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The view from the peloton

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This is intense: video from one of the riders during the sprint finish of stage 5 of the Tour de Suisse.

I don't know how all of those riders are working that hard so close together without constantly crashing into each other. The number of "I've got my bike slightly in front of your bike now move the hell over" moves shown in the video reminded me of how NYC taxi drivers negotiate the streets of Manhattan. (via @polarben)

Tags: cycling   sports   video
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lemay
2886 days ago
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I was not aware the peloton was so shouty.
Los Gatos, CA
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jhamill
2886 days ago
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Whoa.
California

Manuals

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The most ridiculous offender of all is the sudoers man page, which for 15 years has started with a 'quick guide' to EBNF, a system for defining the grammar of a language. 'Don't despair', it says, 'the definitions below are annotated.'
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lemay
2984 days ago
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TRUTH
Los Gatos, CA
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8 public comments
danatnr
2970 days ago
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Hey! We resemble this!
Ohio
lahosken
2984 days ago
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"As a professional technical writer, I implore you to make this simpler to explain."
San Francisco, USA
taddevries
2984 days ago
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Wow! Such insight! So Truth!
amijangos
2984 days ago
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OH so true! Putting it on a wall.
Columbus, Indiana
shhQuiet
2985 days ago
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The story of usability.
Michdevilish
2985 days ago
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Tools you resist using
Canada
marcrichter
2985 days ago
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Oh so true! Usability FTW.
tbd
traggett
2985 days ago
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Alt/Title: "The most ridiculous offender of all is the sudoers man page, which for 15 years has started with a 'quick guide' to EBNF, a system for defining the grammar of a language. 'Don't despair', it says, 'the definitions below are annotated.'"
Hong Kong

New Year’s Resolutions You Can Actually Achieve

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New Year's Resolutions You Can Actually Achieve

Let us know if you have any interesting and attainable new year’s resolutions here.

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lemay
3057 days ago
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The socks and underwear thing is totally true.
Los Gatos, CA
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theprawn
3057 days ago
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New socks, yes!
adamcole
3057 days ago
I totally dropped that gym membership for some good shoes a couple years ago and it was the best decision ever.
theprawn
3057 days ago
I'd love to drop that gym membership, but without it my shoes would be useless (Its been 20 below zero and snow for weeks...)

Let Us Never Forget Their Names

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Content Note: This post deals with the École Polytechnique massacre and violence against women.

24 years ago today, 14 women were killed in an act of sickening violence at the École Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Targeted for being women and for being engineers, we must never forget their names.

  • Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student
  • Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
  • Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
  • Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
  • Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
  • Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
  • Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
  • Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
  • Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student

For those of us who grew up in Canada, the white ribbons of December were a reminder not just of the work left to do in stopping gender violence, but of the links between that violence, deeply held notions of gender roles and “women’s place”, and the importance of pioneering women’s work in science and engineering. While Montreal stands out in our timeline as one of the few acts of outright violence documented there, we must remember that the “tits or GTFO”s of the world exist on a spectrum of micro- and macro-aggressions, oppression, and violence that we must be vigilant for in our communities, online and offline.

Fellow blogger Lukas writes:

This event was a catalyst for action in Canada, spawning a monument for the deceased, a national Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada, and a White Ribbon Campaign (started by and targeted at men in order to address and confront male violence against women). For me, Dec 6th marked the beginning of my independent feminist organizing. It happened when I was just starting high school and shortly afterward a few classmates and I started a feminist club at our school. We attended local vigils for women who died at the hands of their male partners. We educated ourselves about issues facing women beyond just our small city and we organized gatherings to share this information with others. In the years that followed Dec 6th was a touchstone for doing actions that both drew attention to women and domestic violence but in recent years since moving into the tech world it’s developed a whole other layer of relevance to me.

 

When this date rolls around I am reminded that the outreach I do in the tech community matters, to be proud of being feminist, taking space in engineering, and also being someone who works diligently to make space for more women and underrepresented groups to join me. It may not always be through a directly violent act but there are many ways women and minority groups are being told they do not belong here and there are some of us are proving ‘them’ wrong. We are designers, engineers, problem solvers, big thinkers, dreamers, creators, makers, and people who can help make worlds both big and small better for others. We can be a pipeline for new arrivals, be mentors, be allies. On this day I am grateful for my allies both within the geek feminism community and without who work side by side with me to work on improving equality, seeking justice, and calling for the end of violence and discrimination in the technology space.

Never forget their names.

