Tag Archives: Culture

Sharing someone else’s culture

I spent part of the weekend reading about creation myths and fables of the Chokwe, an ethnic group that lives roughly in Angola. This is part of my research for the new book, which is expanding to have an extensive “Ethno-mathematics” section (i.e. Math and Fractal Drawings from around the world), specifically the Chokwe tradition of Sona. Sona are drawings made in the sand while telling a story or riddle. It’s one of the ways in which Chokwe elders impart knowledge and fables, though from what I’m reading the Sona tradition is dying out. They bear a resemblance to the Kolam of the Tamil-Nadu community in India, and even to traditional Celtic knots.

ChokweCreationMyth

Math from other cultures is becoming really intriguing to me, and it’s an area I don’t think is covered enough in public education. Colonial era westerners often made the assumption that these “primitive” peoples didn’t understand some of the higher concepts of technology and mathematics, but if my studies have taught me anything it’s that we westerners were a little behind the curve (so to speak). At the very least, learning about how other cultures look at math and art can help us to see connections between ideas from new perspectives.

But one of the things I am wondering about is how to tell these stories respectfully. Some fables and tales are very private, specific to a culture, and not something that is intended to be shared with outsiders. Now obviously, since I don’t have the resources to travel to Angola myself, I’m getting these stories from people who’ve already spread them around. The genie is out of the bottle, so to speak. But it’s still important to consider their meaning, rather than to just include them as a pretty picture.

A lot of Adult Coloring Books have mandalas, in fact mandalas seem to be the stand-in term for most circular patterns in coloring books. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying these patterns, or designing new ones, and coloring them as a loose form of meditation. But at the same time I think it is also important to be respectful and understanding of the tradition. We want to learn and educate ourselves about a type of drawing, not just appropriate it.

Sometimes meanings for things change. The Kolam tradition seems to have had religious significance in the past, but now it is more a form of artistic expression by women in the Tamil community. Celtic knot constructions have a triune grid which reflects the triune nature of God, but also look really good on leather bound notebooks.

I’m a guy who wants to spread art and cool designs for their own sake, while also trying to explore some of the deeper meaning these traditions have to the cultures that created them. And I want to do that in a way that honors those traditions, without sharing them merely because they are exotic or different. The best way, at least for me, is showing the connections between some of the more abstract concepts of fractals, and their origins before they really came into their own (the days of computers and Mandelbrot). I’ve been thinking about fractals as something that is a new concept in math, but their origins may be much older.

I’m still working this stuff out, but I hope my intentions if nothing else can shape the writing in a good direction.

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How would you describe yourself?

Is the millennial generation “discontinuously different” than the generation before it? Are changes in technology and culture shaping a generation that is unlike any that have come before.

David Kinnaman explores this question in Chapter 2 of You Lost Me, the book my dad and I are reading together on young Christians walking away from faith. Last week I talked a bit about the split I believe exists within the millennials. Dad then continued the dialog (sorry Dad, I refuse to call it a blogversation 🙂 ) with a post about three distinguishing characteristics of the mosaic\millennial generation: access, alienation, and skepticism of authority. I think Dad correctly assesses that alienation and skepticism are characteristics that have been present in at least his generation and mine (and probably the Gen X’ers as well). Access, or the ubiquity of technology is the thing that may uniquely characterize our generation, and even my perception of a split within millennials.

But how do millennials describe themselves?

According to a 2010 Pew Research study cited in You Lost Me the five things millennials use to describe what’s unique about their generation are the following:

  1. Technology use
  2. Music/Pop Culture
  3. Liberal/tolerant
  4. Smarter
  5. Clothes

Previous generations use terms like work ethic and morals to describe themselves, respectful is also popular. And pretty much every generation believes it is smarter than the last.

I can’t argue with point 1 (Technology Use), sitting in front of the TV listening to music on my headphones while typing on my netbook with my Kindle open beside me. At least the beagle curled at my feet is analog and not digital. I think the toughest question our generation will face is how we raise our children with technology, but that’s the subject for a future post.

Point 2 (Music/Pop Culture) kind of makes me wonder when the question was asked. Are you telling me that boomers of the 60s and 70s didn’t describe themselves as having unique music and pop culture? I have a feeling that if you ask any 20 something what defines them, music is going to make the list. But if you ask each generation in the same year, but different times of life, this answer might change.

