mirrorshard: (Heart's Desire)
2014-11-04 07:36 pm

Social graph expansion

Navigating social graphs is hard, in several senses.

It's mechanically hard, especially for those of us who don't get to get out to parties much, and because both Facebook and Twitter actively discourage private communication between people who don't already list each other - on Twitter, you can't direct-message someone unless they follow you, and on Facebook, your direct messages get sorted into a disused filing cabinet in a dark cellar.

But more interestingly, it's conceptually hard. It's easy to think "that friend of my friend(s) looks like an awesome human" but less easy to go from that to "they should be my friend too". In the first place, I don't know how they are friends, whether they have something close that they don't want to share, or whether she's an acquaintance (or an ex) who thinks she's a closer friend than she really is. There's no coded mechanism for us to recommend friends, beyond the list of mutual friends we all see, and there's a definite social disincentive to use that as a recommendation - even if it weren't a patently silly thing to do, and a trivial violation of Geek Social Fallacy #whatever.

There's also a definite feeling that it's wrong to want more friends - it feels like being dissatisfied with what I have, and looking for upgrades, rather than an attempt to increase the flow of awesome across my eyeballs, and - with luck - theirs too.

It's certainly possible to ask for an introduction, but I'm not completely certain that anyone has done that since 1896 - they've certainly never asked me for an introduction to another friend, and if they did I'd probably assume it was for romantic purposes. For that matter, approaching someone and saying "please tell your friend that I'm awesome" is difficult enough, even if you have the kind of relationship where you know perfectly well they think you're awesome.

Of course, like everything else, it's very gendered. Women and female-presenting people often say "not looking for friends, I have enough friends" (and whilst I've heard that from men & male-ish people, it's not nearly as common) and that's a really, really good way to protect themselves from the kind of Nice Guy who treat social interactions as some sort of commando raid through the barbed-wire-and-explosions battlefield of the dreaded Friend Zone, into the enemy camp. As a result of the existence of these douches, all us male-ish or -presenting people are Schrödinger's Nice Guy, and it's very difficult to go "hello, would you like to be friends" without worrying about ruining someone's day. (Standard disclaimer: it's far worse for the female-ish half of this interaction. I'm not currently interested in the effect at the end, just the mechanism by which Not Doing It happens.)

(This post brought to you by noticing some points of congruence on Facebook and overthinking things.)
mirrorshard: A book growing from a tree branch, captioned "Books where fruit should be". (Books where fruit should be)
2014-11-03 06:00 pm


We all have our own favourite mythological monster. (Mine is the selkie, though I have a soft spot for the manticore.) But there are some who turn up ever and again, in so many variations - vampires, werewolves, mermaids, elves, zombies, witches & wizards - and there's one thing that they all have in common, which the less successful varieties don't. They take you out of this view of the world and into another, and if you're lucky you'll get to be like them - if you aren't, you'll have to watch your friends changing sides first. They can all do so much more than kill you.

Vampires exude dangerous and polymorphous sexuality, and the way to render them harmless is to enact missionary position on them. (Seriously, Dracula is destroyed - in the original - by van Helsing kneeling on top of his prone form and hammering a three-foot piece of wood into him from above.) They're positioned as the Other by casting them as predatory women - there's one male vampire in the original, Dracula himself, and it's actually made a feature of in the book that he does all his own domestic duties, which in the 19th century was even more of a thing than it is now. First Lucy and then (nearly) Mina are seduced to the dark side, and on them it looks just as tempting as the original Brides of Dracula do to Jonathan - specifically, lots more feminine imagery and lustful behaviour, which of course was considered a specifically feminine mode of Bad Manners. Even the Twilight style vampires keep the "if you are worthy you can join us and Become Awesome" aspect, when they keep nearly nothing else.

Werewolves are uncontrolled violence and the pure fuzzy essence of dick-waving. They're nothing like real wolves (though there was this one series I read recently, where they behaved much more interestingly - one, out of hundreds) but are instead the distilled & uncut essence of Those Guys The Writer Went To School With. But, unlike Those Guys, they've got the narrative potential to accept you, make you one of them, give you furry superpowers, and then admire you for not giving in to the urge to rip everyone's teeth out. Or, of course, they might just eat you, but nobody tells them they have to be elegant and restrained and use the right fork for your liver.

