At the wedding.

It was the latest in a string of incredibly cold days this week: frigid, overcast, drizzling continuously. But it didn’t stop the wedding from being, in a word, splendid.

Both are not native to this land. She speaks five languages, and spoke all five that evening, welcoming family and friends from all over the world come here to celebrate with her. He speaks one language which is not his mother tongue, yet the majority represented there were family and friends from all corners of the city and all parts of his life, also come to celebrate with him.

She was a vision of beauty — but when is she not? She is, and will be, always beautiful and elegant and refined and a friend like no other. I’d only ever seen him in tracksuit, shorts, or the most casual of clothes, but as his brother said during the speeches, he looked sharp and handsome and wore the suit wonderfully on his wedding day. Splendour, embodied.

Many splendid sights were beheld, but the most endearing sight was seeing L., white-haired and slightly stoop-shouldered, carrying off an enormous bouquet of roses at the end of the evening.

(Each table at the reception had a huge vase of white-and-blush roses, each bloom larger than my two fists pressed together. There would’ve been hundreds of roses in that room. The guests were taking them away afterward. Who would not want to take home a memento of that day’s beauty?)

And as he was bearing away this giant bouquet for his wife and daughter, this man who’s not of any blood or ethnic relation but who has become something like a father to me in this city, said to me, “All things work for the good of those who love him, our Lord Christ. Don’t forget that.” A current caught, a thread pulled, a pot stirred, a word in season.

What a wonderful day.

Diversity on Micro.blog, from a minority viewpoint.

There’s been a bit of hand-wringing in the Micro.blog community about its apparent lack of demographic diversity. This thread was the latest that got me thinking.

I’m the minority in just about all of the diversity categories the Micro.blog community has defined for itself, except that English is my first language. (There, I’ve outed myself.)

From my point of view, M.B’s diversity challenge comes out of Indieweb’s own priorities and values. Decentralization, independence, tech-centrality, building your own bespoke blog/website with home-grown/open-source tools… to me, these values originate from a particular paradigm and method of engaging with the world. This paradigm is itself shaped by the wider culture. To put it in reductionist and stereotypical terms, the “self-made” webmaster who builds a self-contained website, independent of the centralized aggregate (and by extension, The Man), using home-grown tools, falls very much in line with the values of the American Dream.

M.B can’t be reduced to stereotypes, of course. But there’s also a bar to entry into this social-media network, and it’s a distinctly technophilic, first-world, Western bar. One needs the finances to have your own webhost/domain or pay M.B to host it, the technological know-how of building your own website and establishing social-media capabilities on said website, and most importantly, the _desire_ to have a blog/online presence independent of the centralized aggregate, before you can even begin to join the M.B social-media community.

These are many hurdles. The way I see it, they all come from the Indieweb movement and how that movement was birthed in the first place.

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An example of some hurdles I faced getting into M.B.

Many Indieweb pages have a certain “look” in my eyes: American, technophile, and Apple-centric. M.B’s signup/landing page has “that look”. I remembered thinking, when I first landed on Micro.blog, “Heh, looks like yet another American-Silicon-Valley-Mac-exclusive-technophile enclave.” But after reading about the Indieweb movement and realizing that it encapsulated some of the things I missed from the old Web 1.0, I understood my first impression (like all my first impressions) was prejudiced and reductionist. Being a non-technophile with only basic HTML/CSS skills (enough to know the meaning of what I’m copy-pasting, not enough to interpret the meaning for troubleshooting purposes), M.B currently offered the simplest “in” into microblogging and self-hosting according to Indieweb principles. And I was tired of being spread out over WordPress.com and Twitter anyway. So I signed up for hosting to try it out.

A hosted M.B may have been my simplest “in” into Indieweb, but I face another hurdle in USD $5 and the monthly currency conversion and fees involved. It is not a big hurdle. I can afford it. But it is still a reality for someone not living in North America, and every month the hurdle reappears and I have to face and jump over it. And not for much longer: I recently got a domain/webhost on a local provider, and a big motivation was to remove this USD $5 hurdle, even if it meant spending a bit more effort to setting up my domain. I understand this cash flow is necessary for this independent M.B community to survive and thrive, which is why I supported it. But I’m willing to bet that this USD $5 is a significant barrier to getting non-technophile, non-North-American voices heard on M.B.

