. Angel. Music. Baby. album, which brought attention to Stefani’s entourage of four supposed “Harajuku Girls” who were hired to portray the look, three of whom are Japanese and one of whom is Japanese American. These “Harajuku Girls” are not in fact the fashion aficionados or the home sewing hobbyists from whence they derive their name.

According to the Jan/Feb 2006 edition of Blender magazine, American comedian Margaret Cho has labeled Stefani’s Harajuku Girls a “minstrel show” that reinforces ethnic stereotypes of Asian women.

The Wikipedia article is a bit of a mess on the whole, but I’ve seen similar comments elsewhere. There’s also the problem that the supposed “Harajuku style” actually encompasses several different subcultures, all morphing and going in and out of style like only teen fads can. So the relationship between the project in the magazine, and anything that actually occurs in Japan is flimsy. Again, I like the shirt. But shouldn’t a modern craft magazine have a higher level of cultural intelligence than the “Indian bead projects” we did in school?

More pictures of my own craft projects coming next. I think the stuffed star pins and Hello Kitty pockets would be at home in a decora outfit.