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May 2013 chanoyu goals update

storm trooper hello kitty
This post began as a general personal goals update, but somewhere into my third paragraph of updates on chanoyu-related goals, I realized this wanted to be its own post. Here are the relevant goals for this year that I posted last month:

Chado-related goals: make shiro-an. Carve a bamboo futaoki (lid rest), at least a fushi-nashi (nodeless) one, which should be utterly simple. Practice carving chashaku, which is not. Try repairing my broken Tamba-yaki idojawan.

The shiro-an is... challenging. I've been using this recipe. Removing the skins from soaked lima beans was much easier than I had anticipated. But my cooked bean slush wasn't moving around in the blender enough to benefit from that device. And getting the blended mush to stratify so I can pour off the liquid on top, not so easy. I've been keeping the mixture in my refrigerator while I procrastinate on further attempts to process it. Note to future self: remove the little nubs from the beans when you remove the skins, because they just won't break down in the course of cooking and blending. When I try again, I think I'll try a different recipe—there are many out there.

After putting out a call for bamboo, I got several maybe-sorta bites, and I even organized some friends for a day of outdoor activities at a park I'd heard rumor to have some bamboo, but we didn't find any there. Someone at work happened to post that she was getting rid of a bunch of bamboo from her backyard, so I snapped some of that up to carve a couple of fushi-nashi futaoki. Just in time to bring them along with my yari-no-saya kensui and ekirei futaoki to my keikoba for short-term loan so fellow students can learn how to use them. Let's say that studying at Gakuen gives one a skewed perspective on the breadth of utensils recognizable to your average overseas (and maybe even intra-Japan?) tea practitioner. We were so spoiled! I'm planning to make a kekkai from the rest of the bamboo I've gotten.

I've been scheming to hold a hango chaji at Washin-an as a thank you to our teachers. It is not easy to convince them that this is a good idea, even without charcoal or cooking. At first I pitched it as an activity that we students, or at least the more experienced of us, could do as a learning opportunity, but I got the classic indirect denial in the form of "Eventually, maybe next year, we might start allowing students to serve as teishu for our seasonal chakai..." At Midorikai we were responsible for everything, but back home, it's different. Now I'm trying again, reframing it as a private rental of our tea space. I'm trying not to be the archetypal Midorikai grad who returns to her home keikoba and thinks she knows more than everyone else. When I show up with strange utensils, suggest kagetsu and sumi temae and hosting a (very simplified) chaji myself, and the teachers demur, I wonder if I'm becoming, if not a know-it-all, at least a pest. Does it make sense to channel that frustration into plans to build my own tea room? (But where?)

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in another's voice

When it comes to "geek culture," my experience is slight—I've long thought of myself as a computers-and-engineering-and-hacking kind of geek, not a gaming/comics/fantasy kind of geek. There's at least a post's worth of potential self-reflection there, but my point is that despite currently showing few signs of involvement with the second kind of geekdom, I spent several of my high school and college years participating in tabletop role-playing games like D&D and Ars Magica. I probably would be now if I'd been invited into a group in the post-undergrad years before my plate filled with other things.

diceWhat I'm interested in exploring in this post is playing across gender lines—that is, role-playing a character of a different gender than your (the player's) own. (Yes, there is a pattern here.) I don't imagine this is entirely untrodden territory, but I hadn't processed my own experience of being disallowed from doing it in the gaming group I spent the most and longest time in. Specifically, I hadn't processed how bullshit that is. The GM's reason for the ban: verisimilitude. Fellow players would not be able to imagine the character accurately when that character's words were coming from the mouth of a player of a different gender. Such a difference would overtax players' ability to suspend disbelief; it would break the collective fantasy.

An obvious counterargument: if players can overcome the differences between a late-twentieth-century t-shirt-clad, Mountain Dew-chugging American teenager hanging out in a friend's parents' rec room and a pious sixteenth-century Saxon blacksmith trekking along thief-ridden roads, a difference of gender identity is barely material, let alone insurmountable. I may have expressed this argument to our GM, but I had no support from any other players, all of whom identified as male, so it was a take-it-or-leave-it situation. Since these were not only fellow players but friends, and I had a painfully hard time making friends, I took it. In retrospect, I wish I hadn't, not because cross-playing was important to me, but because this absurd essentialism should have been a red flag.

