15 minutes in 2008

Spring 2008 is when I read a Wired article about the walled garden Facebook was setting up, and about how despite their claims, absolutely everything that social network offered was already available elsewhere on the net, for less hassle, with no walls and better flexibility.

I had joined Facebook in 2007, but never cared for it. I found I spent far more time trying to navigate the opaque user interface than actually enjoying content, and I discovered to my horror that real-life friends who seemed more than reasonable in person spent a lot of time on-line sending each other "quizzes" designed to suck personal information from you.

Instead, I followed the suggestions in the Wired article and joined Twitter (for status updates), and started a blog (for "wall" postings). Actually, I started two blogs, the one you're reading now and the one for all things DIY.

Part of starting the blogs was researching which blogging platform to go with. I checked out WordPress, which meant signing up for an account, but ultimately decided to go with Blogspot.

Okay, done and dusted. Life moves on. Right?

Not so fast.

Around 2012, I started encountering error messages like this whenever I went to comment on someone's WordPress blog:

Notice how prominent the WordPress logo is. That became a factor in the troubleshooting later on.

Sometimes I could leave a comment after logging in with my Google account and doing some random browser back-and-forth. Sometimes I would get stopped at that point and not be able to leave a comment at all. Given that most of the time this was to participate in Friday Flash, I felt really bad about not leaving comments on posts that I'd read. A lot of people have their comments sections locked down at least a little bit, so that spammers will have a harder time leaving comments, so usually I would have to proffer up some real e-mail address. But WordPress knew about my main address, and it wasn't going to let me use it.

I looked into it, and discovered that WordPress has no way to let you delete an account. Even if that account does not, and never has had, a WordPress blog attached to it. You cannot use an e-mail WordPress knows and say, "meh, the security on this blog doesn't require me to log in, so I'm not going to."

This is... not the norm. Most other systems either let you choose, or else use cookies to keep things as un-painful as possible.

According to WordPress, this is a feature, not a bug. It's supposed to stop people from impersonating you. I'm not so sure, if only because if it weren't for fifteen minutes back in 2008, they would have no idea who I was anyhow.

It got to the point where for some Friday Flash authors, I just left them comments over Twitter, explaining that WordPress wouldn't let me leave comments on their blog.

Friday Flash doesn't have the participation it once did, but #craftblogclub does, and a lot of its regulars use WordPress. Once again I found that I couldn't participate in a community and leave comments on people's blogs. So I reluctantly used the Forgot Password feature to get into my WordPress account, found my profile, and changed the e-mail address to a different active one I have. You have to use a real e-mail address you can access because they verify it.

Okay, done and dusted again, right?

Not so fast.

Despite no longer being anywhere in my WordPress profile, WordPress was still giving me the same "you must log in" error message when I tried to leave a comment on a WordPress site. This time, however, when I went to log in and see if I had somehow not saved my profile changes, I got this error message:

So basically I couldn't leave a comment using my old, supposedly erased e-mail address, but I could only log in to WordPress if I used my new e-mail address. Which I did and... my old address wasn't anywhere in my profile.

At this point I was frustrated enough I decided to pursue things further, and contacted their support. It's interesting — all support is conducted via the community forums, and your question has to be tagged a certain way before WordPress staff will even look at it. Luckily for me, there was a more experienced WordPress user on the forums the night I wrote up my issue, and she tagged the forum thread so it would be looked at.

I received the response about 36 hours later — not bad for a turnaround time. They said that if I wanted to use the old e-mail "to open another account" (ha!) I had to remove it from my Gravatar profile.

Huh? What's this? Two profiles? Apparently so.

Fortunately, a direct link was provided in the response, because I hadn't noticed a second profile location for Gravatar when I was trying to fix my profile before. I had to go in, delete my old e-mail (now referred to as a "secondary address"), and just leave the new address (because we still can't delete an account once it is created).

And... yay? it worked.

So I suppose all's well that ends well, except that a) for at least two years I've only been told "accounts can't be deleted" with no instructions for a workaround, and b) again, all of this stems from fifteen minutes of activity in 2008.

Think of something that takes fifteen minutes, and think how it could affect the rest of your life. All I can think of is casting a voting ballot or getting pregnant, or maybe causing something catastrophic like a car accident. Nowhere would I include something to do with checking out a free (er, and legal) Internet service I never actually used. Think about it — even Revenue Canada and banks only keep or expect records from seven years ago.

And how does this work in the EU with their "right to be forgotten"? Does WordPress have a different process for people who live there? If they do, what happens to their supposed "security" logic?

