Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Weekly Watch: Techmoan's Retro Tech

Techmoan is sort of a general tech channel on YouTube, but the host has a charming obsession with weird lost audio and video formats. He's even managed to get hold of some I hadn't heard of before, which is impressive, considering I've loaded the Dead Media Project Archive into my head a few times now. He goes to the trouble of recording bits off of YouTube's free use music archive to demo a lot of the formats, which is nice, although YouTube encoding itself sort of smashes the brilliance of a lot of high-resolution formats.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Monday Mystery: The Vanished Prodigy

Barbara Newhall Follett was writing poetry before most children would even be enrolled in kindergarten. By twelve, she was a published novelist. By twenty-two, she was a bride. And by twenty-six, she had vanished completely.

Follett was awash in the written word before most children even knew their ABCs. Her father, Wilson Follett, was eventually the author of the posthumously-published descriptivist tome Modern American Usage. (The manuscript was largely in draft stage upon his death, but friends who read it thought it was too wonderful to go unreleased.) At eight she was hard at work on her first novel, The House Without Windows; after its publication, at the tender age of twelve, she went on to write The Voyage of the Norman D, released when she was sixteen. Both books were critically-acclaimed, and Follett became a celebrated prodigy of the literary world.

Outside the world in her novels, however, all was not well. In 1928, when Follett was 14, her beloved father announced he would be leaving the family for another woman. Follett was devastated. She busied herself writing Lost Island and Travels Without A Donkey, but with the onset of the Great Depression the next year, the situation only got worse. Follett, celebrated novelist, was forced to take a job as a lowly secretary to support herself and her mother. In 1934, hoping for a better life, she married a man named Nickerson Rodgers, and moved to Brookline, Massachusetts.

Follett's relationship with Rodgers was tempestuous. They fought frequently, and in her letters, Follett spoke often of depression and dependence on sleeping medication. In 1939, she had had enough. Barbara Newhall Follett Rodgers walked out of her Brookline apartment with $30 cash and was never seen again.

Though the case is officially unsolved and without leads, many believe that Rodgers did her in. He was the last person to see her alive, and we have only his word that she walked out after their last fight under her own power. It took him two weeks to report her missing -- although, to be fair, her mother didn't report it either -- and four months to request that the police issue a bulletin about it, under her married name, rather than the name she was known for. It wasn't until 1966 that someone in the media realized "Barbara Rodgers" was also "Barbara Newhall Follett" and set up a hue and cry. Thirteen years after Follett's disappearance, her mother Helen went to police and insisted upon an investigation, claiming she had always been suspicious of Nickerson Rodgers.

No body or trace of Barbara Newhall Follett has ever been found.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Curiosity got the better of me again, and I went out to try to investigate why the hell people are so fascinated by television shows about 600 lb humans.

I should know better than to do this. I always just end up wondering how people get into such goddamn stupid arguments.

Body image issues are always something I have to approach like an alien anthropologist. I have plenty of problems, but hating the mirror is not one of them. I ran into a picture of Mae West when I was maybe eleven or twelve and thought to myself, "I want to look like that when I grow up." And lo, for it came to pass. I am wasp-waisted and hourglassy. It's not necessarily the fashionable shape of the day, but neither does anyone complain at me about it. Nothing fits quite right when I buy it, but when your problem is "I always have to take the waist in several inches," you don't get a lot of sympathy.

Worrying about weight is especially weird to me. I don't normally know exactly what I weigh, mainly because I don't give a shit, but the urgent care stuck me on a scale so they could figure out my drug dosages. As of my trip to the clinic I was 131.8 lbs. (Just about bang on 60 kg, if you speak metric.) I've been about that, plus or minus maybe ten pounds, my entire adult life. I don't do anything about it, it just happens. American clothing sizes are so fucked you'd have better luck in some stores if you went through the rack blindfolded, but if we're pretending standard size charts bear any relation to the dimensions of our clothes, I've never been smaller than about a 4, or bigger than about an 8. I eat basically whatever, usually not quite enough of it, and then drop a multivitamin on top to ward off scurvy.

So all of this spot-reduction magic fat burner cleansing nonsense, and all of this radical political defense of having jiggly bits, have blown right past me at about equal velocities.

Having now gone out and read blogs by people on both sides of the shouting, I now wish they had passed me by as well.

Obesity is a statistically a risk factor for a bunch of stuff. Lots of things are risk factors. Some of those things are controllable. Some are not. You, a human with free will and full ownership of your own body, are still free to make the decision to take those controllable risks, once you know what they are. That is, as long as you give informed consent. As far as I can tell, the "fat acceptance" crowd is doing their damndest to make sure nobody is informed, and the "obesity epidemic" people are determined to make people change regardless of whether they consent.