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lemay
3085 days ago
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Los Gatos, CA
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What Franzen Misunderstands About Me

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Last week, Jonathan Franzen, the best-selling, award-winning literary novelist who’s known for the excellence of his books and his bold stands against Oprah, Facebook, e-books, iPhones, and overly generous assessments of Edith Wharton’s looks, unburdened himself of a rant. The dense, lengthy piece, excerpted from his new book, was modestly titled “What’s Wrong with the Modern World?” In it, Franzen bemoaned high-class writers like Salman Rushdie succumbing to Twitter. The literary world, Franzen lamented, rewards “yakkers” and “braggers.” Not even his peers are safe, not with prestigious writers being “conscripted” into “Jennifer Weiner-ish” self promotion. The horror! The horror! The … oh. Wait. Never mind.

I'm not entirely clear on what Weiner-ish self-promotion includes, or how it might be different than what other writers are doing—which is weird because, as its foremost practitioner, I should know. I'll start by assuming that JWSP includes being on Twitter … where I'm hardly alone. As Franzen must know, Salman Rushdie is not the only literary writer who’s succumbed. Joyce Carol Oates is a prolific tweeter, Margaret Atwood a sly one. Susan Orleans tweets about her chickens, Ruth Reichl tweets about her breakfasts, and Gary Shteyngart says that if he hits 30,000 followers, he’ll get a set of steak knives, a la Glengarry Glen Ross.

Funny stuff, true, but, as a promotional tool, Twitter’s not the greatest. Writers don’t use it to spam cyberspace with news of their new book’s publication, or great reviews, or the reading they'll be giving next week—not unless they want to find themselves with three followers, scorned by readers who follow writers for content, not commercials.

Most writers are on Twitter not because it’s a good way to sell books, but because it’s a good time. It’s like having 24/7 access to the world’s best cocktail party. You can, it’s true, use it to remind people that you exist between publications, or tell them when your new book arrives, but Twitter’s more about the conversation than the sale.

Maybe Franzen takes issue specifically with my use of Twitter, which falls into two broad categories: urging mainstream publications toward more inclusive book coverage and live-tweeting “The Bachelor.” Neither preoccupation has done much for my book sales, so neither one is truly self-promotional.

Maybe it’s personal.

In 2010, I coined the hashtag Franzenfreude. It was very bad German for a very real problem: When Franzen’s most recent novel, Freedom, was published, newspapers and magazines devoted thousands of words to the book and its author, while giving other literary books far less attention, and, in some cases, ignoring commercial works completely. Perhaps Franzen’s recent name-check was payback for when I implied that he was the face of white male literary privilege, or for pointing out that he’s the kind of writer who goes on Facebook only to announce that he won’t be doing Facebook, with the implication that he doesn't have to do Facebook, because the media does his status updates for him. Or maybe he just really, really hates “The Bachelor.”

In his essay, Franzen reserves his respect for “the people who became writers because yakking and tweeting and bragging felt to them like intolerably shallow forms of social engagement,” the ones who “want to communicate in depth, individual to individual, in the quiet and permanence of the printed word.” But as long as there have been books, there have been writers who’ve preferred yakking and bragging to quiet and permanence. In the 1880s, there was Oscar Wilde on lecture tours. In the 1960s, there was Truman Capote on “What’s My Line?”

These days, there is Jeffrey Eugenides. Eugenides has appeared in book trailers alongside James Franco, he's posed in Vogue for a feature on Edith Wharton. He's shared memories of David Foster Wallace with New York Magazine, his "media diet" with Details, and his Oscar picks with the New York Times. Then, of course, there was the Times Square billboard, where Eugenides's publisher juxtaposed a shot of the author in a billowing vest underneath the word "Swoon-worthy." 

Other literary writers' self-promotional efforts go even further. Acclaimed novelist and memoirist Dani Shapiro writes blog posts for positivelypositive.com ("We’re here every day to help keep your Positivity Tank topped off.") Pedigreed authors like John Irving and Nicholson Baker tout their books on "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report." Gary Shteyngart wears Google Glass to his therapist's office and writes about it for The New Yorker.

All of this probably makes J-Franz want to drop-kick an old German lady's Kindle. But Franzen can hardly complain about Jeffrey Eugenides-ian self-promotion. He and Eugenides are friends. They share a publisher and the same kind of capital-L Literary reputation. Imagine the unpleasantness at The Paris Review holiday party!

The fact is, Franzen’s a category of one, a lonely voice issuing ex cathedra edicts that can only apply to himself.

