Adam Rice

My life and the world around me

Author: adamrice (page 5 of 108)

Flipside 2011

Another year, another Flipside.

In September last year, I was elected to the Combustion Chamber, which is the advisory board for the limited-liability company that nominally produces Flipside. This means that every couple of weeks, I get together with other CC members and we argue over The True Meaning of Flipside. So I’ve been kept abreast of and involved in Flipside-related developments to a much greater extent, and felt more of a sense of responsibility for the event’s success, than usual. It’s a good thing that it turned out really well, at least from my perspective.

One of the most contentious issues leading up to the event was what to do with the Effigy. The effigy burn is the apex of the event. There have been two previous occasions when we could not burn the Effigy at Flipside, but this year there was a lot of debate over what to do with the Effigy in the event of a non-burn, which seemed all but guaranteed, given the wildfires all over the state. By amazing coincidence, the burn ban for Milam County (where Flipside is held) was lifted for one week, just a couple of days before Flipside started, resulting in this unlikely burn-ban map:

It was widely speculated that the Apache Pass’ landowner applied pressure to the county judge to lift the burn ban or that “somebody was paid off.” Perhaps, but I doubt it. Milam County actually had isolated flooding in the week before Flipside.

In order to get a head start setting up our theme camp’s infrastructure, Gwen and I got out to the property in the early afternoon on Wednesday, a day before the official start of the event. Two of our campmates, Matt and Lori, arrived a few hours later. When we arrived, we were surprised at how much had already been set up—a lot of theme camps seemed to be fully set up already. I got the impression that, more than any year before, there was an unspoken agreement that Flipside would hit the ground running when the gates opened for general admission on Thursday morning.

With a little help of a couple of Shaven Apes (the Flipside department of people who help with odd jobs), Gwen and I managed to get our main shade structure almost completely pitched in a few hours. Good thing, because it was freaking hot. Matt and Lori arrived in time to help with the tail end of that project, and we got the “residential” side of our camp fully set up before dark. Gwen and I wandered over to Wonderlounge (which had its bar going already) for bad drinks and good socializing. I waited until Thursday evening to get the fire circle set up, as there would be more warm bodies to help with that task.

On Friday evening, Monk (2009 DaFT lead) stopped by our camp looking for people to help finish the Effigy. David and I grabbed our work gloves and headed over. I spent the rest of the night off and on doing scut-work, like cleaning up wood scraps or holding pieces of wood in place while someone screwed them together. DaFT (the Design and Fabrication Team, which builds the Effigy) managed to open the Effigy by about 2:00 AM. I’ve always had a lot of respect for the DaFT crew, but that limited exposure gave me a much more direct appreciation for how hard they work. I don’t think I could keep up.

Saturday was my off day. I didn’t have any notable responsibilities, so I spent a lot of time in the creek and drank some beer. The one responsibility I did have was to attend a theme-camp meet-and-greet, and somehow I managed to misremember the time for that, so I missed it. I brought some homemade cookies to hand out there, and wound up handing them out to people I encountered at random instead. Someone asked “Are these plain cookies or special cookies?” I replied half in sarcasm “They’re special because I made them with love.”

Myschevia (the North Texas burn) had been held under a burn ban, so they brought their Effigy to Flipside. They took advantage of the last-minute lifting of Milam County’s burn ban to burn it at Flipside. Apparently their preparations were last-minute as well, because that thing would. not. burn. Normally an effigy is loaded with diesel to get it to burn better, and I’m guessing that didn’t happen at all. Shiree heckled the fire—”a bunch of ten year olds with sparklers can burn better than that!” I wandered over to the stage for Flipside’s own Effigy, where the Drishti Dancers were putting on a performance. Then Arc Attack fired up their singing Tesla coils and everybody was pulled away from whatever they were doing to watch. It’s almost unfair. I think Arc Attack was having some technical problems this year, as they had much less performance time. As far as I can tell, Parsec (the guy in the Faraday suit) wasn’t present at all. They had a new Faraday cage that is much larger—it can accommodate four people at once, so more people can have the experience, but the price is that none of them feel as close to the lightning (so I am told).

The fire circle at Circle of Fire got a lot of action on Saturday night, and I got in a few good light-ups. It was gratifying to see. Due to space limitations, our circle was smaller than usual. I would have preferred it to be bigger, but word reached me that some people liked it small. I think the size inhibited some people from going on when there was already somebody lit up, which slowed throughput. I guess that could be good or bad, depending on how you look at it.

