Category Archives: web/tech

Online Sympathy & Rituals of Mourning

Over the past weekend, some people I know online and  care a lot about have suffered the loss of loved ones. I've found myself thinking about them and, in one case, saying the rosary (ritual Catholic prayers) for them. 

But what I've realized is how inadequate online expressions of sympathy in the face of grief. It's true that expressions of sympathy always feel inadequate, but especially so when there is so little we can do online. 

Everything I've learned about how to express sympathy by sending a card, making food, sending flowers, attending rosary, funeral and wake, isn't possible.  We know so much about each other and yet how can we express our sympathy without being able to observe rituals of mourning?  

Does it seem trivial and insincere to go on tweeting and posting kinky thoughts as usual? For me, it feels wrong. Yet I also  want to make sure the person knows I'm around if they want to chat.  And besides that, what use is my silence, however heartfelt? 

I know better than most that love can be found, received and sent through these pixels. But can sympathy? And if so, how? 

Reflections on Twitter

This post was inspired and begun by a reply I wrote to Abel’s blog entry discussing his recent issues with Twitter.  Abel uses Twitter in some ways that are the same as me (I too like the ability to DM friends I can’t afford / am not able to text) but also, partly because he uses a locked feed, partly because, as he said to me recently, he thinks we should always follow our friends, Abel experiences Twitter in different ways than I do. As ever, I find the differences far more fascinating than the things we have in common.

Here’s part of my reply

I like reading your reflections on Twitter, especially given our discussions [on Twitter itself] about it last week. One of the things it made most clear to me reading this and the comments that follow is that we all see Twitter in different ways, perhaps reflecting the power of the medium.

In contrast to you, for example, I don’t see Twitter as a way of keeping up with friends. I don’t keep track of who’s following me (I shut off those notifications) and likewise, don’t follow everyone I know / like. Partly, this is because I can’t — I can’t deal with a Twitter feed that’s larger than 70-100 people. But also, I only follow people I enjoy reading — life’s too short to read tweets that either annoy or bore me. By the same token, I also follow a number of people who don’t follow me. Some are famous, some are not. What they have in common is that I like reading them. One of the reasons I can’t quite imagine locking my Twitter feed is I don’t want to be aware of who’s following me and who’s not. Likewise I tend to follow people with unlocked feeds more than locked ones because of liking the ability to unfollow and re-follow without needing to ask permission.

Twitter for me is less about circles of friends or a version of IM / IRC and more about a series of windows — some of which look both ways, others that look only one. My own tweets reflect that. Sure there are days when what I’m doing is microblogging my misery, but, as is the case when I blog, I don’t expect replies. I’m just speaking to the universe. It’s nice when someone else is moved by it, but not necessary. To do otherwise would feel like I was performing and seeking approval, roles that don’t make me feel good about myself.

Just as a bit of background, Abel and I have had a discussion about locking versus not locking Twitter feeds.  There’s good privacy and even, as Lucy McLean points out, good legal reasons for locking one’s feed.  But locked feeds do change Twitter. Paul and I have been discussing this a lot lately.

Some of my problems with a locked Twitter feed are a technical ones.  If someone with an unlocked twitter feed makes a comment or reply mentioning me, I see that comment whether I follow them or not. But if their feed is locked, unless I’m following them I don’t see their comment, even if it’s directed at me.  This (obviously) makes it hard to get into discussions with people I’m not following.  Likewise, a locked feed means I have to ask to follow them before I can see what their Twitter feed looks like.  This is a problem for me in two respects.  First, I like to have an idea what someone’s Twitter style is like before I start following them.  Recently I had to unfollow someone, not because I don’t like them or because their tweets aren’t interesting but because they tweet at a rate of 100+ a day.  I can’t have that busy a feed.  At the same time, I also don’t follow (or unfollow and re-follow) based on what their icon looks like at any given time. If an icon is very explicit, I don’t follow. This isn’t because I’m a prude but because I read Twitter at work and have people coming up behind me all the time unawares.  I like being able to re-follow when I get home without having to ask permission over and over again.

