I’m sitting right here – discussion of mental illness at Nethui

Nethui launched with a bit of brouhaha around a couple of jokes from the MC, lawyer and standup comedian James Elliott. A couple of his opening jokes – designed to loosen things up – were of questionable taste; one naïvely implying that the vast amount pornography on the internet was “pictures of naked women”(1) and the other faux-mistaking Vikram Kumar for a Bollywood film maker of the same name.

I responded to the brouhaha, suggesting that the MC was a distraction and not to let upset over his faux pas get in the way of the real business. I had to clarify that I wasn’t saying “let’s support gendered and racial speech”, and I now feel a need to explain what I was really getting at.

The real discourse happens after the MC stops joking. The real discourse is made by the session conveners, and the participants, particularly those who are viewed as experts.

Here are some snippets of phrases I heard variously from people conducting sessions, and personages of importance contributing:

“People who are mentally ill…”

“People who are mentally ill are…”

“You’ve got to be mentally ill to…”

When someone spoke to demean women, there was an uproar.

When someone made light of race, there was an uproar.

If someone had been foolish enough to make generalisations about the capabilities, limitations, features and characteristics of blind people, wheelchair-using people, deaf people, any kind of differently-abled person, of non-normative sexual and gender selves – there would have been an uproar.

The term “mental illness” came up a number of times in the context of the “trolling” discussion, for example. It seems that anytime someone is behaving antisocially, they must have a mental illness. Now, I’m not here to justify antisocial behaviour – there are some interesting works which explore the social constructions we put around “antisocial”, and the differing constructions we create when we wish to make use of antisocial behaviour for societal ends.

I didn’t make an uproar. Other people I know for a fact manage mental illness as part of their lives didn’t make an uproar. In my case, the “forever angry and unwell” Sean discussed matters with the “healed and well” Sean, and we agreed my (to reunite my two halves, as I must do every day to function(2)) planned outcomes from attending Nethui might be disrupted if I started laying into people who so casually prodded my deepest pain. Why? Because every time I expend emotional energy, I have to factor in the risk that I am misperceiving matters, and that my efforts to address a problem I see will make things worse. That it’s not going to change things anyway.

I want to make an uproar now. I’ve spent the last few days increasingly triggered, and I suspect there’s more to come if I maintain silence.

I’m here to say – you’re tarring a lot of good people with the same brush. That’s right – I’m not blasting anyone. My anger, as always, is my own. I’m going to speak, and hope some people listen. I’ll stick with the troll example.

Some people with mental illness troll.

Some people with mental illness experience frustration, bewilderment and an inability to understand the rules that govern interpersonal connection.

Some people with mental illness express frustration through attention-seeking antisocial behaviours at some times.

Some people with mental illness act to seek attention in online communities. In some ways, longlasting online communities are function as economies of attention, and sometimes some people with mental illness use the wrong strategies. What does that say about the other trolls – who don’t wrestle constantly with demons, who are simply choosing to seek amusement? Much easier to blame the loonies.(3)

We are not some people. We are your family, colleagues, and friends. We grit our teeth while people construct a world in which all of the otherness is laid at our doorsteps. How are we to reach out to you when you dismiss us in a way isn’t allowed for any other group in society? Can’t we come inside the PC circle, at long last? Can’t you see I’ve got a headful of bad wiring, and I’m still a good, caring and compassionate person? I know some sane, or at least stable, people who are real pricks.

Most of us mentals(3) don’t bother speaking up, because it’s too hard.

Most of us feel like we’ve failed before we open our mouths, or put hands to keyboards.

Most of us are trying to connect, however badly. Some are doing so pretty well, thank you.

I’m sitting right here. I’m next to you, wishing to work with you. Don’t say we need to stop talking about access and start talking about inclusion when you’re still leaving me out.

(1) Pornography would be vastly less problematic in some ways were this so.

(2) As Paul Simon said: “From what I can see of the people like me/We get better/But we never get well”.

(3) I will take these words back, and I’ll use it any time you want. Don’t you dare.


