Actual Snowzilla and restarting It Came From The Craft Section!!!

While snowed in this weekend, I decided to take a crack at restarting an old project I'd let fall by the wayside: the tumblr It Came From The Craft Section!!! 

I've been building things out of pipe cleaners for as long as I can remember, and created the site several years ago to showcase some of the many creations and tributes I've made. The pipe cleaner art on the site come from movies, books, games, real life, and concept art (you know, all that good stuff). 

When the Washington Post named the storm 'Snowzilla', I took it as a good omen for getting the project going again, as well as inspiration for the first new uploaded pipe cleaner creation in something like half a year.

Thus, Actual Snowzilla rose from the icy depths

Thanks, Winter Storm Snowzilla 2016! 

And hopefully this will be the start of more regular schedule pipe cleaner art on It Came From The Craft Section!!!



REVIEW: Cat Pictures, Please by Naomi Kritzer

If there were an artificial intelligence active right now, would we even know it? And what might such an intelligence want? 

Cat pictures, perhaps?

In January's Clarkesworld, Naomi Kritzer explores this idea and more in an absolutely awesome short story. Kritzer's AI is aware of the usual tropes, from Frankenstein to Skynet, and how she (it? Feels like a she to me) might be perceived as a threat by others in the world. This sets up the AI's sneaky and subtle moves as she attempts to figure out her purpose in the world (a feeling we can all relate to, I think), as well as fuel her insatiable thirst for pictures of cats.

One of my favorite things about this story is how it's fantastical science fiction fundamentally grounded in reality. The sense of real world paranoia, of people being tracked through their online presences; the effects the AI gradually has on the other characters, none of this really contradicts how the real world operates. Instead, it pulls back the mask on the mundane to reveal an amazing explanation for why the world is the way it is  sometimes (and why there are so many cat pictures on the Internet). I love it when a story makes me consider how there's so much more going on to the world than is first apparent. And it's funny as well as thoughtful. 

You can check out Cat Pictures, Please in the January 2015 issue of Clarkesworld magazine. Let me know what you think of it! And whether or not you think there might be something more lurking among the cables and wifi signals, hungry for feline photographs. 

I also highly recommend another Naomi Kritzer story from Clarkesworld, from October 2013, called Bits. That one is about sex toys and human alien relationships, and has a similar blend of humor and interesting, unexpected ideas. 



A day on the occupied streets in Hong Kong

CAVEAT: I usually write fiction, or about fiction. But while in Hong Kong over the past few weeks visiting family and working on a couple of projects, I ended up experiencing a real life story that I wanted to help tell, of the protests in the streets and the people taking part in them.

It was a rainy friday in Admiralty, the cars that usually filled the streets replaced with pedestrians and protestors. Yellow ribbons fluttered in the breeze, as did posters ranging from supportive statements to subverted ads on bus stops to zombified caricatures  of city officials. 


The tall tan wineglass shape of the PLA Forces Hong Kong building towered over people walking down the middle of the street. Most of the protestors sat out of the occasional drizzle in tents, or in clusters under elevated walkways lined with banners. 

The protests had a rhythm like the tide, with relatively few people out in the morning, others slowly gathering over the course of the day to form large rallies in the evening. Police kept watch from the barricades of tangled portable fences the protestors had pushed together across the roads. Rows of open umbrellas decorated most of them, symbols of the movement since protestors used them to block police pepper spray several days before. 

Around noon things were relatively quiet. The city appeared rigidly split between areas  where life continued on as normal and territory totally disrupted by the protests. Office workers ate seemingly ordinary lunches at a 2nd floor Fairwood fast food place just a few feet away from a supply tent on a highway overpass. Two women sat among cases of water bottles and canvas bags. I didn't get their names, only their ages, 19 and 21. 

"I want true democracy." The 21 year old woman (on the left) said, "We were promised true democracy when the British returned [Hong Kong] to China...that's why we're have what we were promised." 

Further on, at a first aid tent under a pedestrian bridge, a man in a teal shirt with two pieces of red tape making a red cross on his shoulder jumped up to answer questions. His name was Ivan. 