Mermaids are another interestingly gendered one. Women & feminine-of-centre genderqueer people tend to be much more attracted to mermaids as a concept than men do, probably because it's men they choose as their victims, dragging them down into the deep cool depths of a thinly disguised metaphor. It's not normal to become a mermaid, but their equivalent - the selkie - is something that anyone could return to being.

Elves (faeries, sidhe, the Tylwyth Teg) are famed for stealing children & poets, and anyone who escapes - or who's returned - comes back Interestingly Broken in an awesome sort of way. We all dream of that - of having a disability that makes narrative sense and actually gives you something in return, that you can find an actual reason for. And if you're as awesome as Sir Huon of Bordeaux, you may even become King of Faerie yourself.

The mere existence of zombies changes the world you live in: it becomes survival horror, because eventually, no matter what you do, these things are going to come after you. They are your future, and you will become either one yourself, or its brutalized reflection, the zombie hunter. If zombies exist, you have no choice but to step up to the plate and become awesome.

Concerning witches & wizards - again, their existence changes your world. The possibilities become so much more possible. Even just by meeting one, you learn so much more about the way the world works, and they teach you: yer a wizard now, Harry, and those mean girls are in So Much Trouble. Like it or not, you'll never see the world the same way, and you've got a job to do, whether your name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden or Juanita Louise Callahan.
mirrorshard: (Default)
2007-08-21 10:55 am
Entry tags:

Virtual epidemiology

The BBC have finally picked up on the World of Warcraft 'corrupted blood' incident, previously discussed by the game-studies and game-design community here. (Yes, that's almost a two-year gap between the timestamps on those posts. That's the BBC for you.)

To be fair to them, they're talking about it because health researchers are starting to think about virtual worlds in the context of epidemiology, and whether they'd provide a better model for studying the spread of infectious diseases than standard computer models.
Read more... )
mirrorshard: (Vigee Le Brun)
2007-03-30 04:46 pm
Entry tags:

Books I read in school

I keep hearing, from one source or another, about how English teachers completely turned them off reading, or how English teachers sparked their lifelong love of $author(s). (If English isn't your first literary language, substitute. Or not, as you prefer. You know the drill.)

A lot of them have seemed a bit absolutist - don't like anything we read in school, usually. Oddly, it doesn't seem to go the other way, but then I don't think I've ever met anyone who liked everything.

My experience was always that I'd make up my own mind about each piece, and I don't think it was the teacher (or the fact that it was In School) that did it. Then again, that might be because I was lucky enough to grow up in a house full of books, with family that approved of my reading, so books were nothing special to me. Intellectually, I understand that there are people who don't have this experience, but it's not something I've ever discussed with people - are any of you in that position?

Of course, it probably helped that I enjoyed school - or at least most lessons - too. I was always enthusiastic and engaged, though occasionally over-snarky about something I'd decided I didn't like. My likes and dislikes never seemed to divide themselves along genre or form lines, at least, and I don't recall having to study anything I actually disliked.

I did manage to OD on Death of a Salesman, and I probably wouldn't have finished Jane Eyre if it hadn't been for A-level English, but then it would have been years before I discovered Jane Austen otherwise, too.

So am I that atypical? (This is probably a rhetorical question, given the skewed nature of LJ. I'd be interested to find out if any of you had the "classic" turned-off-by-teacher experience.)
mirrorshard: (The Book of Rainbows)
2006-08-20 11:03 am

History of science and theology too

By special request from [livejournal.com profile] midnightmelody.

William Gilberd, a prosperous London physician, president of the College of Surgeons, and physician to Queen Elizabeth I at the end of her life (and, as it turned out, his) is often called the first real scientist. The traditional historical epithet for him is 'the Father of Magnetism', after his most famous, and most complex, project, investigating the Earth's magnetic field through a series of terrella magnets (lit., 'little earth' - a spherical magnet).
long )
mirrorshard: (Default)
2006-08-15 03:39 pm

Edinburgh, part 1

Things I've done in Edinburgh so far, let's see... mostly I've been wandering around and getting to know the city, which of course involves finding the good pubs.
good pubs and Odd chip places )
a good bookshopping )
Quakerism and exotic 1960s vegetables )
street theatre )
shakespeariana )
mirrorshard: (Default)
2006-08-15 02:44 pm
Entry tags:

To Glasgow, eventually

I'm in Edinburgh, having fun about half the time, and let's see what I can do by way of highlights for my first week or so in Scotland.
the misfortunes of travel )shiny things at Kelvingrove )
mirrorshard: (Blue flower tea)
2006-07-25 03:26 am
Entry tags:

Wae the pow'r the giftie gie us

This is a passing ramble inspired by a lemming I found. Here's the original, though I'm not going to name any of the N different places I've seen it now and again.
quite long )
mirrorshard: (Default)
2006-03-28 05:54 am

Death and Books

I was, mostly at random, reminded of a previous post I made, a brief snark comment on the death penalty. I should also note at the top here that it quickly turns into rambling about books instead, though.

