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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Confidence-inspiring quotes, #1

"There is no any possibility of rigging in the polls as it is going to be conducted by the government headed by no other than His Majesty the King himself."
 -- People show enthusiasm to participate in electionThe Rising Nepal, Magh 11, 2062

Ah-ha.

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Magnet poetry

At my favorite writing cafe, Stacy's Coffee Parlor on Route 7, they have a bunch of poetry magnets. I'm not sure it's a full set. It doesn't have the word "alone". How can you do poetry without the word "alone"? I mean, okay, granted, you can, but, like, if you were making poetry magnets, which would you include, "alone" or "solitary"? "Solitary" -- bleah. Maybe not bleah, depending... "a solitary crow sits", that could be all right. Or "A solitary muffin sits," better. But, you know, a narrower range of contexts.

Also, you can't repeat words, except "and". That's pretty rough on a poem.

Anyway:


time to play
cocktail america!

every peach kid &
full moon summer motor &
prison-paired dirt rhythm and
lotion lounge boys' veins --

we sizzle like carnival skin --
ricochet off your anatomy,
machine girl!

never wait,
remember,
or be
like a stone

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Friday, January 20, 2006

A small parenting victory

The kids were in a lousy mood this morning. Grumpy at breakfast, and after Esther left and I was trying to get them dressed, they were squabbling over toys, smashing each other's towers, tickling at unwanted moments, and otherwise making hostile incursions into each other's territories..

Esther passed me a note before she left, to the effect that I should watch out for casting Aviva in the role of the aggressor (by doing the sternly disapproving Daddy thing), and that I should get them outside as soon as possible, to improve the mood.

Once they got dressed and fed, they had, by ancient convention, earned a video -- which anaesthetized them sufficiently that I could have taken a shower and cleaned up last nights' dishes.

Unfortunately, I really kind of had to find out about Dora becoming a big sister and the various puzzles involved, so I missed that opportunity. The minute the video ended, Noah burst into tears.

Time for a radical move.

Noah got calmed down and Aviva was having a helfpul moment. "This place is a mess," she said. "Should we clean up?" Or something like that.

I took her aside. "I really need to take a shower. Can you babysit Noah?"

"Okay."

"What are you going to do if he's got something you want to play with?"

"Come get you."

"What if he's upset and you can't calm him down?"

"I'll come get you."

"What if he wants you to sing him a song?"

"I'll sing him a song."

"Okay. " I nervously go off to the shower.

Three minutes later I hear screaming and yelling. I turn off the water and count to ten. The yelling subsides. I hear Aviva talking soothingly.

After another minute Aviva calls out "Daddy! Daddy!"

I climb out, dripping shampoo, and go peek out the bathroom door. "Yeah?"

"Noah is messing up all the [art supply construction] sticks and I can't get him to stop!"

"Just let him make a mess, honey, we'll clean it up later."

In the shower, I brush my teeth and start shaving.

"Daddy, he's still making a mess!"

This time I just turn off the water. "I'm still in the shower, honey. We'll clean it up later!"

A few minutes later, I get out, dry off, get dressed. It's deathly silent. Are they reading? Seems kind of ominous.

I go into the living room. Aviva is putting away the last of the art supply construction stick thingies in their bag.

"Where's Noah?"

"He's lying down."

I check in his room. He's lying down with a bottle, looking content.

Aviva is happy and industrious. She explains how she wanted to clean up, so she asked him if he wanted to take a rest, and he agreed, so she got him a bottle and tucked him in.

"Wow," I say, "that was a really amazing solution, Aviva. You did a good job babysitting."

"Yeah," she said. "Can you go away some more? I want to keep babysitting."

"I'll go do the dishes."

So for about an hour, I do the dishes. Aviva gets Noah ("Are you done taking a rest?") and they sit on the sofa and she reads him "The Knight and the Dragon", him sitting patiently with a bottle as she sounds out the words (more or less -- she replaces "things left by his ancestors" with "things left by this aunts", and so on). Then they play with dolls.



Victories are transient. I'm curious how far this will go, so I push it -- I start writing this blog entry. After an incredible amount of happy playing, eventually there's a door slamming and Noah wailing.

I hang out with Noah. He doesn't want a hug and won't tell me why he's crying. "Shall I cry too?" I say, and he nods. We cry together for a while, and he finds it too funny to keep it up.

"I'm crying about my slippers," I say between sobs. "What are you crying about?"

"I'm crying, about... the doll!" It's impossible to capture Noah's punctuated, dramatic cadences typographically.

We go knock on Aviva's door. The dolls, you see, needed to sleep, and Noah refused to honor their bedtime. Some bargaining ensues and he goes happily off with the most wakeful doll.

"I just wanted some alone-time," Aviva says, "because he's so frustrating."