None of the role-playing-game rule systems I've used have either banned cross-playing or discriminated among characters' genders when it came to abilities or characteristics, as far as I remember. However problematic game publishers have been when it comes to issues like objectification, they weren't the problem in this case. No, this was our GM's own policy, informed of course by society-wide ideas about gender, and I'm curious how widespread that kind of thing was and is among GMs.

The one specific instance where I remember cross-playing was with a casual D&D group. To give you an idea of our silliness, I named my character Gillette just so that I could cap a victory by quipping that he was "The Best a Man Can Get." There, though, we didn't embody our characters so much as describe their actions in the third person. We moved figurines around a map of a dungeon. We did not often speak in our characters' voices.

What have been your experiences with role-playing games and playing across genders? As a player and/or GM, have you encountered rules against it? Groups that encouraged it? Systems that imposed gender-based modifiers? Or supported non-binary character genders? And not just for creatures? Did the level of character embodiment make a difference? At the height of embodiment, have you had any experiences with live action role-playing across genders?

[For an overview of some feminist issues in tabletop role-playing games, see the Geek Feminism wiki.]

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audio snapshot: Max purring

visions of sugar plums
Have some fuzz therapy. One minute of my cat Max purring in your choice of audio formats: ogg, flac, or mp3.

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a few goals for 2013

Taking a page from silvrdragn, I present some of the things I'd like to accomplish in what remains of 2013, theoretically with monthly-ish updates to come:

Chado-related goals: make shiro-an. Carve a bamboo futaoki (lid rest), at least a fushi-nashi (nodeless) one, which should be utterly simple. Practice carving chashaku, which is not. Try repairing my broken Tamba-yaki idojawan.

HacDC-related: be a diligent treasurer. Help Alberto run an Arduino class. Hold an LED cuff-making workshop.

Photography-related: learn how to do long-exposure photography, so I can do things like light painting by skipping a stone with an LED attached. Figure out how to do time-lapse photography. Try HDR.

Related to nothing else: see wisteria in bloom (maybe at the National Arboretum?). Go to—and participate meaningfully in—Burning Man. Get rid of excess clothes. Learn Android programming. Finish carving my Greenland-style kayak paddle. Consider incorporating gender-neutral pronouns into my writing somehow.

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In light of my less-than-enchanting experience with German culture at 29C, and in light of closer-to-me Spa World's recently-revealed anti-LGBTQ stance, and in light of its overall awesomeness, I want to recommend Liquidrom to any of you who find yourselves in or near Berlin. I have [ profile] jprodgers to thank for cluing me in to this communal spa centered around a dimly-lit dome where patrons float blissfully in a warm saltwater pool. It also has saunas, steam baths, an outdoor bath, and a bar. I made a stop in Berlin expressly to relax at Liquidrom on my way from Hamburg to Warsaw at the end of last year, and it was so worth it. I've never experienced such an intense feeling of release as I did there. It was beyond relaxation and into another realm altogether. It felt transcendental.

One thing I found refreshing about Liquidrom was the absence of body-policing. Separate-sex entries lead to the same big unsegregated locker room (with curtained-off changing booths for those inclined to use them), and neither the swimwear-required central chill-out pool nor the nudity-required saunas and steam rooms are segregated.

If you'd like a more verbose description of what to expect there, head over to [ profile] slowberlin's review of Liquidrom. Or, you know, google.

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on cross-dressing

So transvestism has been coming up in my life recently in some different ways. Until recently my notion of transvestism was limited to campy, comic drag and secretive men with women's-underwear fetishes. Growing up with internalized sexism that led me to disdain anything purposefully feminine, I took no interest in transvestism, and I have to admit I still have no interest in drag queen shows or, for example, DC's annual High Heel Drag Queen Race. But what I've come to realize is how limited that view of transvestism is, and there's a lot for me to like about it.*

One dimension of this realization is awareness of women transvestites. Years ago I'd watched Boys Don't Cry, a dramatization of a real-life incident of violence against a transman. Arguably that's off-topic since it was more to do with transsexuality than transvestism, but I'd had little or no exposure to women presenting as men either casually or as deeply-held identity, so that was something. More recently I watched the series Tipping the Velvet, the story of a woman in Victorian England who falls in love with and then herself becomes a male impersonator. She makes a really lovely boy. Prosthetic transvestism is another interesting topic. At the Queer Geeks panel at 28C3, willowbl00 explained (youtube) her practice of soft-packing when traveling by air in order to raise awareness among security officers and anyone just standing around at the security checkpoint. As for myself, I've just started trying out a stand-to-pee device at home, originally with the intent to use it when I'm camping or boating or otherwise somewhere without a toilet. But I can envision using it day-to-day, especially when I'm wearing something like overalls that are time-consuming to remove.

