A Broad Abroad

The last few months have been rather busy, and I am happy to report that I am taking a break. A European break.

Yes, I leave Friday afternoon for Germany, where I will stay for a few days before heading on to Copenhagen. The trip isn't all for pleasure, though. I am presenting my thesis at the Association of Internet Researchers annual conference, my first real conference presentation.

My mom is flying half way across the world to attend my panel, which makes me feel both slightly embarrassed and incredibly supported. I think I need to realize that growing up doesn't mean that your parents stop being proud of you. Mom never got to go to soccer games (an athlete I am not), so I am happy that she can come and support me at my academic events. Hmm, do we need a new "mom" demographic? Academic mom? Scholar mom? As long as it's not hockey mom.

Zeph and I are going on this adventure together, which means that the adorable kittens are being cared for by a tag-team of our roommate and a friend. Between the two of them (the people, that is) the kittens will surely get fed and their box will get cleaned. But it is so hard to leave the little furballs behind!

I will be traveling with a computer, however, so the blog will hopefully be updated a few times. I won't confine myself to topics that fit the green mission of this blog, but I am interested in seeing if Europe is the environmental utopia that American's always think it is.

Auf Wiedersehen!

My Carbon Addiction

I've already admitted I don't own a car, and I'm not ready yet to delve into the carbon cost of food, so what carbon am I talking about today? The kind in your soda, of course!

Yes, always a fan of the double entendre, this post is dedicated to the carbon emissions required to produce and ship carbonated beverages. Carbon, carbon everywhere, even in your drink.

The onset of my addiction happened just about the same time Zeph and I started shopping at the farmer's market. We were still making trips to the grocery once a week for the "essentials" that we couldn't buy at the market. My "essential" was carbonated water - crystal geyser lemon water, to be exact. I went through about two liters a week, and at my worst I bought two of the small four-packs. This had to stop.

"Why?" you say? Let's talk about the energy in my carbonated water (without getting too exact with the numbers). There is energy required to make the bottles my water came in, as well as the little plastic ring that held together the bottles if I bought the four-pack. Then the bottles need to be filled, and of course they need to be carbonated, which requires more energy.

Then the bottles have to be trucked from heaven-knows-where to the store, where I purchase them. I don't drive my groceries home, so that's the only step that doesn't use carbon-based energy in this whole process. The water get stored in my refrigerator until I drink it, after which the bottles get picked up at my house and taken to the recycling plant, using more energy to turn them back in to new plastic bottles.

As you can see, this process is a bit problematic.

I could just drink still water out of my tap, but that isn't nearly as enjoyable. Plus, still water does not a good mojito make. And, honestly, I refuse to give up my little pleasures in life. All that does is create a bunch of grumpy people who bemoan how hard it is to live a greener life. It doesn't have to be hard people! You just have to find creative solutions.

As is the case with a majority of green solutions, I looked to the past. Gin and tonic has been around for quite some time, so I knew that fizzy water existed before the invention of the PET bottle. I poked around and found some seltzer bottles, but most of them require small cartridges to carbonate the water. Trashing a metal cannister every time I want to carbonate my water doesn't seem all that environmentally friendly.

So I poked around some more and found a company called SodaClub that manufactures counter-top carbonation devices. I did some research and found that the carbonation systems sold by SodaClub were preferred over other seltzer bottles by far, so I decided to go ahead and give it a shot.

The only decision left to make was which model to get. The cheaper model has larger bottles, but they are still made of plastic. Not exactly the route I wanted to go. The more expensive model doesn't carbonate as much water per bottle, but the bottles are made out of glass - glass that, unless I break it, will never have to be replaced. That appealed to me. A lot. Decision made.

My penguin arrived a few weeks later, and I had it set up and ready to go in a few minutes. I filled all the bottles and put them in the fridge to chill (apparently chilled water carbonates better) and waited patiently until Zeph got home so we could play with our new toy.

First, we made lemon water, flavored with a wonderful citrus fruit we sliced and juiced ourselves. It was delicious. Next we tried one of the soda flavorings that came with the machine. It pretty much sucked. Then, the piece de resistance, we made mojitos with our new water. Fantastic. Lately, when I crave a coke, I make an Italian soda instead. I'm finally not supporting Coca-Cola anymore!

After two months of daily use the penguin is still going strong. We replaced our Co2 cartridge once, but I am happy knowing that it will be refilled with air and sent to a new customer. Best of all? Drinking lemon water is a great way to keep the cat's nose out of your beverage. Pesky, curious kitties.

What if the Cat Barfs?

Ever since I moved into my apartment a roll of paper towels has continuously hung from my kitchen cabinets. Not the same role, obviously, but you know what I mean. When the last roll was wearing down to the tube I made a conscious decision not to replace it.

The decision was made easier by the fact that there weren't any other rolls in the house; my Costco-size stash had been reduced to nothing. The environmental me wanted to stop the paper usage in an effort to save the forests, and the lazy me just didn't want to get off my butt and go buy another roll. And, well, decisions are always easy if there is laziness involved in sticking to them.

So, for the last week, the members of my household have found alternatives to using paper towels. Zeph and I used cloth napkins at mealtime instead of a paper towel split down the middle. I used the sponge more often to wipe up messes, even the ones from the floor. In fact, there is now a dedicated sponge for floor use because wiping the floor + wiping your dishes = gross. After use, the towels get thrown in the washing machine and wait until there is a big enough load to start the cycle. The sponges get rinsed like crazy and placed on the back splash, not still filled with water in the sink where the germs can propagate like rabbits (I am so OCD about my kitchen).

