Life in the Twitter village

Various people have noticed Clive Thompson's New York Times article on Twitter, Facebook, and the ambient social awareness that these kinds of tools promote. He points out a lot of things I find interesting about microblogging, particularly the way small bits of information add up into a new kind of sense of one's friends' lives, "like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting." Also of interest: maintaining multiple levels of intimacy with public and private Twitter accounts; the potential danger of too many "parasocial" relationships with people you don't really know; and the way ambient awareness reproduces the social dynamic of living in a small village, where everyone knows everyone. Definitely worth reading the whole thing.

I've noticed something that may or may not be related. When I started blogging, lo these five years ago, I didn't know anyone else online. If my friends had online presences, I wasn't aware of it. My blog persona was a secret identity, and the people I interacted with on the interwebs were people I'd never met in person. (Parasociality ahoy!) I was a heavy user of e-mail to keep in touch with friends and family in the offline world, but the web, for me, was more for interacting with people I didn't know.

Now I suspect that friends from offline contexts make up a significant percentage of my blog readership; I've also taken to Twitter as another way to keep up with people I already know. In fact, I didn't really get into it until I started finding my existing friends on it. I also finally succumbed and got a Facebook account for the same reason. One of the perks of joining Ravelry was finding knitters in my area to hang out with on Saturday mornings (hi, New London Knit/Crochet folks!). And so on. In short, online life for me now is much more about ambient awareness than it used to be. Have any of the rest of you (friends, colleagues, people I know from the blogosphere but not in person, random passersby) noticed the same thing?

Lacemaking as metaphor

Adamas shawl in progress
Originally uploaded by amndw2

This is a shot of my in-progress Sci-Fi Shawl, which is finally starting to look like the pattern. It occurred to me, as I started it, that lacemaking ought to be a metaphor for something: you start off with no idea what you’re doing, it all looks completely chaotic and makes no sense, and you can’t see how it’s going to get from the first few random-looking stitches to the finished object it’s supposed to be. And you keep checking what you’re doing because you’re sure you’re screwing it up somehow or other. But as it progresses, it starts to make more sense, and then there comes a point where the pattern becomes clear and you understand how it works. And eventually (I’m not there yet), you understand it well enough to adapt the pattern, or improvise, or design something of your own.

It’s not a metaphor for life, because life is too random and haphazard. But it’s not a bad metaphor for adjusting to a new job, or learning to work in an unfamiliar art form, or (supply your own analogy).

Also? It took me well into the second chart in the pattern to figure out which end was up. Literally.

Biking advice bleg

Thanks to a mixture of stubbornness, inertia, and a preference for living in places with viable public transit, I'm a lifelong non-car owner. When I moved to New London, people warned me that I'd need a car. I'm starting to see why: I live in a fairly walkable area, but getting to and from work is a long slog, and the buses here only run once an hour. But I have no great desire to start funneling my income into the oil industry's coffers, so I'm planning on taking up biking.

New London looks pretty navigable by bike, as far as I can tell: there aren't really bike lanes, but most of the streets aren't too wide and busy, and it's a fairly compact town, which means that commuting and errand-running trips will be short (and, I hope, fun). I'm hoping to work my way up to weekend excursions to places slightly further afield: Ocean Beach at the south end of town, or Niantic, seven miles away, where there's a bookstore I want to check out, or even Mystic, ten miles to the east.

Here's where I make a slightly embarrassing admission: I never had a bike when I was growing up. (I think my mother was afraid I'd get flattened by city traffic, or lose control going down the hill our house was on.) My aunt and uncle showed me how to ride, but it was at least 20 years ago, and I never really got to practice. So I expect a learning curve. I also confess to being apprehensive about the prospect of riding in traffic. I think I'm really more afraid of my own fear than of being hit by a car; I'm afraid that I'll come across as an unassertive, inexperienced rider, and that drivers will react accordingly.

On the other hand, I often see people biking along my regular route to and from work with no trouble, and I know of people at the College who bike everywhere. I know enough not to ride against traffic or on the sidewalk or without a helmet, and there's apparently a League of American Bicyclists certified bike instructor in the area. There are several useful Metafilter threads that I've been reading for advice and a bunch of bicycling sites I've bookmarked. My new mantra: if a six-year-old can learn to ride a bike, then so can I, goshdarnit!