Another dimension of my increased awareness was exposure to feminist examples of male drag. The other day I saw the Iggy Pop quote, "I'm not ashamed to dress 'like a woman' because I don't think it's shameful to be a woman" and realized that male cross-dressing can be a feminist activity. Formerly I'd thought it was vaguely un-feminist because I perceived campy male drag as promoting an oppressive ideal of femininity. Last night's movie night featured a stand-up comedy routine by Eddie Izzard in drag, and I was super impressed. It's so rare for me to like, or even not cringe at, a stand-up comedian anymore.

* And not just because I've got a crush on a cross-dressing fellow of my acquaintance. But maybe a little because of it. :)

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beautiful urban decay

Apropos of nothing, here are some artfully-photographed scenes of urban decay.

Abandoned manor house NH ( explore )
more photos behind the cut...Collapse )

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four clever ideas I wish I'd had

park bench
I've basically always thought of myself as lacking creativity. A childhood assignment to write a story would result in a dull sequence of strung-together lists: names of characters, places, objects, colors. Really, I'm tempted to scan the ones that my parents saved in boxes in the attic to show you just how bad they are. A free-drawing assignment would typically result in a sort of garish, geometric graphic art. As a student violinist I was encouraged, along with others, to improvise by one of our jazz-oriented teachers—not just privately but in our public end-of-session performance in a concert hall—and what I came up with was awkward at best. As an adult I've visited a massive quasi-annual multimedia art event for years, each time coming away eager to make something interesting to submit to the event's next iteration, and never coming up with something. Just the other day, I ironically "won" a storytelling card game with an uncomfortably silence-punctuated effort.

All that is to preface this list of clever ideas with a sense of contemplation as to why I don't seem to have (or harness?) these kinds of creative ideas:
  • the Up-Goer Five text editor. For those not familiar, Up-Goer Five is one of many awesome and funny and witty xkcd comics; it's a diagram of a Saturn V rocket labeled using only the thousand most common words in the English language. The text editor is a simple web-based text field that highlights any words within it that aren't among the thousand most common. Given that comic, the text editor is a straightforward idea, but giving people a mechanism to constrain their writing to a very limited vocabulary turns out to encourage the kind of plain English that "creates windows where you can grasp at some previously ungraspable idea." So, friends, is there anything you'd like me to write about in Up-Goer Five vocabulary?
  • Möbius music box. I have one of these punched-paper-tape music boxes, and it never occurred to me to fold or loop the tape, much less form it into a Möbius strip as did the ebullient Vi Hart.
  • USB typewriter, "A Groundbreaking Advancement in the Field of Obsolescence." It's a kit that one integrates into a typewriter to allow it to function as a USB keyboard. I first saw this in the vending area at The Next HOPE, where I had to restrain myself from buying one. The practicality to expense ratio was too low. As an idea it's a cousin to the retro telephone handsets fitted with bluetooth or whatever so as to work with mobile phones. (And does anyone use those?) There's something more romantic about a typewriter, though.
  • A reverse geocache is a locked box that makes itself openable only at a certain location as determined by onboard GPS. The only information it provides to the user is its distance to the location. "But triangulation!" you say. No, the word you want is trilateration, and it's true that that's a fairly obvious and straightforward solution. Ideally it would be less obvious and straightforward; any ideas on how to tweak it to make it more challenging but still doable? Still, I think it's a clever, fun idea.

