1 August 2021: More Songs About Buildings and Food

As I’m writing this, I’m listening to the seminal Talking Heads album More Songs About Buildings and Food. It’s the first of three produced by Brian Eno. Andy Partridge of XTC claims he came up with the title.

Buildings

Katie and I have started referring to the 130-year-old Victorian we live in as “Mockingbird Acres”. I’ve previously stated that this place is, um, quirky. Our name draws from The Munsters mansion (1313 Mockingbird Lane) and the Douglas Farm from Green Acres. The former, or course, was run down, dusty, and filled with cobwebs. The latter had comical features like a bedroom closet with no back wall, leaving it open to the outside. This place has doors that go nowhere (the result of ham-handed remodeling efforts in the past), light switches that do nothing, and far too many old telephone landline jacks (3 in the kitchen alone).

And Food

We’re eating mostly vegetarian these days. For breakfast we’ve been porridge (sorry, Americans .. I mean oatmeal) and fruit. Coffee with oat milk. Stir-fried vegetables with rice, and sometimes an egg for extra protein. Pasta primavera with my own sauce, because jar sauce has a ton of added sugar for no explicable reason. I might add some browned ground turkey to that. Raw veggies with a dip made from Greek yogurt and herbs. Oatmeal cookies that I bake from scratch, with either raisins or dried cranberries (my kingdom for some affordable sultanas). No processed food. I know what’s in everything we eat.

Buildings and Food

I am, so far, pleased with the grocery delivery service. It’s a hump to get to the farmer’s market, or the grocery store with decent product. The cost of having someone doing the shopping and bringing it to me at Mockingbird Acres is less than bus fare. It feels decadent. I worry that they’re not being paid well enough, so I tip well. That makes it cost more than bus fare, but it saves me time and spoons so it’s still worth it.

31 July 2021: The Kinsmans versus Machine Intelligence

Last week, Twitter shut down one of Katie’s accounts because she couldn’t provide a birth certificate, passport, or other ID for a doll. Some algorithm saw that Marielle is supposed to be an 11-year-old girl. It made a decision, and no human support agent was allowed to override it. In the latest episode of the Kinsmans versus Machine Intelligence, Paypal has now put a hold on our account. They want invoices showing that we purchased the items that we’re reselling.

Reader, we are not reselling anything.

They flagged two transactions that they need explanations for. One is a royalty payment I received from DriveThruRPG. I can’t show you an invoice proving that I legally purchased the books I wrote and published. The other is for dolls that a customer purchased from Katie’s website. Sorry, can’t provide an invoice for the original artwork that she made with her own two hands.

Paypal gave me a small box with a limited number of characters to explain. This is like trying to capture subtlety and nuance in a single tweet. So I wrote an exceedingly polite explanation, saved it as a PDF, and uploaded it in the space where I was supposed to supply an invoice. I hope that some machine intelligence won’t just scan it, not recognize it an an invoice, and go “Nope!” the way twitter did.

Of course, if it does get to a human they’re probably going to be some minimum-wage work that’s expected to resolve 120 of these things an hour. They’re not going to take time to see what’s actually going on. They’ll follow the decision tree, pick the closest answer available, and move on. We’ve trained customer service workers to be the chimp that gets a piece of fruit if they push the correct button.

Machine Intelligence Isn’t

Look, I’m fine with things like Amazon’s recommendation engine. “People who bought X also bought Y”. Sometimes it makes interesting choice. Other times the results are humorous. There’s very little likelihood of harm. When you put these same algorithms to work on purveyors of communications and money, you’re risking peoples’ livelihoods. These irreversible decisions made by machines have consequences.

I’ve been back in the United States for a little over a month and I’m already tired of this nonsense.

30 July 2021: Marielle’s Back!

Here’s an update on the #FreeMarielle headache: the little Finnish doll that loves having adventures is back on Twitter! No, not because Twitter pulled it’s head out of its sizeable behind. Katie had to create a new account. She’s being sure to avoid stating Marielle’s age (she’s a doll, but she’s supposed to be an 11-year-old girl) and making it clear that the account is run by an adult woman.

For those just tuning in, Twitter locked the account after seeing that Marielle is supposed to be a child under 13. They asked Katie to provide a birth certificate, passport, or other ID to prove that she’s not too young. Repeated explanations that she’s a doll were met with repeated requests for identification. They finally told Katie she was being uncooperative and deleted the account.

