Thursday October 24 2013 6:06 pm

I need one of these

I need one of these, because this one’s broken.

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It attaches to this thing.

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What do I use this for?

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Or maybe it goes like this…

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Oh yeah! It’s the thing I use to open up my car! (When it works.)

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They’re kind of hard to find, so I was pretty excited when I found a website that sold it. I ordered it a month ago… but it didn’t come. The company I ordered it from obligingly provided me with a customer service number that was disconnected, so I had to track down another contact number and get transferred three times in order to find out that they’d sent it to the house three blocks north of mine. The customer service rep I talked to admitted that I’d given them the correct address, they just hadn’t used it. Then he helpfully suggested: “Well, you could walk up and ask them for it. But we can’t send you a replacement until they send it back.”

So I hung up and did just that. Miraculously, there was someone at home there! And he had the box! And he gave it to me!

I was feeling pretty awesome about it… until I opened the box.

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Here’s the one I ordered online, side-by-side with the one it’s supposed to replace. Notice anything weird?

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It’s the wrong part… delivered to the wrong address. This one is the arm for a passenger’s side door.

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So I called them up again. I explained that I’d ordered the part pictured and numbered in a diagram of the car on their website, and that I wanted that one. After I’d spent twenty minutes on hold, the customer service rep (who was much nicer than the guy I’d talked to earlier) came back and, with a note of dread in his voice, told me that they don’t have the part they advertise, even though they do advertise it. In fact, he said, Saab doesn’t make that part anymore. They make the arms and handles for every other damn door on the car but the driver’s side door, which is the one I really need. He was really trying to be helpful, though, so he gave me a phone number for the company that they sometimes get these parts from (pickers who pull them off of cars in junk yards).

I called the number, and was greeted with a bizarre and rambling message, thanking me for calling, and for my business, and someone will be right with me, and God bless… This was followed by a prerecorded message that said, “Hi, thanks for calling. If it’s Monday, we’ve closed down Friday afternoon to acknowledge the Easter holiday. Thanks for calling, and happy Easter. God bless, thank you.” This was followed by another recorded message that said, “Sorry, you can’t leave a message, this user’s mailbox is full.” Now… it’s not Monday. Or Easter weekend. Or even spring at all.

At this point, I can only conclude that it went down a little something like this:

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Now, I don’t want to tempt fate — or Scandinavininjas — but I’m out of ideas.

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Does anyone know where to find weird old European car parts? Or, what might even better — does anyone know have access to a 3D printer that uses really, really strong plastic — strong enough to stand in for a semi-crappy piece of metal? I don’t have much money, but I will pay you something… or make you cookies… or knit you stuff. If you have any idea or want to help me do this, e-mail me at sarahmcmenomy at gmail dot com.

Please help. My car is sad. And so am I.

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Friday April 26 2013 12:00 pm

Women I Admire #5: Emily Short

Emily Short is an award-winning game designer and author. She makes beautiful games with strong narratives and a dedicated attention to the mechanics of language; she works to develop thoroughly interactive, open-ended conversations in natural and humanistic ways. Her work in games has received the attention of numerous luminaries within the gaming business, and she’s spoken at PAX, GDC, and other conferences and events. One of her best-known works is “Galatea,” a one-room work of interactive fiction in which the player character converses with an NPC in the form of the classical character of Galatea. There are numerous endings and no obvious single “winning” finish — it’s open-ended and the degree to which the player can win is open to interpretation.

So here’s why I admire her:

1) Emily worked as an independent game designer for decades on a hobbyist basis (inasmuch as anything could be a hobby when it’s such a passion) before she started to make a living in the industry. Her career is a testament to the power of really hard work and networking; she seems to have a natural drive which I can only (and rather pitifully) describe as an intense and enduring interest. By this I mean that she is curious and analytical; she researches constantly and she is always working to find the best solutions to the problems she faces in merging the processes of computers and the dynamics of story-writing in ways that are immersive and creative.
2) In an industry that is not only male-dominated at the professional level but also male-centric in its approach to game content (cf. anything barely-worn by any woman in just about any game, ever; the fairly limited options for female POV characters, even in RPGs; the over-sexualized dynamics presented in game narratives), Emily writes female characters who are cool, competent, and vital. Her characters — both player characters and NPCs — have personality and agency; they’re not just objects, they’re people.
3) Her work does not aggressively strive to inject a feminist agenda into the industry. That’s really not her main focus: her interests lie more in narrative and language, and in playing with it. She takes joy in vagaries, double-meanings, subtext, conversation dynamics — even in spelling and puns. Her recently-released “Counterfeit Monkey” has a game mechanic that works on the Thurber-esque premise that things can be materially changed by changing the letters in their names. Her current work with Linden Labs, “Versu,” allows the player to take part in mannered conversation and narrative by underlaying the reactions and speech of NPCs with intricately woven dynamics related to narrative and story development, subtle (and not-so-subtle) shifts in mood, and a lot else that takes place behind the scenes to create a constant flow of activity that shifts, either subtly or dramatically, from one game to the next.