Finally, the Indieweb value of decentralization is, by definition, in tension with “social media”. And people are complicated and have diverse motives and priorities: not everyone who has an Indieweb-type website desires an Indieweb-type social media hub to broadcast their activities. Personally, I’ve always had a disinterested attitude towards social media: it’s the necessary, annoying evil I have to put up with when getting my content out on Tumblr and Twitter and Instagram. So far, I’m only interacting on M.B because of proximity, ie. I have to go through my Timeline to get to the “Add New Post” button. I appreciate what goods M.B has brought and is bringing to me currently, but in the big scheme of life and things, I have other priorities, and between blogging and social media, the latter will be first to jettison. If I follow Indieweb’s in-built inertia of decentralization and move my blog wholly to my domain, M.B runs the risk of losing my voice — a tiny inconsequential one, but still a voice. Well, so be it, then. Independent and decentralized means that a person has the freedom to self-select out of a community.

Just a few examples of structural barriers; I’ve encountered a few more on M.B and getting my head around Indieweb worldview and ideas at large. I don’t think that is necessarily a problem: it’s good to face challenges and figure out how to conquer them, and allow my paradigms be challenged in turn. But while I’m willing to put in effort to overcome them and live with the discomfort of facing them constantly (sometimes repeatedly), someone else may not.

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Is M.B a privileged place? Perhaps. (I abhor how that good word, “privilege”, now carries so much inflammatory, politicized baggage with it.) Rather, I’d say M.B has hurdles that are technical and structural, born out of the wider Indieweb cultural milieu, itself a specific, particular culture. And these hurdles, and that culture, end up sifting the potential entrants to allow a certain, particular demographic through.

I don’t know of any solutions. I’m not sure that removing the hurdles I mentioned above will necessarily be good or right. Maybe they will be! But maybe they won’t. These cultural boundaries are currently, for better or worse, part of (but not necessarily the whole of) what makes M.B the place it currently is. Every culture, in defining the boundaries of who/what it is, will inevitably exclude a subset; “I am X” necessitates such a thing as “not-X”.

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There is another discussion happening on M.B currently: whether or not to show your Followers, and how to implement tags/”tagmojis”. It’s not an accident that those are happening simultaneously with this discussion on diversity, because they’re all about the same thing: M.B is trying to find and define its identity. From identity then comes culture, and from there, the extent of diversity the culture can contain.

The boundaries of every culture are always being contested, from within and from without. To know what boundaries to bend, and which to maintain, involves knowing (or at least, having a vision or ideal of) who we want to be. These are good discussions happening on M.B. We will see what emerges.

Chariots at the airport.

Was at the airport a few days ago. The flight was substantially delayed. I had time, so I decided to walk down the concourse to the end of the terminal.

The concourse went on straight ahead. There was a trick of reflection and lighting, for I saw it go on and on, off the ground and into the night sky. Indeed, the wall at the end of the concourse was a big glass pane looking onto the flight runways. I was hoping to walk through a portal into the air and into another world, but I had to content myself with just looking.

It had gotten quieter as I walked down the concourse, until there were no people around and all human voices were gone. And now, the un-human sounds of the airport and runways came to the fore: the bass roar of jet engines, the moaning of the wind (for it’s been a windy, cold day), and the groaning creaks of the building under the assault of the wind and time.

Beyond the glass were airplanes, in a row. In the gloomy runway lighting they looked like gargantuan chariots of titans, parked and waiting patiently until they would be summoned to fly. Airplanes are mundane things, but tonight I was indeed looking through a portal at another world, and those mundane things became strange and grand.

Then the boarding call came through, and I had to go.

I went running yesterday. It was partly overcast, shreds of sky amidst dark, grey-blue clouds. Yet the world was not gloomy, rather covered in a gauzy veil that made everything bluely luminous, and the muted colours suggested depth and richness instead of washed-out obscurity.

It was very cold, but my hands were warm. My hands are only warm during winter when I’m exercising.

Strangeness

Was oddly restless and fey after work, so I went for a walk by the river. I need to walk more: there is something to be said about disconnecting from all intermediary forms and immersing my direct senses into the immediate moment without mediation. And then to let my thoughts run wild.

Run wild they did, mostly in the existential direction today, and I found myself praying an undercurrent without really being aware of it. The sky was bruised with deep blue clouds, and the setting sun cast a last gasp of gold and radiant white upon the oncoming storm. It was surely going to rain tonight.

