Writing the threads of my reality


I am 100% sure that I will someday become the overlord of all crazy cat ladies, but in the meantime... there was a little kitten in need of a home.

This is Ashka.

From Drop Box

She is in need of some TLC, and for the time being, she is ours. I'm watching my better half call her by name, as if she'll suddenly start obeying. He is not a big cat person.

I'm happy enough to watch her get used to our apartment. And watch my better half crawling under the couch after her.

Copyright Law

Something that I've been thinking about lately is the nature of the music licensing bodies in Ireland. I've talked before about IMRO, and no, I am still not impressed by their efforts to extract license fees from hobbyist music blogs. Promotion of up and coming artists is important, and those blogs are only going to become more prevalent.

Anyway. I've been pondering something tangentally related.

IMRO are licensed to collect fees from venues like shops, restaurants, clubs. The PPI collect as well, for performing rights. They collect regardless of whether the venue in question actually plays any of their music; their attitude is such that they assume that the musicians in the venues will, without a shadow of a doubt, eventually play something that they have the rights to.

Now, this worries me.

Let's say a restaurant doesn't want to pay the fees, and decides to play only non-IMRO, non-
PPI music. Such music does exist - Creative Commons music, perhaps? Jonathan Coulton releases all his music as CC-Attribution-Non-commercial; it wouldn't be much of a stretch to make a deal with him, or artists like him, to use their music.

Here's the thing: his songs are specifically registered to him. He owns the copyright and he licenses them as he sees fit. "Copyright is the set of exclusive rights granted to the author or creator of an original work, including the right to copy, distribute and adapt the work..." so sayeth Wikipedia, which seems quite straightforward. Copyright lets the creator profit from their work in exchange for sharing that work with the world. The keyword there is profit, of course.

If you own the copyright on a work, no one else has the right to profit from that work. That would be in breach of the most basic elements of copyright law. So, consider for a second what happens in this scenario:

Restaurant contacts local musician and does a deal, such that the musician provides or performs their own original work (or their own original arrangements of public domain works) to the restaurant in exchange for a set fee, which is presumeably lower than the licensing bodies' fees. Restaurant begins to use this background music normally. Both parties profit in that the venue gets music, and the musician gets promotion plus money; very straightforward, as the musician owns the songwriting and performing rights, and may profit from them in whatever way they see fit.

Enter the IMRO, as they like to do, and they demand licensing fees from the restaurant, because the venue is playing music. In short, they demand payment for the use of music to which they do not own ANY RIGHTS.

See the problem there? See what is just a little bit bothersome? The licensing bodies are essentially asking for money on the offchance a venue uses their music, even when the venue specifically restricts itself to music they don't cover. If Jonathan Coulton owns the copyright on a work, and owns the exclusive right to profit from it... what exactly happens if the IMRO profits from it?

Breach of copyright law, perhaps?

Finding Naomi

In continuing with the random theme of social interaction I have going right now, I just had some good news today - I think I've finally found an old college friend that I've been looking for.

It was her second name I just couldn't remember. I trawled Facebook, and got nowhere. Then a post on the UCC Alumni group on LinkedIn gave me her full name, and I've spotted her on another site that puts her in Hamburg! And she hasn't changed a bit in six years, if the photo is anything to go by.

Now I just have to figure out how to contact her... Naomi, if you get to read this, email me at claireryan@threads-of-aether.net. :)

Levels of Closeness

I was talking to a man close to me the other day, and he said something that made me... well, very angry. Angry enough to shut down the conversation and walk away.

He was asking why we didn't talk more, and in a way, he was right to ask. He is, after all, very close to me - though the specifics are not all that important. We've argued in the past, and I withdrew somewhat because I tire of arguments where no consensus can be reached. We all choose the boundaries to our lives, and no one has a right to breach them arbitrarily - not even the people we love.

Things change, of course. I've already noticed that I'm introverted, in many ways, and like I said before, I'm not really all that comfortable with the language of social interaction. I don't know when I give offence, or if I should call someone to see how they are, or if this particular thing is appropriate or not. My better half had to remind me that we needed to buy a wedding present for a couple we know, which I can safely say would not have occurred to me in a hundred years.

So. I thought, perhaps, I could make an effort. Reach out a little. I sent him a link to this article, because we had been talking about feminist issues before. I want this person who is close to me to see the things I'm passionate about, and understand a bit of how I see the world.