"You did a great job babysitting, Aviva. But I guess enough is enough. I'll take over again."

"Thanks," Aviva says, and retreats to her room.



So I left them at it a little too long. But the mood has improved dramatically -- he's happily playing in here, she's happily playing in there, and any whiff of grim oppositional defiance, sulkiness, or playing at agressors-and-victims is gone.

I'm calling it a "parenting victory"


  • because it was the result of a conscious gamble: "Can the worst mood be transmuted into the best by stewardship delegation?"

  • and because it meant shifting from the mode of reacting (goddamn it, would you kids quit fighting? Aviva -- leave him alone!) to conscious technique (in this case, my cheat sheet being the excellent Siblings Without Rivalry).

But, of course, it's not really mainly my parenting victory; it's at least as much their sistering and brothering victory.



And Esther found my slippers! (They were squished in under the chair by the front door).

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Monday, January 9, 2006

Preliminarily Nebulous Again

Start the Clock is on the Preliminary Nebula Ballot.

There are a gazillion stories on the prelim ballot this year, including many excellent ones, which is great.

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Thursday, January 5, 2006

lít do dešifrování

Possibly a special circle in hell is reserved for those who fannishly geek out about their own work.

Regardless, I thought you might be intrigued by this correspondence with a Czech translator:




Dear Mr. Rosenbaum,

I was asked by Martin Sust to translate your short story - Start the Clock - for the new issue of Czech F&SF Magazine. I am almost finished, but there are still some things I need to ask you about. The page numbers refer to the original publication in F&SF.

  • p. 108, para 3 - found footage editor (what exactly is found footage?)
  • p. 110, para 2 from bot. - clowncar (some funny little car?)
  • p. 111, para2 from bot. - public footage, swarmcams
  • p.119, 1/2 - Davy Jones's lockers (I have found the meaning of the term, but still I am not sure why it is here)
  • p. 111, 112 - Is Abby using an apparatus for taking photographs or video?
  • p. 118 Last but not least, I am not sure about the thing Millie is afraid of :-)

I hope it's not too bothering.

Best wishes
Petr Kotrle, Czech Republic

    
    
Hello Mr. Kotrle!

Glad to be of help.


  • "Found footage" means footage -- video images -- that are found in the public archives, rather than being filmed specifically for the purpose of the production. Suze is something like a director of films, but rather than using a film crew, she simply mines the vast amount of footage available in the public archives (the descendants of the web and the internet).
  • A clown car in the circus nowadays is a small car that drives to the center of the ring, and then a gazillion clowns get out of it -- more than would fit in the car, so there has to be a trap door in the bottom. In Suze's world, clowncars are a fashionable vehicle for Nines, Eights and so on. It's a funny, possibly clown-themed car, which fits way more people than it should (but simply by good design, not magic or trapdoors). If that's too hard to get across feel free to replace it -- the idea is to signal that Suze and her friends have this odd aesthetic, partly childlike, partly defensively ironic.


  • public footage as above -- footage Suze mines from the (latter-day) web

    swarmcams are tiny sensors that can act as cameras. You might introduce public surveillance in a city by flying a cropduster over it and dropping millions of tiny cameras that weigh somewhere between a dustmote and a leaf. They talk to each other to relay information to the nearest connection to the main network.

    cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smart_dust , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swarm_intelligence


  • Davy Jones is a goofy old pirate legend, so the somewhat kitschy real estate developers who built Pirateland -- which is somewhere between a suburb and a theme park -- installed animated skeletons waving out of lockers. Again, it's the playful-but-weird style that appeals to the Nines: the point is that Suze's normal commute homelooks like Disneyland. Feel free to replace with some goofy, eerie, Disneyfied Czech pirate legend material. :-)
  • I think Abby's taking still photographs with an antique, non-digital, clunky, hefty camera, on real film -- the kind of thing that even today only photography aficionados would be into. Suze found it for her on eBay (or the equivalent).



  • > Last but not least, I am not sure about the thing Millie is afraid of :-)

    Neither am I. :-)

    Millie/Carla is an augmented Three. For older people, direct neural access to the global information/activity network -- the descendent of the internet, but it does a lot more -- is clunky and artificial. It's like learning a foreign language as an adult -- it stays on some level a tool, not a part of self. For Millie/Carla and her friends, in a very real way she's no longer just the child whose body she wears, but something larger.