But the one question that has been running through my mind all week is, "What if the cat barfs?" It's not such a hypothetical question either, as the cat does indeed barf on a semi-regular basis. Don't worry, she's not sick. She just eats way to fast and then runs around too much and her little bloated belly can't take it. But enough about my cat's digestive habits...

Last night my pondering became a reality when, after a particularly energetic round of chase the invisible bug, the cat retreated under the futon and did her barfy business. Did I mention she always climbs under the futon? Why must she do that to me?

Zeph and I groaned and went into action, pulling the futon away from the wall, grabbing the bottle of cleaner, and reaching for the paper - oh, wait, there aren't any paper towels! So, instead, I grabbed a few cleaning rags (pieces of an old sheet that I ripped apart) and mopped up the mess. Some of it got thrown into the compost bin, and the rags got thrown into the wash with the other soiled towels.

And, because I don't need my house to smell like cat barf, the washing machine cycle was kicked off. I'll work on the my water consumption issues in a week or two....

Admiring the View

Seasonal views from the outhouse at StoneLake Farm. I think this means a fall trip is necessary.

View from the Outhouse

View from the Outhouse

view from the octagon's outhouse

TBP (to be photographed)

Bring Me on Home

About a year ago, after much cajoling, Zeph moved to San Francisco. He brought with him his comfortable bed, his ugly coffee table, and his Audi A4. Now that a year has passed, one of the three belongings is no longer with us. Unfortunately, it's not the coffee table.

After about three months of waking up way too early to move the car for street cleaning, storing it in Mom's garage, and generally not using it due to the hassle it caused, we started crunching some automotive numbers. It turns out it was cheaper for us to rent a car for one weekend a month (about as often as we used the car) than to pay to own, maintain, and insure our own vehicle. Who knew?

Zeph found some poor soul to take over the lease, and that was the end of the car. And, honestly, our lives have barely been impacted by its departure. Driving in San Francisco is a pain and a half, parking is nonexistent, and having to drive means that somebody doesn't get to drink. Where is the fun in that?

So how do we get around without the car? Bus, mostly. Zeph takes the bus to work, we take the bus to get our groceries (and manage to do just fine with what we can carry home), and we even bring all of our beer-making supplies home on the bus (more on this later). I am lucky to be close enough to my office to walk, and there are plenty of restaurants and bars within walking distance as well. We do just fine without a car in San Francisco.

The problem is when we want to leave. Although my mom and her side of the family are slowly migrating to San Francisco, my dad and Zeph's parents live in the Sacramento area and Nevada County (respectively). We also have plenty of friends who still in that general area - friends who like to throw parties that we like to attend. Like I said before, we figured out that renting a car for the weekend (about $30 a day) is cheaper than keeping a car sitting in Mom's garage. And renting was what we did for many a weekend.

Then, all of a sudden, summer pricing kicked in and rental prices went through the roof. Not to mention the fact that after almost two months of not driving I almost had a heart attack when we went to fill up at the pump. I knew gas prices were soaring, but $60 for a tank?! When I started driving I could fill up for $20, and I'm not that old people.

Our weekend excursions went from an affordable $60 to a shocking $150. A change of plan was needed.

Amtrak is how I traveled home throughout college, and Zeph used to commute by train a few times a week. But, at $25 each person each way, the rental used to be more economical. Well, that has all changed, and $100 for a weekend with family isn't that much more than the gas alone would cost. Plus, you get to drink wine on the train. Try doing that in a car. Well, legally, I mean.

Nowadays we ride the rails often, and we have a new rule for staying with friends and family: You want to see us, you pick us up at the train station. And you know what? It hasn't been a deal breaker yet.

I promised in my previous post that this blog would be more accessible than its predecessors, so I will take a quick moment to acknowledge that part of the reason I can live without owning a car is because of the excellent public transportation in San Francisco. I couldn't have even come close to getting around without a car in my hometown of Roseville - the city just isn't designed for pedestrians.

But, there are steps you can take to use your car less. Try finding a coworker to carpool with, buy a bike for medium-distance trips, and if the drive would take less than 5 minutes, walk. Your pocketbook will thank you in the long run.

And, if you're feeling really empowered, go to a city council meeting and ask why the town is designed for automobiles and not people. Who is paying taxes, anyway? Tom, or Toyota?

Declaring my Independence

The title of this post could have many meanings considering I just graduated from college and now have to pay for everything, but I am talking about only one type of independence in this post: oil (foreign and domestic). Why not "dependence," the word politicians like to throw around these days when talking about oil? Because my quest is to achieve independence from oil and gasoline, not talk on and on about my dependence.

I've been thinking about "independence" for the last month or two, and I have decided it is time to blog my thoughts and actions. I know that my post is not the first of its kind to to grace the blogosphere, but maybe it can be different. So many of the models proffered as great examples in green living are unreasonable, unlikely, and sometimes downright unattainable. My goals are to make changes when and where I can, share my triumphs and failures, and still maintain a lifestyle one would consider "reasonable."