I have no idea how people have Twitter accounts for pets, businesses, and fictional characters. Dealing with algorithms I understand. I know support people are provided with answer trees (“if the issue is A, do B”) that they have to follow. But come on, people. The lack of critical thinking is absolutely ridiculous and slightly terrifying.

 

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A post shared by Katie Kinsman (@go_marielle_go)

29 July 2021: A Soothing Interlude

Yesterday, in need of a soothing interlude, Katie and I took a walk. Wilmington has a lot of beautiful old neighborhoods filled with examples of absolutely breathtaking architecture. The temperature was pleasant, but even if it weren’t we were strolling tree-lined avenues with more than adequate shade. We discovered a shortcut to the grocery store that will make life easier going forward. After a break at a nice café we took our time walking home. There was a pleasant stop in a part to admire a fountain, and some statues, and to watch the birds.

In terms of practical matters, the new sim card for my phone arrived a day early. I now have an American phone number, and I think I’ve updated everyone that needs to know it. I did not get a haircut, which was a minor excuse for the walk. The place that said they accept walk-ins and always has availability was booked and did not, in fact, have any space to squeeze in someone without an appointment. Ah well.

Having better food is helping. For breakfast I made avocado toast and scrambled eggs. Lunch was an organic spinach and ricotta pizza. Dinner was nachos, but made with ground turkey, good quality salsa, Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, and more avocado (the all got ripe and once and needed to be eaten).

A Soothing Interlude

I definitely needed a soothing interlude, and a partial day off. This was my attempt to just be with the neighborhood and the city. I had some time to think about things, and talk them through with Katie. Tomorrow I’m back to work, and far more enthusiastic about it than I was yesterday, This transition is going to be a lot harder than I thought it would, but a dear friend pointed out that in spite of my reputation for negativity I do have a knack for finding the silver lining in things. It’s all going to be okay. It’s just going to take time.

 

28 July 2021: I Need Breathing Room

There’s a Tibetan Buddhist practice called Lojong that, to oversimplify it, is designed to help you get your head straight. It begins with experiencing things as they are. When you’re happy, you appreciate it and wish for others to have happiness as well. If you’re having pain, you sit with the pain. The point is to learn to experience objective reality without suffering. Things sneak up on you, though. It can be a lot to process. So right now, I need a little breathing room.

For the past three months I’ve either been planning to move, moving, or getting settled in after the move. At no point have I had the chance to sit with that. There’s been no opportunity for me to process it all. As Katie pointed out in her blog post yesterday, culture shock is catching up to us. We’re suddenly not in Finland, where we’ve lived happily for the past 7 years. Neither of us have lived in Delaware before, so there’s a lot that’s new. The United States has changed drastically in the years that we’ve been away. We’re eating unfamiliar food. Our routines need to be rebuilt. There are a thousand little details that pop up and need to be dealt with every day. It’s overwhelming.

I Need Breathing Room

Yesterday’s post not withstanding, I’ve been running my business on autopilot since May. I set up a lot of projects to keep myself busy, because that’s what I needed to get through this. Now that I have the chance to stop, reflect, and process. I need to reevaluate things. The purpose of work is no longer to anchor me through a physically and emotionally trying period. Now I have to deal with the reality of mind and body, and let the work return to being what it needs to be.

Breathing Room Media is going forward, but it will happen when it happens. Pieces will be ready when they’re ready. I’m not sure I can write about Finland yet. The kind of minimalism I am able to practice here, what I need to practice here, is different from my practice there. Certainly the defiance I need to express in consumer-driven, materialistic, late-stage capitalism America is not the same as in the Democratic Socialist Nordics. What I considered to be inner peace when I was looking out onto a lake is a separate entity from what I’m seeking when the night before last there was a brutal murder-suicide six blocks from here.

Like I said, a lot to process.

I’ve temporarily shuttered the Patreon, and pulled the newsletter, zine, and podcast pages back behind the curtain. I’m still working on them, but I need to get my head around what exactly it is I want to accomplish, and what I want to say, now that I’m in this strange new world. I’m going to keep blogging, though. I just need a moment to get my feet under me, intellectually and emotionally. Stay tuned.