Point 3 (Liberal/Tolerant) is again born of the legacy of the civil rights movement. We all tend to be more liberal when we’re younger and that’s where the millennial generation is right now. Many of us, even Christians, see the issues of gay marriage and same sex rights playing out in our culture as the next logical step of the civil rights movement begun in the 60s. We don’t have the same reaction to war that our parents did, at least not to the same extent, but many of us feel as strongly about what happened during the war in Iraq as our parents did about Vietnam. Perhaps as we grow older we will grow more settled, more conservative, less radical and more traditional, as our parents did. This doesn’t seem quite so “discontinuously different” to me. It’s not conservative, but it is morality and values, just a different set of them.

Point 4 (Smarter). Millennials are smarter. Of course we are. Get used to it. Every teenager is born knowing everything there is to know about life, and their parents have nothing to teach them from their decades of experience. It’s just useless to even try. Hopefully members of the previous generation have at least the rudimentary intelligence to realize I’m being a bit sarcastic here. The human brain hasn’t changed much in 2000 years. We just get better at storing information and making it available. That doesn’t make us inherently smarter. Pluck a child from the 10th century and plop him into the 21st and assuming he doesn’t die from shock, he’d learn to adapt pretty quickly. Get over yourself.

Point 5 (Clothes). Those who know me well know I have nothing to contribute to this question. I do not care about clothes. I am not a man who is defined by my clothes. Nor do I particularly think from what little I’m able to observe that our generation has contributed anything particularly unique to clothing, except for maybe wearing less of them. Taken more broadly I might classify this as consumerism which defines Americans as a culture, not just a generation. I don’t think millennials are the first to do this, and we aren’t going to be the last. (Yes, Dad my house is full of books and media because we went to Half Price Books all the time as a kid, that one’s on you 🙂 ).

This may be how we describe ourselves now, but in 20 years we might have a different set of words. Maybe we’ll be less honest with the question, most likely our view of ourselves will have changed over time. We’ll have a better understanding for our relationship with the world and each other, and how technology shaped us long term. And maybe we’ll see what we have in common with the generations that have come before, and the ones that follow us.

How would you describe your generation? Does that describe you?

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J-Pop America Fun Time Now

I was among those who saw PSY for the first time on SNL, though I’ve been a fan of J\K Pop for many years. Seeing the ridiculousness of both the sketch, and the music video that inspired it, I thought it might be fun to share a few of my favorite artists/music videos in this genre for those who saw PSY and thought “I gotta get me some more of that”.

M-Flo loves Emyli & YOSHIKA – Loop In My Heart: If you like Asian Dudes wrapping, then you really can’t miss one of the J-Pop Masters, M-Flo. His album “BEAT SPACE NINE” pairs him a number of other Japanese artists for what is actually a fairly consistent and enjoyable albums. Here’s one of the first tracks:

Monkey Majik – Picture Perfect: Disembodied heads singing on a table your thing? Well then you can’t miss this. Check out the facial expressions (since there’s little else to watch.

SOUL’d Out – To All The Dreamers: If it was the awesome dancing that attracted you to PSY, then you gotta check out the CG disco dancing antics of the second ending of Yakitate Japan.

SuperCar – White Surf Style 5: Moving on to the more conventional weird, why not try this alternative to the typical abusive relationship. Warning contains breasts being used as missiles. Trust me, bizarre enough to grow on you.

Ayumi Hamasaki – Ladies Night: The household name of J-Pop female singers. Unfortunately most of her vids are not full length on YouTube, but here’s a taste of some of her weirder material.

BoA – Valenti: A more conventional J-Pop artists, this track feels like something you might turn on Telemundo or some such. An upbeat break from the last couple of wierds I just played for you.

YUI – Rolling Star: For some decent Rock or Folk you can’t go wrong with YUI, whose music has been used many times in my favorite anime Bleach.

HIGH and MIGHTY Color: Keeping the Bleach love going, this band is a little uneven, but their best tracks feel like new Evanescence singles.

Rip Slyme – Super Shooter: Another anime theme, this one from Gantz, this is probably some of the craziest Jap-Rap you’ll hear. I’m not sure if this is the official video or not.

L’Arc~en~ciel – Link: The most ubiquitous band on this list, you’ve heard their music and probably not realized it. Their lead singer HYDE is kind of amusingly bad, but the music itself is very enjoyable.

Find anything you like?

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The Future of Distracted Driving

Ohio’s getting tough on texting.

While it’s only a secondary offense for adults, teens can be pulled over if they’re using almost any electronic device.

The dangers of texting are almost a cliche, with countless PSAs and texting deaths becoming plot points in shows like Go On. That being said, how many years and how many accidents had to happen before we had a ban?

