Cogito, Ergo Sumana
Sumana oscillates between focus and opportunity

(0) : Preserving Your Old Art Or Activist Videotapes: These notes on a panel about digital preservation of fanvids spurred me to note down some links in a comment, and I figured it was worth publicizing further here.

I myself put vids on Critical Commons and have started also putting them on the Internet Archive. The Internet Archive is also willing to digitize and post VHS tapes (witness the John Morearty archive), but you may want to take a preservationist approach and pay someone like Bay Area Video Collective to digitize the tape more carefully and in higher fidelity, if it's particularly historic or visually artistic. In my experience that kind of preservation service might cost about USD$135 for a 60-minute VHS tape. BAVC and similar nonprofits often have grants to help with this, e.g., the Preservation Access Program.

You can find vendors for $20/tape but those vendors basically do parallel digitization, with lots of consoles going at once, so there's more risk that a problem will happen with any one tape.

The California Preservation Project's CAVPP (California Audiovisual Preservation Project), which also has a grant to make archival-quality digitizations of historic media, has put together a useful guide to identifying and taking care of various kinds of cassettes, DVDs, etc. Page 9 (Environmental Conditions) has more details on the best temperature and relative humidity for storing these things. Here's a version one can print out. And here are some more resources, including webinars, for people getting into video preservation. I went to a CAVPP workshop this summer, which is how I know their particular resources.

If you or your organization have activist or artistic videorecordings on analog media, now is a really good time to start planning to get those into a digital medium. Magnetic and other media deteriorate, and the clock is ticking.

(2) : Penumbra, Apotheosis, Friable: I had a pretty full weekend here in Queens.

Saturday morning I went to an information session in Flushing about a business plan competition in Queens. About 170 new or small businesses enter each year for a chance at one of three $10,000 grants (the three categories: Food, Innovation, and Community). I also learned more about the Entrepreneurial Assistance Program, a 10-week, $500 night course. I am thinking seriously about doing this; my MS in Technology Management focused much more on big corporate tech than on solo entrepreneurship, and it's been several years since that coursework anyway.

MergeSort logoThen I went to Maker Faire to help staff the table for MergeSort, the new New York City feminist hackerspace. A year or two ago I entertained the idea of cofounding a feminist community workshop in Astoria and decided I did not want to try without several dedicated cofounders. Then, a few months ago, I happened to meet Anne DeCusatis on the subway (she noticed my laptop stickers) and found out that she and Katherine Daniels are founding MergeSort! Right now it's a monthly meetup in Brooklyn.

I brought my zines "Cat, Dog, and Badger Each Own A Bookstore. They Are Friends." and "Quill & Scroll" and taught passers-by how to turn the letter-sized sheet of paper into an eight-page booklet with one slit and a bit of folding, just as Liz Henry taught me at that Double Union workshop where I started "Cat, Dog, and Badger." (Brendan, there are now like 150 more people who have received copies of your gorgeous illustrations of a hedgehog running an all-night bookstore.) I saw a few people I knew, and met Jenn Schiffer!

the three words I defined in oral rounds Saturday night I attended a vocabulary bee sponsored by my local bookshop. During the first round, in which we had twenty minutes to define fifteen words, I discovered I did not know the meanings of "flocculent", "phthisis", and "dipsomaniac" -- and I was slightly off regarding "trenchant" (which means "forceful" rather than "perceptive"). The MC encouraged us to write in jokes in addition to or instead of accurate answers, as the judges also appreciated and awarded points for style and hilarity. So I defined dipsomania as an obsession with the singing the "dip da dip da dip" scat from "Blue Moon", and I japed that "flocculent" is a service that lets Catholic priests monitor their congregations on Twitter during the 40 days of Lent. I made it into the oral rounds, during which I successfully defined "penumbra", "apotheosis", and "friable," each time adding a little something -- about constitutional law, about the first becoming the last, about how we, too, will crumble into ashes and dust.

my winnings - a book, a t-shirt, and gift certificates to Astoria Coffee and Astoria BookshopI won first place.

Yesterday: back to Maker Faire for more tabling. A Philadelphia visitor in an International Workers of the World shirt recognized me because of my Dreamwidth pin, but declined to sing a labor song with me. (I have been working on "Banks of Marble," personally.) It feels possible at this point that the majority of the sentences Anne has heard me say are: "Hi there, we're starting a feminist makerspace here in New York City." (A little misleading, since I am not one of the founders, but hey, clarity over precision for a carnival barker's patter.) I can stay on message and repeat talking points for many hours, and was glad to deploy these skills in the service of a good cause, while also giving away silly zines about animals who own bookstores.