When I finally got to bed (probably around 4:30 AM), I noticed that Carpe Noctem, the neighboring dance camp, was a lot quieter than I expected. I learned the next day that there had been noise complaints on Thursday and Friday, and I’m guessing the dance camps had all been told to cut their subwoofers. Friday (?) was the only night that I felt rattled in my bed by the sound, and I generally managed to sleep well.

Sunday was all about getting ready for the burn. There was a 12:00 meeting that was supposed to be followed by a 2:00 meeting where the go/no-go call would be made. Since the 12:00 meeting ran until 1:30, we postponed the 2:00 meeting until 5:30, where a go call was made. As Ghost put it, certain dominoes needed to fall in order to make a go call: first, we had to be out of the burn ban. Check. Second, the county sheriff had to give his approval beforehand. Check. Third, Kit (the landowner) needed to give his approval. Check. Fourth, the wind levels had to be within the limit set by our own fire chief, Henry. At the 5:30 meeting, the prediction was that the wind levels would be near or possibly above that limit. Henry decided that we’d be able to take advantage of a window of opportunity, and so he gave us a go. Some of us then prepped the Effigy to burn by removing a wooden skirt around its base to promote airflow, and shoving wood scraps under it.

The next thing on my docket was the fire procession. I had put out the call to have fire performers assemble at Circle of Fire at 8:00 PM. This would give me plenty of time for stragglers to arrive, and still time to go over the details with (almost) everybody before the putative performance time of 9:45. I say that I’m the cat-herder in charge of the fire procession, and that’s as apt as any title, but in fact I could not do that job effectively if it weren’t for other people who step up and help organize the procession—Wulff, Matt, David, Frank Marissa, Warlock, and of course Gwen all made things run smoother for me. In spite of some confusing instructions on my own part and things not quite going exactly as I planned, the fire procession seems to have gone smoothly and safely. It looked great, and I think we had more performers than ever. I don’t have an exact count, but I think it was around 70 people.

With that out of the way, I could relax and watch the firecracker hats, fireworks and the effigy burn. Lacking anything like a chimney, I didn’t think the Effigy would burn well. I was wrong: it was halfway engulfed before the fireworks wound down, and fully engulfed shortly after. It burned beautifully, with a sheet of flame rolling under the arch and the flame-shaped pickets rimmed with yellow fire—like fire on fire. It collapsed in on itself quickly and perfectly, and a few minutes later, the Rangers dropped the safety perimeter so we could approach. People cavorted, running and leaping toward the fire, still burning intensely hot. We made our three circuits around the fire, stopping to wish friends “happy burn” as we encountered them in the circle.

Monday morning came all too soon. I got up early to take down a personal art project, and found that Matt and Lori—who had never gone to bed—had made a lot of headway toward striking camp already. By the time I was done with my project, Matt and Lori had gone to bed and most everyone else was up. We had a relaxed breakfast and got to work striking camp. Things went pretty quickly, and we were out of there by 2:00 PM. All in all, I felt that this Flipside and the preparations for it seemed to go smoothly.

That’s all I can think of for now. I’ll update this as I think of more.

The comment gardener

With facebook and twitter and tumblr and flickr and blogs and instagram and forms of online communication I haven’t even heard of, people wind up cultivating their social networks like gardens. Or, perhaps more aptly, their Farmville plots.

This suggests a new sort of online game, where instead of tending a farm, you’re tending a virtual social network. Not your own—one that only exists in the context of the game. We can call it Friendville.

Getting the message

New technology creates new social phenomena, etiquette problems being one of them. Caller ID is not a new technology, but at some point in the past few years, its ubiquity—especially with cellphones, which have better text displays than landline phones—has created one of these etiquette problems.

Traditionally (where by “traditionally,” I mean “ten years ago”), when Alice calls Bob and gets Bob’s voicemail, Alice leaves a message at least saying “it’s Alice, call me back.” But over the last few years, we’ve seen a different approach. Charlie calls Bob, gets Bob’s voicemail, and just hangs up. Charlie knows that Bob has caller ID and will be able to see that Charlie called—Charlie figures that’s all the information Bob needs to return the call.