#blogjune 25: Blogjanarama: A tentative summary

I think I’m close enough to the end of the month to examine some of the benefits of this exercise for me, and I’m doing this before an INSANELY busy week happens.

Rather than faffing about with French baked objects I’ve used my tagcloud as an aide-memoire. This would be a different post had Helensville an authentic boulangerie, or had I gone to music practice at the Alliance Francaise last night (I didn’t) and asked them to recommend a late-night boulangerie in the central city area (I also didn’t). So what learning have I encountered?


I reminded myself further that I’m simply not into themes. I wouldn’t describe myself as incapable of them; certainly when writing some kind of memo, email or otherwise for work I stick very much to the point.

I started by declaring this the “month of superlatives”. It has only been so in that it’s been one of the bloggingest months of my life and the failingest theme this month on banjosinthestacks. I sometimes had similar levels of activity during the height of my engagement with livejournal, but not usually with a theme.*

I’ve also discussed this with other children’s librarians in relation to themes in programmes. One friend suggested that I “was the theme” in my storytime sessions. As much as a complement as that is, I think it’s overhyping my abilities, or at least misreading where they lie. I do engage well with young children, but my programmes are ultra-structured – I’ll have the same games and songs in the same order every time with differing books. This allows me to modify – pull elements in and out – in response to my energies, and the energies of the children on the day without having to have a think. I achieve infinite variety in the songs and games because I ask the children for elements such as the animals for “Old MacDonald”. I also pursue other themes, such as sharing joy, creativity, support, love and humour through modelled behaviours. Oh all right, and love of reading is in there too. It should be implicit.

So I don’t so much fail at theme as have more investment in structure, tone, style and participation as creating continuity between differing elements.

It is possible.

The same as I don’t see a point in theming, I don’t see a point, other than an exercise, in blogging every single day. As opinionated as I am I don’t feel a wish to find something to express a well thought-out, edited opinion every day. That being said, at this end of the month I have found that when I do blog, I prefer to do that editing and thinking rather than do “something quick”. Even yesterday’s dinner break post, one of my quicker that wasn’t just complaining, had two days of distributed discussion and occasional pondering behind it.

My shortest one I didn’t publicise except through RSS, which I acknowledged in the post. This in itself sparked a fun discussion.

Creative activity enhances wellbeing.

Readers who have been following for a while will have seen mention of insomnia. I tend to have this when I’ve a lot to think about, although this tends to be abstract topics such as “what are some useful models and modes of thought which can support engaged information literacy” and “if I listen to my new song fifity times in my head with my fingers twitching that’s the same as practicing it” rather than “the big boy next door called me names”. In fact I get on with Brett, my large and tough next door neighbour, rather well.

In the past I’ve tended to avoid engaging in writing about these topics or developing musical ideas at times when I should be sleeping because I haven’t wished to stimulate myself further. This month has convincingly demonstrated to me that fully engaging my creative faculties leads to better managed sleep patterns.

I can talk about information profession things.

While I am linked to a small handful of active projects at work presently, my main role right now is to explore and propose a definition and related useful functions for my role, knowing that other related roles and functions may or may not be changing.

A necessary process at for success in this task is the active avoidance of prejudicing the views of people one is seeking  input from. Admittedly this is impossible – in an organisation of capable people, nuances are as deftly derived from what isn’t said as what is said.

This isn’t to mention time factors. To speak to an informed and representative sample of an organisation, individual conversations must be limited. Interesting and compelling topics must be touched on then left aside for progress in the key tasks at hand to be made.

So, getting a place to talk about the information profession, the  theory that surrounds it and the wonderful culture that springs forth from it is a good thing.

So what?

So I’ll keep on letting structural and stylistic approaches serve as my themes and not worry about it. I’ll stop worrying that creative activity is something I risk using up, although I won’t blog every day. I think now that I’ve cleared a regular window in which writing happens I’ll allow some of that to happen in blog form, and some of that to happen in the many other writing projects  I’ve got sitting round on scraps of paper and in little files.