If you don't want to click through, it's about Schroedinger's Rapist; the concept that women cannot know in advance whether the man that tries to talk to them or get close to them in a public setting actually means them any harm or not until something actually happens, at which point it's a bit late to do anything about it. So the natural reaction is to view unknown men with caution above all else, even when the man in question is a nice guy who only wants to say hello.

Men might get insulted about being viewed this way, but quite frankly, the statistics are not on their side. The reporting and conviction rate for rape is pitifully low, and in Ireland the victims of rape can expect to be victimised all over again by the friends and family of the man (it is overwhelmingly men who rape, of course). No one has the right to be insulted by the actions that women choose to take to protect themselves from that.

This gesture, however, wasn't enough. I sent the article, and I did hope a little bit that this could open up a new dialogue, with a new understanding of my worldview. Odd as it may seem, the article describes my old habits very accurately; that strange way of being hyper-aware of everyone around me, and the fear of doing or saying something wrong in response to their actions, that I still fall back on every now and then. Never in a hostile way, you understand - I didn't view other people as a threat - but I did view them as not-like-me, and getting over that and learning how to be comfortable around strangers still takes something of an effort of will for me.

To this, he replied that he didn't want to know. He didn't like being reminded of how rotten the world is, and he thought my effort was pretty poor as a gesture of closeness.

So, I failed in a social interaction. Nothing new there, even if I'm still trying to calculate the interpersonal arithmetic and inevitable fallout. But... he didn't want to know that bad things happen? I don't have words to describe how angry this makes me. How contemptibly arrogant, how utterly heartless! It's so easy, isn't it, to say that when the things that are happening will probably never happen to you!

I'm not sure how to parse this. Should I remain angry? Should I reach out again, but with what? I don't have many levels of closeness to offer; there is the one who shares my bed at night, and there is everyone else in the world, and those are the only two I know with absolute certainty. I'm still working out how to subdivide everyone else, and I know I don't always get it right.

I can't see how this will play out. All I know is I don't want to lose another friendship because of another social mistake, but if I do... is it his fault, or is it mine?

News and things

News. Yes. Things have happened in the last week; strange, amazing things.

I wrote a screenplay for a short film, having never even touched the medium before. I do believe that telling a story is much the same regardless of the format, so it didn't seem all that strange to me - although the collaboration that occurs between the director, editor, actors, and what have you was certainly intimidating.

It was a story about a photo booth.

We entered it in the 2010 Mutant Shorts Competition after three days of desperate set-building and filming on the part of the director and the producer. I'm still waiting for it to be uploaded to their Vimeo page so I can embed it here, but the incredible result is that it came second overall. The revelation that something I wrote was liked enough to get runner-up in any competition is still a shock to me.

Being a creative artist of any kind is something of a battle between your self-confidence and self doubt, and I'm constantly wrestling with thoughts of whether my writing really is good enough. This kind of thing is a reassurance, I suppose, that I'm not as bad as I think I am in my gloomier moments. So I'm delighted, for myself and for everyone else involved in making Photo Booth - it was great to work with a talented team, and it was a great initial foray into writing for film.

Thing the second - I finally got around to setting up my own website to showcase the various creative work I get up to. It's here. I decided to call it Threads-of-Aether, for no real reason. I still have a chunk of work to do to get it set up properly, and keep it all up to date. What I really like about it is that I did the vast majority of the work myself; I drew the graphics, coded the CSS, built the webpages, all over an evening and the following morning and afternoon. The Twitter widget came from Twitter, obviously, with a few minor changes to match my colour scheme, and the Javascript for the photo page was borrowed from elsewhere.

I do enjoy web design. Now if I could only convince my boss to let me redesign the company website...

Talking about Morality

The Civil Partnership Bill is on the way, or so it seems. I have to say, it makes me very pleased to know that non-heterosexual couples (such as a very close friend of mine) will finally have some rights and protections under the law. It's been a long time coming.

Anything that makes the world a little happier is something to be celebrated. And let's face it - this can only make the world a little happier, because it's a little step closer to finally breaking that constitutional lock out on marraige that isn't between one man and one woman; that archaic concept needs to be returned to where it belongs - the last century.

But the Catholic bishops just can't let it go, can they? The sanctity of marraige, non-hetero relationships are a sin, all that kind of thing. They're talking about morality, their morality, as dictated by their distant pontiff in Rome. And they can't let this happen; they can't let one tiny foothold of equality take root here, in the heartland of Catholicism. If they can't stop it here, in a country that has willingly grovelled at their feet for decades...

But that battle has already been fought, and lost.