Why, on something as ephemeral as the internet, am I committed to something that took 15 minutes in 2008?

punishing self-defence

My brother told me about this at Christmas-time, and I'm still pondering it, so it seems like it wants to be a blog post. What happened (at least the third-hand version) was this:

Niece the Elder (age 7) was at a reading table at school, the only girl in a group of boys. She was fine with that — most of her friends are boys. Like every other table in the class, there was a pile of books in the middle, and the kids at each table had to choose a book, read it, and write an assignment about it.

Even though she was fine with being in the group, one of the boys at the same table was not fine with having even one girl present. Niece the Elder wanted to read a book about cats, but the boy snatched it away and shoved a book about princesses at her.

"You have to read that, 'cos you're a girl," he said.

"But I want to read about cats," said my niece.

"Well, we're all boys, so we can't read about princesses."

"I want to read about cats!"

"Oooh, so what are you going to do about it? Cry? That's what girls do, cry. Crybaby!"

Nobody less than twice her size makes Niece the Elder cry, so instead she picked up the princess book and threw it at the boy.

It hit him in the face, so he started crying, which brought the teacher over. My niece was up-front about throwing the book, so she was told to go sit by herself and do the assignment. In this classroom (and this is a whole other blog post), sitting by yourself is in itself a punishment.

As my niece got up and left the table, she patted the boy on the arm. "Now who's the crybaby?" she said. That's when she got assigned a detention.

In the note to Niece the Elder's parents, the teacher added that my niece was assigned to another group "where she would be happier." Presumably one with no young Archie Bunkers in it.

And here's my thing.

Of course Niece the Elder should have been punished for throwing the book. She has to learn that physically hurting people to get your way, even when you're in the right, is a bad thing to do. I think that part is beyond dispute. Physical violence cannot be condoned or excused in a classroom setting.

But I keep thinking about it from the boy's point of view. Sure, he got hit in the face with a tossed picture book, but it was his own actions that started this whole thing. If he'd been less of a junior asshole, none of this would have happened.

As far as I've been able to learn, besides a mark on his face that has long faded by now, this kid got everything he wanted with no consequences. He got to make his reading circle boys-only. He removed the only person in the group who had the guts to stand up to him. He bullied and belittled a fellow classmate for no other reason than his own budding sexism, and he totally got away with it.

So yeah, I approve Niece the Elder getting a detention because of the book-throwing, but I can't figure out why the kid who started it all not only got off scot-free, but was positioned as the entirely innocent injured party. And although this particular incident was a boy versus girls thing, I recognise it's a bullies versus the bullied thing. Boys can be victims of bullying too, and girls can be shits.

I've been discussing this with my friends and thinking back on my own years in elementary school, and we have similar stories. J-A recounted how a boy used to pinch her when the teacher wasn't looking, and when she pinched back in self-defence, he would howl. Then she would get in trouble with the teacher. I have memories of being told not to "pick on" classmates — after they'd picked fights with me, and I'd had the... luck? temerity? to win.

An interesting point about my experiences: although usually the reason kids would pick on me was because I was a "browner" (if that's not in your local slang, they meant kid with good grades, teacher's pet), I also happened to be one of the tallest kids in the class. From a physical standpoint, if I'd ever learned to fight — not that I ever did — I could have seriously hurt any of the girls and most of the boys in my classes up to about Grade 5 without even thinking about it. It wasn't just mean to pick on me; it was potentially suicidal. They were counting on my track record of not hitting back to get away with it. Which they did. When it was really bad, I used to hide in the back of the class and read a book during recess until the teacher specifically told me to go outside.

Damn. Now I wish I'd risked a few detentions and decked the little bastards while I still could.

Niece the Elder is only in Grade 2, and she's one of the smallest kids in her class — she doesn't have the physical advantage of height that I chose not to use. She's been in school for four years, and already she takes detentions in stride as part of the cost of getting an education. Her parents have long noted a pattern: she never starts a fight, but if someone starts one with her, she'll damn well finish it. Meanwhile, her marks are among the highest in the class, so eventually I suppose she'll start getting picked on for those in addition to liking cats over princesses.

I admire her willingness to stick up for herself, and for keeping punishments in perspective. When I was her age, even a verbal reprimand from a teacher would leave me upset for days.

But I'm very uneasy with this idea that people who stick up for themselves when they're bullied get punished, while the ones who did the bullying get coddled as victims. I keep thinking about how this is going to play out in high school... and then university... and then adulthood. I keep thinking about what Niece the Elder is actually learning from these incidents: not just that violence is bad, but that sticking up for yourself leads to punishment, while the instigator never gets touched. And what's that boy learning? That he can verbally push people into acting out, at which point he may need to work on ducking faster, but he will get his way if he keeps acting like a shit.