So, people of the blogosphere: any advice for the newbie cyclist on how to get over the anxiety and start enjoying the bike commute?

Greetings from the moose-filled wilderness

Most unexpected thing I learned today: that there are moose in these parts. Not right in the middle of town, of course, but in slightly more rural areas just a few miles from here.

And not just moose, but coyotes. I didn't think there were any coyotes on the east coast,* and I didn't think there were any moose this far south. I'd always thought of them as living in Vermont and New Hampshire and Maine, but apparently I was wrong.

I guess I really am in New England now. Only I wouldn't have guessed about the coyotes.

* According to National Geographic, though, they're all over, and they like eastern suburbs.

In praise of tiny houses

I love the concept of the tiny house, and clever alternative housing in general. So I was intrigued by this story from the Hartford Courant: a soon-to-be Yale forestry grad student is building herself a mini-house, complete with solar array, instead of moving into student housing. Check out the video tour! (Via Apartment Therapy: Re-Nest.)

It's the kind of thing I wish I'd thought of when I was in grad school in Ann Arbor, instead of forking over ridiculously high percentages of my stipend for crappy apartments. Compared to some of the slumlord-managed hellholes I looked at while searching for somewhere to live over the years, a tiny house sounds like heaven.

Dracula and the internet

Partly because of my train commute back in Philadelphia and partly
because one can't knit and read simultaneously, I've become a fan of
audio books, and of LibriVox in particular. My most recent on-the-way-to-and-from-work listening has been LibriVox's recording of Bram Stoker's Dracula, which I'd only previously encountered through movies.* And one of the first things that struck me about it was how much the story depends on characters exchanging information — particularly in the later chapters where each of the narrators has to keep the others constantly updated
— and on the various forms of information technology that came out of
the 19th century.

Between the telegrams that various characters constantly exchange, Mina's typewriter, and Dr. Seward's "phonograph diary," Dracula includes almost as many means of communication as it does types of documents (letters,
diaries, newspaper articles, "memoranda," and on and on). Nearly all of the major characters are obsessed with documenting everything that happens. Even that poor sea captain who has the ill-luck to take Dracula to England not only insists on keeping up his captain's log, but on preserving it in a bottle so it can be read even after he's found dead at the wheel.

I can't help wondering what the story would have looked like if Bram Stoker had written it in this decade instead of in the 1890s. Jonathan and Mina's LiveJournals? GPS to track Dracula's shipping container on its long journey back to the Carpathians? A laptop for Mina instead of a traveling typewriter? Instant messages? Characters researching eastern European vampire lore on Wikipedia? I bet Stoker would have loved the internet.

I'm of two minds whether to write an essay on information technology in Dracula*** or a Facebook feed parody, in the manner of Facebook Hamlet:

Jonathan Harker is thrilled about this new job!
Jonathan Harker added Transylvania to the Places I've Been application.
Jonathan Harker is kind of nervous about staying in this creepy castle.**
Quincey Morris, John Seward, and Arthur Holmwood joined the group We Love Lucy.
Lucy Westenra and Mina Murray are attending the event Sunset Stroll in Whitby Churchyard.

… etcetera.

I was thinking of making a Google map for the novel, but I see that someone has already done so.

* And the "Buffy vs. Dracula" episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
** Although, on second thought, I doubt that Castle Dracula would have internet access. "I am writing this by hand, because I have not been able to locate a wi-fi signal anywhere in the castle. The Count appears to have the oddest notions of how business is conducted in this day and age…"
*** If I ever do, the Rosenbach Museum and Library, which has Stoker's notes for Dracula, would make a lovely research-vacation destination.

Knitting projects update: The sci-fi shawl

So I've had this lovely, slightly iridescent Blue Heron Rayon Flake yarn (in more or less this colorway) in my yarn stash for ages and ages, always planning to make a shawl out of it, but never getting very far with my plans for it. That's just changed, for two reasons: regular knitting time with fellow knitters at Conn College, and Ravelry, with its huge and easily searchable database of excellent patterns. The result: my next big, ambitious project, the Sci-Fi Shawl.