The world has moved on, and Ireland moves with it. America is already moving that way, despite the efforts of the right-wing fundamentalists. Various European countries have moved on, and the EU will undoubtedly pull Ireland onwards if it begins to stall. And there is no morality among the clergy now - how can they preach to a population that knows the crimes of the Church? How do they stay relevant in an era where the Internet has opened the entirety of human culture to their flock, including all those other, more liberal religions?

It's so easy to talk about morality when passing judgement on a bill of law that can never, ever affect you. It's so easy to deny, when it isn't you that suffers as a result. That is Catholic morality, dear reader, according to the bishops of Ireland... and this is the sound of its death-knell.


Someone said something rather interesting to me the other day. They accused me of being a 'militant feminist', and all that that entails.

Feminazi. Radical feminist. Man-hater. One who, I suppose, wants to tear men down and elevate women in their place. I confess I'm not sure how to respond to such an accusation. Perhaps it's time to set the record straight, once and for all?

There are men in the western world who have a kind of cognitive dissonance; they view women as equals, think sexism is gone and done with, and declare to anyone who asks that they support equal rights, but it's all talk. It's all bluster; sound and fury, with nothing to back it up. They don't walk the walk. They were brought up a particular way, with particular views, and shaking all that off and reaching out towards the goal of true equality is... too much effort? Maybe. I would think it more likely that they just don't realise the truth of it.

It's not something you can really know, unless you live through it every day. If you've never once had something denied to you because of what you are, then you don't see the world like someone who has.

When I was young, I wanted to be a Premier League football player. I think I was only six or seven at the time. I liked soccer a lot, and I liked seeing the ads on television for Premiership matches. But it could never happen - I realised no matter how good I ever became, women were not allowed to play. Not even if I was better, or could run faster, or was more skilled. I would never be given the chance. That, I think, was the first hard truth I had to face about my biology and how the world saw it. I could be the greatest footballer the world has ever seen, but as long as my reproductive organs were on the inside, I'd never be worthy.

I railed at the unfairness, as I saw it, of being a woman. I wanted to do metalwork or woodwork in school - I desperately wanted to make things, big things, that would stand up on their own and be impressive and... arty, or something. I wasn't allowed. I wanted to play hurling with the boys, being bored to insensibility by knitting. I wasn't allowed. I wanted to do things that were not 'lady-like' simply because they interested me, wear clothes that were comfortable, live without these ridiculous restrictions and to hell with what anyone thought, and that probably annoyed my mother no end - but she and my father always let me be whatever I thought I wanted to be, for the most part.

So I grew up to be unusual. I knew that there were expectations of a woman in normal society, and I also knew that I didn't care to fulfil them when they were arbitrary and wasteful. I was long since past the stage of not caring what people thought of me.

I wore makeup, once or twice, mostly for my mother. I don't, nowadays, because I hate the feel of it. I have never bought women's magazines, or taken them seriously, or been tempted by the random fashion accessories they advertise. I don't dress up to go out, unless you count Halloween costumes, and I've never felt the need to show off my cleavage to attract a man.

I suppose I was atypical to begin with, but it took a lot of watching and reading to solidify my opinions. What I saw around me was that it was mostly men in control, and even the men closest to me couldn't see that tiny, constant things were endlessly telling me that being a woman made me less than them. That I'd lament about how many women were disadvantaged, and the only way they could internalise and process what I said was by assuring me that they weren't like that... But they still told me I was overreacting, that that's just how the world was, when I pointed out that something was sexist and it wasn't right. They still told jokes about rape.

All the threads play into each other. All the stories and narratives are woven together, from jokes to newspaper articules to Hollywood movies, and in most of them... it's not men who are used, abused, and weak. I don't blame the men I know for acting like they do, if at all - the vast majority, including my own better half, are decent, honourable people - but they swim in this culture every day, as do I. They just don't see it like I do, unless I point it out.

The funny thing about thinking in feminist terms is that you can never really switch it off again. I routinely judge movies and games on their portrayal of women now; it's almost my own personal benchmark for well-written media, as the likelyhood of my enjoying a movie in which [insert generic white caucasian twenty-something straight male here] gets into random hijinks/action, with a supporting cast of assorted mostly white men, is somewhere around nil. It takes a lot more than flashy special effects to impress me, and it takes a huge amount more when the film in question portrays women as 'bad' girls to be used, or 'good' girls to be protected.

Example of a movie that broke the mould? Prince of Persia, no less - I didn't mention it at the time, but Princess Tamina did a lot of things that would make any feminist proud. She's the ruler of a country; she alternatively fools and manipulates the Prince for her sacred mission; she can and indeed does use a sword when she has to. In short: she has some serious power and agency, and she's not afraid to use either to protect the world even at the expense of her own life.

