two little things, which coincidentally are both about my mom

1. Over the past few days, people searching for “facebook login” on Google have been clicking on the search result for this ReadWriteWeb article by mistake, thinking that they can log in to Facebook from there. There are hundreds of comments on the article from confused people saying that they hate this new Facebook layout and dammit they just want to sign into their account.

I work with a lot of people who are not so tech-savvy, so this didn’t come as much of a surprise to me. People ask me about “this page on your website” when they’re really talking about another site, they tell me they can’t access our website from home when they’re not connected to the internet, and when I tell them where to go on our site to get employee discounts on Microsoft Office, they ask me how to install software.

This frustrated me when I first got this job, but now I’m used to it. I’ve come up with some simple things to say that will help people without making them feel stupid, like teaching them about the address bar vs. the search box, showing them how to use bookmarks, or telling them where they can go to get software-installation help.

My dad’s been into computers since we got our Commodore 64 in the eighties, so he’s never had much trouble figuring out the internet. He asks me for recommendations on things like the best site for him to post photos or where he and my mom should sign up for web space, but that’s about it. I learned everything I know about the basic inner workings of a computer from him.

My mom, though, has had a bit of a harder time. I remember a few times in the late nineties when she would send large PowerPoint files from her office to home via email, and then call me from home to tell me that “the email is stuck.” I’d explain to her that she should go do something else for awhile and come back to check on the email progress later, because a 15MB PowerPoint file was going to take a very long time to download on their 28k modem.  I can also recall this incident in which my mom, having neglected to look at the address bar, thought my little Geocities website was much larger than it really was.

These days her level of internet-savvy has improved. She signed up for LiveJournal so she could read my private posts there, and then posted an entry of her own. Last year she won an iPod Nano in a contest, so over Christmas I showed her how to use iTunes to import some of her favorite CDs and put the songs on her iPod.

While reading a Metafilter post about the ReadWriteWeb/Facebook confusion, I came across this comment:

My dad, thank the lord, is not on Facebook, but he does the search bar thing all the time. Every time I grit my teeth I remember that he knows how to rebuild a diesel truck engine and I can’t change my own oil.

At Thanksgiving in 2008, the after-dinner conversation turned to “what’s the grossest thing you ever saw?” I talked about the time I saw a dog get run over, other people talked about stuff I can’t remember, and then it was my mom’s turn. She told a story about having a few drinks with a friend one evening while they were in nursing school. They went downstairs to the morgue to see what it was like all deserted and dark, and when they opened the door they saw that the room was full of cadavers covered by sheets. My mom’s friend dared her to lift one of the sheets and look underneath, so she did.

In other words, my mom’s not good at the internet, but she’s seen a dead person’s brain all covered with maggots, so.

2. Do you guys know about my Tumblr site? I mostly use it to reblog things from my other Tumblr contacts. Sometimes I add commentary, sometimes I don’t. It’s not super interesting most of the time, but the reblogging with commentary thing was something I couldn’t resist.

I don’t usually get really going on a subject over on Tumblr, but yesterday I did, so I thought I’d repost it here.

Virginia law now states a single “yes” is enough to destroy any accusation of rape


“Let’s say you start having intercourse with a man (and) 30 seconds into it you say you want it to stop,” [Defense attorney, Robert W.] Lawrence said. “Some states have said that’s impossible and it wouldn’t be fair. Some states say you have to look at the specifics of the case … and give the man reasonable time to react.

“My position, personally,” he added, “would be if the female consents and they start having intercourse, he has a right to finish.”

Holy. fucking. shit.

No, no. I think you mean HOLY. FUCKING. SHIT.

When I was 12, Ann Richards and Clayton Williams were running for Texas governor. Among other controversies in that race, this one stuck out for me:

During the campaign, Williams publicly made a joke likening bad weather to rape, having quipped: “If it’s inevitable, just relax and enjoy it.”

That shit scarred me for life. Before then I had no idea someone would ever even THINK something like that, let alone say it in public. The realization that people with opinions like that could make it into positions of power was huge. I was just a 7th grader at the time, but I’ve never, ever forgotten Clayton Williams’s name, and I’ve never forgotten that quote.

Current 12-year-olds, I’m sorry that there are people like Clayton Williams and Robert W. Lawrence, and I’m sorry that they are successful.

Here’s another one: when I was 18 and about to go to college, my mother came into my bedroom and handed me a condom.

“Uh, what’s this for?” I said.