Yet I also totally understand why someone would want to protect their feed. I’m not sure there’s a solution to this paradox but that’s not stopping me from blogging about it.

Final thoughts. I like Twitter a lot.  It’s by far my favorite social media — definitely like it better than Second Life, Google+ or Facebook.  I have a kink, vanilla and work Twitter accounts (the kink one is by far the most active).  I like Twitter because it can go one way — I can follow people who don’t follow me and people I don’t follow can follow me if they want to.  I love the hashtags, especially Shadowlane time when they give me a window to see someone else spanking weekend without having to know them and without their having to know me.  I love the 140 character limit that allows me to express something without worrying that it needs to be significant.

But I hate the idea that someone would follow me on Twitter out of obligation.  That I’m doing something that annoys them but they grit their teeth over and over out of friendship. If you’re out there and I’m doing that to you, unfollow me. I swear I won’t mind. And if your feed is unlocked, I probably won’t even ever know.


Holiday Meme: Question 8

Do you remember your favourite gift?

As an adult, I was taught Christmas presents are for children and so gifts are mostly symbolic, to show someone was thinking of you but they aren't supposed to dazzle.  That all changed when I met Paul.  He puts a huge amount of thought into gifts and therefore generally gives really thoughtful and special presents.  He's given me some really amazing gifts, each of them somehow changing how I do something or other.   The ones that stand out the most:

  1. My first iPod (which sadly was lost when my backpack was stolen in London).  When I got it I didn't completely appreciate it but over the course of a year it became vital to my life and happiness.
  2. An orange KitchenAid Mixer.  This gift rocked my world — I'd wanted of these stand mixers for years and this one is such a cool color. I use it a lot for cooking and baking. Every time I use it I remember what an indulgent gift it was and how surprised I felt opening it.

But the best gift ever?  The Christmas Paul gave me The Treehouse as a space to house our stories.  :)  

Are gifts important to you?  What's your favorite present you've gotten in adulthood?

Online Life

At what point did my online life become my real one?  Was it the first time I stayed up all night worrying about the pain of someone I knew only through a message board and email? Was it the day Paul (whom at that point I had never met and to whom I'd perhaps hadn't yet spoken to) wrote an email whispering he loved me and I realized I was in love with him too?  Was it when I traveled across the country to be sparkle and Chris's wedding? Was it the day my online friends outnumbered friends from all the other areas of my life put together? 

I have no idea when it happened, really.  But it happened such a long time ago now. And so today, reading that Casey had a happy moment, hearing that Natty had a good day, picking up a usenet friend at the train station and having her here with me, I know any attempt to separate "online" from "real" life is meaningless and incorrect.  The people I've gotten to know first through the internet know more of me better than any other people ever have.  It's wonderful to meet in person, but knowing someone online is enough for them to become important, to become that small part of me I think of as a friend.

This is all my real life. 

And mostly tonight I'm just glad to read about Casey and Natty.  

2010 – Closing Days, Opening Lines

[I got the idea for this blog post from padme’s blog (and she got it from viemoira’s who got it from — well you get the idea –) and it seemed like a fun idea. This blog entry is constructed by taking the opening sentence or two from the first blog post of each month.]

This blogging idea seemed especially appropriate in the closing days of 2010 — especially since I missed Love Our Lurkers Day this year.  I want to thank everyone for taking the time to read here during 2010, especially if you left a little comment here and there.  It wasn’t an easy year, but it’s one I’m going to remember.  There’ve been sad moments — the death of Alex being the worst and most enduring among them, the loss of Bryson being up there too.  But it’s also the year I finally finished my Ph.D, the year I started studying calligraphy (on hiatus for the past six months) and most wonderful, the year Bryson was returned to me twice over.

Thanks for traveling with me.

: Welcome to 2010. It was a great Christmas and thus far a great new year.  Despite the fact I should really be working on my dissertation all day, every day in every bit of available free time for the next six months, I’ve decided to celebrate this year by taking a calligraphy class, something I’ve been wanting to do for at least the last twelve years.

February: No of course this isn’t about my dissertation (though no doubt that’s what I should be doing rather than writing to you, faithful and much neglected Reader). It’s about my first research love — which would be anything related to corporal punishment.

