Friday, May 28, 2010

Coming and Goings

I know this isn't the tradition time of year for being introspective and retrospective, but looking at the blogs I read bar at the side of this blog, I realise that the sad truth is that most of the blogs I used to read are either entirely defunct or only get posted to on a very erratic basis. And that includes this blog.

Bitchy Jones has closed her blog, Ordinal has left SL, and Question Reality has been in abeyance for over a year. I shall be removing the links forthwith, and replacing them with ones which are still alive, ALIVE.

I have realised that amalgamating my blogs was not a good idea, and that it worked a lot better when SL, Quakers, family history and home education all had their own place in their own blogs. Thus I am splitting them again. It is true that I will probably post less frequently on each one individually, but at least it will mean that the posts are relevant to the people who read that blog.

Recently I have wanted to write a lot more than I have had time to do. I have wanted to examine things in more depth and write longer posts, and maybe I will be able to do that once my life settles down a bit. For now, it is what it is, I am only going to indulge myself and write when I have time and want to, and I am going to write in the appropriate place.

I'm leaving this post with a totally irrelevant picture of my 11 year old self up a mountain with my Dad in Austria. So there.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Not about fruitbatsex

I don't often read BoingBoing any more because the design, although modified STILL SHOUTS AT ME and I just can't bear it. However, Oclee pointed out a story about an academic who, according to the story on BoingBoing, has been accused of sexual harrassment by a colleague because he showed her a peer reviewed paper about fellatio between fruit bats.

The implication of this article, and of the blog which apparently originally publicised the story, PZMyers, was that if showing adult colleagues a peer-reviewed paper could possibly constitute sexual harassment, the end of academic freedom was nigh, and the sky was falling.

The BoingBoing article contained links to the paperwork in the case, the original statement by Dr Evans's colleague. In this, as you can see, she asserted that there had been inappropriate behaviour from Dr Evans on other occasions, and he was often at pains to engage her in unwanted conversations about a range of things, including Casanova, and fruitbatsex.

Whether these assertions are justified or not, I have no idea, but someone thought it was right to publicise the case, and the outcome, because they disagreed with it.

I have no special knowledge of the case, or of the people involved, but I know myself that even when behaviour is very intimidating and sexually aggressive, it can be hard to put together any form of evidence. I once worked with a man who took every opportunity to squeeze past female staff, making as much contact as possible. It seemed inevitable that, if one had to negotiate a tight corner, he would suddenly arrive and need to squeeze past.

He talked about the "morals of young people today" and seemed under the impression that anyone under the age of 25 (this was the 1970s) was likely to fall into bed with anyone, at the slightest encouragement. He seemed to think that talking about it might persuade young girls to throw themselves at his feet.

He frequently grabbed necklaces from inside t-shirts, and made up spurious rules for young women employees to follow.

To me, at the age of 19, he seemed slimy and objectionable, but I couldn't imagine that anyone would seriously act upon my opinion, and so I put up with his behaviour and left as soon as I could.

Some people are inclined to sing the "political correctness gone mad!" song in relation to this - or any - case of sexual harassment, but sometimes, a string of possibly unrelated incidents from one person's point of view, adds up to something much bigger. Sometimes it has seemed to me that someone is completely unaware of the effect that their constant attention has had on a woman... on other occasions it has been completely obvious that someone knows and revels in the fact that they are affecting the other person in an adverse way.

I don't know if Dr Evans did or did not sexually harass this woman, but I dislike the fact that he seems unable to accept that she may have seen his approaches to her as anything less than positive. He has commented multiple times on the comment thread on the PZMyers blog, and seems to be basking in the attention, on his own website and on twitter.

It seems that fruitbatgate is about to get attention from the New Scientist and other publications... it will be interesting to see if the reporting is any more balanced than the article in the Irish Times.

In a final note, it seems that some of the thousands of people who rushed to sign a petition in favour of Dr Evans, have reconsidered that in the light of the full story. I'm somewhat at a loss to understand how anyone felt it was right to interfere in what was a private disciplinary matter, and I have to wonder who leaked the documents originally.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Privacy beware

I've been getting pretty alarmed by the changes to Facebook. It seems that the squillions the people who set it up have made from the thing isn't enough for them, and so they recently set up to share information from all the profiles in a new setting called "Instant Personalization" that shares data with non-Facebook websites and it is automatically set to "Allow." Go to Account>Privacy Settings > Applications and Websites >InstantPersonalization > Edit Settings, and uncheck "Allow". You...also need to uncheck all the boxes in the "What your friends share about you" tab.

What is this rubbish? Shouldn't stuff like this be opt in, and not "scrabble around trying to find out how to switch off something they set automatically on"?

I recently fell out with Geni, the free genealogy website for the same reason. I used it for my speculative genealogy, putting in place a lot of information I have gathered over the last twenty years. Suddenly they announced that they planned to share all my information with everyone else, except for living people and a couple of generations.

Never mind that I don't want to do this... or that the speculative nature of my family trees may make them worthless for other people. I know what will happen, people will import or merge my information, however worthless, with their own information.