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on the metro
What I've been up to since returning from Japan:
  • going to chado okeiko (training) at Washin-an roughly twice a week, which is twice as often as any other student. I'm not qualified to teach, but I'm not in a hurry to be. Last summer I had the privilege of making tea for the now-deceased Senator and President pro tempore Daniel Inouye.
  • not speaking Japanese any more skillfully than before I went to Japan. This surprises many people when I tell them, but I don't find it surprising that I'd learn better by taking language classes than by living in an environment where I'm using Japanese a little but not studying it.
  • picking up too many new hobbies, including kumihimo, sport kite flying, rock climbing... and just to make an existing hobby more expensive and complicated, photography, for which I've just bought my first DSLR camera. I have enough hobbies for five people at this point. Oh, did I mention I'd like to try learning how to play Go, speak Polish, and make Calder-style hanging mobiles? Or that I've signed up for a month of weekly aerial skills classes?
  • establishing a complicated, non-standard, and sometimes agonizing love life
  • doing pretty much the same thing at work as before I left for a year, minus the stuff I didn't like, so yay
  • developing more feminist (and, I hope, intersectional) sensibilities. Helped out a bit with AdaCamp DC, started donating to The Ada Initiative, started a local feminist geek group (which hasn't taken off yet), bought a ticket to this year's WisCon, joined a sort of working group for hackerspaces equality.
  • snuggling with my insatiably-snuggly kitties
  • learning about Burning Man and planning to attend a regional burn this month. Feeling pessimistic about my chances of getting to buy a ticket to the playa, though.
  • winding up back on the board of directors at HacDC, where I've been coordinating Lightning Talks and where I'm trying to put together a workshop in which participants make an LED cuff like the one designed by Syuzi Pakhchyan in her book Fashioning Technology
  • going to Delaware beaches—twice in one summer! This is highly unusual. I'm still not a fan of intense solar radiation or rough surf. Lying in the shade with a book, flying a kite, and pedaling on nearby roads are acceptable beach-side activities for me.
  • also twice: visiting the not-exactly-next-door Longwood Gardens, with which I quickly fell in love
  • attending Artomatic, HOPE9, World Maker Faire NYC, and 29C3, and in all cases sensing that I'd get far more fulfillment from undertaking the kinds of projects that would make me more than just an attendee there

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Having seen videos of excellent presentations at the annual Chaos Communications Congress for years, and having been encouraged by a friend who's a regular participant, I finally got myself a plane ticket to Germany at the end of 2012 to see what it's all about. (Afterward I visited some of my Midorikai classmates in eastern Europe, so CCC wasn't the sole point of my trans-Atlantic trip.)

As someone with an ongoing interest—albeit no professional background—in computer and network security, open source stuff, and general technical geekery, I've been to various iterations of three other "hackercons": HOPE, ShmooCon, and DefCon. So my expectations come with those communities as a background.

I arrived at 29C3 around the middle of the first day, which was nigh miraculous considering that a snowstorm in the northeastern U.S. grounded three out of four legs of my journey to Hamburg. Props to my parents for spending far too long on snowy roads to get me to a functioning international airport so my flights could be rearranged relatively quickly.

My first impressions of CCC were that it was larger than the American hackercons I'd been to, and that it was dominantly German-speaking. Oh yeah, and I knew no one there with the exception of the aforementioned friend who was largely too busy to hang out. So, it was a little intimidating. But I was optimistic when I heard that the conference organizers had adopted an anti-harassment policy.

29C3 Hamburg Tag 1On the first day, after rebooting my travel-worn self at my hotel, I attended Privacy and the Car of the Future: Considerations for the Connected Vehicle, Enemies of the State: What Happens When Telling the Truth about Secret US Government Power Becomes a Crime: Blowing the Whistle on Spying, Lying & Illegalities in the Digital Era, and Time is Not on Your Side: Mitigating Timing Side Channels on the Web. (Recordings from all the talks can be downloaded from the official and unofficial mirrors, but for casual viewing I recommend searching on a talk's title on youtube.) The whistleblowing talk was the most powerful one of the day, for me. I'd heard William Binney speak at HOPE last summer, but here Jesselyn Radack's and Thomas Drake's accounts of the ostracism they experienced for refusing to sanction unconstitutional government spying and power grabs were even more compelling than Binney's alone.