I don’t think this is a “nanny state” issue. Driving is an activity that effects the people around you, not just yourself. Bans on big gulps and trans fats are a different matter than distracted driving.

The pace of technology is greater than the pace of law. Smartphones and tablets only increase the number of things we try to do while driving. And even a hands free bluetooth can be a distraction if the call is emotional or agitating.

But this is only the beginning. Google’s new Glass will introduce the general public to wearable computing, and to the new world of augmented reality. Remember those TV shows where random facts about the show and actors popped up on your screen. Now imagine that an inch from your face. You look at a nearby store and a coupon pops up. You look down the road and Google informs you of traffic snarls.

It may not be all bad, but sight and reaction time are the most important factors in driving. We’re not as good at multi-tasking as we think. Our brains may be good at switching back and forth between tasks really quickly, but not at the exact same time.

Driving with Google Glass will be dangerous and I think we need to get out ahead of its release with a ban similar to the one on texting. We need law that can keep up with new gadgets. Whether through some kind of review committee or broader law I’m not sure, but it’s a discussion we need to have.

Before the first Google related death…

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Why eReaders are the end of civilization as we know it

Your Kindle knows what you read, and shares that information back to its masters. It knows how fast you read, what you buy after you finish a book, what passages you and thousands of others highlight, and even where you sit down to read.

Oh no, Amazon knows I read on the can!

Actually, this last one is probably not true, but the rest is. There’s been some minor hullabaloo about this article from the Wall Street Journal, detailing the ways that the Kindle and the Nook track your reading habits.

Some people consider this to be an invasion of privacy, while others wonder what’s the big deal? I fall more into this second camp, what the Guardian article calls the “Facebook Generation”. For me it’s pretty simple, most market research is tracked in such a way that my individual preferences, my identity don’t even enter into the equation. It’s not a matter of how fast I read the Hunger Games, it’s a matter of how fast thousands of readers read the Hunger Games. Yes I’m somewhere in that data, but it’s a little difficult to distinguish that drop from the ocean.

Now, of course, Amazon is also gathering this data to sell me things. Good luck with that. I have fairly specific and eclectic tastes that Amazon’s “Recommended For You” rarely gets right. Additionally, most of the books I read on my Kindle didn’t come directly from Amazon, and so are not as easy to track (thank you Baen free library and Many Books). My Kindle does try to have me rate everything I finish (even drafts of my work in progress), but most likely that data only works correctly for stuff it owns. Speaking of rarely getting the ads right, my new Kindle with “Special Offers” was showing me diaper adds for two weeks just because I’m in my late twenties. I don’t have a baby Amazon, so I don’t want to buy Tiki themed Huggies. Frankly, part of me wouldn’t mind if they had a little better data on me, so that these algorithms could do a better job, but I certainly don’t feel threatened by them. At the end of the day it is my choice to buy or not.

For many people, however, there is something particularly sacred about reading that makes this sort of tracking feel very invasive. People highlight passages, curl up in comfortable locations, dog-ear pages, what have you. Personally I never been the sort of person who has an “intimate” relationship with a book. There are certain books I like to own a physical and sometimes even nice copy (I have a $60 Lord Of The Rings set). I’m not a high-lighter, not even in school, and I use bookmarks instead of bending pages. And except maybe in a few reference books I don’t write notes. When I first got the Touch it would be show me passages of Catching Fire that thousands of people had highlighted. The Wall Street Journal Article quoted Amazon as this being “the collective intelligence of all the people reading on Kindle”.

That’s pretty funny.

I’m not exactly sure what impulse caused 18,000 people to highlight Peeta and Katniss’ last sweet nothings to each other before battle, but I was happier when I figured out how to turn it off. But even this sort of tracking I find more silly than threatening, and again if you are one of the thousands who highlighted a particular passage “Call me, Ishmael”, I still can’t figure out individuals.

If you don’t want tracking to be done on you, there are ways to “liberate” your Kindle, or you could just keep the WiFi off. And stop going to the library, and stop buying books online or in stores.

You’re gonna be tracked.

So why worry? Frankly, my eReader has caused me to read more than I was before, and is useful for some of the thick references I’m carrying around for my non-fiction project. It helps me to not carry around a 700 page C++ book, hundreds of pages of Writer’s Markets, and countless papers. There are always trade offs for new devices, and maybe it would be nice if Amazon would let us read in peace, but at least we’re actually reading. Even if one day Amazon installs a GPS and finds out I read in the bathroom, I’m not sure how that information will help them sell me anything. Except maybe “Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader”.