March:  The other day I was at my calligraphy class, which is held at a middle school in Beverly Hills.  When I came out I saw the following very cute SmartCar police car.  It’s a real police car, complete with lights and siren.  So very cute — and like all SmartCars it looks like you could pick it up and tuck it in your pocket.

April: No blog entries.  For shame!

May: For those of you not following me on Twitter, I’ve had an amazing time during April (and part of May) which explains the radio silence here and elsewhere.  Here’s my attempt to explain it all in one fell swoop though I suspect more news will come out as time goes on.

June: This story was written for the 2010 SSC (Short Story Contest). Go on, play along.

Yes, yes, you don’t have to tell me.  I already know there are pages where I can go and look for “trending” topics, find out what words and letter codes are being used to discuss this or that.  I =know= all that.

July: As I wrote a while ago, I’m bipolar 1.  For eighteen months I was a good girl and took lithium twice a day — had bloodwork for it on schedule once a month.  The drug worked, in so far as my mind and body were quieted by it. And goodness I slept well.  But maybe it worked too well.

August: In an economic time when so many adult children are moving back in with their parents, I’m experiencing the opposite. My dad has now lived with Paul and me for six months.  While he stayed with us two years ago for some months, this is the longest stint and one with no end in sight.

September:  Paul and I got back on Thursday from our travels.  Where have we been?  Vegas where we attended yet another amazing Shadow Lane party.  Northeast England, where we visited Paul’s family and I got to attend a wonderful conference. London, where Paul attended a counter protest about the Pope’s visit and finally Paris, where we spent far too little time. Through it all we got to play in hotel rooms.  I feel like my mojo got a lot of love.

October: Today is a Ferris Bueller kind of day for me.  You see, I’ve called (well, emailed) in sick to work. I am a bit sick — allergy eyes, ears and throat making me feel a bit like I have a cold. Mostly though I was aware I can’t be out tomorrow and was a bit afraid I’d end up really out sick if I kept pushing it.  Plus, my mom is coming in tomorrow so today is likely the last day I can be home alone with Paul for a few weeks.

November: I don’t really have a question about this.  I know I suffer from anxiety disorder, complete with panic attacks that wake me up from a sound sleep feeling like I’m having a heart attack.  I also have manic depression (or bipolar disorder 1).

December: I’m going to try for 25 blog posts in the month of December.  Why?  No real reason except to remind myself what it’s like to blog every day.  My promise isn’t to do the impressive thing others (like Graham) have done and try and have kink stuff daily. Much as I might want to, that’s not going to happen.  But my promise is to try and write something every day.

And that’s it.  To you other bloggers out there, come play along — it’s a great way to get a sense of the year past.  I’m going to do the PB next.  🙂   Thanks to padme for blogging hers!

Hooray for research

quills No of course this isn’t about my dissertation (though no doubt that’s what I should be doing rather than writing to you, faithful and much neglected Reader). It’s about my first research love — which would be anything related to corporal punishment.

Last week I wrote about the startle in Marc Drogin’s book about medieval calligraphy, which included the mention of “palmers” described as “sticks with round, flattened heads with which to slap students palms.” This interested me enough that I became obsessed with finding a picture of a palmer. I knew I needed to see one to make sure my scribe fantasies were accurate.
ferule1 Sadly, googling “palmer” revealed that “Palmer” is an insanely common author last name.  Too common even when adding “medieval” or “middle ages” or “scribe.”  I’m sure you, Dear Reader, have experienced this frustration — not enough specificity and you get 1,000,000 results, add too many words and you get none at all. After several fruitless hours I had to accept my defeat.


As Paul would no doubt tell you, I am not easily thwarted.