I’ll not only continue to share my infoculture thoughts, I’ve got some new people whose thoughts stimulate to share with to add to the wonderful, but less new, people. *waves*

And I’ll look forward to enjoying some good nights of kip.

*Bonus content: Three years, two months, twenty days, seventeen hours, fifty minutes and twenty-six seconds ago I shared** the following Beetle Bailey cartoon on my livejournal. I still think it’s a pretty hilarious statement for an ostensibly unironic newspaper toon:

Beetle Bailey loves them Goth girls

** If you hack me and find content you find uncomfortable, serves you right for being prurient.***

*** Also I will hack you back. Just saying.

#blogjune 17: Selling the good life in the digital world

Today, having cleared other obligations, I spent the afternoon working in with (for) my dear wife in Helensville Library. I ran the front of house while she and her team cleared up a few tasks, a pleasurable exchange for all.

It was the late night, so I was out back having a bite to eat and a coffee when Sally asked me to talk to a gentleman about our ebooks.

The conversation centred around whether our ebook collection would be usable on his soon-to-arrive Kindle. The short answer, according to our support pages is no. Kindle does not provide support for ePUB documents.

The longer answer is yes, so long as one changes the filetype, thereby stripping the DRM from the file. This was a statement I was not going to make to the gentleman. Safe? If only it were that easy.

Taking the high road, I guided him to our support pages and discussed with him the range of platforms he could use Adobe Editions to manage his borrowed eBooks on. His response:

“Yeah, but I can convert anything to anything.”

He’s right, of course. There are single-purpose websites available for almost any format conversion desired. I’ve used them to tinker with my backing tracks for performance when needing to do quick work on a machine that doesn’t have a music editing suite installed.

I have a response for moments like these. I allowed for the existence of such tools, but asked that the gentleman not to tell me if he chose to use them to circumvent our licensing agreements. When he countered suggesting he could simply use another type of site to download the item directly (I won’t mention the method, but suffice to say it’s not the P2P we’re all supposed to be concerned about) all I could do was raise my eyebrows and smile innocuously, an expression few believe however often I practice it.

We talked some more, and by the end of the conversation I understood he was enthusiastic to use our service so that he could do his eReading ethically and as close to legally as possible. He wished to borrow from us and delete the item at or before the due date, rather than use a possibly more convient pirate source, so that his use of the rights could be correctly reported.

I don’t know if we’ll ever have a set of universally-adopted, standardised file formats. Given that, “close to legal” is an interesting, and perhaps useful, construct although I do not advocate shifting file formats illegally. Over in the Diligent Room I use road speed limits as an analogy; some, in fact, get annoyed at  people who do drive at fifty in a fifty kilometres per hour zone. To drive legally can to disturb the flow of traffic, which is in fact a crime. Just try driving at 30 on the motorway. Is downloading legally disturbing to the flow of information?

I’m put in mind of Aristotle’s good life. We can either identify my customer as a would-be pirate, or as in a very real way opting to make his digital reading a more complicated affair for an ethical reason.

If we decide that the glass is half full here, I think we can refocus our conversation away from breaches and towards the opportunities that selling an ethical digital life affords us. With the eyes of the nation looking at a new law and wondering which of their behaviours will put them on the wrong side we’d be crazy to do otherwise.

#blogjune 16: Lightning post: On the creative use of insomnia, with a tip of the nib to @hodgman

I’m feeling ripped off. I head a productive and enjoyable day, a healthy walk at luncthimes, good conversations throughout, modest meals but enjoyable meals and my last coffee at 12pm.

I still can’t sleep. Still, I did have excellent sleep the rest of the week. Improvement is improvement, which makes my second deliberate tautology in a learning situation to day. You gets the cheap laffs where you can.

Experiment: Tomorrow night I shan’t join Sal if she wants to watch Criminal Minds.

Also: I’m going to use the excess mental energy from my insomnia to write raps, then sleep the sleep of the pious. After that it’s Friday, Friday and then I’ll be singing the Weekend Song (C) me and my homeslice.