[Other point I was originally going to make, about why some people support the death penalty so strongly, excised because I can't yet find a way to put it that doesn't turn into a sneer.]

I think I may have it, now, so bear with me, Gentil Reader, while I ramble. or not )
mirrorshard: (Default)
2006-02-15 05:39 pm
Entry tags:

Mark Rothko - Punk Rock Poet

Jonathan Jones on Mark Rothko's Seagram murals in the Tate Modern.


Rothko's not by any stretch of the imagination an easy artist to grok or to think about. Basically, he painted large brooding colour fields.

This article, though, says a lot about the way he thought, and why he went back on his commission to provide "600 square feet of paintings for the most exclusive room in the new Four Seasons restaurant at the Seagram Building in New York - the most prestigious public commission that had ever been awarded to an abstract expressionist painter, a tremendously lucrative and enviable chance to take his work to new heights of ambition."
lots more )
mirrorshard: (Default)
2006-01-29 02:11 pm
Entry tags:

Tate Modern (belated ramble)

This was last Saturday, or the Day of the Great Whale, and I've been meaning to post about it since, but not got around to it. I went up to London to look at the house in Leytonstone I am planning on sharing with [livejournal.com profile] pfy, and it seemed a shame not to go do a few other things while I was at it.
Read more... )
mirrorshard: (Default)
2005-11-18 01:17 pm
Entry tags:

Geek communication

Many of my readers are geeks themselves, and I'm quite prepared to admit that I am too. The ramifications of the ways geeks and non-geeks communicate with each other rather interest me, so I trust you'll forgive my rambling on the subject for awhile.

long )
mirrorshard: (Default)
2005-11-15 08:24 am
Entry tags:

Genre & subgenre

Now that makes me think there should be a Church of the Subgenre. Though the term "subgenre" seems to me to imply a semi-exclusive category rather than an arbitrary slice through a continuum, which is a better term for the kind of books that sparked this particular idle, bootless reflection.
rambling )
mirrorshard: (Default)
2005-10-01 05:05 am
Entry tags:

Welcome to the Quiet corner

Or, our Old Friend the Unreliable Narrator says Hi. He is your Old Friend too, right? I'd hate to think anyone of the calibre and distinction to be reading this journal wouldn't know him well already.

for the benefit of new visitors )
mirrorshard: (Default)
2004-11-10 04:53 pm

Discworld roleplaying

I'd been wondering whether I could strictly claim to be a roleplayer or not (and, indeed, whether I wanted to, but that's a whole 'nother story).

So I came to the conclusion that it's not to do with standing around drinking tasteless virtual beer, and inventing gossip, and fomenting political incidents, but to do with the way you view the environment.

Multi-User Dimensions are:

i) chunks of interacting code with characteristic behaviours, that can be manipulated for your profit, and inhabited by the avatars or toons of other people who are also trying to do the same.

ii) simulated worlds which are presented through text, in which one interacts with the environment and with real (player) and imaginary (non-player) characters in various ways.

As a long-time roleplayer and fiction reader in real life, it's my instinct to take the text at face value - if it tells me that that is what it is, it's only polite to believe it. It also doesn't matter what the text is presented by - whether it's a server, a real-life GM, a live roleplaying ref & a group of monsters, or a neatly bound series of dead tree slices. It all comes from someone's imagination in the end.

Suspension of disbelief rocks.

The problem is, it's fragile. I don't have a problem with my character killing monsters, or indeed other supposedly-human characters, since I'm used to that in roleplaying games, both tabletop & live-action. But there are non-player characters wandering around that are perfectly ordinary animals - dogs, cats, horses, and wild animals too. The only way I've interacted with them in the past is in real life, and there is no way I can react to them otherwise without major cognitive dissonance, which expresses itself as panic & bewilderment, or without constantly telling myself that this isn't even a game.