I’m not going to quote her because I don’t remember her exact words, but she told me to keep it in my backpack at school at all times. She said that if I were ever sexually assaulted on campus late at night and I couldn’t get help or fight him off, I should tell him to at least wear a condom. I didn’t know what to say to that, but I took it and put it in my bag anyway.

I told a friend about it a few years later, and was shocked when they told me that asking my rapist to wear a condom would keep me safe from pregnancy and STDs, but would  probably keep the rapist from being convicted of a crime.

Yup, this is what it’s like.

“we took the u-bahn to the eastside gallery”

writing on the wallI’m thinking a lot about Berlin again for the first time since coming home from my visit last year.  Did I not tell you what happened last year?  Oh.  When I got back from spending ten days in Europe with a friend, the first thing I did was get sick.  Berlin was the last stop on our trip, so since I was still thinking about it while recovering on my couch, I ended up reading lots of Wikipedia articles about Germany.

Among other things, I read about the Reichstag fire, the rise of Nazism, Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler, Eichmann, Anne Frank, the building of the Berlin Wall, life in East Berlin, reunification, and everything I could about WWII-related monuments in Germany.  By the way, when someone calls or emails to ask how you’re doing, don’t say, “I’ve got a cold, so I’m laying on my couch reading about Hitler.”  People will worry about you.

At any rate, those topics were in fact very depressing, but I was also fascinated by the way that Germany has dealt with its own painful history.  Admirably, the country doesn’t shy away from talking about what happened, but it also doesn’t really go overboard with it either, at least not in a way that I found to be too overwrought.  The monuments and memorials I saw in Berlin seemed to be saying, “It’s not truly possible to forget or make up for things that happened, so we’ll just acknowledge it and remember.”

Of course, the fact that I’d just seen in person many of the locations I was reading about added some interest as well.

My cold went away and I went back to work and stopped reading about atrocities.* But now the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall has me thinking about it again.  Here are some great photo essays I’ve found:

The Big Picture: The Berlin Wall, 20 years gone (photos then and now)

NY Times: A Division Through Time (past/present photos taken at the same angle)

The Guardian: Then and Now (more past/present photos at the same angle)

Germany 1978-9: Berlin (old photos I found via Metafilter)

there it is, the wallSince I’ve gotten to the point where Wikipedia articles and their associated links aren’t enough information for me, I’ve asked Metafilter (asked Ask Metafilter? Anyhow) to help me find a good place to start.  Since I can count on two hands the number of real nonfiction books I’ve read,** I’m hoping for something thorough but not too dry, in-depth but not too insurmountable.

But here’s the thing. Nothing I read is going to compare to standing there in the exact spot where important events took place.  I know that’s an obvious point to make, but look: Oscar Wilde’s arrest is more interesting because I’ve seen the hotel where it happenedThe Michael Jackson baby-dangling incident is more interesting because I’ve seen the hotel where THAT happened.  I don’t know about all the interesting things that happened in Ecuador, but hey, I might have seen where they happened.

Thinking about German history has given me the travel bug again. My sister likes to travel a lot, too, and one time I heard my dad say, “Gosh, I don’t know where the two of you got such wanderlust.”

I laughed in his face. ARE YOU KIDDING ME, DAD? I said. My dad, who would bring us currency samples*** and gifts and stories every time he left the country on business; my dad and mom, who for awhile took us to a new US state every other summer; my dad and mom, who counted among their friends a couple who went abroad every single year–to Russia, Australia, Peru, Europe, you name it–and brought us gifts and slideshows and stories every time; has no idea what makes his daughters want to travel.

He and my mom also, after taking us to Astros games on Sundays and watching them on TV with me every evening in the summers, wonder why I like baseball.  Hey, I can’t help that I got parented properly.

The sad thing is that while my states-I’ve-been-to map looks like this:

states I've visited

my countries-I’ve-been-to map still looks like this:

countries I've visited

I went to three places I’ve never been in Europe last year, so next year I think I’m going to go somewhere else I’ve never been. It’d be nice to leave the country every single year, but I’m not a gazillionaire nor do I have any sponsors, so every other year will have to do.   Which is too bad, because I’m rarely as happy as when I’m traveling.

So, who wants to ride the entire length of the Trans-Siberian Railway with me??!?!?!?

*Mostly. I went through a period a few months later where I was reading lots about Ted Kaczynski and McVeigh and Jeffrey Dahmer and such.  What?

**Most notably Our Guys by Bernard Lefkowitz and William Faulkner: The Man and the Artist by Stephen B. Oates. And by real non-fiction I mean non-Sedaris, because he doesn’t count.

***I still have a little zipper bag full of 80’s money from all sorts of countries.