This means that I am not going to give up toilet paper, but I will watch which brand I buy. I am not going to try and grow all my own food, but I will change where I buy it. I am not going to give up all means of fuel-powered transportation, but I will make wiser choices when traveling. There will be other changes, too, but I don't want to give away the weeks worth of blog posts stored in my head. :-)

I know that some people might think that the more extreme examples of reducing one's carbon footprint are more inspiring, more likely to incite others to change. Indeed, part of the reason I did start to change my habits stem from what I have read about the changes others have made. But why compare yourself to an example that you will never be able to achieve? I love Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, but I don't see myself relocating to a farm in the near future. No Impact Man seems to be have changed his outlook on life, but I'm not ready to be that evangelical. I'm just an ordinary gal in an extraordinary city looking to live a life that is better for me, better for my fellow humans, and better for the globe.

Why don't you join me?


For those of you with an RSS reader, the blog just got a bit of a face lift. I am still working out some of the finer details, but I am happy with the direction things are going in. Let the blogging re-begin!

Checked Out/Checked In

Checked Out:

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver


Back from the Land by Eleanor Agnew

I got caught up in reading other things, so this is still on the shelf. The first few pages weren't enough to entice me away from my other reading.

Checked In:

Margaret Cho Assasin

Not the best Margaret Cho stand-up I have seen. Her new style is very political, which would be ok if it didn't sound like she was just whining the entire time. And I miss the jokes about her mom.

The Mormons

The second part of this documentary was way better than the first. In fact, it references the important sections of part 1 with enough detail that you could skip it altogether and not be lost. A very good piece on contemporary Mormonism. Of course, if you are a total history nerd, you'll want to watch both parts.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Ok, so part of the reason I never got around to reading Back from the Land is that I got caught up in reading this book (and I also got behind on my blogging, which is why this book appears in this post twice). I love the writing, and I love that she uses the extreme example of her family to show how more middle-of-the-road households can make smaller changes in their lives. It's not overly preachy in its message, but it does cause one to think about where our food comes from. While I am not ready to trade my city digs for a farm in the Central Valley, I have made a trip to my local farmer's market and thought about alternative ways to feed (drink?) my soda water habit.

Blogging Documents from Connect

USF uses an online service for students called USF Connect, a service which I am sure exists in many different forms for many different universities. Part of this service is USF Files, a place for students to upload and save their documents. It also works well as a make-shift file server, which allows documents to be linked to blogs.

Here is my quick tutorial on how to post links to documents on a blog by using USF Files.

Checked Out / Checked In

Checked Out:


I didn't have a chance to watch part 2, so this DVD is staying with me for a little while longer. Part 1 was pretty slow and put Zeph to sleep (literally), so I am hoping that part 2 will be better.

Checked In:
This DVD gave a good overview of the history of The People's Temple, as well as some background on Jones himself. I really liked how they incorporated the impact the Temple had on San Francisco, including San Francisco politics. Although it wasn't the topic of the DVD, it might have been interesting to add in a short bit on the connection between the Jonestown deaths and the homicide of Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk.

Much better than the last travel DVD I checked out. This one was up-to-date, and had the added bonus of a few episodes on basic travel skills. I learned a lot about Germany, and a lot about packing and train travel. This DVD seems to have all of Germany covered (including the Rhine, Munich, and Berlin), so don't bother checking out any other ones.

I didn't even watch this DVD, so I can't comment on it. The Black Forest and Cologne were covered in the other movie I checked out.

P.S. The links in this post should work. How come nobody told me all of the links in the previous post were broken?!

Getting Girls to Game

“So do you think the game was designed for men, women, or both?” I asked Victoria. It was how I usually ended my interviews for my senior thesis, which is on women who play World of Warcraft.

“I think it was designed for men,” she answered. “I think they did a decent job with throwing in some female aspects, but I think in general it was designed for men.” Her answer is not atypical of the other women I interviewed. None of them thought that the game was designed for women, though they agree that there are aspects that appeal to the female gamer.

Ok, I am sure you guys are getting sick and tired of being told how chauvinistic gaming is, and how gaming makes teenagers kill people, and how games are ruining the world. I'll put you at ease right away as I staunchly disagree with the latter two statements, though the first has some truth to it. But, I promise that the purpose of this piece is not to berate male gamers for their sexist ways (but the girls I interviewed did complain about the sexism in WoW, so knock it off!). I am here to help you, gents, by showing how you can tap into one of the few markets yet unclaimed by the industry: women.

Why even bother to convince you that women should be actively designed for in the mainstream gaming industry? We, the women, need the experience that gaming offers. Gaming offers a chance to become acquainted with computers – with use of software, with installation of software, and, as anybody who has changed a graphics card to improve the look of an Epic Flying Mount can attest to, with hardware. In an industry where women are still grossly underrepresented we need all the help we can get, and games will be a big help.

And what does the industry gain from this relationship? Money. Plain and simple. The market of boys young and old who buy video games is pretty much tapped out. I promise you there isn't some guy somewhere who one day is going to stumble into Target and say, “Play Station? What's that? What have I been missing out on?!” Plus, do you guys know how much a pair of Manolo Blahnik costs? What if you could convince an entire market share with plenty of disposable income to buy the latest console game – hell, to buy the console itself – instead of spending that money on a pair of shoes? I promise it can happen.

What you need to do is this: incorporate more flowers, puppies, and rainbows into your games. Oh, and pink, lots of pink. Just kidding! The Purple Moon company already tried that, and it seriously flopped. Girls don't necessarily want games with flowers and puppies and rainbows. I've played those games, and they generally suck.