Bob may have the same approach as Charlie, in which case this is fine. But Bob may figure that if Charlie had anything that needed a response, then Charlie would have left a message. Bob doesn’t return the call and eventually hears again from Charlie, who indignantly asks “why didn’t you call me back?” There’s a mismatch in expectations. Neither one is right or wrong, necessarily, but the mismatch can create friction.

I’m reminded of the distinction between ask culture and guess culture, although in this context, it might be more accurate to say it’s a difference between tell culture and guess culture.

Or perhaps it’s just a matter of etiquette that we as a society haven’t quite sorted out yet. I was talking about this at dinner with some friends who are all around my age—we all agreed that people should leave messages. There might be an age component to this.

Last chance at Little City


Little City is a coffee shop that’s become a bit of an Austin institution over the last 17 years. They’ve lost their lease and will close May 13th. Gwen and I had a last lunch there today.

We recently rented Slacker, and the movie is slice of Austin’s past. Almost none of the locations in Slacker still exist in the same form. When I walk around town, I see what used to be superimposed on what is, like a palimpsest

Little City wasn’t in Slacker (the fact that it’s too new is a bit odd to contemplate), but in a few days it too will become a layer of palimpsest that I can’t help but see.

Me at the Thursday Nighter

Firenight at Spider House, 7 April 2011 from Adam Rice on Vimeo.

This is me spinning poi to a remix of “Everything in its right place” by Hybrid.

Kevin

We buried Kevin today.

A freight train hits you just as hard, whether you’re blindsided by it or you saw it coming from miles away. Kevin is the third old cat that Gwen and I have had to euthanize, after Oscar and Squeaker. In Kevin’s case, we had a better sense that he had little time left, but being mentally prepared doesn’t lessen the impact.

Kevin came into Gwen’s life as a young, scrawny tomcat in 1994, not long after she moved to Austin. Gwen already had Oscar and didn’t want another cat, but he kept hanging around in her garden until she took him in. After Oscar established that she was the boss, the two of them were buddies forever. Once a part of Gwen’s household, Kevin filled out to a majestic 17 lb.

Every cat has his or her own personality, and, apart from his fear of small children, Kevin’s was always unceasingly sweet and happy. He would start purring the moment anyone picked him up.

Four years ago, Kevin lost his best buddy Oscar, and it was clear that he was lonely. When we got a pair of kittens two and a half years ago, one of the two, Bubka, decided that Kevin was her new best friend, and so happily he had another excellent cuddlebuddy in his later years.

We’re not sure how old Kevin was—we estimate he lived to be 19. Old age was not easy on him. He developed an allergy that could only be treated with prednisone (though for a full year the previous vet insisted it was behavioral). He became completely deaf and his vision deteriorated. He suffered a herniated disk in his spine that left his hind legs wobbly. He was recently diagnosed with intestinal cancer. But his sweet disposition remained unchanged. It seemed that he never stopped enjoying life.

This morning he was too wobbly to even sit up, and was not purring. He was clearly having intestinal distress. His condition improved a little as the day went on, but we knew it was time. He spent the day lying on the back porch with Gwen, with friends dropping in to say goodbye.

(Gwen here.) One of Kevin’s nicknames was “Kev-Dog”—after his entirely endearing trait of simply following me around the house like a good dog so he could always be in on the action. His favorite thing was to enjoy a good book with me, stretched out on my legs on the couch. And sleeping all night as near to my head as I would allow. He was loved by many, and his sweet nature won over more than a few cat-dislikers. He had a bad spell once that involved a urinary catheter and a move from the vet to an emergency hospital—when we saw the vet after a miserable long wait, she looked at him and said “This must be Kevin,” and he started purring loudly. He was that kind of guy.

A word of grateful thanks to our excellent vets at Austin Vet Hospital (especially Dr. Besch) and their caring staff. They looked out for him in a way that I would wish for animal friend.

Kevin & Oscar

Kevin & Bubka

Twitter’s dickbar

Starting about two weeks ago, Twitter seems to have embarked on a program of doing it wrong.

  1. They have told independent developers not to bother writing primary clients for interacting with the service.
  2. They have (finally) announced that they are shutting down DabbleDB, a wonderful service that got caught up when Twitter bought out the company behind it for unrelated technology (Trendly).
  3. And of course, the dickbar.