"I'm a nursing student, so I think I am responsible for helping people here." Ivan said when asked why he was part of the protests. As to why the others were here, he replied, "I think they can't stand the government any more...they want the government to listen." He added, "We're still waiting for the government to respond. I don't think there will be a very good result, but it's good to be pulling people out here, to let the government pay more attention to how we think and what we want."

Towards the eastern edge of the protest area, at one of the last tents before Wan Chai, a 23 year old legal student named Tony had a similar assessment of the protests, "Even if this doesn't go further, I think it's a good experience this time, next time we have something to ask for or something to pursue, we will do better."

Tony requested that I not photograph him, because he didn't want his grandparents to see him at the protest.

The drizzle became a steady downpour. Reporters and protestors alike found shelter under an overpass. Just across the road and over another barricade, police officers stood in the rain, water streaming down their dark blue jackets and uncovered faces. Camera operators snagged shots from a trio of tripods. 

A  jaunty young protestor named Libby stood next to me as we both watched the police at their exposed posts. I asked her if she felt bad for them, being out in the rain like that, "For some of them," she replied, "Some of them probably agree with us, and are just doing their jobs.

She'd been involved for two weeks, from before the protestors had taken over the streets outside city hall. "Originally we were Occupy Central, but we don't use that name anymore. We're the Umbrella Revolution now."



Subculture, Apple, Destiny, and identity

In a lot of ways, my adolescence (and early adulthood...and current adulthood) was defined by Bungie games on a Mac. Today, both those companies passed massive milestones, the iPhone 6 and Watch for Apple, Destiny for Bungie.



I know I'm gonna be cliche here, but I was using Macs even before it was cool. And it definitely wasn't cool when I was back in elementary and middle school; being a mac user meant fighting a never-ending war of insult attrition against the vasty more numerous Windows using kids. Still, I took being different as a badge of honor. It was something Apple celebrated too, with commercials like 'Here's to the Crazy Ones'. We mac users were a rare breed, fanatically loyal to our computers to a fault.

One of the very first games I ever got into was Bungie's Marathon 2, passed onto me by a friend in fifth grade. It started my lifelong love of gaming, but more importantly, was the first story I really fell deeply into. I was hooked on most of the early Bungie games: The Marathon Trilogy, Myth and Myth 2, Oni. I even played Pathways into Darkness, one of the original first person shooters. Being a Bungie fan meant being different from most of the other kids too: Instead of Doom, I blasted away at pfhor. Where a lot of my friends would play Warcraft and Starcraft, I fought the Fallen lords (though I found plenty of time for those other two as well). 

Marathon 2, circa 1996, aka Elementary school for me. 

Marathon 2, circa 1996, aka Elementary school for me. 

And Destiny, circa last week. 

And Destiny, circa last week. 

And in both, I found a community rabidly protective of the things that brought them such immense joy, but that also set them apart from the wider, more shared experiences of others (and keep in mind this was before it was cool to like things before they were cool. Back then being a nerd wasn’t chic, it was just kind of lame. Still awesome, but lame to most). Our identity was defined by thinking differently, by being part of this sliver of subculture. We were the few, the proud, the strange.


Which is why I found it bittersweetly coincidental that both the iPhone 6 announcement and Destiny release happened last week. Both events were talked about all around the world. Both companies are raking in multi-million dollar success, so recognizable they’ve become part of the mainstream culture. I don’t want to go all hipster and say that things were necessarily better back in the days where they were less well known. I don’t know that that they were. But it’s a strange feeling, an exposed feeling, to see these two pieces of my identity, something that used to set me and others like me apart, at this worldwide level. They’ve changed, they’ve evolved over time, and part of me is glad to have been right about them. I’m glad the team at Bungie is experiencing the kind of success they are now, and it’s cool to know that Apple-fanboy-recess-me can now point to Apple as one of the most successful companies in the world. But another part of me misses when these two companies both felt like they were somehow more mine, like we were closer back then, made intimate through our shared detachment from the wider culture, our status as the weird and different ones.