The main issue I have with the FA movement is the same as the one I have with a lot of other social movements, which can be summed up as 'the average temperament of the people in it'. Because it's a movement that aims to eliminate injustices perpetrated on people by other people, it has attracted a disproportionate number of people who believe that everything wrong with their lives is an injustice perpetrated on them by other people. Psychologically, it's known as having an external locus of control. When this is your mindset, 'I'm having bad feelings' is isomorphic with 'other people are forcing me to feel bad', and facts fall by the wayside as you set about defending yourself from what you feel is perpetual attack.

I don't think it's fair to say this is representative of the reasons the fat acceptance movement began. From what I can find, it started as an offshoot of the feminist movement, with the general idea that fat people are still people and being dicks to them is just not on. I do unfortunately think, though, that it is fair to say that this mindless flailing is pretty representative of the experience most people have with the FA movement today, especially online where relative anonymity and the ease of finding yourself a nice little echo chamber to settle into make for vicious cliques. A lot of the loudest (self-appointed) spokespeople jam their fingers into their ears right up to the second knuckle when confronted with actual science. I absolutely agree that you are under no obligation to adhere to anybody's beauty standards, sit there and listen to anyone's crap advice on what you should look like or how to change your body mass, or to prioritize health, athleticism, or weight loss, but if your response to "statistically, you're at greater risk of these specific problems" is SOD OFF YOU DON'T KNOW MY LIFE I'M PERFECT, then there is something wrong.

I have a shitload of problems with the "obesity epidemic! RUN! SAVE YOURSELVES!" crowd as well. Science is not a bludgeon you can use to make everyone do what you say. That is no better than waving around your very recent English translation of your very old book of myths and demanding that everyone follow the moral code you have somehow mysteriously derived from it. You can tell people, "You're at greater risk of heart conditions!" but they are totally allowed to tell you to fuck off. It's their life. They don't have to care if they're courting health problems, if they worry you, or if they make your boner sad. They are allowed to decide they are okay eating more pie than they burn off with exercise. Shut up and stop trying to outlaw soda refills. It's not going to work. You might note that heroin didn't vanish as soon as it was made illegal, and you can't seriously try to stem the flow of food.

There is some sort of fundamental lack of empathy going on with people who insist that everyone has a duty to force themselves to a "healthy" weight. I don't know how people get to be 400 lbs any more than I know how people get to be religious -- there is obviously some sort of reward pathway in operation here that doesn't work that way for me. But I do know that hunger is incredibly stressful. I tried a generic form of that no-periods-ever birth control once that utterly broke my hunger cues. It wasn't that I wanted to eat more often, or wanted to eat more overall; it was that no matter what I ate, how much, or when, I was still just a little bit hungry. All the goddamn time. It drove me insane. I had to quit taking it, because that feeling of constantly being just a little bit hungry was so uncomfortable I had trouble sleeping. It doesn't matter where you start out on the scale; if someone's already hanging onto life by their fingernails, asking them to walk around just a little bit hungry 24/7 is not tenable.

Humans make me so damn tired sometimes.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Weekly Watch: The Oddity Archive

The Oddity Archive is a running YouTube show spotlighting weird old media tech, with bonus snark and bad puns. This show isn't specifically about video games; the host talks more about obsolete video and audio formats, past trends in television programming and services, incidents and failures of the medium, and the occasional side trip into things like talking board games. There are about 200 videos, including his minisodes and various digressions into commentary that didn't make it into finished episodes, so you can binge for quite a while.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Monday Mystery: Lyle Stevik

On September 14, 2001, a young man checked into a nondescript motel in Amanda Park, Washington. He signed the register as Lyle Stevik. He had no credit card, but the clerk decided he looked harmless enough, and allowed him to rent the room without one. The desk heard from him only once more, when he asked to change rooms to escape the noise from a nearby trailer park. On the 15th, he was seen pacing up and down the nearby highway, perhaps agitated. On the 16th, the hotel maid offered to clean his room; he declined, although he did ask for more towels.

On the 17th, the maid knocked and received no response. She entered the room and found him, hanged from the closet rod with his own belt. On the nightstand, he left $160 with a note that said "for the room". In the wastebasket was a copy of the Sunday paper, and another note that simply said "SUICIDE". The investigators described it as looking somehow experimental, as if he were trying to remember how to spell it.