Other literary writers have won prizes, or Oprah’s endorsement. Other writers have appeared on Time’s cover, or have been able to shun social media, but only Franzen’s done it all. From his privileged perch, he can pick and choose, deciding which British newspaper gets the honor of running his 5600-word condemnation of self-promotion that ends with an unironic hyperlinked invitation to buy his new book. Few—no—other writers have it so good. For the rest of us—commercial and literary alike—there is social media for fun, ads and tours for publicity, billboards and book trailers only if we're lucky.

Franzen can choose to be horrified by what he sees as shocking new developments on the literary landscape, instead of modern writers continuing the long-time practice of getting their books into readers' hands by any means necessary. But he cannot pretend that literary writers have been ensorcelled into a headlong rush for clicks and "add to carts," pure souls who've been corrupted by exposure to commercial Philistines with itchy Twitter fingers. If Franzen's being honest, he'll acknowledge that the problem isn't just writers like me—it's also writers like him. 

The writer is the novelist.

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lemay
3164 days ago
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Jennifer Weiner's reply to Jonathan Franzen, when referred to writer self-promotion on twitter as "Jennifer Weiner-ish." Smartly done.
Los Gatos, CA
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The H Word: In Search of Horrible Women by S.P. Miskowski

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I remember the day in junior high school when Charlotte asked to borrow a pencil during art class. It was a brisk, sunny afternoon in April. Everyone was in a good mood. I was happy to help an acquaintance I’d known since elementary school.

When the bell rang and class ended, I realized Charlotte had forgotten the favor. She headed out the door and down the hall without returning my only spare pencil. I followed and I’d almost caught up with her when she and a girl I didn’t recognize started slinging insults at one another. By the time we reached a set of double doors to the courtyard, the two girls were locked in a shoving and slapping match. The doors closed in my face. I pushed through to find Charlotte and her opponent on the grass, stripped to their skirts and bras, punching one another and screaming obscenities. I watched some of the fight, vaguely wondering if Charlotte would use my pencil as a weapon. Then I moved on to Algebra.

I let Charlotte keep the pencil.

The battle on the school lawn was nothing new to me. I grew up in a house full of women. Women were important. Women were in charge. Screaming, slapping, shoving, and verbal attacks were as common as kindness. Here’s some bad news for people who want to put women on a pedestal: We are not the sweethearts we pretend to be. We don’t tear off our blouses and punch people every day, but we are capable of that, and a good many other horrible things. We refrain as much as we want to, or to the degree that the people around us require our help or demand our gentility. When social pressure is intense, we find less overt, more diabolical ways to channel our aggression, for good or evil. We are not better or worse than men. We can be mean, petty, and selfish.

So how is it that none of these qualities surfaced in ninety-nine percent of the fiction I read when I was growing up? My personal library wasn’t restricted. In the novels and stories I consumed, there were countless female characters: lovable, desirable, unattainable, redemptive, angelic, or maternal, all were products of a society that wanted to believe women are better than men. I didn’t recognize these women. Where was the violent side of our nature represented? Men had their monsters. Where were ours?

Long before I found my way to horror, as a reader and a writer, without realizing it, I sought horrible female characters to confirm what I knew. In mainstream fiction I was drawn to transgressors who allowed a glimpse of the monster inside the female heart. Here are a few of my favorites:

Madame Thérèse Defarge (A Tale of Two Cities)

What a joy, in eighth grade, to discover Madame Thérèse Defarge in A Tale of Two Cities. At first she appears as a maternal figure swept up by the circumstances of the French Revolution. She is recognizable in a crowd because she never stops knitting. As we get to know her, we find she’s a cruel manipulator, an agitator and a bloodthirsty fan of the guillotine. Her knitting, which implies domestic comfort, is actually a means of communicating, in code, whose head is going to roll next.

Mrs. McIntyre (“The Displaced Person”)

In my teens I discovered the grotesque wonders of Flannery O’Connor. Etched in my memory is Mrs. McIntyre from “The Displaced Person,” set in the rural south soon after World War II. A prosperous lady, Mrs. McIntyre asks her parish priest to recommend a foreigner she can “help” by hiring him for less than his labor is worth. She opens her home but not her heart to a Polish immigrant. Anxious to do well, Mr. Guizac out-produces the other employees and costs two of them their jobs. Mrs. McIntyre makes a show of being kind-hearted, but when Mr. Guizac turns out to be a real person with ideas of his own, her charity evaporates. She stands by and watches a horrific accident occur. She has time to note every detail yet she does nothing to save Mr. Guizac. This scene is as shocking today as it was the first time I encountered the story, and while I appreciate the universal implications, it’s still a credit to O’Connor that she made the hateful protagonist a woman.