I grew much better at teaching people how to cut and fold the zine; sometimes, when I said to an adult or a child towards the end of the process, "Do you see how it wants to become a book?" I saw the joy of discovery and mastery in their face. "It's yours to keep," I said, and maybe they'll unfold and refold it, to understand. I think some of those people, kids and adults both, have started thinking about what zine they might make. Maybe some kid got some paper and pen on the drive home to Long Island or Connecticut or Jersey, and sat in the back seat drawing, making and numbering eight cells on a sheet of notebook paper or the back of an old math worksheet. Maybe a couple of women, on the long subway ride back to Brooklyn, used the back of a flyer to start drafting -- maybe I'll see them at a MergeSort meetup one of these days.

We ran out of zines, and of business cards, and of eighth-of-a-sheet slips Anne had printed Saturday night, and of hastily-handwritten DIY cards cut from notebook paper and the back of a mis-cut "Quill & Scroll".

I got home to a Leonard-cooked dinner, some Internet time, and a few episodes of The Legend of Korra, then the lunar eclipse, then sleep.

: An Anger Playlist: Since a Twitter acquaintance asked for some angry songs, I present my "Angry" playlist:

  1. "Get Around" by Leonard Richardson
  2. "Sucker Punch" by Jonathan Coulton
  3. 8-bit-style cover of Weezer's "Why Bother?" by I Fight Dragons
  4. "Erase Me" by Ben Folds Five
  5. "Have You Forgotten the Bomb" by Barcelona
  6. "Everything to Everyone" by Everclear
  7. "One Hit Wonder" by Everclear
  8. "Now That It's Over" by Everclear
  9. "What You Call Love" by Guster
  10. "Either Way" by Guster
  11. "Going to Maine" by The Mountain Goats
  12. "First Few Desperate Hours" by The Mountain Goats
  13. "Southwood Plantation Road" by The Mountain Goats
  14. "No Children" by The Mountain Goats
  15. "This Year" by The Mountain Goats
  16. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana
  17. "Spiderwebs" by No Doubt
  18. "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime" as covered by Joe Glazer
  19. "The Same Merry-Go-Round" as covered by Oscar Brand
  20. "Still Alive" by Jonathan Coulton feat. Sara Quin

You may also be interested in my "Perseverance!" playlist.

: On Paint, Spock, And Anonymity: For years I have wondered why the Spanish instructions on reporting unsafe building sites used "No tiene que dar su nombre" instead of the Spanish adverb for "anonymously". While researching this question so I could ask it properly on Ask MetaFilter, I started looking through New York City legislative history around the recent permutations of the required signage. And that's how I came across this transcript of the minutes of the New York City Council's Committee on Housing and Buildings from April 30, 2013.

Only a bit of this meeting concerned the proposed changes to Building Codes Section 3301.9, but I enjoyed this moment:

Then why the color scheme. Why are we moving from blue to hunter green or green to hunter blue or whatever the-I mean why are we worried about a color scheme?

COMMISSIONER LIMANDRI: Well, currently today I do think that what we’re looking for is consistency. There have been conversations that blue is an interesting choice and so is green. What we are looking for is a color that is you know what maybe psychologists think are soothing colors. And so we chose green.


CHAIRPERSON DILAN: That’s better than hearing that somebody owns a lot of stock in hunter green paint.

Then the committee heard testimony on a proposed law affecting the sales of cooperative apartments, to reduce illegal discrimination against applicants by co-op boards. In discussing how to affect the behavior of boards considering discriminating against buyers:

COUNCIL MEMBER FIDLER: You mentioned a TV show before. I'll mention another one. Do you watch Star Trek ever?

MR. GURION: The original one.


MR. GURION: Not like--

COUNCIL MEMBER FIDLER: Actually I am going to ask you a question about the original. I think we all agree that Mr. Spock is the smartest character of the show. In one episode he says to Captain Kirk. Every revolution is one man or woman with a vision. I think you heard testimony earlier when you were in the room when Ms. Ford stood up the right thing happened. And for you to say that 188 will have no effect. If you don't necessarily you know you may know the other four members of your coop board but you may not trust all four of them, if you are the only one in the room thinking the discriminatory thought you can't communicate it if Ms. Ford is in the room. And so if there is one person and it's the same thing as 26. If everyone in the room is going to sit there and figure out a really good reason that can't be challenged to say this is not discrimination? It's the same thing. It's the one honest person in the room theory. All right.

