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30 July
designing for friends
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When I design for friends, so much of what I put into the design is really them, I feel silly taking any sort of credit.

That said, The artist formerly known as Revo and maybe now known as Subv has a new design. Which I made. And she.

Well, she didn't exactly dictate (I'm a pissy bastard who won't work like that, and she's not a blognazi). But it's really all about her. In a way, she sat for it.

I feel like a baby Dar Williams singing about her babysitter.
The play's called The Unicorn
and my babysitter is the unicorn
so that means the star is ... my babysitter.
Thank You.

Yes. Designing for people you really like is both immensely easy (thousands of ideas flood your head, or the one truly right one springs fully formed) and immensely hard (they won't tell you it's not perfect, and you want only for it to be perfect, no matter how many times you have to try).

Almost all my design work lately has been like that. I'm supposed to be on hiatus, but I can't resist the brainy kid impulse to help a friend out fixing their email, or setting up a site.

 

28 July
shakespeare is ass
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We've started rehearsals for another play. I think I may have mentioned some time back that we were writing - or really cobbling - this thing vaguely based on Hamlet.

I hate Hamlet. And the process of reading through the entire play aloud didn't unconvince me.

It comes back to something I've said before and will probably say several times in the future. Recognizing Shakespeare as the single truly brilliant writer of theatre ever is a mistake. It's a matter of publicity. Someone, some time ago, decided that Shakespeare was important. It caught on, and once caught on became embedded in our educational system. At least in English-speaking countries.

This isn't an indication of Shakespeare's brilliance, but of the work's normalcy.

I will say that a complete, thorough reading of any Shakespeare play does reveal several clever ways of working with theatrical conventions of the day. Meaning - not knowing otherwise, you'd have no idea that things like soliloquys were devices for scenic shifts. Clever, indeed.

Because Shakespeare is so widely known worldwide, the work has great potential for universality in performance. Everyone knows Shakespeare (or so we think - turns out our cast doesn't), so using it as a vehicle for something different still resonates as familiar.

But, like too much else, modern mainstream theatre embraces this cultural yearning for normalcy. Even with artists who aren't boring, it happens. It trends towards the middle, and so trends towards repetition. In the case of Shakespeare, this becomes hundreds of misguided attempts to recreate The Globe around the world. [Heh. Globe. Around the world. Heh. Oh, nevermind.]

Normal and repetitious is not what art is made of.

This is why Shakespeare, despite protestations to the contrary, is ass.

[I've been waiting to make this argument before the world since I was twelve. Thus the juvenile "ass".]

 

25 July
the cafeteria
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I work in a building. Nay, a campus. That includes a cafeteria. It's actually a reasonably good cafeteria that serves interesting food, albeit much with chicken [I have this thing against chicken and the very specific cruelty of industrial chicken farms; admittedly, I do occasionally lapse for particularly good food containing chicken, but generally, no. You can order just about any chicken dish at the cafe chickenless, so that works out alright.].

I eat lunch at the cafeteria a couple of days at least every week. But not actually at the cafe; I pick up and take back to my desk, where I work 9-10 hours a day. I consider this reasonable, given the demands on my time and making allowances for unproductive time.

I rarely lunch out. If I had time, few of my colleagues would. They're all picking up and eating out of styrofoam containers at their desks, just like me.

But this week I've been in another building, taking a class. This building has no cafeteria, barring a small place to buy drinks and snacks. And at lunch, all of these people clear out of the building. They don't even pick up; they just flat eat out. And they seem to leave earlier than we do.

I doubt these people have so much more work than we.

In fact, I think the cafeteria is a particularly insidious brand of forced productivity. If you can pickup and eat at your desk, some people will, until everyone eventually feels obliged. If you're that tied to your desk and meetings, you will come to feel you can't leave. You'll stay later. Come earlier.

And it's all the cafeteria's fault.

 

18 July
diet culture
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I think I've finally seen weight prejudice at work in my office.

The Atkins diet trend is belatedly hitting most of the management team around me. Working lunches are now meat salads (which, alright, I'm okay with) and diet Coke (which is, just admit it, disgusting) for these guys.

And they talk about it, pretty much any time food is in front of them. It's strange, watching these otherwise confident middle-aged men and women enumerating what they can and can't eat and confessing their biscuit lapses. Not just strange. Uncomfortable.

Is the implication of managers doing this en masse that one must be fixated on food and thinness in order to manage? To be promoted? Well, I guess not. But it does feel a little like hostile-environment-ness, from a harassment law perspective.

Then again, I guess being fat or the existence of candy in the office could be construed as creating a hostile environment for the dieters.