Neither of those are very good lessons.

who killed the blockbuster?

I wasn't going to blog about this, until I read the excellent post by Marc Nash about Terminator: Genisys, and the thoughtful critique by John Wiswell about the Jurassic franchise

First off: my favourite film critic of all time is Roger Ebert. I didn't always agree with his reviews, but I could usually tell from his assessment whether or not I was going to find the film worth watching. 

One thing that always perplexed me about Ebert's reviews is that he would sometimes say action sequences were "boring". If it's an action sequence, how could it be boring? I figured he had some well-deserved critic's fatigue, and wouldn't pay any notes about "boring action" much mind. 

But now I've seen Mad Max: Fury Road, and I know exactly what he meant. Practically the whole damn thing is a boring action sequence. 

No spoilers: the good guys are trying to escape from the bad guys. Okay. But there's no stakes, no suspense. Look at the characters. There's Max, who is the titular character, but not, one learns quickly, the hero. He's more like a Fifth Business, an enabler who throws in his lot with the hero because going her way is better than the alternatives. Still, he is  the titular character, so you know that, at worst, he'll die at the very end. That's if he dies at all. 

Then there's the hero, Imperator Furiosa. Even though she's nominally on the bad guy's side when she's introduced, we know she'll be a goodie once things get going. How do we know? Because her costume isn't nearly outlandish enough to be a baddie in this film, and because, unlike her War Boy colleagues/staff, she acts more or less according to current-day Western conventions. So she's not going to die until, maybe, the end as well.  

What about her goal of reaching The Green, the safe, unpolluted place she knows about? C'mon, it's a post-apocalyptic action film. Either The Green doesn't exist, or else despite all utopian appearances it's a horribly corrupt, oppressive place. So no stakes there either. 

The wives Furiosa is smuggling to The Green are virtually interchangeable. If they have names mentioned in the film, I didn't catch them. Mostly I kept them straight by hair colour, and correctly predicted (spoiler!) that one of the two blondes got killed off quickly. So she wouldn't get mixed up with the other one, you see. Meanwhile, the lone redhead was the only one with any real character arc, and stood out easily in compositions showing her with the other (identically dressed) wives on account of her hair colour.

The environmental stakes are devalued as well. Resources are supposed to be scarce, yet characters use up fuel and water like... like we are in the here and now and are supposed to be cutting down on.  A half-dozen characters give themselves a full-body shower, in the middle of the desert, after a giant sandstorm, using scarce, precious potable water for the job. Five minutes later they're worried they won't make it to The Green before the baddies catch up and re-capture them. Uh-huh.

Fiction requires a suspension of disbelief. A bored audience member will start noticing things like those showers, and then other things, and then still other things, until the weight of their boredom causes their disbelief to come crashing down to the ground. A story can be as fantastical and implausible as it likes, but it has to keep the audience interested. Otherwise, it's just a big long, boring, action sequence. 

Steven Spielberg warned in 2013 that just a few "tent pole" blockbusters failing in a single release season could cause a Hollywood "implosion". Marc, John, and I all went in to see our respective blockbusters expecting to be entertained at minimum, and came out with critiques and concerns. As I understand it, the three films we posted about were hardly failures at the box office, but I'm just not sensing the enthusiasm for them that past blockbusters have enjoyed.

The big Hollywood film that seems to be getting all the accolades this summer is Inside Out. I saw it the week before I saw Mad Max, and loved it, but now that I've seen both films, it's making me think. Inside Out has a lot of action for a film that literally takes place inside someone's brain, but somehow those homuncular cartoon characters had more at stake, and generated more suspense, than the live-action characters in Fury Road did. It feels like a shake-up is coming.

the feminist criticism corner (Daredevil as the main example)

There are some Netflix Daredevil spoilers below, because the topic for this blog post came on while I was watching the series. I tried to keep them minimalist and as non-spoilerish as possible, and to stick to the earlier episodes in my examples.

Okay. Here’s my thing.

I am a feminist, and I have a BA Hon in English Literature, and if those two facts didn’t make you stop reading, you will not be surprised to learn that I enjoy applying feminist interpretations to storytelling. Any kind. Spoken word stories. Written stories. Stories presented for TV and cinema and plays.

I also enjoy comic book superhero stories. I started reading comics when I was seven or eight, and although my parents made me stop reading them when I was ten and sell my collection, in my adult years I’ve got back into reading graphic novels like 1602 and V for Vendetta. (And Persepolis and Maus… you get the idea.)