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Bonus Friday Post (Pop Culture, Weasels, Oscilloscopes)

Happy Friday!

One of my traditions on Friday afternoons is to listen to the Pop Culture Happy Hour put out by Linda Holmes and the folks at NPR’s Monkey See. The podcast has been in reruns due to coverage of SXSW, but last week’s “rehash” covered one of my favorite subjects, pop culture to share with your kids. You can find the podcast here.

In advance of having kids I am stock-piling some of the shows I grew up with including Darkwing Duck, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the old ones), Batman: The Animated Series from the 90s, Rocky and Bullwinkle and Pinky and the Brain. Some shows have aged better than others (Pinky and the Brain makes a surprising amount of 90s specific references), but I thought it would be fun to make my future kids some DVDs of episodes from each of these shows to have a similar experience to Saturday mornings like mine (including interspersing some Schoolhouse Rock and George of the Jungle).

  • What pop culture do you want to share with future generations?

Speaking of things to share, I thought I’d post a couple of drawings my friend Brian made back when we were in college. During some of our more … dry … computer science classes, my friends and I would pose a “versus” situation to Brian and he would proceed to draw the ensuing conflict. These drawings come in two “limited edition” series of about a dozen drawings each, and Brian was kind enough to honor me in two of them. You may recognize one of them as my new Gravatar.

Ben Trube vs Oscilloscope

From back when I worked for the Physics Dept.

OSU Students vs Winter

We got a mild winter this year, but not so during college.

And lastly, there are couple of new features on the site:

  • Updated the “best of” with one of the more popular “Forty-Minute Stories”, Purple Crush. Enjoy if you haven’t already!
  • Added a “You may have missed” section for some posts that may have slipped through the cracks.
  • Added a Blogroll for fellow bloggers you might be interested in. More to follow.

Have a wonderful weekend!

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Digital Materialism

I surround myself with a lot of things. In my case, it’s media of all kinds, books, games, CDs, DVDs, graphic novels, manga and comic books (Yes, I’m a geek, hadn’t you noticed?). In addition to my physical material possessions I have a vast digital library of eBooks, MP3 files, video files and digitally download games from GOG. I also pay for cable and a Netflix account, and have from time to time contemplated replacing the cable with Hulu+.

In other words, I’m a fairly typical middle class American.

My acquire-lust started in earnest when I got my first job working for the library as a shelver (some libraries call them pages). Not only did I have my own money to buy things with, I spent countless hours going through stacks of books, CDs and DVDs browsing as I shelved. I like assimilating new ideas, listening to different music, watching TV shows, and reading interesting books and the library accentuated my ability to acquire new things. This desire carried on after that job, and now manifests in me spending a lot of money at Half-Price Books.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the ways we acquire things now, and how the digital realm is shifting away from ownership. Services like Pandora, Hulu and Netflix provide streaming services for music and video, some paid some not. The library now lends digital books and audiobooks and most public domain books can be obtained for free. We’re moving toward a world where we can tap into anything media related, without actually owning it.

My question is this: If digital media shifts even further into this “library” model of listening to content, will we continue to be materialists with regard to content?

Let’s assume that tablets and computers are widely available to the point that 95% of the population has them (maybe 20 years from now conservatively). By this point, while there always be high end hardware, most people will have a device that works just fine for them, much like TV’s are now. Almost everyone has one (some have several), and while some are obsessed with getting a big screen, for most it is just a way to view content and thus not the object of material desire.

It’s this desire that I think is the key point. Right now I would consider myself to be just as much of a materialist with regard to my digital life, as my physical life. Though I have access to a vast amount of streaming content and games, I still desire to own certain things (preferably as DRM free as possible to allow me fuller and more sustained ownership). I curate a small portion of the vast sum of human pop-culture and call it my own. Thus, even if I owned nothing but the computers and tablets that access this info, I would consider myself a materialist.

But if I didn’t own the content, and everyone had access to everything, would my simple desire to consume it be enough to make me a materialist? The consumption of new ideas and thoughts in an of themselves is not materialism. I also think it is possible to own a lot of things and not be necessarily obsessed with acquiring more (I hover in this space now, trying to be content with what I have, and trying to remove some of the clutter.)

I think people will always want things, and even when things are freely available to all, there will be something else that fills the void. But I think it’s important to think about the ways our changing digital society will influence our ideas about those obsessed with materialism.

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