So I posted to soc.sexuality.spanking, both to tell about the startle and to ask if anyone knew where an image for a “palmer” might be found.  Usenet being usenet, of course someone knew.  A “palmer” is, according to the expert response, another word for “ferule” (an implement had previously only seen as a weighted leather strap (see London Tanner’s “Convent Strap for an example). The poster included a link to this image of a ferule described as the”Ferule of mason’s guild, 1721″ housed at the Vysoké Mýto Museum in the Czech Republic (thoughts for a  Lupus film now run riot).
ferule2As the newsgroup discussion progressed and after I had expressed my thrilled excitement at the picture, Tony Elka mentioned that this one “it doesn’t really look like a spanking implement.” Given the text, I think this one may have been a symbol of guild office. But armed with my new knowledge of the wooden ferule, I began searching Google afresh, this time with more success.

palmetaOn this obviously fascinating page (which I hadn’t visited before), dedicated to listing and defining instruments of flagellation, I found an image of a “palmeta” (Spanish), described as “A short flat slab of wood used for punish children by beating them in their hands” which fitted quite nicely with the image of a “palmer” I now had in my head, though the word can also be used to mean pretty much any paddle shaped object or even a flyswatter.

Do you think they’re the sort of thing the good Abelard might have used on his teenaged student Heloise? He certainly does in my version of the tale.
boy-getting-feruleThese images generally aren’t the greatest (and seem to have been passed around the web for years and years with no mention of their origins) but are the best I’ve been able to find. Their very sketchiness is evocative for me. Hope they are for some of you too. Meanwhile, back to my apprentice scribe imaginings and my “real” scribe practicing.

10 February 2010: A late addition.  The lovely Haron over at Spanking Writers wrote about the palmer only to have a reader respond with a link to a seventeenth century painting The Village School by artist Jan Steen (on display at the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin. According to the artist notes, in this scene Steen used his three children, Catherina, Cornelis and Johannes, as models for the little girl, the boy being punished and the boy holding a paper. I’m rather pleased to see the palmer used in the painting being smaller (perhaps because it was being used on children?) than the ones depicted in photographs. / CC BY 2.0

Notes on FetLife: I’m Not Really There

fetlifeA while ago, curious after being told by Chris that everyone was there, I started exploring FetLife.  It’s a very cool social networking site for the kinky.  I had a great time, met some cool people and basically enjoyed myself.

Note my use of the past tense.  I still get emails notifying me that people, mostly old friends who are arriving there themselves, have seen my profile and want to connect.  This would be cool, but I’m not really there anymore, not because I don’t like the community but because, for now anyway, I don’t have time. Something had to give and that something was FetLife.

There’s a few reasons for this.  I’ve always had trouble reading there — my eyes don’t like white text on black background — too long gives me a headache.  My main issue though is that it’s just a very kinky site and I no longer have privacy when I’m using my computer at work.  This isn’t a criticism of FetLife.  It should be an adult site with adult connect and explicit images.  But there’s no way I can even go to it and check messages at FetLife while I’m at work.  By contrast, Typepad, Tweety, MacSoup (for usenet) and Newsfire all look pretty generic, whatever their content may be — in fact I’m being paid to blog for my office several hours a week.

But surely, you say, I can use FetLife at home.  This is true, but not happening enough (see comment about the colors and my eyes) that I’m participating. So my question is, should I take my profile down?  Or just mention this there, when I can actually get to the site?

Maybe I’ll ask Chris on Saturday. When we connect by actually talking in person. Such an odd idea, that.

Not a RefWorks Review

v-signThis entry is not about spanking or anything fetish related.  Well, except for that sentence.

Mostly this is a bit of a gripe. If a company is trying to sell me their product, it would be really great if they didn’t act like my choice not to use either the computer or software they want me to is the problem.  We’ve all had, I assume, the experience of being told by a website that we can’t access all the functions because we aren’t running say IE or FireFox or whatever other browser  they’re demanding. I’m not complaining about little websites either.  My bank does this, United Airlines did and goodness knows how many other companies.  As Paul said, why not just put a running banner at the bottom of each page saying “I am a crap web programmer who can’t be bothered to make this site fully functional”?

So where is this rant going?  My university is encouraging students (especially graduate students) to switch from other computer-based bibliographic software to a web-based service provided by RefWorks.  Even though I’ve hated EndNote for years (it’s ugly, clunky and has a steep learning curve) I’ve resisted because RefWorks charges $100 a year for their service.  While it would be free while I was affiliated with my current university, I didn’t want to deal with having to either change or be charged once I leave.  So I stuck with EndNote, ugly though it may be.