He hanged himself on a closet rod that was far too short, and was found nearly on his knees in the closet. Towels padded the walls; he might have been afraid he'd flail and alert the neighbors.

There is no record of a Lyle Stevik anywhere. The prevailing theory is that he took the name after a character in a Joyce Carol Oates novel, Lyle Stevick, but no one knows why, and given the handwriting in the register, some aren't sure that "Stevik" was actually what he wrote. The address he gave at check-in is that of another motel in Idaho, where nobody remembers him. He turned up at the Amanda Park motel around the time the regular bus from the nearest big city arrives, but no one recalls seeing him on the bus. No matching fingerprint records could be found by state or federal law enforcement, the military, or any other organization. He had no ID, no luggage, and only a small handful of items (toothpaste, loose change, etc) were found in the room.

A few of the autopsy findings are interesting, if not very dramatic. The ME noted "scrapes" on the knuckles and that the clothing he was wearing was far too big for him -- the belt, in particular, had wear marks that indicated it had been worn by someone of a significantly higher weight in the past. The reddit crew who have taken up the case think he might have been bulimic. (I realize that "reddit investigates!" makes people wince these days, but this group appears pretty sane. They have ongoing contact with the lead investigator and so far no one seems to have doxxed anybody, intentionally or otherwise.) "Lyle" was on the tall side, 6'2", and although his ethnicity is listed as "white", it's not out of the question that he might have been Hispanic/Latino or Native American.

The possibility has also been floated that the reason no one has reported a missing person who matches his description is that either his family died in the Twin Towers on 9/11, or they were led to believe he did. The latter is less likely, unless his family had whoppingly wrong information; the redditors paid for radioisotope testing (yes, really) which showed he wasn't anywhere near New York in the months leading up to is death.

Websleuths, which is an even more terrifying pile of desperate, shouting, wiggling "helpfulness" than reddit, drew a tentative connection between "Lyle" and someone calling themselves "Steven" who wrote a reference on hanging oneself on I don't think I'll link to it here, but it's easy enough to find. I don't see it, except insofar as "Lyle" managed to hang himself, but it apparently debuted right before "Lyle" was found, and Websleuths is like a giant case of mass pareidolia as explained by Labrador retriever puppies, so they think it's relevant.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Official Kickstarter Announcement, WHEEEEEEE!!

Since I seem to have narrowed my career prospects down to "things I like that happen on a schedule that I can sustain", I've gone about trying to figure out how to start doing them with a budget of zero. It turns out that this is only really possible when I'm doing them for my own amusement. If I'm making them into a commercial venture, other people quite rightly want to be paid -- and even the ones that on the fence about it (ANNUSHKA) get offered money, because I am allergic to asking artists to work for free.

So I turned to Kickstarter.

As most of you know, I've been fooling around with dance hoops for a few years. I picked it up initially because the first thing everyone tells you when you're underemployed is 'don't let yourself sit idle', and I wanted society to shut up. Plus the circus performers looked neat. I found a dance studio that paid volunteers with banked rehearsal time, bought a $5 fitness hoop at Marshall's (and later cadged some old beaters from Lolli Hoops, who was moving and cleaning out her loft), and discovered that having some sort of moving object to throw around while I danced meshed really well with what my bizarre cross-wired brain thought ought to be happening to the music.

You might not realize that I've also collected a bunch of other inexpensive props to play with. Fan veils, twirling ribbons, scarves, a bunch of cane-handled umbrellas, some juggling wands and balls -- the full gamut of things I would need to accidentally re-start my career as a rhythmic gymnast, basically.

One of the simplest is a Japanese-style folding fan. Mine are covered in sequins, because I'm me, but they're still just an arc of fabric on some plastic or bamboo staves, that open and close with a flick of the wrist. Most people associate them with exotic or ethnic dances, like the Chinese flutter fans, but as it turns out, you can use even the smaller hand fans for swish, emphasis, and punctuation in a free-form modern pop-style dance. Which is what I do.

I have a Kickstarter running to cover the costs of renting the studio, buying enough props to hand out to a class, and paying a videographer to shoot a digital version of the workshops, so that even people who can't make it to Cambridge, MA, can participate. $15 gets you the video workshop, so you can learn at home; $25 gets you the file and your very own folding fan. If you're a local, $25 gets you priority registration for the in-person workshop, should you so desire.

I hope to make this a whole series of props-based workshops, but I can't do that until I can get the first one off the ground. It's crazy amounts of fun. I won't know exactly when the workshop will be scheduled until I hear back from the studio, but I've put April 2017 for the delivery date on the Kickstarter, as my best guess.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Weekly Watch: Brian Molko Interview

Yes, I can be obsessive. Hush.