In the now-well-established and big-money industry of video and computer gaming, it can be astoundingly difficult to find works which really go against the tide and create something new. Games that are intellectually challenging at any level are rarer still. Emily’s games somehow manage to do these things while remaining fun and alluring — and constantly breaking new ground that keeps getting her noticed by the industry.

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Thursday April 25 2013 12:00 pm

Women I Admire #4: Artemisia Gentileschi

Artemisia Gentileschi was an Italian painter in the 1600s, daughter of the (also pretty cool) paint Orazio Gentileschi. Artemisia grew up learning to paint in her father’s shop; he, in turn, had a collaborator of his, a painter named Agostino Tassi, tutor Artemisia in painting. Tassi took advantage of his position and raped the then-18-year-old Artemisia; following this, she continued to have relations with him due to his assurance that they would be married. He changed his mind, however, and, Orazio pressed rape charges against him. During the trial, Artemisia was subjected to torture and threats, and although Tassi was found guilty of this and other crimes — including other rapes, and the probable murder of his own wife, who was missing — he was sentenced to only a year of imprisonment… and never served it.

So, that sucks, and is a snapshot of the massively sexist and totally effed-up attitudes of the time. But what’s so cool about Artemisia herself?

1) She didn’t let the trauma of the rape and publicized trial stop her from achieving her goals. She was also respected in her own time; her paintings were considered exceptional examples, and not just because she was a woman. She was the first woman ever accepted to the Florentine Academy of the Arts, and went on to a long and fruitful painting career. She corresponded with Galileo. She was a friend of the Buonarroti family. She was favored by Charles I, and spent time as his court painter. She traveled, she studied, she married, she mothered, and she painted until the end of her life.
2) In a time when the female form was becoming quickly idealized, Artemisia’s work shows women who are burly, brutal, and unusually natural. Their breasts are subject to gravity, as actual breasts usually are. Their faces are expressive. The women she depicts have agency: they are not only not objects within the context of their own paintings, but they are not objectified for the viewer, either. Probably her most famous work depicts the Biblical story of Judith beheading Holofernes: in Artemisia’s depiction, blood sprays from Holofernes’ throat towards Judith’s face, and down onto the bed where he is lying, drunk. Judith’s face is not timid or reserved: she grimaces with disgust and resolve. The story behind it — of Judith’s seduction and assassination of Holofernes — could be understood as an allegorical assertion of the existence and danger of female power in the realms of both sex and violence. For contrast, here is another depiction of Judith and Holofernes from the same time, by another female painter, Fede Galizia. The work — while totally beautiful — is very staid; Judith’s expression is blank, and the natural brutality of the story seems to be treated with a vague embarrassment. The act has already been done, and Judith’s knife is mirror-clean. She is posed in a stance of inactivity, adorned, and seemingly awaiting recognition, with nary a drop of blood on her bodice. (It’s possible, I suppose, and I can’t claim to have personal experience of it yet, but isn’t beheading someone usually a fairly bloody prospect…?)
3) Even ignoring the implications of Artemisia’s depiction of women, her work is just cool. It’s the kind of stuff I love: romantic, and classical, generally narrative in nature, with a real mastery of color and light, much of which was drawn from Caravaggio, and some of which was uniquely hers. But she had mastered many techniques that were being tackled by various artists at the time — foreshortening, chiaroscuro, and the use of narrative, and allegory. Still, the most compelling aspect for me is the natural emotion conveyed by her works — even when that emotion is a little silly.

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