Last week I heard from our librarian that we should consider changing because RefWorks had started an alumni program which would allow those of us who use the service now to continue using it for free as long as our university had a subscription.  This renewed my interest so I started investigating the service more closely.  I could import my reference libraries — great.  The interface is pretty nice (though it’s got some ugly, clunky features as well — maybe there’s no helping that with reference software).  But I couldn’t figure out how to insert citations while writing.  Neither could the librarian, so we checked with RefWorks who directed us to something they call “write and cite.”  Great — it works pretty much like EndNote’s “insert citation” feature.

Except that unlike EndNote, on RefWorks the citation feature only works with Microsoft Word.  Not so great then.

Like a number of other people in my field, I don’t write in MSWord, I write using Pages (part of iWork) and convert to Word or pdf if needed.  Word has a number of bugs when doing footnotes (it randomly pushes them onto the next page and forcing them back is a lot of work) and my research writing is heavily footnote dependent.  For that reason, Pages is way more suited to my academic writing needs.  RefWorks, despite literature comparing themselves favorably to EndNote, doesn’t support the insert citation / write and cite function in anything other than Word.

They wrote that they believe iWork (and OpenOffice) users are too small in number for them to develop for.  There’s no work around other than inserting the citations manually, something which rather defeats the purpose of using citation software in the first place.    The librarian that gave me the bad news said this news about iWork and OpenOffice would be considered when the university is discussing renewing our subscription — for which they pay in excess of $10,000 a year — that students and faculty shouldn’t be forced to use a specific word processor to use a university-provided subscription service.

It seems EndNote wins by default.  Bah.  What a waste of time.

Linking and Community

[This entry is inspired by the work Richard Windsor is doing in creating and maintaining his new Spanking Universe, blog of blogs site. If you haven’t been there, do go see.  It’s an impressive work in progress. Now that the Forth Bridge is almost painted, Richard has found the next endless task — blogging spanking blogs. Just so he can’t call it thankless though, I’m thanking him now for his time and effort.]

signpostLinks are real important — they’re how we find each other and thus are how community is created.  Links are hugely important when a blog is new and it’s hoping to find readers.  Because without readers we don’t need computers to do this, we could just keep a journal in a notebook.  At their best, they function as signposts for the ‘net, especially within the BDSM and spanking subcultures.

Yet I’ll admit to having a hard time deciding what to do when someone writes and wants me to link to them or suggests we do a link exchange. Part of my discomfort is that I’ve backed myself into a bit of a corner by even having links in my sidebar.  So if I’m linking to those people, why not link to this new one? Mainly it’s that I’ve always liked my links to mean something.  I’ve never felt comfortable linking to sites or products I don’t use.  Even more so with blogs, it seems like I shouldn’t link to sites I don’t read regularly. So there’s that.  Add to that, the nature of writing is that sometimes people do it for a while and then stop.  That’s fine with a website — The Treehouse is currently more of an archive than anything else, and has been for a few years now.  But blogs feel like they should stay relatively current (with posts within the last year or two) — otherwise they seem to have died. Even with my relatively short links lists, I generally find a few broken ones when I check them every few months.  I don’t want to do the work needed to maintain a longer lists (though I admire bloggers like Bonnie who do so), so I suppose that makes laziness my other reason.

So how do I decide to link to something?  Generally if I go to a blog and read through a few months worth of entries and then add them to Newsfire (that’s an RSS reader).  Then I’m pretty sure  I’m likely to keep reading.   At least in bursts.  Another way would be if I know the writer in person on some level. Again, then I know I’m more likely to become a consistent reader. My link list is one of blogs and sites I admire and enjoy.

Blogs I like tend to be text heavy and not present too idealized a version of life.  I’m more of text person than a picture one (old school, me) and am a sucker for introspection and good writing.  I always think / hope that if I enjoy reading something, someone who likes this blog will be interested in that one too.

So, I’m wondering, how do you decide who and how you link?   And, while we’re at it, what do you find useful in a link list. / CC BY-NC 2.0