MR. GURION: It's not and in New York City unlike on Star Trek there is no Vulcan mind meld.

CHAIRPERSON DILAN: All right, guys.

I am pained to learn that the council member misremembered the speaker of his quotation; Kirk says it to mirror Spock (video). Regardless, I find it charming that Star Trek comes up at City Council committee meetings. And I love that Gurion's response totally makes sense as shorthand in this context; we don't have Vulcan mind melds, and so we cannot see into people's minds to know with certainty whether their actions had discriminatory intent; nor does anyone have telepathic shortcuts to get fellow board members to stop discriminating.

City Council minutes are so engrossing. I could read them for days.

: Software In Person: In February, while coworking at the Open Internet Tools Project, I got to talking with Gus Andrews about face-to-face tech events. Specifically, when distributed people who make software together have a chance to get together in person, how can we best use that time? Gus took a bunch of notes on my thoughts, and gave me a copy.

Starting with those, I've written a piece that Model View Culture has published today: "Software In Person".

Distributed software-making organizations (companies, open source projects, etc.) generally make time to get people together, face-to-face. I know; I've organized or run hackathons, sprints, summits, and all-hands meetings for open source projects and businesses (and if I never have to worry about someone else's hotel or visa again, it'll be too soon).

Engineers often assume we don't need to explicitly structure that time together, or default to holding an unconference. This refusal to reflect on users' needs (in this case, the participants in the event) is lazy management. Or event organizers fall back to creating conferences like the ones we usually see in tech, where elite men give hour-long lectures, and most participants don't have any opportunities to collaborate or assess their skills. Still a bad user experience, and a waste of your precious in-person time.

Why do you think you're spending hundreds of thousands of dollars holding hackathons, sprint weeks, and conferences? And how could you be using that time and money better?

Subsections include "Our defaults", "Investing for the long term", "Beyond 'hack a lot'", "Grow your people", and "Setting yourself up for success". Thanks to Gus and to Model View Culture for helping me make this happen!

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(3) : The Eight Mile Road Between Republic City and Massachusetts Bay Colony: Leonard and I have started watching The Legend of Korra, which is fun. In one episode, a character says to the guy who's just arrived, "Oh, hi, 'Shady' Shin." And then proceeds to let Shady hire him for a pretty sketchy job.

Leonard said that, as a rule, he would not become business partners with someone who's commonly known as "Shady." I asked whether Eminem counted; Leonard replied that for Slim Shady, "Shady" is a surname, but in any case, Leonard would insist that some non-Shady collaborator be involved. And besides, he said, what might Eminem even want to hire Leonard to do?

I said: a Twitter tool. Specifically: sometimes people tweet bits of Eminem lyrics (without attributing the song or artist), or incorporate snatches of Eminem lyrics into the sentences of their tweets, and so we'd want to monitor the tweetstream to find those, and analyze whether those people are "influencers" (and whether it's likely they and their followers buy music or pirate it). And then, based on that data, Eminem could forecast trends in sales of his music, and hook that forecast up to his investments, to automatically change his strategy towards riskier or more conservative options, as appropriate.

Leonard had been nodding this whole time. I finished: And the name of the tool could be: Increase Mathers.

(Incidentally, in other Korra-rap relations, a big reason I got interested in The Legend of Korra was this fanvid set to "Mama Said Knock You Out" by LL Cool J.)

(Also, Eminem's clothing line of course ought to be "Cotton Mathers".)

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: What I've Been Up To: ribbon and papercraft Over the last few weeks:

I bought a bike and started riding it. I spent a bunch of time with my blood family. I saw movies and read books, including a bunch of rereading. I worked on an article for an online magazine. I talked with other scifi/fantasy fans about the Hugo Awards and sf/f that takes Hinduism seriously. I got further behind on email. I added metadata to a few videos in the John Morearty archive. I caught up with friends on the phone and by letter. I tried to stay out of the heat. I did errands.

I recovered from a difficult summer. I'm glad it's getting to be autumn.

2015 October

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