On the second day of 29C3, I set out to fix my problem of not knowing anybody by querying [personal profile] vaurora and [personal profile] hypatia for their recommended awesome people at 29C3. I was not disappointed. :) In short order I met [ profile] eqe, [ profile] tensory, [ profile] m_c_t, [ profile] GiantEye, and others, and they are excellent people with whom I'd like to hang out again, which makes it fortunate that they all live on the same continent I do. We failed to get to the room where the Tor software ecosystem talk would happen before it filled up, so some of us headed to Many Tamagotchis Were Harmed in the Making of this Presentation, of which I had low expectations because of the "fluffy" subject matter. It turned out to be clear, engaging, and technical. Actually, I'd rate the average quality of talks at CCC—based on my small, English-only sample—to be the highest of any con I've attended. Later that day I went to "How I met your pointer": Hijacking client software for fuzz and profit, which was less sketchy than the title suggests. That night [ profile] m_c_t, [ profile] aviddd, and I visited one of Hamburg's most popular attractions, Miniatur Wunderland, the largest model railway in the world. I took some photos. Indeed, it is vast. We spent a couple hours there and still didn't see everything. Their control center has more monitors than the one at my workplace where we control two interplanetary spacecraft! The model cities and countryside were sprinkled with Santa Clauses, including this contingent that I think is engaging in a labor protest(?). I'd recommend visiting this place if you're going to be in or near Hamburg, particularly during the parts of the year when it's bleak outside.

On the third day I went to Securing the Campaign: Security and the 2012 US Presidential Election, Writing a Thumbdrive from Scratch: Prototyping Active Disk Antiforensics, and Low-Cost Chip Microprobing, along with lots of Lightning Talks. Chatter was building about the previous night's Hacker Jeopardy, which I'd not been interested in attending because it was in German. (I'd later find out that real-time interpretation was available for all or most German-language talks for people with a DECT phone (not me) or watching the live stream(s), which would've required reliable access to power outlets). Some sexist incident had taken place at Hacker Jeopardy, but English-language details were not to be found.

A lot of the chatter—overheard and on twitter, the CCCers' social medium of choice—referenced creeper cards. I was familiar with creeper cards even though I'd never, and still haven't, seen any in person. They're yellow or red, analogous to the cards used to indicate fouls in association football, with pre-printed explanations that the recipient has done something inappropriate. There are also green ones to reward particularly respectful behavior. These cards were developed for last year's DefCon, and my impression in the wake of that event was that creeper cards had become a recognized—if not widely accepted—phenomenon in hacker culture.

The story started to emerge that one of the hosts of Hacker Jeopardy had said something sexist (possibly it was his complaint about having to choose a woman contestant in addition to men) and had been handed a red card by someone in the audience. Whereupon he treated the card as a joke, which apparently was his honest interpretation of it. I can understand his not being familiar with the cards, but to automatically treat a statement that you have done something inappropriate as a joke? To me that is not reasonable at all.

With regard to my personal experience at the con, I did have one creepy incident: when I was relaxing in one of the con's foam-filled pits, sitting back with my eyes closed, some guy outside of the pit started aggressively and nonconsensually taking flash photos of me and other people nearby. Confused (at first) and then peeved, I picked up my stuff and left. I regret not doing more; I could have confronted him or found some con volunteer to explain the rule about photography, or at the very least reported it. But being non-confrontational in general and flustered at that moment, I didn't.

I attended a haecksen breakfast on the final day of 29C3. (Haecksen is a loose aggregation of European and Australian women hackers.) I'm grateful to them for indulging my lack of German comprehension by conducting the discussion in English. I think this discussion was where I first learned that there was an Awareness Team among the volunteers and that incidents could be reported to them. Naturally there was talk of Hacker Jeopardy and the creeper cards. I was disappointed to hear so many of the women there excuse recipients' response to the creeper cards, though. Repeatedly I heard that the recipients had no way of knowing the cards weren't a joke, when they were "dumped on" the con-goers without context. I don't know how the cards got to CCC, and I was baffled on hearing that they were distributed in large numbers. When? To whom? I still don't know. I never saw a creeper card being handed to anyone, so I don't know how they were used in practice, but at least one attendee reports there were thousands of cards.

Much digital ink has been spilled in the last few weeks about sexism and creeper cards at 29C3, most of it exasperating. One exception is [personal profile] vaurora's piece at The Ada Initiative. Another is [ profile] tensory's account. There are a few others. This post is certainly late to the discussion, of which I've read most of the fraction I care to. And I haven't even, until this sentence, brought up Asher Wolf's breakup with the CryptoParty. But I have no personal experience related to that.

I don't plan to return to the Chaos Communications Congress this year. I have no investment in that community, and I can visit the awesome folks I met more easily outside of CCC. Plus all the talks are freely available online, live and recorded. This year I'll return to viewing them from a safe distance.

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