The true solution is even simpler than skewing the color spectrum of the game toward pink hues. All you need to do is offer the chance to play female avatars. (Ok, that's not all, but I'll save my attack on game packaging with nearly-naked women for another article.)

“But we have published games with female characters!” you say. Right. For first person shooters there's Samus and there's Lara Croft, one girl who is only revealed to be female in the final cinematic, and one who wears her guns in holsters around her thighs, people. Her thighs! It's not exactly a great start. Role playing games are a little better at including women, but they are still a minority of the characters available. And if anybody says “Chung Lee” I will round-house kick you faster than you can say, “cultural appropriation.”

So, to expand on the first point, we don't need the chance to play a female character every once in a while. We need it in every game. That is all (again, see the note re: packaging for the disclaimer).

I am sure more than one designer is laughing at me right now. “That's all, she says?!” No, I am not a designer, but it seems to me that it should be easier than you think. The designers for Mass Effect did it, so you can too. Take the same gameplay, the same storyline, and just rearrange the polygons to form a female body instead of a male one. Throw in a screen in the beginning of the game to give the player of which version to play, and you're good to go.

“But the story changes in Mass Effect based on which gender you choose.” Yeah, you got me there. The love interest options for your character does change based on whether your character is male or female. But there's an easy solution for that, too: give the player a choice to become romantically involved with any of the characters. In Mass Effect the male Captain Shepard can become romantically involved with Ashley Williams, the female Captain Shepard with Kaidan Alenko, and they can both become involved with the Liara T'Soni. Why not just make it a romantic free-for-all, with the option to be gay, straight, or one who loves a genderless alien? Makes sense to me. Hell, if the developers of Harvest Moon were able to code the game to recognize which of the five girls in town you were courting, I think modern-day designers can handle three love interest options.

“You want us to make gay characters?” Not necessarily gay, but definitely bisexual. Equally open to a relationship with anybody of any gender, or even a lack of gender. You don't seem to have a problem with the super hot girl-on-alien kiss that slipped its way into Mass Effect, and I am sure the extra press attention helped sales of the game. Make the first game where the protagonist can be a super ass-kicking dude who kisses other super ass-kicking dudes, and I promise you will get tons of free publicity.

“But Mass Effect is an RPG. What about FPSs?”First person shooters do pose their own problems, but none that can't be overcome. There can be a Doomgal, a Gordina Freewoman, a Mistress Chief. Well, I probably wouldn't call her “mistress,” but you get the point. The main aspect to consider with FPSs is that they don't offer the same choices that RPGs; instead of player actions moving the story, there is a set storyline that every player will experience. Again, I think it is rather simple to create two nearly identical cinematics, one with a male protagonist and one with a female. The story can be consistent between the two, unless there is some instance where the male protagonist does something with his penis. And at that point, you really might want to rethink your storyline. Seriously. No storylines where a penis is pivotal to the progression.

“But don't girls want different gameplay?” Oh jeez, come on guys. Girls aren't that different from boys. We like most of the same stuff. Of the women I interviewed for my thesis, not one of them said, “I really like the cats you buy from the crazy cat lady!” when I asked about their favorite part of the game. They liked to raid, they liked to run instances, and they liked to PVP. In other words, they liked to kick some ass, and I am sure they have all kicked yours at some point. Sure, some of them liked to roleplay, but the founder of roleplay was a man! (RIP, Gygax) And I am sure there are boys out there who would rather play Spider Solitaire than Grand Theft Auto. My point is that there are differences in game preferences, but those differences are not necessarily gendered. Some girls may not like a particular game, but there will be some boys who don't like it either.

“So that's really all we have to do? Then girls will play our games?” I can't make any promises, but it sure will help. And, like I mentioned before, the advertising strategy will probably have to move away from using big busty women. But with girls to play in every game and a sexism-free advertising strategy I think the industry will be ready to accept a female audience. With that and a plug from somebody like Paris Hilton, you guys should be pretty much good to go. (Somebody has to make video games “Hot!”)

“Ummm... I'm out of questions.” Good, because I think I am done answering them. Like I said, the formula is simple:

+Female Characters
– Sexism
+ Paris Hilton endorsement
= Lots of Sales to Women

Why don't you go run the math and get back to me?

(This piece was originally part of my final project for my Sociology of Culture Class and is a spin-off of my senior thesis)

CA Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Same-Sex Marriage

In case you haven't heard already, the California Supreme Court ruled today that the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. SQUEEEEEEEEEEEE! To make things even better, as I was surfing the Chronicle's website to find an article to use, I stumbled across this one, which is an interview with my aunt and her fiancee. SQUEEEEEE again! I am so happy for you, Auntie Paula and Julie! It is a great day when all of my relatives can share equal access to marriage.


Lady in the black blazer: My Aunt Paula
Lady in the white plaid plaid shirt (behind Paula): My Aunt Julie
Head of the lady in the white t-shirt (behind Julie): My mommy
Source: NY Times

Checked Out / Checked In

Checked Out: Germany's Black Forest and Cologne, Germany, Swiss Alps & travel skills, Jonestown: the life and death of People's Temple, and The Mormons.

