Learning Digital Accessibility the Hard Way

Not all of my music is on iTunes. I actually still own CDs. Considering they are still sold, this is not a horrible thing. It’s probably worse, however, because in my last move I ended up getting rid of my CD player and my netbook doesn’t yet have a USB DVD/CD drive. Conundrums. The solution to either of these concerns would be my either buying the right drive for my computer and burning it all onto iTunes and getting back into “the modern era” or simply finding a CD-player. They can’t have gone the way of DVD-VCR players which are more expensive than regular DVD players.

I used some CDs to DJ a dinner via a laptop last week. Obviously, I’m not a professional DJ, and I don’t have a ton of music. I only buy CDs when I realize that I really like the majority of tracks on the album, and even then- I refuse to become a hipster. Knowing off labels and things of that sort is not that important to me. I like pop, I like radio, and I shop at Walmart when needed. Please don’t sue me.

After finishing the DJ-ing gig (I also organized the event and wow… a LOT of work with an incredibly helpful crew), but I simply brought the CDs home in a plastic Ziploc bag. Didn’t have time to put them away yet. They were next to my nightstand but on the floor. One false drop of a cell phone from on top of my scriptures on my nightstand, and *sadness* a CD that is currently only useful to keep birds away from clean window-doors. A nasty chip out of the CD rendered it completely useless.

This is not a CD that I bought, but one that was originally part of a collection and I am uncertain whether I can replace it. I am now missing Fresh Aire V by Mannheim Steamroller. I have the other Fresh Aire’s in that collection and grew up listening to them during homework besides other classical music, soundtracks, and mainly songs without lyrics when studying. Allowed me to supply my own words while reading and to numb/dumb out the music as background noise. Maybe that is part of why it’s been hard for me to get homework done in really quiet environments. I don’t need music, exactly. I need people around and background noise is fine. White noise puts me to sleep, but background noise helps depending on the level of sound involved.

I actually hadn’t listened to these CDs since my Mom died. The music that I listened to when I was growing up has a lot of memories attached. They’re not bad memories, but the fact that life will NEVER be like that again makes it hurt. Avoiding pain when possible sometimes, I own the CDs, but I do not play the music unless it is useful to someone else.

Having that CD break reminded me of the transitory nature of physical items. The past two years have seen an analog backlash to the digital “permanent/transitory” dialogue regarding accessibility and preservation. Both sides have reasons favoring them, and each have equal detractors. We want the best of both worlds, and sometimes it simply does not work out. Not everything lasts forever when it is made of elemental matter. Few things last more than a fleeting twitch or twinkle of the eyes. Anymore, the only things that have the bulwark and gumption to last are things that some people consider intangible. Or else their tangibility sometimes feels like a dream as so much in this life comes and goes without making a dent.

The real issue is the fragility of civilization and people afraid to lose it in the midst of extreme circumstances like perpetual war. I hope that I can find another copy of that CD, or I may break down and buy more stuff (erg!) and continue to try to move forward. It’s a nasty battle which wages for those with historical-technologically inclined minds.


Respect and Digital Accessibility for Sacred Objects

This post is a reaction to a reading for Digital Media class and reflects the thoughts of the author only. The author read the articles assigned and chose the article that most closely featured pertinent issues for the author. However, the other articles are not discussed within this blog post.

When reading the article dealing with Māori religious artifacts and their digital representations*, I thought about the issues of accessibility to knowledge versus respect for the knowledge. The Internet naturally gravitates toward a view of life where everything is accessible to anyone at any time. If an object, theory, or other concept or construct is not yet emblazoned across the billboard of utopian transparency then it is somehow clique-ish, strange, or “other.”

The theoretical nature of graduate school holds the pre-requisite of needing proof of previous knowledge assumed by the gaining of a degree in order for entrance.  It is the experience of the author that most people would not automatically assume that “just anybody” could or would want to do this. Many people stop their formal education at Bachelors degrees is that is even available to them. Graduate school is open and available to those who choose to do the work necessary, make the sacrifices and pay the price for the added benefit. Whether that price is high depends upon the individual circumstances of the person in question. General requirements are open and should a person choose to apply, they receive consideration. Being accepted, learning, and matriculation/graduation are important for the individual and the people around them and their future capacities. Otherwise, why bother?

