December 4, 2008
Tonight I attended a candlelight vigil for Mumbai at Boston’s City Hall. A few hundred people were there — more South Asian faces than I’d normally see in a Boston crowd, and other faces of all kinds. The service was sometimes muffled by the sounds of the city, but simply being among so many people and religious leaders of several faiths, holding candles in the comfort of a circle, felt good and meaningful.
At the bus stop next to the vigil, a bus pulled up. Along the top were images of coffee beans, an Indian man… it was an Incredible India ad. I tugged the sleeve of the man next to me, needing a witness. His eyes lit up.
After the service, I lined up to write my ‘message to Mumbai’ in a book provided by the organizers. I quickly read a few other messages; they were long and heartfelt.
The attack upset me deeply. In trying to stay connected and inform my worry, I was surprised by how much the geographical distance actually mattered. The U.S. mainstream media — television, radio, and Internet — were blank. The Web provided pockets of information and corners for emotional togetherness, but searching for them became too much (though I did find a few sites I can turn to in the future).
Sometimes conversation isn’t useful, and images shouldn’t be processed alone. I am grateful to the organizers of tonight’s gathering for bringing people together, and giving us thoughtful people to listen to. I hope the people of Mumbai know just how much their loss of life and security has touched people so far away.
October 21, 2008
Sometimes it feels that there’s a conspiracy to keep U.S. citizens from leaving the country or even wanting to. In addition to the obvious news media blackout and cultural isolationism (e.g. denying entry visas to world performers), there are passport processing delays, sky-high airfares, a weak dollar, and now… our credit cards don’t even work in Europe.
A year ago in France I had no problem except at train ticket kiosks. But two weeks ago, I was able to use my Citibank Mastercard at only three vendors during a one-week visit. And those had to be convinced to try. I called Citibank and a helpful supervisor explained: Europe now requires all credit cards to have a chip (a gold square embedded in the plastic card) and a pin. These are credit, not debit, cards, and you securely enter the pin at the point of purchase. (The supervisor said she wasn’t informed of this issue until customers started calling in.)
The Citibank supervisor searched her list for a card with a chip and pin that I could get, but found none. According to the Globe article, there won’t be any for a while:
“It would be costly to change all the transaction terminals in the US,” says Don Rhodes, director of risk management policy at the [American Bankers’ Association], “and right now the industry doesn’t seem to feel the level of fraud justifies it.”
Great. To the already compromised reputation of American travelers, we can now add “backwards” and “unable-to-pay”. I wish I could threaten these credit card companies that we travelers might just get used to life without credit cards. But I’d be lying. I want one, and I want it to work everywhere I go.
Addendum 10/22/08: Here’s a more detailed article in the Globe about the debate over the costs and benefits chip-and-pin card deployment. Why can’t the credit card companies offer U.S. consumers chip-and-pin cards with the magnetic strip without immediately updating the U.S. transaction terminals? When in the U.S., the magnetic strip is read, and when in Europe, the chip-and-pin is read. The cynic in me suspects there is no good reason for not doing this, while the idealist in me looks forward to a good explanation, which I will share should I come across it.
August 18, 2008
I spent last weekend in Western Massachusetts, visiting my parents and enjoying a summer performance in the fresh mountain air at Tanglewood.
Freed from the seemingly endless To Do list of my Cambridge life, I embraced one of those projects that nearly always ends up at the bottom of the pile. I descended into my parents’ basement to winnow a few boxes of personal memorabilia. They were mostly grade school and college notebooks, awards certificates, and personal essays assigned by voyeuristic middle school “English” teachers who know they’re panning for gold during a rush.
Even a media girl will tolerate only so many boxes of dormant paper, because someday her parents will make her store them herself. At least computers arrived partway through this lifelong accumulation of paper, creating the illusion that one is a minimalist (and then making it a reality through malfunction or obsolescence). But, with the paper that remains, it’s so hard to know what to keep and what to throw.*
However, there was no question as to the fate of one yellowed 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheet of paper. In 1987, a summer school teacher wrote a brief evaluation of my participation in a class where we made our own magazine:
Rekha was a fast learner in the art of “lay-out” and “paste-up.” She has a good logical mind for organizing material, and likes to add her own creative touch to the format of a magazine. I appreciated the leadership she provided as editor and enjoyed working with her on her own articles.
I was thirteen years old. In the years that followed, I considered careers in interior decorating, environmental law, medicine, architecture, photography, international diplomacy, or something that would fulfill my eighth grade class designation as First to Make a Million. I eventually faced my destiny and went into media… and here I am, 20 years later, laying out digital objects and curating content with logic and creativity. I might have saved myself a lot of searching if I had paid attention to these little indicators. Then again, what I do now didn’t exist back then.
[Because I was reminded that truth, edited for narrative flow, will still be treated as truth (see comments).] There’s another story about how my earliest memories include sitting in the back of my parents’ car, listening somewhat involuntarily to NPR. And how, while a teenager, lots of people told me I had a great voice, and that I should be a journalist, and how I agreed but for many years I was too scared to try. But that’s going to have to wait until I find another artifact to peg it on.
*I would be curious as to other people’s criteria for retaining or letting go of personal artifacts over the years.
May 1, 2008
When people talk about microblogging they usually mention twitter. That has a distancing effect on me, because I don’t take twitter all that seriously. (Quick explanation: microblogging is blogging, but with more frequent updates of very little text – less than 200 characters.)
So, I hear “microblogging”, and I think, “that thing I can’t relate to.” Or, when I’m feeling darker, I think, “that thing that serves as yet another indicator of the degeneration of our society’s communications and eventually, society itself.” (Kind of like this comment and the one below it on flickr’s Atrocious Apostrophe’s [sic] group.)
But I can be slow sometimes, it’s true. No, really. Yesterday, while perusing my many RSS feeds, I saw the word “microblogging”, had one of my above thoughts, and then resumed surfing. Saw a link I liked, and clicked the delicious add-on button in my Firefox browser. (Quick explanation: delicious lets you save Web sites and share them with other people who use delicious.)
And as I began to enter text in the notes field of the “add bookmark” popup, I finally realized:
I’m a microblogger, too.
**Update: Russell Buckley of MobHappy writes an interesting roundup of the Web 2.0 Expo that I attended last week. He muses on twitter’s version of microblogging, and, incidentally, includes a spot-on critique of conferencing techniques that I, too, find to be not useful at all.
March 31, 2008
A few weeks ago I stayed with friends in Santa Monica. I covered a lot of ground in a short period of time.
This travel-log cata-logs the shops, restaurants, parks, and other things I encountered, some of which you might want to encounter too, if you live there or visit.
March 6, 2008
Overheard while strolling down Main Street in Santa Monica:
Guy with clipboard: “Stop torture?”
Woman entering cafe: “I like torture.”
Me, to myself: (Tee hee.)
Woman: “I’m from Texas.”
Me: (She was kidding… right?)