Checked In: Germany, Austria & Switzerland.
Rating: 3 stars
Review: This travel DVD was decently informative, but I don't think I can jet to Germany after watching it. The main drawback is that it is close to 20 years old (post-Berlin wall, but pre-Euro). I'll know how accurate the information is once I watch some of the newer Rick Steves DVDs. Oh, and after I read one of his books. I do need to check out a book from the library eventually. :-)

A Milestone

created at TagCrowd.com

Today is the last day of the Davies Forum. After what I am sure will be a grueling class session at NoPa, the class will disperse and go our separate ways, hopefully keeping in touch through the media we have used throughout the course.

As a final post, we were all asked to TagCrowd our blogs, and then reflect on what we see. So I found a url that shows all of my posts on the same page, plugged it into TagCrowd, fiddled with the settings, and hit enter.

I am not sure what I expected, but I don't think I would have guessed my most-used word in a million years: People.

What a fitting note to the end (not forever, just for now) of an academic career focused on the study of, well, groups of people.

Phillip Thurtle

Philip Thurtle

Last week the Davies Forum hosted its last speaker of the semester: Phillip Thurtle. As a Sociology student (soon to be graduate!), his talk was fascinating.

Phillip argues that we can explore both the present and the future in comic books. Comics show us what we fear as a society, and it also shows us how society could one day be.

Although I agree with his latter point, it is the first one I am more immediately interested in. Sociologists study the crap out of everything in order to learn what the norms, values, and ideologies are of a society, and fear is an important part of this. One of the more omnipresent fears is that of new technology; society feared the radio, the television, and now it fears the Internet. And I am sure at some point we feared the book, which is now the most holy form of media and the only one that schools spend an inordinate amount of time promoting. Ah society, how constantly you change...

But back to comic books! So what exactly does Phillip argue we fear? Technology and the industrial age. Spider man had his radioactive bite, Superman was spurred on by organized urban crime, and the X-Men (and women, really X-People) are all products of overexposure to radiation. As a group, we are worried that technology is going to change us all into weird people, mutant people, half people. We fear that technology is going to replace our humanity.

Ok, so you don't have to read comics to find out that society is freaked out by technology - just turn on your local news. This is where the second piece of the beauty of comics comes in. The news will tell us what is happening today, but comics can tell us what can happen tomorrow. They can speculate as to what our future will be.

I like to focus on the optimistic futures found in comics. Rather than worry about the Magnetos of the future world, I hope we will be like the X-Men (seriously, the gender bias has got to go): one big, happy, fucked-up family.

Checked Out

I just got a library card!

After living in San Francisco for almost 4 years, I finally registered with the San Francisco Public Library, and it was fairly painless. I filled out an online application, printed my form (at USF's library), and walked it down to the Park Branch. The only drawback is that my residential address doesn't match the address on my driver's license (the DMV needs to find a way to accommodate nomads), so my card is currently "provisional." But as soon as I show up with a piece of mail that has my name and address on it I will be free to check out materials to my heart's content.

SFPL's website could use some redesign work (some stuff is just hard to navigate), but it is user-friendly enough that I can pull information from it to blog for you fine people. And thus this is the first of what I hope will be many posts.

Just checked out: Germany, Austria, and Switzerland (a Rick Steves travel DVD)

Kevin Epps

Kevin Epps
Kevin Epps gave a Davies Forum talk ages ago, but there is one thing he said that I have been mulling over since then, and I still don't have a complete answer to my own question.

Kevin appeared a tad nervous during his talk, and he quickly opened the floor for a Q&A free-for-all. It was pretty amazing. What better way to address what your audience wants you to than to just ask them? He discussed copyright issues (especially for young media makers who haven't made a name for themselves yet), gentrification of the Bayview/Hunter's Point area, and how he uses media to serve his community.

Which is where my question comes in.

In countless media studies and Sociology classes, we have analyzed how the media portrays African Americans, and the portrayals are very rarely positive. The media teaches society, especially white society, to be afraid of African Americans. Who are the people getting busted on Cops? Black people. Who is getting busted for crime on shows ranging from the nightly news to CSI? Black people. What is take-home message from all of this media? Be afraid of black people.

I promise I'll get to my question eventually.

Before he gave his talk, I watched Kevin's documentary Straight Outta' Hunter's Point. While it was one of the first films of its kind that has documented what it is like growing up and living in a black ghetto, I found myself coming away with the same message that I get from all other media: The ghetto is scary, if you go to the ghetto there is a high chance you will be harmed, and don't forget to be afraid of black people.

"How do you work to portray your neighborhood in a truthful way without perpetuating white people's fears of African Americans?" (I told you I would get there eventually)

His off-the-cuff answer was one I did not expect. "Well, some of the people from the neighborhood would probably be glad if you were afraid to go there. Then you wouldn't move in and try and gentrify the place!"

I am sure he said more than that, but that comment is what has stuck with me. Part of me agrees with him - gentrification is pushing more and more people of color out of San Francisco on a routine basis. Anything that combats that should be a good thing.

But, on the other hand, racism is not going to go away if white people continue to be in fear of African Americans. Can't we find a way to avoid gentrification without perpetuating fear of an entire group of people based on their skin color?

I struggle between two sides of the argument, between those who argue for integration and those who argue for segregation. There are people of all races on both sides (and some in the middle), who defend their cases based on a variety of arguments, some of which I agree with, some of which I do not.