(Since, of course, ninety-five percent or so of the games I play are roleplaying games, and one expects to treat the game's environment as if it were real. Where else does the fun come from, if not that? And yes, that's an honest question, I'd love to hear an answer to it.)

The other problem - the other face of this problem - is when the non-player characters break their role and act in ways you wouldn't expect a character to be able to. Every time they remind me that they're chunks of code, and not bound by the same rules I am, a bit of my suspension of disbelief goes SMASH-tinkle-tinkle on the ground.

And there's only so many times you can clap your hands.
mirrorshard: (Default)
2004-10-28 05:12 pm
Entry tags:

Tate Modern trip.

Had a wonderful time there- (thanks to Vikki, for the company) - and saw, as always, some lovely things. It's always hard to pull away from the Monet, but the lovely colour field paintings in the same room (though I'm blessed if I can remember the artist) managed it.

The one that always amuses me, though, is Carl Andre's Steel Zinc Plain (1969) [2], which I remembered to make a note of for once. It's a six-by-six chequerboard of steel and zinc floor tiles, put straight onto the gallery floor, without any fence around it or notice beside it (the Tate policy is to put the title & comment cards about six or ten feet away, so you don't get distracted from the work by them - I approve). The comment card for this one says that the artist designed it to be walked on.

On the other hand, I refuse to believe that nobody ever designed all those gorgeous, luscious bronzes not to be touched and hugged and, well, groped, frankly (can you tell I'm a bit of a bronze sculpture fan? Umberto Boccioni's Unique Forms of Continuity of Space (1913)[1] is to die for), so the curators clearly have their own opinions on the proper way to treat Art.

So, we have this piece of Art sitting, without any explanation or label for the casual viewer, on the gallery floor. Most people were carefully walking around it; one didn't seem to notice it at all, and walked straight across; and a lot of the ones who walked around didn't steer clear, but swung one foot casually over the corner of the tiles. One, a boy of about six, carefully walked up to the edge, put one foot onto the tiles, then turned around with a big grin on his face and walked neatly around them to rejoin his parents. This time, I walked around it, but when I first encountered it, I did much the same as the boy - a sort of awkward compromise between fulfilling the artist's intentions and not going out of the normal way to do so. A very British response to art I suppose.

[1] http://www.moma.org/collection/depts/paint_sculpt/blowups/paint_sculpt_012.html

[2] http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ViewWork?cgroupid=999999961&workid=21770&searchid=6637
So, the question!

What would YOU do?
mirrorshard: (Default)
2004-06-03 05:13 pm
Entry tags:

Force and Ego

Rambling time... bear with me, please. Or, alternatively, go read something else. The power, Gentle Reader, is entirely in your hands - nobody is forcing you to do anything, in any way.

Apt, I suppose, because force is the subject of this particular meaningless post. I've had a certain amount of experience with social groups ruled by force and ego, having gone through a more than usually rough school, and then spending most of my university years hanging around with roleplayers and SF geeks - you know, the ones who idolize fighting types, massive destruction, the solving of problems with weaponry, and Big Fucking Guns. Mind you, this is a wild generalization, and not all of them were like that.

But I think I'm safe in saying that any social group run on force (either social pressure or physical force, or the threat thereof) ends up with basically four types of people in it: bullies, yes-men, wimps, and benevolent tyrants.

Which is to say, the ones who get off on using force and proving their power and authority, either to good ends or to bad; the ones who want to have a quiet life and get it by agreeing with someone more powerful or charismatic than them; and the ones who don't want to have anything to do with the whole dominance thing, or who know they'll lose whenever it comes down to a contest, but can't or won't get out of it for one reason or another.

One common error they all fall into is in coming to accept that 'how things are' is 'how things ought to be'. There are basically three kinds of people: elected officials, who have a certain amount of power and the responsibility to use it the way their electorate want, or will accept; appointed officials, who have, again, a certain amount of power, and are answerable to the person or group who appointed them; and private citizens, who have whatever power they can scrape together and are answerable only to the written or unwritten rules of the social group they're operating in.

So, if these private citizens feel they have power, they'll use it to enforce their whims, even when - or especially when - they think these whims to be some sort of social or universal rule.
"You don't sit in Big Joe's chair."
"Only complete losers drink Diet Coke."
"No complaining if you aren't One of Us."

