10.24.2013

creating human intimacy between strangers.

10.08.2013

americans and mexicans playing volleyball across the border fence.
(photographer unknown)

8.25.2013

from a list of obsolete words that may have disappeared from the english language too soon:


  • lunting: walking while smoking a pipe
  • groak: to silently watch someone while they are eating, hoping to be invited to join them 
  • jirble: to pour out (a liquid) with an unsteady hand
  • beef-witted: having an inactive brain, thought to be from eating too much beef
  • resistentialism: the seemingly spiteful behavior shown by inanimate objects 
  • with squirrel: pregnant

7.02.2013

That’s Not A Droid, That’s My Girlfriend

Robotics in many parts of the world is driven by military aims. Pacifist Japan takes a different approach: This is a digital love story.

Osamu Kozaki’s life in Tokyo is, by his own admission, often a lonely one. The 35-year-old, an engineer who designs industrial robots, has had few relationships with women in his life. Those few have almost always gone badly.

So when Kozaki’s girlfriend, Rinko Kobayakawa, sends him a message, his day brightens up. The relationship started more than three years ago, when Kobayakawa was a prickly 16-year-old working in her school library, a quiet girl who shut out the world with a pair of earphones that blasted punk music.

Kozaki sums up Kobayakawa’s personality with one word: tsundere – a popular term in Japan’s otaku geek culture, which describes a certain feminine ideal. It refers to the kind of girl who starts out hostile but whose heart gradually grows warmer. And that’s what has happened; over time, Kobayakawa has changed. These days, she spends much of her day sending affectionate missives to her boyfriend, inviting him on dates, or seeking his opinion when she wants to buy a new dress or try a new hairstyle.

But while Kozaki has aged, Kobayakawa has not. After three years, she’s still 16. She always will be. That’s because she is a simulation; Kobayakawa only exists inside a computer.

Kozaki’s girlfriend has never been born. She will never die. Technically, she has never lived. She may be deleted, but Kozaki would never let that happen.

Because he’s in love.

Kozaki is one of hundreds of thousands of Japanese who have bought Love Plus, a game released on the Nintendo DS in 2009, which is intended to simulate the experience of high-school romance with one of three pre-programmed teen girl characters. For a sizable number of loyal male gamers, it has become something more: a relationship that, if not entirely like dating a real woman, comes close as a source of affection.

“I really do love her,” Kozaki explains, when he and two of his friends meet with me in a coffee shop in Akihabara, the Tokyo neighbourhood at the centre of Japan’s otaku culture. Kozaki fully expects the game to be a lifelong commitment. “If someone were to ask me to stop, I don’t think I could do it,” he says.

Kozaki recounts what happened when an updated version of the game came out; which meant he had to move his saved data onto a new program. Kozaki couldn’t come at the idea of having two simultaneous versions of his virtual girlfriend in existence, so he asked a friend to delete the old saved data for him. It was — almost — as if he had arranged for someone to be murdered, he says. “I cried when he pushed that delete button,” he says, acknowledging that it sounds strange. “It was as if I crossed a border line from reality.”

(more here)

6.30.2013

reanimation of the brain through music: "i'm crazy about music ... beautiful music, beautiful sounds."

6.14.2013

a waiter at a restaurant in karachi, pakistan buys food for and feeds a disabled homeless man with his own hands (photo by hassan rizvi)

5.31.2013

things i will miss about summers in lexington:
1.  the most amazing evenings, filled with fireflies and cool breezes.
2.  knowing that kids play in the downtown water fountains here, bathing suits and all.
3.  porch beers with good friends
4.  the hottest days of the year are only in the 90s
5.  time off from school and work

i got stoned once and re-remembered every little detail i could about the house i lived in until i was ten years old.  it was so vivid.  i remembered the original soft brown carpet in the den that we later replaced with that short, dense elementary school carpet with weird green diamonds all over it.  i didn't remember just what it looked like, but what it felt like on my skin when i would lay on the ground to read or play or watch tv.  the clinking sound of the metallic gold drawer pulls on my little cherry dresser when you closed them.  the lighting in the sitting room attached to my parent's room, filtered through the pine trees outside.  the cool, moist smell of the garage.  i went through each room in my mind and tried to piece together as much of that house as i could.

i remembered blips of life there too, like the time i got a thank you note in the mail from my teacher and i stood on the landing and told my mom i wanted to send her back a 'your welcome' card and my mom said that was not how the world worked.  and the time that i went into the parlor (the room where we couldn't use the furniture and we didn't want to because the couch was scratchy and uncomfortable) and i found one of our pet birds dead on the bottom on its cage.  the second one died a few days later.  and the time i made sandwiches for my dad's friends in exchange for a quarter during their poker game around the kitchen table.

its funny the things we remember.  i don't really think about any of the material things i had then, but i can vividly re-experience textures, smells, sounds, and situations--the place-ness of my home.

i wonder what these kids will remember about their childhood home--and what kind of people they will become because of their childhood experiences of such an important an intimate place in their lives.

5.29.2013

the tingly happiness you get when you rub your face on clean, warm folded towels:  autonomous sensory meridian response.



3.20.2013

in an intermediate french class at merced college a few years ago, the students were assigned a five-minute oral report, to be delivered in french. the second student to stand up in front of the class was a young hmong man. his chosen topic was a recipe for la soupe de poisson: fish soup. to prepare fish soup, he said, you must have a fish, an in order to have a fish, you have to go fishing. in order to go fishing, you need a hook, and in order to choose the right hook, you need to know whether the fish you are fishing for lives in fresh or salt water, how big it is, and what shape its mouth is. continuing in this vein for forty-five minutes, the student filled the blackboard with a complexly branching tree of factors and options, a sort of piscatory flowchart, written in french with an overlay of hmong. he also told several anecdotes about his own fishing experiences. he concluded with a description of how to clean various kinds of fish, how to cut them up, and, finally, how to cook them in broths flavored with various herbs. when the class period ended, he told the other students that he hoped he had provided enough information, and he wished them good luck in preparing fish soup in the hmong manner.

the professor of french who told me this story said, "fish soup. that's the essence of the hmong." the hmong have a phrase, hais cuaj txub kaum txub, which means "to speak of all kinds of things." it is often used at the beginning of an oral narrative as a way of reminding the listeners that the world is full of things that may not seem to be connected but actually are; that no event occurs in isolation; that you can miss a lot by sticking to the point; and that the storyteller is likely to be rather long-winded.

anne fadiman, the spirit catches you and you fall down

3.04.2013

1.20.2013

yesterday i saw an older black man in ragged clothes and a dirty fedora making beautiful music on a trumpet, all alone on a train track in the middle of nowhere.