I still haven't reached a definitive answer as to what my actions, as a white ally, should be. Instead of sitting here and pondering what the residents of the neighborhood would prefer, maybe I should come down from the mountain of academia and do as Kevin did: Ask.

Kelly Quinn

It seems like forever ago that Kelly Quinn spoke at (to? with?) the Davies Forum. But I just made a vow to finally finish blogging all of our speakers (it is kinda required) in chronological order, and Kelly is where I left off.

Kelly was an awesome speaker. Her presentation style, content, and overall message were amazing. Some of the highlights:

-A grid is the most democratic way to lay out a city because it allows anybody to find his/her way without asking for directions. In a conversation the next morning, Kelly mentioned to me that some feminists argue that a circle is the most democratic, for what reason I do not remember. "I bet it's psychoanalytic feminists who say that," I responded, as if the term is a slur. "You bet." Damn you, psychoanalytic feminists!

-"Homogeneity is important to a lot of people... It's important to 92% of the people in my town." (on the homogeneity and the white population of her town)

-More than being democratic, the grid also allows for an element of surprise in the city. You turn a corner, and suddenly you bump into a neighbor, or a garage sale, or a flier for a lost kitten. Or, in Kelly's world, it would be nice to bump into a bit of history about your neighborhood, possibly printed on the back of a paper fan.

-"I like saying the word intercourse in public" (on social intercourse)

-Kelly met with some of the Davies students Friday morning, and she and I took a short walk around around the USF neighborhood. During the course of the stroll, Kelly stopped next to a box that holds plastic baggies for dog poo. The university erects the boxes in the hope that dog owners will clean up after their pets. Kelly pointed out how something such as the "doggie pot" can show what we value in our society - in this case, dogs, but not poo.

Thank you so much for speaking to (at? with?) us, Kelly!

Tag Cloud v.2

One of the tag cloud websites, TagCrowd, was down for some reason last night, but it is now up and running. Thus, here is a different tag cloud for the same project discussed previously. Also, the problem with tagging phrases (see comments for the previous post) has been fixed by combining all words in the phrase into one word, which results in some interesting looking tags that I promise are not typos.
created at TagCrowd.com

Tag Cloud

In class today, the Davies crew explored what it would be like to tag each other's blog posts (specifically, our "Best Blog Post Ever" assignment). We collectively tagged everybody's posts (except Steve, who is still working on his), and we came up with a list of 161 different tags.

I snapped a few pictures of the board, transfered all the data to a spreadsheet, and then created a paragraph of what our tags would look like. Since it takes almost an entire page, I won't post it here.

But I did found a sweet service that will create a tag could from any text you upload. Thus, you can find out collective tag cloud at Many Eyes. Enjoy!

StoneLake Farm

The Davies Forum event for this weekend was a trip to StoneLake Farm in Humboldt county. The farm was beautiful, the company was jovial, the food was tasty, and the weather was...

Well, it snowed. Some people might complain about the snow, and the cold, but I loved it. I grew up in the Sacramento Valley and it never snowed there. The few times I have been to Truckee there has been snow on the ground, but no snow falling from the sky. So let's just say I was a tad out of my element (heh), and I loved every minute of it.

More importantly, with my first snow came my first sighting of a snowflake. I'm not talking a little frozen droplet of water, nor a little ball of snow falling from the sky, but an actual flake. Like the ones you draw in kindergarten, with six points and lacy stuff in between. The biggest shock to me? Oh my god was it tiny! And perfect! And the tininess made it that much more perfect!

I immediately grabbed for my camera to snag a picture (macro photography is my fav genre), but realized that I had left it in the Octagon. I asked Blake if I could borrow his (the Davies crew always has at least one camera on hand), but before he could hand it to me the perfect snowflake melted into the dirt. It disappeared back into the earth, and though I did snag a shot of a less-perfect cousin, the only person who will ever see that perfect snowflake is me. I can talk about it at length, but I have no proof that it ever existed except my own memory of the incident.

And you know what? That's OK.

Government Control of Information = Really, Really Bad

This, among other reasons, is why I am leery of the government owning knowledge or the access to knowledge.

Jane Jacobs and San Francisco

As part of the Davies Forum, I recently read some chapters from The Death and Life of Great American Cities. They were pretty interesting, and some of the ideas were counter to what one might think is common-sense urban planning. for example, Jacobs argues that having a bar on your street is beneficial because it provides a draw for more people to be on your street throughout the night. Why do you want people on your street? Eyeballs. For Jacbos, eyeballs (the more the merrier) are key to reducing crime in a neighborhood. The more people there are on the street, the less likely it is that crime will occur.

Because of the eyeballs issue, Jacobs also advocates for mixed-use spaces, such as apartments above businesses. In addition to offering their eyeballs, shopkeepers also act as trusted strangers for the block. Being a trusted stranger is an important distinction because the trust is built upon the fact that the individual has no interest to meddle in your personal life because he/she does not know about your personal life. In fact, on Jacobs' block it was common to leave a spare set of keys with the nearest shopkeeper because there was no reason the shopkeepers would ever want to use one's keys.