I ended up at the boathouse, on the pontoons the rowers used to lower their boats into the river. I love this pontoon, because it gets me right on the level of the water at some distance from shore, and gives me the impression of walking upon the river itself. Nearby was a power line that stretched across the short span between the banks.

On the power line hung the carcass of a bird.

Continue reading Strangeness

Subterranean

I went walking by the river the other day, and saw something I didn’t notice before at the side of the pavement. It was a raised cement platform standing on its own surrounded by large gravel around it. Embedded into the platform were three metal covers like manholes, except made from much heavier iron material. Two of them were manhole sized, about 2.5 feet in diameter, and the third one was larger, close to 4 feet diameter.

They were stormwater drains. Furthermore, the largest one was ajar, the lid tilted half open.

I stood on the platform and peered into the ajar stormwater drain. All I could see was dark water standing about a foot below the surface of the drain, clogged with debris and a bit of rubbish.

I thought, something has crawled up from the deep and escaped. Something hidden and secret is now at large, and civilization is no longer safe.

A few days later, I walked by the same place. The large drain was covered over.

Merry Christmas

On Christmas Day, I was woken up at around 5am by two ravens singing outside. They set up a call-and-response in the trees around the house, and went on and on. Ahh, uagh, uggh, ayaaahh… They did this for about half an hour, then flew away.

First creatures of the day to wish Jesus happy birthday.

I also heard the ravens this morning in a similar song and reprise. I thought: the birds are praising God. They sing because it’s in their nature, and it makes them happy. Even the most unco of birds still sing, no matter how drab their voices are. And God loves these ravens and their croaky, unmusical song.

So I will also praise God, small and feeble though it may be, because God loves me.

The other day, I saw something beautiful that made my heart sing.

I was driving on the road, and in front of me appeared a Lamborghini, a black one, turning from the main road back into its showroom.

Oh, be still my heart.  What a beautiful, beautiful creature.

I don’t usually pay attention to cars, but I adore the Lamborghini.  Not for what it is, but what it is to my mind.  It is the closest thing to the spaceship of my imagination.  Driving one would probably be the only opportunity I have, in this life, to embody this dream.

Critters in the cyberecology.

A few weeks ago, I discovered the curious existence of bots on Twitter. I can’t remember how I first found the literary bot @YouAreCarrying, but since then I’ve discovered a few more and followed them.

I distinctly recall thinking, when I first encountered those literary bots: “Oh wow, critters! Animals set loose in the online ecology! How adorable, and how discombobulating.” (Of course, not all Twitterbots are adorable. But the literary ones are so fascinating, and definitely a source of creative inspiration.)

It got me looking up Twitterbots and chatterbots, and I discovered that this technology has been around for a while. It’s a bit discombobulating indeed, to think that automated scripts can take on their own life, independent of their creators. And eventually, surely their creators would forget their existence. And yet these bots would continue to “live”, to exist in cyberspace. Detritus? or animals in their own ecology?

Fascinating. I’ll be watching the evolution of bots from now on.

A thought on teaching in a digital world

Schools are getting more wired and electronic. Distractions are everywhere — personal laptop, tablet, smartphone. So what can a teacher do to overcome the distractions and engage students?

You have to sell something better than the distractions, something that is more fulfilling than cheap banality. (cf. one of John Piper’s quotes here) Not more entertainment or distraction in the classroom, but something deeper and more fulfilling, even if it may be challenging initially.

Teacher has to become a salesperson initially to hook students in to take a harder road instead of the easy way out. Then keep inspiring them down this road until they start walking it themselves. So the start of everything — a lesson, a unit, a whole year — is a sales pitch. Then keep delivering on the promise of engaging interest outside of electronics and lazy thinking. Continue to inspire and encourage the students who are now moving down the way on their own volition, and keep selling the promise to the reluctant ones.

The end goal of teaching is for students to become lifelong learners: think for themselves and make their own enquiries of the world. So what are the benefits of being a lifelong learner? When this is a product that initially requires a lot of investment — but will have massive payoff in future. Identify the benefits and advantages. How to pitch it in a way to young minds? Then sell it hard. And keep delivering on the promises.

So what can an educator learn from the advertising and marketing world? Time to look things up…