So. Getting back to the point, I guess - I read a lot. Apart from seeing the world a particular way, I also learned about feminists who had changed it, and whose actions had given me the life I lead now. I learned how they fought for the right to vote, to control their own bodies, to live independently, to keep their children, to work and love and exist on their own terms and according to their own wishes. It was a culmination of years and years of work, of gaining a little ground here and there and bleeding raw to keep it. They are the reason I have a voice at all, why I'm not simply cast into a corner and dismissed because I was unfortunate enough to have been born female.

It enrages me that a few women today dismiss all that and disown the word 'feminist', as if it's a slur on their character. Some immediately connect it with the so-called feminazis. Some latch onto one little thing that some feminists have brought about that they don't like, and use it as an excuse to attack and disown all feminists. Such is life, I guess. The most I can do is argue with them.

I'm unapologetically feminist. That is my label and part of my identity, and for me it means that I am interested in equality for all, even when it doesn't work out in my favour. It means I can't shut up and be silent about sexism whether it happens to women or men, that I am well-read on feminist discourse, and I'm very largely in favour of reproductive rights, LGBTQI rights, and human rights in general. I want the world to be better than it is, and if that means I make some people uncomfortable or I have to take some insults, then so be it.

Hmm, wall of text indeed. But I had to say it sometime.

My life, it is being consumed

What they don't tell you when you decide to start writing a book is that your life will be swiftly devoured, cast into the literary pit of doom that is your manuscript, and you will be bereft of blogging, tweeting, and all the other sundry diversions that usually fill your life in between working, eating and sleeping.

I'm reaching for the end of the second draft of the Novel. It's like having the end of a race in sight; you push yourself just that little bit harder to get there and get it over with. Am I getting burnt out? Oh yes, but I've long since accepted that that's the way it rolls when you're an author-in-training.

Anyway. To maintain my current sanity level, I've finally decided to do a review of the HTC Desire I bought a few weeks ago.

There it is. I haven't bothered changing the background, so mine looks much the same.

The Desire is a nerd's phone. It's made for tinkering and breaking and fixing, despite all that HTC have done to make its interface all nice and shiny. And oh, how shiny it is - the screen is a bright AMOLED thing that could blind the unwary.

The good: the Sense UI is elegant and usable, and the whole thing is so snappy fast it makes the iPhone look like a turtle on tranquilisers. It comes with a 4GB micro-SD card, which I will upgrade as soon as I can be bothered and provides enough space for a chunk of music. It has one standard micro-USB port, through which you can do ANYTHING to the phone - up to and including turning it into a fancy paperweight.

The bad: HTC are very, very fond of their UI. I can't uninstall certain bits of it without rooting the phone, such as Peep (their Twitter thingy) or their Facebook widget, or - good grief - their Stocks app. Multitasking will eat the battery like nothing else, so you need to be careful what you do with it - a solid task manager app is a must.

The other downside is the same for all Android phones - Ireland has no access to Android paid apps, because of some crazy shennanigans that Google are not talking about.

I had to consider for a long time as to whether I would actually get an iPhone, instead of waiting for a decent Android phone to be released here in the land of lepreachauns. In the end, I had to choose an Android because for all the advantages of the iPhone, I wanted a device over which I had 100% control - and Apple don't allow that with their shiny toys. There's a few things that annoy me about the Desire, but there's far more that would drive me completely batty if I had an iPhone. Music, for example - there is no version of iTunes for Linux, and trying to make it run through Wine is slow torture. I did manage to get an iPod Touch hooked up through a few packages written expressly for the purpose of bypassing Apple's inane restrictions, but I had to keep asking myself why I should have to do it at all; this is my device, and I will use it however I bloody well want!

The Desire plays nice with Ubuntu, in case you're wondering. I plug it in, fire up Banshee, and it automatically syncs to a playlist I've designated for it. Contacts and email sync up through Gmail, plus the other contacts from my SIM card; half of them linked together straight away, so now I have one coherent contacts list. The phone itself can be mounted as an external drive, so I can copy just about anything off it or onto it.

It is absolute control. I can do anything to my phone, even fill it full of porn apps, and Google just don't care. It is 100% mine, to use, abuse, break, and customise as I see fit. Such power is not for the faint of heart or those who are not tech savvy, but that is the power and promise of open source and I love it so.

Anyway. Back to the Novel with me...