Overall, Jacobs thinks that the more people there are on a block, the more privacy you have. I agree with her mostly, but there is a certain lack of privacy with your immediate neighbors. For example, I know that my upstairs neighbors are having a somewhat rocky time in their relationship because I can hear them yelling at each other quite frequently. Zeph used to live below a couple who routinely had the loudest sex ever in at 3 in the morning. I have more privacy then I would if I lived in a town of 50 people, but I also wonder what my neighbors know about me based on what they can hear through my walls.
* * * * * * *
Our assignment for the week was to choose a neighborhood in San Francisco that would make Jane Jacobs happy. I chose the few blocks surrounding the intersection of 9th Avenue and Irving Street.
9th and Irving 9th and Irving
9th and Irving 9th and Irving
I chose this neighborhood because there is a lot of commerce in the area which keeps the area populated with people throughout the day. There are restaurants, a show store, a dentist, an amazing bakery, a small grocery store, and a drug store. In addition, none of the shops that come to mind are are huge chains. Oh, except for the Starbucks. But the grocery store is not a Lucky, the drugstore is not a Riteaid, and the pizza place is not a Dominos.

The shopkeepers that run the stores are also very kind to residents of the neighborhood. One of them let my friend Christina use his bathroom a few times when her toilet broke, and one of the pics above shows an homage to a customer in the local pizza shop.

There are also benches along the sidewalk, which encourage individuals to sit and converse with each other in public. Holding a conversation in a public space, according to Jacobs, is preferable to a private space because there is no intrusion into one's home. Joe Schmo and I can go get a beer at the Mucky Duck without him seeing my pantyhose drying in the bathroom (which I don't have, BTW).

Overall, 9th and Irving is a great spot in the middle of the Inner Sunset, and I think that Jane Jacobs would be happy to live there.

Fred Stutzman

Fred Stutzman

Fred Stutzman was the most recent speaker in the Davies Forum series. He actually gave his talk two weeks ago, but what with spring break and all this post was delayed.

Overall, I think Fred's talk was very informative. I can definitely tell that he is from a world of academics where all anybody is interested in is what literature you draw on to support your findings and what statistical data you have to prove your conclusions. Ok, so not all academics function that way, but the ones that I find rather boring do. Unfortunately, Fred appears to be in that school, and as such parts of his talk were rather bland.

Not one to offer criticism without simultaneously giving suggestions, here is what I would do differently, Fred. Leave most of the theory out, or work it into your research without explaining it in-depth. I want to hear about Facebook and all of the interesting things you are finding, not about some guy's theory from the 1970s. Also, make your findings more prominent in the presentation. Your theories about why people got so riled up about the Facebook feeds is fascinating, and I would love to hear more about things like that, especially since, as a student, I don't need you to prove to me that it did happpen. These suggestions may apply only to undergraduate audiences, which as a Facebook researcher I am hoping you will encounter more and more.

My favorite part of the talk was the Q&A. Fred seemed a lot more relaxed, and there was less "here's what supports my argument" and more "here's my argument!" (if that makes sense to anybody but me).

As for the content of the presentation, what I found most interesting is that people assume that their profiles are only semi-public, even in terms of viewing by their "friends", who by default get to look at the entire profile. This makes me wonder if people feel the same about their blogs; even though they can be viewed by a large audience, most people assume only a very small subset of the Internet is actually reading.

Basically, Fred, you rock(!) for studying Facebook, and I wish your presentation rocked(!) as much as you do.

Co-Authored Paper

My friend Cassidy and I are trying to convince our U.S. Inequalities professor to let us co-author our research paper for the course. We want to compare and contrast how pro-anorexia and fat-acceptance blogs/websites reframe medical discourse. Should be interesting, right? Come on, Nikki, you know you want to let us do it, if only so you can read the paper. :-)

I'll keep everybody updated on the progress of the project.

Bill to Make Anonymous Posting Illegal

A Kentucky lawmaker want to make anonymous internet posting illegal. From the article:
"The bill would require anyone who contributes to a website to register their real name, address and e-mail address with that site."
Apparently the current argument against the bill (or at least the only one mentioned in the article) is that it violates first amendment rights. My critique is that it inhibits rights to privacy, which should extend to the right to have an online persona that is distinct from and not connected to an offline persona. I know plenty a blogger who only continues to blog because she can do so anonymously. This is especially important when it comes to individuals who blog about controversial issues, such as fledgling civil rights movements.

In addition, I wonder what would happen to the traffic on blogs that critique the current administration were such a law to come into effect. We have already seen what happens when you bash Bush on your MySpace page: you get visited by the U.S. Secret Service.

Not to mention the fact that such a law would cost so much money to enforce that the U.S. government might have to take some money from the military spending budget in order to finance it. Hmmm, maybe this is a good bill...

Delicious Meal

Those looking for my delicious meal post should head on over to my cooking blog, Sara's Scullery, for complete details on how to make yummy pasta sauce.

Ok, you have to look at the flickr set for complete details, but wouldn't it be fun to try making it just from looking at the images?

P.S. Has anybody noticed that my favorite literary device is alliteration?

ETA: Obtainment! Part of the assignment was to blog about the obtainment of the meal! Well, all the wonderful veggies as well as the olive oil came from Westside Organics (which I ramble on about here), and the tomato sauce and wine came from Trader Joe's. BTW, I love being in a class where the assignments usually begin with "blog about..."

Second edit: Edited a second time to fix some egregious typos. Apparently when I get excited I lose the ability to type!

GWRF: Emira Woods

Emira Woods

On Tuesday the Davies Forum class headed over to USF's Global Women's Rights Forum to hear Emira Woods talk about the Stop Firestone Campaign.