And it seems to me that in the popular feminist criticism of things, it's easy to  paint oneself into a corner, where any non-aligned reader might throw up their hands and decide there's no pleasing feminists. And, since I am a feminist, I see that as a bad thing.

Consider:

  • In the Netflix Daredevil TV series, when Karen Page wakes up beside the dead body of her co-worker and is arrested for murder, she’s a disposable motivation for the hero to start his investigation of the villains. Yet when she fights back, later on in the story, she’s a “stereotypical strong female character,” and therefore boring/not realistic/and so on… yet all these reactions are happening to one character. Surely that’s more an indicator that she’s well-rounded?

    I could write a whole series of blogs about Karen Page as depicted in Netflix’s Daredevil, but I want to keep this more general.
     
  • Women characters who are daughters, mothers, wives get attacked because they're their roles, not people, and women are not just defined by their family or romantic relationships. Yet women characters who are not portrayed as daughters, mothers, wives are attacked because they’re one-dimensional, or “female characters with male character traits”. (And what the hell are “female character traits” and “male character traits” anyhow? I thought we were supposed to be working at getting past stereotypical gender binary personality traits.)
     
  • Female characters who get sexually assaulted are no good because that works into the whole woman-as-victim thing. So we’re supposed to forget that sexual violence is used as a weapon, that it’s out there, that it happens all the freaking time. I can see the merit of the argument that it doesn’t fit in this or that specific storyline, but not that it gets portrayed “too often” or “is a cliché”. It’s a cliché in real life too, but unfortunately that doesn't seem to be stopping any rapists.
     
  • If a woman is physically small and gets assaulted or kidnapped, she’s being portrayed as a “weak woman”. Yet if said physically small woman figures out a way to fight back and overcome her attacker (Lisbeth Salander with a nail gun, Karen Page with a regular gun), it’s “unrealistic” and we’re back to “strong female characters” again. I'd rather the takeaway that while women tend to be smaller and not as strong as men, that just makes it an unfair fight, not an impossible one.

  • If a woman is a force for good, she’s put on a pedestal. If she’s the villain, it’s misogyny.

  • If a woman rescues a man, it’s motherhood symbolism. If a man rescues a woman, it’s infantilism.

After reading some of the comments about recent shows, films, and books, it makes me nervous to write anything other than Beckett-esque, gendered-pronouns-so-you-can-tell-the-characters-apart minimalist stories.

We have to ditch the hair triggers. We have to stop freaking out because this or that type of scene is portrayed, and experience the entire story. I was always taught to read the whole book before writing an essay about it. Otherwise, we’re going to miss the part where the stereotype or trope gets subverted, or criticised, or balanced off. Experiencing a story is not supposed to be some sociological drinking game where you yell, "Sexist trope!" every time you spot something. Pointing out recurring tropes across multiple stories can be useful, thoughtful criticism, but lying in wait for a story to "screw up" and portray "that scene" — not so much.

Maybe you came to a different conclusion, but it was pretty clear to me by the end of Daredevil (Season 1) that when the bad guys decided to frame Karen for her co-worker’s murder, they definitely hung it on the wrong person. It was a huge mistake that cost them a lot, and not just because she wound up friends with the superhero (remember: she doesn't know he's the superhero). She does a lot of damage to them entirely through her own agency, her own network-building.

One thing I noticed about Daredevil is while the women did act violently, the source — the force that necessitated the violent response — tended to be men. And as for men with men — it’s a wonder so many of them are standing at the end. It’s almost like the story is showing us violence is a bad thing, and that without the advantages of height and upper body strength (which shouldn't count for much in civilised society), men don’t really have anything over women. Through a superhero TV show, with a male-dominated cast of characters?

Now that’s interesting.

Iceland May 2014

I got back from Iceland a couple of weeks ago, but I'm still playing catch-up with photo-organising, food-making, timezone-adjusting, and all those other things that go with a vacation.

The short version: I'm already planning on when I'm going back.

The long version: is too big for this blog space, but hey, if you see me IRL you can always ask me about it. One thing I do want to point out, just like I did last time I visited Amsterdam, is that Reykjavík has dedicated bike lanes, separated from the main road. The first photo in the gallery shows the sidewalk/bike lane beside a four-lane highway across the road from the hotel I stayed at. This is most decidedly not right downtown — right downtown the traffic is effectively calm enough for bikes and cars to share the space, just because the cars can't move that fast through the streets.

Come on, Toronto. If a city of 200,000 people can figure out bike lanes, we can too. And if that city is at 64 degrees north latitude, it's time for us to stop using "oh, but we get winter in Toronto!" as an excuse not to put in bike lanes every place we possibly can.

Okay, onto a small sample of the 300+ photos I took during my four-day trip: