Monday, November 23, 2015

The Great Brussels CatDown

I'm pretty much always reading something on the internet. And I do it no matter the topic: it could be a headline about social media, entertainment news, or something that happened to the British Royal family that everyone else thinks is wildly interesting but I think is a shame because a family should be able to live their lives without everyone thinking that everything they do is wildly interesting.
But what I love to read on the internet the most is the good things. The nice things. The WONDERFUL things.
Today I shot a glance at the top 3 headlines in my facebook news feed and did a double take. "#BrusselsLockdown: Cat Photos Take Over Hashtag After Belgian Police Request Social Media Blackout." Cats on the internet? Not news. Police moving to capture terrorists? Sadly, something we're hearing about often. The two of them together? ...Interesting.
I never really thought of terrorists using twitter to check up on those they are terrorizing. But it's not like twitter is a secret good-guys-only radio channel where we whisper among ourselves. It's social media. That means that anything that anyone posts publicly (and I'm pretty sure that twitter doesn't have "private tweets") can be seen by anyone else in the world. That's pretty much the point of twitter: broadcasting your thoughts to the world and getting everyone to pay attention to you. So if you tweet that you saw a strike force sneaking down the alleyway near your apartment, anyone can see that, including the members of the terrorist cell who are holed up in the basement of the building at the end of the alley.
Belgian police are hunting for those responsible (or for those aiding those responsible) for the attacks on Paris ten days ago. It's pretty difficult to keep your movements covert when every single person has a device that connects them to everyone else. So the police asked people not to report their movements on social media. It's unnecessary to say "you never know who's watching," because they do know: the people they were hunting were watching.
So instead of quieting down on social media, instead of tweeting about something else entirely, instead of shutting down their twitter app and watching a movie, Belgians exploded the hashtag. #BrusselsLockdown went viral. With cats.
Too much information is sometimes even worse than none at all. If there's too much, it's hard to sift through it to find something that might be useful. Instead of finding snippets of intel about where the police were or what they were doing, the only thing terrorists could see when searching the hashtag were Belgian cats. Cats lounging. Cats purring. Cats dressed up in little costumes. Cats on lockdown, locking down the internet, and keeping the movements of the police safe from the bad guys.
I love reading wonderful things on the internet.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Crocheting Friendship

Sometimes I dream about the shows I've been watching or the books I've been reading before I go to sleep. I've even been known to dream that I'm still working after coming home from a late shift, the beep of the drive thru permeating my soul. But I've never dreamed a crochet pattern before.
Last night I was trying to figure out a shell stitch for a mermaid tail I'm planning to make for a Christmas present for my daughter. I kept consulting the pattern, one of the first chart-style patterns I've ever used. Instead of writing out the words, the author of the pattern draws a picture. This is especially useful if you're planning on using a pattern from the other side of the Atlantic; a double crochet in the US is called a treble crochet in the UK, and a US single crochet is a UK double crochet. (Who knows what they call a single crochet over there... and where slip stitches come into it.) This particular pattern was from across the pond, so instead of trying to figure out as I read, I used the picture, with its ovals, plus signs, and Orthodox crosses.
As I worked, I feverishly tried to make sense of what I was seeing; to make the picture into a tangible thing with yarn. I had to understand the symbols on the page, translate them from "someone else"-ish into "me"-ish. I had to make the pattern my own. I worked hard at this until my eyes were drooping. I set the yarn and the three rows or so onto my bedside table.
And the pattern entered my dreams.
I was still seeing a crochet pattern, only I knew that it wasn't a pattern for a mermaid tail. It was a person. It was a person in crochet pattern form, and I was struggling to understand it. Why had it been written that particular way, and was there anything I could do to change it, to help it, to make it better? I tried to understand it while trying to remember that because it wasn't me that I shouldn't place the same expectations on it that I had for myself. It was a different person, with different experiences in life, and it didn't see the world the way I did. I wondered if we would understand each other better if there was a way for me to show it how I saw the world, so it could understand my point of view, and if I could see the reasons why it saw the world the way it did, if that would help me understand why it did the things it did.
It was a weird dream.
Maybe what I should take from it is that getting to know someone new is like trying to read a crochet pattern. First you have to figure out the style of writing used by the person who wrote it, and only then will the information it's trying to convey make sense. Like we don't realize that we're all speaking different languages. It sounds like the same words we speak, but we don't have the same experiences as the person speaking the words, so we can't know what those words really mean to them.
The statement "the dog died today" could mean many different things depending on who said it, who heard it, and the dog in question. Maybe both people hated the dog because it stole their dessert every day and then pooped on their beds. Maybe the dog was their best friend from childhood and had suffered a long illness. Maybe the dog had just turned up on their doorstep a day earlier smelling like it had been rolling in week-dead goose.
Every situation, every word, every interaction is different for every person participating in it. We have to translate if we want to understand. And sometimes it's hard. Sometimes it takes a lot of time. Sometimes we want to give up.
But if we don't try to understand, we'll never know. If we put in the effort, the time, if we're willing to learn and see the world through someone else's eyes, then we may end up with something beautiful.
A mermaid tail.
Or a friend.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