Emira talked about the struggle of the workers in Liberia, as well as the current state of the campaign. The audience also got to see an in-progress documentary that is focused on the issue. The documentary, with a little work, should prove to be very interesting.

Emira left a lot of time open for questions, so I asked her a question that relates the Davies Forum class to her work: How has the Internet changed and/or helped your activism strategies?

I was expecting her to mention the movement's website and to probably say something about email lists, but her response blew me away. She easily listed 3 new technologies that she thinks are key to the campaign: mobile phones, YouTube, and Skype.

The campaign has utilized YouTube extensively, and many videos of the situation in Liberia can be found there. Skype is an essential part of the trans-continental teleconferences that are a key part of keeping the workers engaged in a movement that has grown beyond their home town, a dialog that is important to maintain lest the Liberians be otherized by their Western allies.

Mobile phones enter the picture as a way of transmitting real-time communication across the globe. Those on the ground in Liberia can send text messages when Firestone is dumping toxic waste into the river, and somebody will know about it immediately. Not a few days later, not a few hours later, that second. What better way to communicate to reporters that these atrocities are real than receiving a text message during an interview?

Emira, in a twist that is rare for speakers, then asked me what I thought about civil engagement and Web 2.0. She was even kind enough to let me think about it for a bit, and I did little but agree with her points that new technologies have the potential to bring us closer together.

But, as I have had time to think about it more, I do have one suggestion: Twitter. Emira mentioned that it is hard for the activists in Liberia to maintain a strong web presence because of the limited, expensive access to the Internet. The lack of Internet access is why text messaging is so valuable in the campaign. However, text messaging is a throw-back to the days of one-on-one communication, and for a movement to spread it needs to be able to reach many more people. Twitter is the perfect middle ground because it can work via mobile phone, allowing the employees of Firestone to post to the web without ever having to log on.

What if, every time Firestone dumped toxic waste into a river, the whole world was alerted?

Bryan Alexander

Bryan Alexander

The fourth speaker in the Davies Forum Series was Bryan Alexander, Director of Research for NITLE.

What I liked most about Bryan's talk was his discussion of Wikis in an academic context. Basically, he laid out the following formula.

According to most academics:
wiki = BAD
collaborative writing = GOOD

The part of the equation hidden to most academics?
wiki = collaborative writing
(which, for those who have lost track, means that BAD = GOOD, which we all know to be a logical fallacy)

Does it make any sense? No! And that's the whole point.

This part of the talk rang true for me because I actually had a professor who, on the first day of the semester, made a point of telling us that wikipedia should never be used as a reference in any of our academic writing. Period. There was no discussion about telling a good wikipedia entry from a bad one, nor about how wikipedia can be used to find sources on certain subjects (just see what the author of the entry cited), nor about (as Bryan mentioned) looking at the discussion page to see the debate about the content of the article. Just the emphatic and all-too-typical, "Don't use it!"

I also have a habit of writing interesting quotes verbatim in the margins of my notebooks. Here are the entries for Bryan:
"...piece-of-cake pedagogy" (I don't remember what in reference to, but it has a nice ring)

"Moose don't chew on it - which is good." (on his method of obtaining an internet connection in the Vermont mountains)

Brewster Kahle: The Aftermath

Brewster Kahle

The other Davies scholars have definitely said a lot about Brewster's passion for knowledge, and I encourage all of you to check out their responses to his talk.

My contribution to the hive-mind is that I agree 100% with Brewster's goal to create a library of data that is free, open to anybody, and (best of all) digital. Furthermore, I think his choice of using existing libraries as the model is an interesting one (Zeph always equates libraries to "steamboat technology", and even Librarian in Black noted that librarians are behind-the-times), but it seems to work. His goal of digitizing and archiving all forms of media is made easier by working within a system that is already governmentally funded and already has been granted certain access to works still covered by copyright.

But you could have learned all that from googling Brewster.

What I like most about Brewster's talk, and indeed about all of the speakers thus far in the forum, is that the audience gets an insight into the human qualities of the speakers. And if I had to think of one word to describe Brewster it would be passionate.

He proved to all of us in the room, in less than half an hour, that it is entirely possible, and even probable, to archive all forms of media, including, but not limited to, every book ever written. He spoke passionately about his desire to achieve "universal access to all knowledge," to scan every book in the Library of Congress (and some that aren't), and to make sure that Google's digital rights management doesn't limit public access to any media content. And I wanted to conquer the world with him.

During the Q&A portion of the talk, I asked Brewster to talk about the public domain and how it has been affected by Disney. He immediately launched into a heated account of how the public domain has diminished considerably since the 1970s, about how copyright killed the programmer community at MIT (and then spawned the OS community), and about how Disney and other companies lobbied congress to restrict the public domain even further with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. And I wanted to march on Washington with him.

I followed up by asking Brewster how the changes in the public domain have affected the Internet Archive. It was at this point that this man, who had previously been so vociferous, became very quiet. In a low tone, almost a whisper, he said, "They will burn us too, and it will be with the stroke of a pen, or in the middle of the night." And I wanted to cry. Because it is only a matter of time until Brewster's Alexandria falls, and heaven help us all when that day comes.

Sunday Fluff

I am still working on my post-talk entry for Brewster, but given the preponderance of librarian speakers we have had I think this is relevant...

Humorous Pictures