They also tend to think in black and white terms, in my experience, and don't understand a couple of basic principles of game theory - for instance, that what they're playing isn't a zero sum game, and that their winning condition doesn't necessarily match up with the other person's.
mirrorshard: (Default)
2004-05-25 04:34 pm

Examples of non-violent fantasy?

Looking at the post below, it occurs to me that some suggestions for something a bit more thoughtful and less... nasty... would help.

A fair number of these are written for children or teenagers, which I'd say was a good thing - train them up right and they'll stay that way, or at least more likely than if you raise them on a diet of Warhammer and David Drake.

  • Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic and The Circle Opens - anything of hers is worth a read.

  • Likewise Diana Wynne Jones - I'd recommend starting with Archer's Goon or Cart and Cwidder (the first book of the Dalemark Quartet). Oh, or The Dark Lord of Derkholm.

  • No recommendation list would be complete without Neil Gaiman. His Sandman graphic novel series is an absolute instant classic, and American Gods raises some really interesting things about mythology and, well, people. After all, that's what everything comes down to in the end.

  • Pamela Dean's Tam Lin is a modern-day retelling of the Scots legend, taking place in a Minnesota university campus in the late seventies. Besides the fantasy elements, it's a wonderful, complicated story of friendships, insecurity, and the problems of life.

  • Lois McMaster Bujold writes gripping and extremely readable books about people who try to get along in a militaristic world, and to improve things for others as well. Start with Cordelia's Honour (comprising Shards of Honour and Barrayar).

More when I think of some.
mirrorshard: (Default)
2004-05-19 10:41 pm

For swords about the Cross

Fantasy books are shaped and formed by violence.

Mind you, this isn't universal - there are always laudable exceptions, gentler stories with their own devoted readers. But the mainstream of fantasy, the ones most prominently on display in the bookshops, and the ones that new fantasy readers often come to first, are the books about wars, warriors, bloodshed either official or informal or both, the slaughter of other people or strange monsters, and the overcoming or at least endurance of other peoples' violence.

Forgive me, Not-So-Gentle Reader, for putting words into your mouth, but you will say to me: Fantasy worlds are violent, rough. That's how things are in places like that. You have to do what you can to survive.

Which is, in the strictest sense of the phrase, begging the question. Who made them that way? Why, Ungentle Reader, you did, and all your kind.

Personally, I blame J.R.R. Tolkien for starting it off, with his split personality and unconscious racism. He hated war, as it was fought in his time - the barbarism, the atrocity, the senseless deaths. But he looked back, in a very Christian manner, to the olden days when real heroes had shining swords and the lakes of blood they waded through didn't matter, because their cause was just, and they were only fighting infidels - none of these messy complications that the World Wars introduced, about impersonal deaths and people like you on the other side too.

The Lord of the Rings is all about the way the glory of war and the extremes of good and evil have passed out of the world, to be replaced by progress and the simple beauty of village life. It's an incredibly sad story. It's also all about violence, and the way it affects ordinary people.

Now, I suppose this is an entirely legitimate topic for discussion, but how did it become so central to the entire genre? It's almost impossible to imagine someone living in a fantasy world who doesn't own or acquire a sword. Most fantasy worlds have a war of some sort, or the threat of war, going on somewhere - if it's not a war, it will be an incursion of monsters, a plague of brigands, and so on.

Partly, I suppose, it's because having a sword makes problems appear so much simpler, and weapons equate not only to power, but to a convenient hand-sized chunk of power that you can just pick up and use.

Tolkien, mind you, wasn't anywhere near alone in his world-view - the same ideas about chivalry appear in the work of ER Eddison (The Worm Ourobouros), Andrew Lang (the Blue Fairy Book &c), CS Lewis (Narnia), and GK Chesterton (no fantasy per se, but The Napoleon of Notting Hill is a perfect exemplar of the idea).

It's interesting how all the swords end up in the hands of upper-class men - even Lucy got a bow, traditionally a yeoman's weapon, and Peter and Edmund were given swords straight off the mark.

I think that it's a very Victorian thing, as well as a Christian one - the current age is unlike any other, they said, and Mankind has never had it so good. All previous ages (and, by analogy, fantastic worlds) were barbaric and violent in comparison.