I thought this was a particularly interesting watch, because it's by far the most relaxed interview I've ever seen Molko do. The lady doing the interview, Emma Blackery, isn't a journalist -- she's a YouTube face. She has a lifestyle channel and a personal vlog, and has had some minor success as a musician. I have no idea how she ended up talking with them, but given that she's a screaming fan of theirs and her accent is local to the studio where the broadcast they're promoting is being filmed, it was probably a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and remembering to answer her email.

Blackery's lack of experience is relevant here because it means she doesn't actually know what her job is. She's so new, she thinks she's supposed to go have a conversation with the famous person. You can get away with that if you're interviewing someone for a magazine -- you can go down the pub and have a couple of drinks and chat, because you have the luxury of editing the piece later. You can snip out any weird tangents and make sure nothing you think or say gets in the way of the artist profile you're supposed to be doing. And, indeed, writers have gotten some pretty decent stuff out of Molko in the past, probably by doing just that. I can't see his reactions in print, mind, but he at least says interesting things to print journos sometimes.

Interviewing someone on camera is different. Especially if you're not Barbara Walters, with the advantage of a multi-camera setup that can facilitate some selective jump cuts when you snip for time and content. Most of the on-camera interviews Molko does for TV are brief affairs that happen backstage or on the red carpet on the way to some sort of public appearance, either one of their shows or some kind of awards thing. He tends to sort of ramble aimlessly, especially so when he's alone or his bandmates don't really have any comments of their own, and he's the only one who's been handed a mic.

I suspect I know why: It's because professional entertainment journalists know their job is to read a question off their card and then stand there like a human channel bug while the artist talks. It's difficult to tell with a lot of the typical camera angles, but I have a feeling they just sit there, staring at him with a sort of blankly-attentive look while he makes noises. Molko has a habit of slowing like he might be winding down a bit, but then picking back up and adding another clause, which is not how he sounds when he has an actual long and complex thought that he wants to complete -- I think what's happening is that he's trying to read the interviewer's reaction ("Is that good? Is it the answer you wanted? Am I done now?") and they're giving him nothing to go on. It drives him bonkers.

Blackery has absolutely no idea what she's doing and really just wants to have a chat with someone whose work she likes very much. She's got cards with questions on them, but she seems to only use them as prompts, to keep things from getting sidetracked. The whole thing is done in a very conversational cadence -- you'll notice she's not afraid to interject when she has something else she wants to say or ask. It's a perfectly normal turn-taking strategy in ordinary conversations, but it's almost never used in formal on-camera interviews.

She also doesn't simply stare at him while he answers things. He's one of those people whose eyes flicker all over the place when he's trying to get words together, and there's tremendous pressure not to do that when someone else is boring holes in you with their gaze. (I wouldn't be surprised if that's one of the reasons he often does these things with his sunglasses on. It takes a remarkable amount of effort to police your eyelines, and it's less awkward to give up on it if no one can tell where you're looking.) Being a fan, she also isn't taken aback when his mind goes for a couple of brief splashes in the gutter -- as far as I can tell, that's just how his brain works and he never means anything personal by it, but other people are occasionally unprepared.

Molko actually asks her a couple of questions about vlogging in the middle, which she answers with great aplomb, after teasing him about turning the interview around on her. They talk over each other when getting nostalgic over the various entertaining failure modes of cassette tapes.

He's smiling through most of it. Genuinely. He almost never does that. Not that Molko's bad about press -- he learned his lesson young, after his 25-year-old loudmouth self made a couple of wiseass comments that he will never live down -- but for the most part it's pretty clear that he considers these things to be polite but distant interaction with a stranger. Not so here. You get a much better idea of how he can be engaging with an audience in real life.

She seems to be something of a friend now. I'm not entirely sure who has control of the official Twitter account; undoubtedly there is an intern queuing up all of the posts about tickets going on sale, but the occasional raw comment slips through, so there must be a human with an iPhone in the signal chain somewhere. (Molko claims to not use social media, although he does occasionally prod a public Spotify playlist. Olsdal seems to have a Twitter/Instagram.) But whoever it is still knows and recognizes Emma Blackery's name, and retweets her @-mentions regularly.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

You know how, if people find out you enjoy something you have a talent for, they like to tell you to "follow your dream"? They give you this advice on the assumption that the terrible consequence of not doing that is that you will have a tedious mundane life in which you will always wonder if you could have made it. The dichotomy there is 'stay safe' vs 'challenge yourself', with a side order of 'you can always go back to being boring and normal if you totally bomb'.