It is a similar parallel with objects of a sacred nature. Not everything receives respect outside of a cultural group. Digitization for preservation purposes is a good idea. While this viewpoint is contrary to the “All Access all the time” viewpoint espoused and preached by the ALA, not everything needs display against a digital billboard. There are some things that require respect and more than simple curiosity to understand.

Accessible control of digitized objects is a hot topic within the utopian viewpoint. Most people are only willing to pay a sum for access to whatever they want instead of intangible or character traits. This is the kind of respect required with sacred things. I am not against controlling access so long as there is accurate or positive explanation behind the lack of access. That is fair. Not everyone needs or even wants access to something until they think that it is something desirable only due to inaccessibility. That is not the point.

Positioning objects within a digital realm is about networking connections for the people who treat sacred things as sacred. Profaning sacred things or making it common or gross is heinous whether or not it gauges the people who protect those things as somehow less than their peers. Increased sensitivity is necessary in a culture otherwise calloused in its standards and behavior patterns. Tolerance is something that needs equal distribution to everyone, not simply to people who say that everything is a free for all without implications or responsibilities.

*Deirdre Brown, “Te Ahua Hiko: Digital Cultural Heritage and Indigenous Objects, People, and Environments,” 77-91.

Tatting: Cross-Generational Talents

Conversing with a coworker recently, I found value in hobbies that I figured were a lone specialty. One of these hobbies is tatting. No, I do not know how to make skin pictures using needles, etc. I leave that to professionals and those inclined in that direction. Tatting is a very old needle or shuttle tradition and is becoming one of many “lost arts.” During the summer of 2010 I took a class on tatting as I knew that my great-grandmother could do it, and I figured that I should have capacity to do anything that my ancestors could do. Perhaps an arrogant assumption, but the MTV generation figures that it can do anything. Anything is possible with practice, determination, and the right thread.

My teacher was the “Mad Tatter,” one of the few certified tatting instructors in the US. His course cost enough for a pair of shoes in Chicago, and on the budget that I had, it was a tough but good course. He should teach this course at college level. I put as much effort into that as I do for graduate school classes, but there was enough material to justify it. What I learned, however, is that my ancestress was amazing. I have not seen any examples of her work. Since my experiences watching excellence in this art form noted needed determination and guts, that observance gave the objects value that I was not expecting.

Thinking about this experience also made me consider farming. I am not a farmer, and have minimal personal experience in that job. My grandfather was the end of the farming in the family as he drove delivery trucks when he was younger to farmers and later went into the military. His adopted father grew up farming. My father’s lineage were engineers, store keepers, weavers, tobacconists, and have been on the cutting edge of whatever technology was around for the few hundred plus years for my direct-surname lineage. Others of my father’s side were truck drivers and cops. My mother’s lineage had stone and plaster masons and farmers.

My experiences with people who grew up on farms are of some of the most hard-working people that I have ever met. They do more in a day, hardly complain, and have a work ethic that is otherwise lacking in my generation. A part of me loves to connect with the ground and I like to keep herbs and small container gardens in my city dwelling space. This is nothing compared to breaking up fields, and I have no idea about modern-day agriculture outside of documentaries, seeing farms near my Grandma’s house, and talking with friends who live in California’s strawberry and citrus belt.

Conclusions about what my ancestors could do versus what I do on a given day is that of a change of economy and a change of life style. I am not as rugged as those old farmers. That is not to say that my challenges are not equal to my given time. My determination and self-esteem come from meeting and conquering challenges that did not exist en masse even a decade ago. Understanding present-day social pressures and norms, the world is a different place than when I was a child. I am nostalgic for my grandparent’s young adulthood when the major world wars were over and the “American Dream” seemed possible. My generation gets to prove itself in a world where the global economy shifts and wobbles as if drunken, and where there is no promise of safety. Community barely exists and the situation appears up to us to make things work. Previous generations think that we feel “entitled.” That is not the case in 2011.

I value the past implicitly as I like to learn from other people’s experiences. My ancestors could do things that took serious skill and talent; some of which I find incredibly difficult. I now know what people did before television and movies. Tatting a small piece can take up two hours without thinking about it. I think that past generations were better socializers than mine, despite prevailing social media. In an era where everything is about immediate gratification, I am grateful for the examples of hard work, discipline, ingenuity, and creativity that came before me. World conditions negatively slide, but I want to focus on positive creative abilities. Recapturing good things and skills of the past make my life inherently better as I learn them.