Okay, it's not all that science-fictional. But the pattern I've chosen involves a chevron-esque lace pattern that looks sleeker and rather more futuristic than your average lace — an effect that I think the colors of the yarn will enhance. And then there's the name: the Adamas Shawl. It's really named after the Greek word for "diamond," on account of the repeating diamond shape. But I keep wanting to read it as "Adama's Shawl," and trying to picture Admiral Adama wearing it, and snorting to myself at the incongruity. And yet the design wouldn't be out of place on an episode of Battlestar Galactica. Hence my unofficial name for the shawl.

The only drawback to this project is that it's too complicated a pattern to work on while actually watching BSG when it returns in April. But I'm psyched, all the same. Expect pictures if I make any kind of regular progress.

Friday silliness (bad cake decoration edition)

I've become completely addicted to Cake Wrecks, a blog dedicated to documenting examples of cake decoration gone horribly, horribly wrong. Some of the cakes are just ugly; others reveal startling levels of literal-mindedness on the decorator's part; others are wrong on so many levels that one is left murmuring "Oh dear God in heaven" as one lifts one's jaw off the floor. It reminds me a bit of Ugly Wedding Dress of the Day, except that the world of cake decoration provides far more opportunities for eldritch horror.

And now, in spite of all that, I'm craving cake. Just, you know, not a cake shaped like a human foot, or [shudder] a baby.

Article idea: scholarly social network mapping

Several days ago I had an idea for an article: a study of humanities
scholars' social and professional networks, using names mentioned in
the acknowledgments sections of scholarly monographs. If you
assembled enough data, I bet you could build a network graph, and if
you had some way of representing people's areas of specialization, you
could start to map the way various fields overlap and intersect. And
then you could use that information to think about any number of
library-oriented questions — the nature of scholarly communication,
the "invisible college" phenomenon, how to tap existing networks to do
outreach, and so on. It would be a bit like doing a citation study, but
more geared toward finding out the less obvious connections, i.e. who
helped a book get written as opposed to who gets directly cited in

My main concern is about the ethics of aggregating and publishing
this kind of information, even though all of it would already be
publicly available. Even though it's common knowledge, in theory, that
X thanks Y in her acknowledgments, it's not quite the same to put
together a big pool of data showing X's connections to Y (and Z, and W, and A and B) all in
one place. Collegial relationships often shade over into personal
friendships, and it feels a bit intrusive to map those connections.
Could one anonymize the information, somehow, and just label everyone
with letters of the alphabet or something else neutral, and only
identify their research specialty? It would probably mean more work, but I'm still thinking it would make a really interesting

So, O blogosphere, is this a viable idea, do you think? And if it turns out to be, would anyone be interested in co-authoring?

Settling-in update

  • I finally made it out to Saeed's International Market on Ocean Avenue, and was overjoyed to find a reliable source of decent olive oil, linden tea, rosewater, Cafe Najjar with cardamom, red lentils, and various jams (gooseberry, rose hip, fig) not easily findable at the main grocery store. Also baklava and za'atar bread. This made my morning.
  • (It occurs to me that I've been spoiled by having ready access to exotic groceries in most of the places I've lived in my adult life. In Philadelphia there were all kinds of fantastic eats to be found at Reading Terminal Market and the Italian Market; in Charlottesville I was right near Foods of All Nations; and in Ann Arbor I lived within a five-minute walk of the foodie paradise that is Zingerman's, not that I could afford most of what they sold. Here it requires a bit more initiative to find the same kinds of things, but I'm happy to report that it can be done.)
  • On the way, I stopped at my new local yarn store, Dagmar's Yarns, and browsed happily for a bit. I don't think I'm going to have any problem finding yarn for my next sweater project. There's another yarn store in Mystic, just up the coast, that I want to check out as well.
  • Apropos of knitting: I have found People to Knit With. This is always a good thing.
  • The other good news of the weekend: I now have a functioning washer/dryer in the apartment, and just in time; I was on the verge of running out of clean clothes.
  • More pictures of New London, including 19th-century houses, 18th-century gravestones, and attempts to capture sunlight on the river, will be forthcoming once I get around to uploading them.