Eunice Parchman (A Judgement in Stone)

Of Ruth Rendell’s psychological portraits, the most potent are her novellas. A Judgement in Stone begins with this sentence: “Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.” Four people die because their housekeeper, Eunice, is humiliated by her shortcomings. This is not social commentary, but a precise examination of a carefully constructed habitat. Panic drives Eunice. Her victims are a bit selfish and vain but not evil. She doesn’t kill them because they oppress her. She kills them because she wants to and because she can.

Eva Khatchadourian (We Need to Talk About Kevin)

In Lionel Shriver’s award-winning novel We Need to Talk About Kevin, we meet that most terrifying creature, the bad mom. Eva Khatchadourian doesn’t long for motherhood. (Many women don’t.) Eva has done everything. Her adventures have provided a lucrative career producing travel books. She compromises her restless nature by marrying a sweet man who expects a family. Arrogantly she decides to take a stab at maternity because, after all she’s accomplished, how hard can it be? With this laissez-faire attitude, Eva produces a son who hates her and who will become famous for his atrocities. Eva is baffled by her child’s nature and frustrated by her inability to nurture him. She’s unwilling to admit that having a child you don’t want inevitably leads to trouble. She compounds the problem by deciding to have a second child, reasoning that she can’t be this unlucky twice. What drives the story is Eva’s growing awareness that, although she may not be the worst mother who ever lived, she is accountable for putting something terrible into the world. Her only atonement is to accept that fact and deal with it.

Sheba & Barbara (Notes on a Scandal)

There are two horrible women in Zoë Heller’s novel Notes on a Scandal (also known as What Was She Thinking?). The first is Sheba, art teacher, wife and mother of two, who has a passionate, juvenile affair with a fifteen-year-old student. The second is Barbara, the unreliable narrator obsessed with Sheba. Both women behave badly, but it’s Barbara and her cloak of respectability as a senior teacher and confidante who is gradually revealed to be a monster. Her steady manipulation of Sheba reduces the younger woman to a state of complete dependence. This is exactly what Barbara wants; not love, not friendship, not companionship, but absolute control over another person. It is a vivid and disturbing portrait of emotional greed.

***

These characters served a purpose in my life. We need to read these stories. When real women do awful things, we pretend that the behavior is freakish. I think this habit is unhealthy. By refusing to admit our violent impulses and unappealing motives, we keep women in partial shadow. We don’t accept women as complete and fallible. People who are infallible or unassailable can’t be real. How can they demand rights? How can they insist on taking charge of their own bodies and actions? I’m grateful to these writers for keeping me going, for not leaving me in the limbo of doubt that forms when society at large insists on a reassuring lie.

In the big world of publishing, however, good and redemptive female characters are still prized above scary ones. I’ve listed five favorites out of thousands of stories.

And I can tell you why there are so few of these characters running loose in the general fiction aisles: As a mainstream writer I’ve been told many times that my work is compelling, but my female characters tend to upset people; they’re not likable enough; they do dreadful things; they don’t seem to worry enough about the consequences of their actions; they don’t “come around” to normalcy.

To which I say: I’m not forming a prayer group here. I’m trying to get at certain truths about human nature. Niceness doesn’t come into it.

In pursuit of such truth, I made my way, a few years ago, from mainstream fiction to horror. I’m glad I did. This magnificent genre allows a fuller exploration of what is most dangerous and frightening in all of us. Lucy Taylor’s characters scare the hell out of me. Read her story, “Making the Woman,” and try not to cry. Sarah Langan’s heroines are sharply drawn and unsentimental. Sara Gran’s wonderful short novel, Come Closer follows an ordinary career woman who begins to merge with a supernatural entity set on destroying everything around her. Fran Friel cuts loose in Mama’s Boy, a portrait so horrific it challenges the Bates family for mother-son creepiness. Add to this collection the hair-raising stories of Livia Llewellyn. These gals—and many more—do not dabble in horrible female characters. They delve. They revel. They’ve created a body of work that demonstrates what women are really made of—everything. Just like men.

In mainstream fiction I found a few anomalies. In horror I’ve found a home.

***

We at Nightmare Magazine like discussions. Please use the comments feature to give us your thoughts on whether the H brand is an albatross or worth holding on to.

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lemay
3167 days ago
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Los Gatos, CA
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