Cooking By Countries: Material Culture of Gastronomic Variety

My ambitions in life are simple. They seem to idealize a 2.5 children married suburban lifestyle that I do not have. I did not intend to write about food. Although perhaps apparent to readers, I am learning that I have unusual thought processes.  That makes me grin. I cook according to organization: what is on hand for cooking turns into dishes from various cultures cross-referenced by what foods traditionally grow in those countries.

When shopping, I choose ingredients that are fresh and on sale. When planning a meal, I think of items in terms of international cuisine. Certain ingredients go better with particular countries, mainly due to their inherent growing climates and conditions. I am a huge “ethnic food” fan and find that my taste buds only balk when faced with items pickled to the point of turning black such as in the case of Korean black pickled eggs. I will try almost anything else. Those eggs leave me with a “shut my eyes and try it” quandary.

I also follow a dietary code where I do not consume alcohol, coffee, tea, tobacco products, or harmful (non-prescription) drugs. Yes, this makes cooking interesting when one is a huge foodie. It also makes consumption interesting when there is an entire world’s worth of alcohol and coffee available. I am of legal age in my country and can  partake of all of it, and yet do not. This choice does not make me any better or worse than anyone else. It is simply my choice. Vegetarians or vegans do not upset me so long as the persons practicing this do not act superior to me. In many ways, I follow a similar diet with a heavy vegetable focus. I also love and consume bacon so I am not traditional Hebraic/Jewish kosher, although I adore kosher food. Although not directly part of my prescribed dietary code, I also do not consume cola drinks. This has intra-cultural meanings and ramifications that most people probably would not understand and I am not spelling out here unless asked. It was how I grew up, and I do not hold it against anyone for drinking Coke, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, etc. I simply do not.

Okay, those are my food  ground rules for the reader to understand. I am extremely lucky that I have no known food allergies. Various family members are allergic to shrimp and strawberries. My mother was allergic to tobacco. My sister has a lactose problem inherited from my father’s side of the family. Although I will consume them when needed, I am not in favor of walnuts (bitter things!) and my sister despises green beans. When shopping for only myself, I get to choose anything within the parameters of personal tastes and dietary code. I think that everyone has their own health code, whether received from the pages of Women’s World or Real Simple, or from the Koran, Torah, or from their country’s equivalent of the FDA.

Part of me wants to learn how to cook/consume properly every vegetable in the produce section. While I learned excellent home-cook skills and refine techniques regularly, there are still ingredients that I have not yet tried. I think that the variety of foods in nature is wonderful.

How does this have anything to do with material culture or with family history? It may be surprising how much. Over Thanksgiving, there were food dishes that vanished within a few minutes and others that made leftovers a joyous occasion. When considering my family’s background, I think about what was available to an ancestor, and when. The nutrients ancestors consumed affect us now. There is a reason that medical health history grows as a field within genealogy. Finding out that a multiple-times great-grandfather drank to excess helps me stay resilient in my personal choice not to drink. While many people have no problems with drinking, I value my own family (here and now, and future potential family) too much to mess with something that could trap me and keep me a prisoner in that sense. I do not want to turn on the gene that goes with alcoholism. Other diseases like diabetes, cancer, and high blood pressure also run in families and I try to eat in ways that stave off diseases. Every family member dies from causes having direct relationship to how and what they ate besides accidents.

I cannot afford to shop at expensive and ritzy grocery stores often although I love looking around and seeing what is available. I like knowing about resources. For me, that is fun. I take what I learn from reading readily made food labels and figure out how to make something myself utilizing Internet and library recipe resources, cross-referencing known traditional cultural information (cardamom is a really fun spice and goes well with coconut milk, for example) and syncing it with what I have in my fridge or cupboard. It sounds complex. After doing it for a little while, suddenly food is a dance of sense and palates. While I do not consume various products, I do not miss them, either. There are plenty of creative ways of making excellent dishes. Variety is the spice of life!