Still. I wonder that it's considered perfectly appropriate to talk about one's diet in mixed (dieting/not dieting) work company, but not appropriate to talk about things like politics.

And while I'm slightly discomfited, I haven't the slightest clue how to get people to stop talking about their infernally boring diets. If they were my friends and not my coworkers or people who are in some slight way the boss of me, I'd either tell them all about my diet, constantly, or just flat out insist they shut up.

And they would. I have that effect on people.

For something slightly related, check out the commentary on BFB's Atkins post.

 

10 July
return
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So. After quite a long month of not having internet at home, I have internet.

And no time.

 

02 July
i think i'm onto something here
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I posted this theory of mine about what fat means what seems like a really long time ago, but is actually what most of you guys read last time you were here. I'm sure it sounded like a clever theory, but a theory, speculation rather than the way things actually are.

But no.

New sports store billboard (spotted in LA by a DTMWSIMB listmember):

Running sucks...being a fat slob sucks more!

At first glance, this appears to be an insult of the highest order. All fat people should be royally pissed. Either that, or they're just being cheeky (like with their sweatshop workers!), and anyone who says otherwise is just a cranky spoilsport with no sense of fun or irony.

But wait.

They're not actually talking about being fat, per se. They're talking about being "fat", meaning "bad". Meaning dissipated failure and all those other lovely implications I talked about before.

These marketing geniuses aren't asses. They're just like everyone else.

 

i am not dead
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...just still having issues with the phone lines at home, despite attempts to fix the darn thing.

Updates have been particularly sporadic of late due to much working on my part and the resulting total lack of time to post from elsewhere.

However, the working has been rewarded with an unexpected nice-sized middle of year raise. So, yahoo. And so on.

I did manage to post a couple of journal entries lately, if you're desperate for something from me to read. Oh, and I made new desktop wallpaper (in the "art" section) last weekend while I was dog sitting!

 

how's that for schadenfreude?
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Message from my former webhost, who persist in being complete bastards about my attempts to recoup the expense of cancelling their service after the last time they were hacked into a weeklong outage:

Hi all, This is to notify you that the server is currently being attacked and that this might be causing a lot of downtime in the days to come.

Ha. I'm just glad that's not me.

 

edumacation
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I'm surprised more people haven't already responded to Alison's WHB question this week.

She asks (see full question on WHB) what an ideal educational system would be like.

I'm treated to a lot of radical opinions on education on a daily basis, thanks to my partner's unique perspective on teaching. Actually, he ought to be guest blogging and answer to this one; his opinions have influenced me that much.

The first part of her question (there's a second, which I'll get to later):

What do you feel is important to learn to survive in the world and who would teach it? Do you cater to a specific group of students, or are you open to all? What teachers would you choose or what would you look for in a teacher? What would you like the students to leave with?

I would de-standardize curricula. Beyond a basic ability to use a calculator and read/speak the predominant language, integrative thinking is probably the most useful skill a kid of any age could get from school. People seem to reach that most effectively by tying what's going on in the world with what's going on in their lives and what has happened before (fictionally, figuratively, or historically). Some schools have attempted integrative curricula, but they seem to always miss the most important part - the student his or her world.

Schools generally don't have the library resources they need. I don't mean rooms of books - though, yes, those are useful. But classrooms that offer learning opportunities. Books, videos, internet sites, images, recipes, whatever might be vaguely related to the subject at hand. Everyone learns a little differently, is interested in different things. The more resources you have available, the more likely each student is to find something that intrigues him or her.

I think schooling today focuses much too much on proving that things have been remembered and less on allowing the student to evolve an interest. Yes, there are a lot of practical constraints (teaching staff, budget, political demands that schools show the value they add) that lead to our current school system in the US, but that doesn't mean we couldn't come closer to ideal within some of those constraints. Even just giving teachers a few more resources, or a little more freedom to build discussion into the class would help.

As for teachers. Well. It seems like many teachers think of students as a thing to be disciplined or vessels for the importation of knowledge, not collaborators in learning. Some of the shifts in corporate management philosophy (ie referring to employees as "associates", building more collaborative workspaces) would really benefit schools if applied there. We're talking about major, radical reform here, though. School is very much structured in a hierarchy, and the whole structure would have to change (students, teachers, administration, everything) for this to work.

What else do we need? More teachers who actually respect and like their students. I know some. I know some teachers who aren't like this. This wide variance may well be a result of the status of teachers - they're essentially pink collar workers, hardly paid what they're worth. And sending one's children to private school by no means improves their likelihood of encountering respectful, expert teachers - in fact, private school teachers are generally less well-paid and less likely to have expertise in the field they teach.

I could say so much more on this topic, and I probably will. But here's a response for now.

 

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