    What she's talking about is therefore on some level way beyond me. But the gist of it is data mining. She takes:

    1) all the money people spend -- some vast tract of global financial data, and
    2) the way they looked at each other that day -- taken from the public footage, so you correlate financial data with people's interpersonal attitudes/expression as seen on the ubiquitious public cameras,
        and you correlate both of those with
    3) what the weather's going to do -- which may mean the literal weather, or also maybe more, like chaotic predictive modelling about the whole environment including the human environment
        and the result
    4) then you can sing to cats and stuff
        is super way beyond me. Does she mean it metaphorically? Or do they actually talk to cats, are cats intelligent? Or is intelligence and talking not really the point, but they have some important communion with cats that is more like singing? Or is this just kind of an error of translation?

    The point is, they correlate vast amounts of data which is as immediate and real to them as their own bodies, and it leads them unimaginable, incomprehensible places -- and that's what scares Millie. Millie is the (slightly disassociated) part of Carla that is uneasy with being posthuman -- that wants to be like people and trees (similar entities, from her perspective) and doesn't want to be part of the world's ruling intelligence, "to make things okay all the time". Millie is Carla's nostalgia for being an unaugmented little girl, so what she's really afraid of is their power.

    Bolshoiye-gemeinschaft-episteme-mekhashvei-ibura one of their words for what they are -- sort of russian, german, greek, hebrew and swahili for "the big community of the truth of the computation of sacred things"



> I hope it's not too bothering.

Not at all! It's great fun, feel free to ask more. I only wish I could read the result. :-)


It is a great help - thanks!

I enjoyed the story and I hope I will get a chance to translate more things you wrote - or will.

There is one thing I'm still thinking about. What is behind the joke "The Cat in the Hat x The Hat on the Cat"?
Thanks"

Best wishes
Petr

    
    
Hmm... well, Suze's documentary was an argument that the Under-Five be augmented ("wired into the Internet" is how the old fashioned realtor lady wrongly thinks of it, and so do I since I'm of her generation) as a way of freeing them from lives of dependency. This was in the period when Nines and such were coming into their own as a political force, and augmentation of toddlers was one of their rallying cries, kind of a romantic attachment to people they felt solidarity to, the way rich African-Americans care about Haiti and rich American Jews used to campaign for Jews stuck in the Soviet Union.

The Cat in the Hat is, of course, a toddler's book. The cat in that book is magical, all powerful -- more than a mere plaything and sidekick to the children, he's like a force of nature, a force of chaos -- he wrecks the house, then cleans it up. He represents change, power, things you're parents don't know about. (The Dr. Seuss book ends with the toddler-sized moral dilemma of whether to tell the mother about the Cat: "well... what would *you* do, if your mother asked *you*?")

So the cat is emancipated -- he can do things beyond the ken of adults, and he invites the children into that dangerous, captivating world.

His enormous stripy hat is the oddest, most emblematic and totemic thing about him (in the old animated movie which dr. suess worked on, when he takes it off, it contains whole worlds, in the polyglot animated sequence "cat, hat, in french chat-chapeau...", and in the sequel "the cat in the hat comes back" the hat contains an infinite regression of tiny servitors). The hat is what makes the cat more than just a cat.

So the hat on the cat stands for augmentation -- a gateway into a world beyond mere adulthood, to undreamed of power and strangeness, as imagined in a central text for toddlers.

Make sense?

Ben

    
You know, I'm finding new things out about this story as we correspond. :-)

I wonder if you would mind if I post this correspondence on my blog? I think other readers might be interested in it.

I can either leave your name and the target language in there, or if you prefer anonymity I can obscure them...

If it would bother you, though, I don't mind not doing it -- it's just a whim... :-)

Ben

Yes, I think it made sense what you wrote about the cat and the hat. You know, The Cat in the Hat as a movie was named "Kocour" (Tom-cat) for the Czech distribution, which makes it more difficult for me to find something for "The Hat on the Cat" (I am not sure the book was even published here, I've googled only movie references). Considering what you wrote, I think I should put the stress on the hat, so perhaps "Kocourův klobouk" (Tom-cat's Hat) could do - or I have to find something completely different to suit the "local" terms, the same way I have already decided to substitute "Macromuppet" by more famous "Tele-tubbie".

You can use the correspondence with my name, I do not mind. It can be interesting both for readers and people interested in the translation process; let them see the pleasures we have. And if some local nit-picker wants to find a stick to beat me for some mistake, he or she will find it anyway.

Best wishes!
Petr

    

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Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Groovy

The problem with a blogging hiatus -- if you're me, anyway -- is that you feel like you need to write something momentous upon your return. Or at least one of the things that's been piling up in your mind as something you should blog about: the Appalachian cabin we spent Christmas weekend in, the acquisition of Let's-Pretend, caring about tools, the problem of power, the rules of politeness. All long posts.

So, to break that mental loop:

Happy New Year, everyone!

And now some programming geekery:

I like some things about the J2EE infrastructure, more or less, and I like the tools for Java (Eclipse, ant) -- but I wish I could program in something more Lisp-like.

So Groovy looks groovy.

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