Holiday Traditions: Family History through Traditions of Material Culture

I might just be learning something in my Public History major. The term, material culture, from what Wikipedia says,[1] “refers to the relationship between artifacts and social relations.” One interpretation can be that that means how the lace doily or the medal or the PUMPKIN PIE makes sense between people. My family is big on food. We are nowhere near Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving picture,
see right (don’t sue me for sharing the pic) but we do our best.

Small departure from possible other blogs, you cannot get away with writing about Thanksgiving unless you talk about family traditions. That is where material culture comes in. The positive memories of Thanksgiving keep the tradition alive. Black Friday came AFTER Thanksgiving. Despite retail America’s reluctance to admit otherwise, Thanksgiving is a legitimate American holiday and it gets celebrated whether they want to jump straight to Christmas from the 4th of July or not.

My family has changed much over the years. Growing up, the basics of the meal composed most traditional dishes sans the sweet potato or yam dish because I’m not typically a marshmallows fan but I can eat them. I do not go after them, however. My family did not stick specifically to a tradition or custom because it was there (meaning part of the national holiday culture), but adapted it to our personal needs and requirements. I think that many families are like this. A tradition means something when it becomes personal. Besides, five sides in addition to the meat entrée and dessert was plenty.

Although my personal plans include traveling this year, I can mentally go through the entire meal and prepare it with minimal paper/online recipes. Thanks, Mom. This may be silly, but I am going to prove it. (For anyone with any questions or other ways of doing this, feel free to comment below the post. I’m always looking for fun recipes.)

Basic Menu:

Turkey breast (cooked breast side down, 15 min/pound, 325 degrees. Thermometer does not pop out. Safe, juicy, yummy, oh my word-good!) DO NOT SLICE turkey until it’s rested for at least 15 minutes to a half hour. Just don’t. Thank me later.

Ocean Spray whole berry cranberry sauce (whole berry: Somehow that was better for you?) I don’t care if it’s generic. I just want some form of the sweet-tart concoction on the plate, and I don’t know that many people who want to make the stuff when it’s less-expensive to buy it. *shrugs*

Mashed potatoes with garlic powder and salt to taste (beat with a beater after mashing- makes a difference). You can add onion powder and pepper if you would like. My Mom made them with a little milk, and sometimes added parsley flakes. Simple good food.

Green bean casserole (One family member’s favorite, another despised it.) We make it simply: cream of mushroom soup, cream of celery soup (secret ingredient), milk, cut green beans. No onions needed for the top. Simply cover with aluminum foil. Because I’m the one that loved it, I got opening cans duty. After a while, it hurt your hands to make it, but I could live off this stuff.

Corn- niblets (open can, pour into bowl, nuke, add salt/butter if desired; life goes on).

Stuffing (we actually like Stove Top, although I now prefer whatever the type is that has chunks of celery and bread in it).

Some people have any number of other dishes to add. Pumpkin pie is Libby’s recipe, double the spices (triple if doubling the recipe), add a little vanilla, and make the pie crust from scratch. Honestly? Pie crust is not rocket science if you take about fifteen minutes and tastes fantastic. Just choose whatever you want and go with it.

That long explanation of my family’s food traditions for one holiday should help you to think of what your family does. If you were not commenting on traditions either mentally or to a coworker or family friend when reading the food part, I would be surprised. Food elicits passion. It helps establish communications and is a form of communication in itself. A good meal can settle wars. Other good meals start relationships. Humans bond in material culture over food. Think about this for a few moments, and then choose to write down your family’s specific holiday recipes.

It may be something small, but people writing down recipes (and especially family-modified recipes) are how a recipe survived in my family since the 1880’s and my Great (multiple times) Grandma Baker. I am not making up the name, and her chocolate cookie recipe survives, albeit in a slightly changed form. I have both the original recipe and my Mom’s modified form. If your family has a “secret” recipe, you don’t have to share it, but write it down. Although oral history is a valid, useful, and amazingly accurate way of communicating history most of the time, the numbers change over years. Make sure that your teaspoons and tablespoons or ounces and grams don’t get modified too far.

Happy Thanksgiving to you, your family, and write things down while the tradition-leaders still can make corrections. When they’re gone, they’re irreplaceable.

[1] I like Wikipedia. It may not be “scholarly” but I use it all the time because it works and helps. And the fact that anyone can review it makes it relevant.