#blogjune 15: Quick engagement vs. enhanced features

Whenever I think about design matters I wish for everything to be in a state of zenlike simplicity, but with lots of features.

I definitely think websites should be capable of doing both.

A recent session at work guided by an outside group got me thinking about how this can come about.* There’s the iGoogle model – personalised widgets galore, which I think would be awesome. Visit the generic site first time, then make it your own.

The other model of rich features implies multiple/generated-on-the-fly pages, and (having been told to hurry up before dinner and a hot date watching the start of Criminal Minds season 5… is Hodge ok? If his job gets too dangerous will he move back in with Dharma? Is being able to tell reality from fantasy really necessary in the digital age?) I’ve decided the best way to handle that is to have a frontend URL system that works like a series of folders and subfolders – knowing that getdoc commands are the most efficient way to drive the back end of things.

Always, always, always put the hard work behind the scenes. Always, always, always have that illusory top-of-the-swan floating above the surface.

Okies, dindins. Happy #blogjune!

*Sorry for being vague – I don’t want to prejudice any confidential processes although I’m sure I’d be quite safe.

On google, censorship and sensational web journalism

One of the more general tech sites I follow, Ars Technica dropped what seems to be a big bomb.

Apparently, Google has turned autocomplete censorship on. Well, that was the message I got from the title of the post. I’ll duplicate it here for the purposes of discussion:

“Google flips the switch on autocomplete censorship”.


My spidey senses instantly went on the alert and being a good geek I did some testing.

Work with me if you like. Open a tab with google. Make sure you have safesearch off. Type ‘por’ in the search bar. My list includes “ports of auckland” and “porsche”, and I’m sure yours are similar with regional variance.

Now, be brave. Steel yourself. Type an ‘n’. Do not search, do not hit enter. I will not be held liable if you so do .

What does your autocomplete show? So long as they haven’t changed their policy (which admittedly they are wont to do), nothing. You have to decide to search for that particular string. Google won’t do it for you.

If you’re still searching, you’re doing it wrong.

Why wouldn’t they? Of course google has a thesaurus behind their product. Of course some legal and ethical discussions need to be had as to what to include and disinclude in that thesaurus. We don’t want our 10 year olds looking for pictures of cars and finding a suggestion for something entirely different three letters in.

In my ideal world, parents lovingly sit with their children every damn moment they browse, but that’s not the real world. Google is responding to protect young people who have web access every where they go, and I personally endorse that policy as a professional who works with children.

This effectively refutes the first half of the premise. Modification of autocomplete’s response database by google for ethical and/or legal reasons is not a new or sudden thing. It is a new instance in an established line of organisational thought.

At the end of the day, if you’re not happy with google, construct your own personal search algorithm. It’s easy to do: Tweak your information streams* so that you want is coming to you. Treat google as a database to support follow-up research. That’s what I do, and I don’t feel nearly so appalled by what they do. If you’re data-aware enough to complain, you’re data aware enough to devise and educate about alternatives.

But what about the “c” word!

This means the discussion’s merit rest solely the word censorship, not with any suddenness of the decision. This  is trivially easy to refute.

I would describe effective censorship as that which creates conditions of unreasonable duress around access to information.

“Bittorrent” is 10 characters. Is it unreasonable duress to type ten characters before being provided full an unrestricted access to search results ranking the bittorrent website at the top? No. It’s access. Google are neither hastening nor, as the article suggests, preventing the downfall of established media.

What could have been said instead?

There is definitely a  discussion, even an important one here. Google provides autocomplete support for “homemade bomb”, “bong” and I’m sure many other tools equally commonly associated as file sharing with illegal activity. What ethical and legal considerations make these, which can potentially harm lives, more acceptable?

This was not examined. The author, a senior editor, dashed off the quickest article they could without consideration of the full picture. What were they thinking? Is currency more important than reason?

*By following blogs, twiplets etc who develop your thinking. There is more good content out there about what you’re into than you can read. Keeping an eye to modifying your streams will enable you to develop and focus those interests.