Nobody ever gives you career advice for when the arts are your only option. I assume there was some at some point, but it was discontinued when 'circus freak' stopped being the only choice that won out over 'sidewalk match-seller' and 'homeless beggar' as the prestige career for the terminally different. Although, I seem to have accidentally run away from home and joined the circus already, so maybe there's still some merit in that plan.

I try not to post too much about 'normal is hard, guys, it ruins me'. I feel like I'm being childish. It's really hard for me to grasp the difference between 'this does not make me deliriously happy all the time' and 'this is physically ruining me'. It's similar to how some people describe being unable to distinguish between eating because they're hungry and eating because they're bored, I think. They're both unpleasant feelings that respond to food, so it's not obvious that they're not the same thing. Only in my case, they're unpleasant feelings that don't necessarily respond to anything, so I've trained myself to ignore them to the point where I run myself into the ground, and at worst, lose the ability to consistently do things like eat and sleep.

I couldn't really tell you why I'm like that. Broadly, it probably has to do with the fact that I seem to be the first person in my family to figure out what is actually wrong with all of us. Looking back, I can see every single blood relative on my mother's side of the family has gone through the exact same cycle -- great potential, the promise of great things when young, then a descent into anxiety and physical decline and general madness in adulthood. They're all women and it was a different time, so most of them coped by getting married, being financially supported by their husbands, and sinking into isolation and oblivion while taking out the emotional consequences on their kids. One of my mother's sisters didn't; she's struggled all her life, and my mother has done nothing but talk shit about her for it. The other sister managed to get a steady supply of Valium for her anxiety problem, although didn't do anything about any of the rest of it, and my mother's talked shit about her all my life, too.

I don't want any of that. I've never wanted to be married, I actively want to not have any children, and I keep trying to support myself the "right" way until I spiral into a nervous breakdown.

My roommates both have normal jobs. It takes up a lot of their day and they're tired when they get home, but they still do things. They make dinner and watch TV and have conversations, and in their free time they go places and see friends. They don't spend their entire days off in bed. The last time I held down a traditional job (relatively -- I coped as well as I did because it was graveyard shift and 90% of my time was spent alone), I did nothing. I didn't make fancy food. I stuck my eyes on a television but didn't care much what was on it -- I wasn't a fan of anything, and sought out nothing new. I didn't read. Not only did I not go to the library, I didn't even read anything that was already in the house. I had no outside friends and went nowhere.

I'm beginning to think that level of fatigue isn't normal.

I feel guilty doing things that I can do because, paradoxically, I can do them. I've written something every day for more than five years now. It's not always good and it doesn't always end up here, but I did write it. For about the past three, I've danced every day that I was physically able, and if the recent Hip Incident is any indication, probably a lot of days that I technically wasn't. I go to rehearsals and perform in shows unless I am objectively unable to stand upright. Clearly I have the energy for things I like. And I berate myself for it. Because that's... bad? Selfish? Childish?

It's occurred to me recently that perhaps I "like" these things because I can do them, and get some kind of decent results, without dying. And that I don't "like" regular jobs because I'm tired of hanging on by my fingernails until some outside stressor makes me completely decompensate. It's not that all of these artsy things aren't work; they're just work that happens in places and on schedules that I can adhere to. I get tired, but I also get to succeed at something, and then I get to recover.

I have to figure out how to file my taxes as entirely self-employed for the first time this year. I had to go re-jigger my insurance info when I went to the urgent care clinic, and I explained this to the lady at the computer, at least as well as I was able to explain anything while I was in pain and crying. She helpfully opened up some sort of TurboTax app on her phone and told me that the government would consider me an "Artist". News to me. I don't know what I was expecting to file under -- "Despairing Failure"?

I try not to make my inability to be normal anyone else's problem. It is clearly far more obvious than I'd like it to be.

The professional dancers treat me like I'm one of them. I keep trying to budget my time and not get involved in too many shows at once, out of the persistent feeling that I don't want to disappoint people when I get the "real" job and have to drop everything else. The "real" job is not happening. There are "real" jobs I can do, but they're the same jobs that students and parents and the chronically- or temporarily-disabled and anyone else with restricted time or mobility can do. There are not enough of them, competition is fierce, and a discouragingly large number of them turn out to be scams. Most people are suggesting I figure out how to write for money.

I'm having a very difficult time adjusting from "can probably supplement my income with these things" to "this is really my only viable career option, so I'd better fucking make it work". I have long since passed the point where I have any idea what I'm doing.