A lot of people have written about the dickbar, a misfeature of the official Twitter iPhone app. The first version had a misbegotten interface that covered over your timeline until you played around with the phone. The second version was an improvement in UI terms, but still a misfeature in that it emphasizes information that I don’t care about (nor anyone else who has complained about it): showing global trending keywords among Twitter users.

Obviously the big reason behind the addition of this misfeature is money: it puts “promoted trends” front and center. But even apart from the monetization angle, it feels like evidence that Twitter is guiding people away from using the service the way, well, we do use it.

Twitter was conceived as a lightweight way to pass around status updates among acquaintances, and that is its greatest value to me and (I think) most people. The emphasis on trends seems to be designed to turn people into spectators rather than participants—trends answers the unasked question “what are people I don’t know talking about.” It doesn’t invite me into the conversation and it doesn’t relate to me or my circle of friends. I can see how it’s useful to, say, marketers though.

This fits with another aspect of Twitter’s service that debuted a while ago, where it suggested people for you to follow—celebrities. I see that now, it suggests people who are actually friends of friends (and promoted feeds), so apparently they’ve fine-tuned that, but it’s evidence of the same shift away from participation toward spectation.

Twitter’s got a right to run their service however they see fit. And if they keep going down the path they seem to be following, I have a right to go somewhere else.

The new GOP playbook

Republicans are philosophically opposed to the idea that government can play a useful role in the lives of citizens, or as Reagan put it, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'” During his administration, George II tried to prove time and again that government cannot be helpful, by appointing Michael “heckuva job” Brown to run FEMA or by appointing Young Republicans whose prior work experience amounted to working in ice-cream trucks as administrators overseeing large parts of Iraq’s economy.

Republicans do not currently have that appointive power at the national level, but in any case, they seem to have shifted strategies. Their current approach is fiscal. First, starve the government of funds by passing tax cuts (preferably one that disproportionately benefits their wealthy patrons). Then, discover a budgetary crisis that requires “hard choices” and cuts on the kinds of programs that benefit most people. Eventually, make the government small enough “to drown in a bathtub,” as Grover Norquist puts it, or “Texas is going to shrink government until it fits into a woman’s uterus,” as State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte put it.

We’ve been seeing it in action at the national level, and at the state level, here in Texas and more prominently in Wisconsin.

At the federal level, this graphic has been making the rounds lately, showing how tax breaks for the wealthy come very close to being balanced out by proposed cuts to job training, educational programs, etc.

Texas, which was previously praised for staying solvent in the face of the Great Recession, is now facing a $27 billion shortfall. The seeds of this shortfall were planted in 2006, with a change in tax rates that was known at the time to be problematic. But, as Forrest Wilder puts it, the budget shortfall is not the cause of pain. It’s the justification.

And then there’s Wisconsin, where Scott Walker claimed that he needed both budget austerity and union-busting (and then decided he could make do with just union-busting), despite the state’s Fiscal Bureau having concluded just a month before that that the state will end the year with a balance of $121.4 million.

I’m sure some variation on this theme is happening in Michigan and elsewhere.

Thoughts on an iPhone app for bike touring

I’ve played around with a number of iPhone apps for cyclists. None of the ones I’ve looked at are really optimized for bike touring—instead, they’re mostly oriented towards fitness cycling, which has somewhat different goals.

An iPhone app for bike touring would need to overcome the problem of battery life and fulfill three main tasks. Battery life isn’t as big a problem as it is generally made out to be, but even in a best-case scenario, it would be difficult to get a solid 24 hours of use out on a single charge when using the iPhone as a bike computer for a big part of the day.

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This modern world

I had a strange experience when I went out and about visiting studios on the East Austin Studio Tour. When I looked at the map, I was gratified to see quite a few artists in my immediate neighborhood, and one studio only a block away, so I decided to make that my first stop.

As I’m slowly riding my bike down the driveway to the garage studio in back, one of the two residents says “Are you Adam Rice?”. Taken aback, I confirm that I am, and ask “…How do you know?” Despite their proximity, I’m sure I’ve never seen either of these people before, and it’s not like I’m famous.

She explains that she has seen me pop up as a “recommended friend” on Facebook because we apparently have a lot of friends in common.

Still, that doesn’t explain how she knows that Gwen has a letterpress, or that it came with our house.

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