First Impression: 750 Words

Yesterday I found this fun website called 750 words. It's a free writing tool to help writers set and keep writing goals, and sharpen their skills by practicing them every day. It's got a function that keeps track of how many words you're typing as you type them, and saves your work every couple of seconds. After you're done you never have to look at your writing again, so lots of people use it to journal and get bad feelings out by writing them down.
I have a lot of trouble free writing. I never saw the point. To me, if you're going to write something, you should take a little time and think about what you want to say before getting it down. I like to edit as little as possible. I was the one always getting in trouble during English class because I'd glare at the clock during free writing instead of putting a pencil to the page. "I don't know what I want to write!" I'd protest to my frowning teacher. "Then write THAT!" she'd reply. My glare would grow deeper, because I knew in my heart that writing "I don't know what to write" is a HUGE WASTE OF TIME, and of my writing talent. If you're going to write, write something interesting.
What makes 750 Words even more fun is that when you're finished, it shows you all kinds of stats about your words: how long it took you to get them down, how many breaks you took during that time, and how many words you typed per minute. Then, it shoves eight or nine pie charts in your face, showing you the main feelings of your writing. Yesterday I wrote about a game I'm playing called Neko Atsume (Kitty Collector), and mostly whined about the money mechanics, so my stats for that day say that I was mostly "self-involved." Well, yeah, but it wasn't a bad thing. There was also a chart that informed me that I spent most of my words on the subject of money. I didn't need a colorful pie chart to tell me that, but it's pretty, and I like the font. There are a few bar charts near the bottom of the page that I'm not sure about yet, but since today I'm writing about something completely different, I'm hoping that I'll be able to puzzle them out when I look at my stats from THIS piece.
I had so much fun with the site yesterday that I told my very-busy-doing-National-Novel-Writing-Month writing partner about it so that she could check it out if she wanted to. I don't like to recommend things to people unless I know they're not going to come back to me and say "hey, this thing you told me to check out is crap; why did you tell me about it?"
So that's why I was so disappointed this morning, when I was poking around on the site and saw a teeeeeny tiny bar at the top that said something along the lines of "you're enjoying your 30 day free trial of 750 words!" And I was like... "Um, I'm WHAT?"
Usually when a site makes you pay to use it, they won't let you sign up for any kind of free trial without giving them the goods so that they can start charging you the second your month ticks over. But there was NOTHING about paying after a certain time, or paying at all, when I signed up. Just name, email address, password, make sure your password is right. No check box for a terms of service, making sure I knew what I was getting into, nothing.
I was really looking forward to using the website to get back into the habit of writing every day, since it was super easy for me to fall out of it. And based on some of the things that other users are saying, it's a really fun way to do it... and it gets addicting. "We hook you with the free Flamingo Badge, and you'll be paying us five bucks a month for the Super Squirrel Badge!"
I guess I'll stay... I mean, I do have 30 days. I really enjoyed taking days off of writing, though, and just relaxing on the weekends, back when I was posting every weekday on my blog. If I'm going to pay to write, I'd feel bad taking a day off to relax, even if I needed one.
Also, there's no italics. I CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT ITALICS. (Apparently caps lock will have to do.)

I mean, how fun is that?! (Answer: SUPER FUN!!!)