There is no option for not doing this, except closing the account. There was no warning when I set up my account that this would happen. It shows an utter lack of respect for the people using their service. I had uploaded pictures, joined family to the service, used it to keep in touch with cousins. I have to trash all of that because they don't respect people's ownership of their data.

It makes me angry when people treat me as though my opinion is of no consequence. I don't believe that companies will continue to be successful if they treat people like this. I will migrate to the new, privacy-aware facebook, Diaspora, as soon as they are up and running. I plan to leave my facebook in place, with just my professional details in place, and remove all personal information.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Modelling RL policy in virtual worlds

Woke up to a note in my inbox this morning from LinkedIn asking for participation in a questionnaire on the use of virtual worlds for modelling real life policy and obtaining reactions to it.

The website from the consortium running the questionnaire is dense and uses a lot of meaningless words in its descriptions. I presume they wrote it by committee over a dodgy video conference link between the various participants.

I filled in the questionnaire, but found it a most unsatisfactory experience. have a good vocabulary and a high standard of written English, but I was having to read and reread the questions and explanations.

I am a passionate advocate for the uses of virtual worlds, but I am sceptical about the uses of virtual worlds for the modelling of real life policy and understanding public attitudes to it. I loathe the idea of having all my actions as an avatar logged, which is one of the suggestions.

I suppose that if I could see a positive point to the exercise I could overcome some of my objections, but frankly I do not see how you can usefully model real life in virtual worlds. Although I try to ensure my avatar has the same character, ethics and way of dealing with people as my real life personality, it is inescapable that the roles I play in real life do not apply in Second Life. I do not have to be a wife, mother, daughter, sister in Second Life.

Where, in real life, I would have to consider the impact of my actions on my children and my friends and neighbours, and thus would not walk along the street in heavy BDSM gear with a slave on a leash behind me, in Second Life I do not have to consider such things, I can behave however I choose to behave.

If I want to explore the sex exhibition currently on in Zindra, I can do that without worrying that anyone will catch me examining an attachment or piece of equipment... I am free to do as I like.

At the same time, all the concerns that I have in real life...paying the bills, deciding what to have for dinner, educating my children, looking after my elderly relatives... those things don't follow me into SL... I escape them in SL. My attitudes and my concerns when I am living my Second Life, are entirely different. I'd be surprised if other people who spend substantial time in SL didn't feel the same.

It seems to me that this is just a vehicle for soaking up a lot of EU money and achieving nothing much.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Family fortunes

I needed a break from the screen yesterday, and so I started sorting out the pile of miscellaneous correspondences and photographs which has been accumulating in my boxes. This is the stuff which I want to keep, but hasn't found a home... it doesn't need any actual action, but needs to be dealt with.

In among the filing were a group of things which have been on my conscience, in some cases for *years*. There's the book I am almost sure belongs to a friend, the card which includes new addresses for a friend of my husbands, and a card which announces the marriage of one of my oldest friends. In among that lot were some typewritten notes from a family history contact, who was expecting something in return which I have not found and sent to him. Unfortunately my son Ali was very ill at the time - which means it was five years FIVE YEARS ago that I promised it.

I decided I must do that this weekend, and so in normal fashion, a simple task of filing had rapidly transmuted into a long list of things to do, not least to track down the document I need to send. It's a freedom of the city, which I need to copy before I send it. That's been the hiccup, as it is too long for my scanner. But in the five years FIVE YEARS I have been prevaricating about doing this, I have learned how to scan in and splice together images.

In the course of looking at the family history, I realised that I had had more information about this branch of the family than I had thought, but because I hadn't fulfilled my part of the bargain - and still haven't - it didn't seem right to use the information. Having looked in more detail, I can see there is a problem with it.

This particular ancestor was a relatively well known one. His name was Charles Jearrad, and he was an architect, who with his brother Robert, is most famous for the architecture of Cheltenham. Much of the Regency architecture in and around Cheltenham was designed by Robert Jearrad and his brother Charles.

Charles Jearrad seems to have been a fairly colourful character. He married my great great great great great grandmother Margaret Doyle in 1800, when she allegedly eloped from her boarding school. It may be this fact that persuaded him to allow his daughter Christiana Jearrad, to marry as a minor to my great great great great grandfather, John Walton Robey.

I discovered that Margaret Doyle died after a long illness, in 1817 and Charles Jearrad remarried, to a Letitia Nash. However, on looking at the registers, there are two marriages for Charles Jearrad and Letitia Nash... one in 1808, and one in 1817. There is also a list of entries for births between Charles Jearrad and Letitia before 1817.

It looks at present as though Charles Jearrad had two families, and went through a bigamous marriage with Letitia while his wife was still alive, and then another when she died, to make quite sure that his children were legitimate. It's very odd and demands further research.

It also looks as though Margaret Doyle was a member of the famous Doyle family from Bramblestown, Kilkenny. This is a very strange coincidence, as this is just outside Inistioge, the small town that I recently discovered was home to my Father's mother, who I had been searching for, for 20 years. This Doyle family produce six Major Generals in the course of a few years, have connections to many families. At resent it seems certain that Margaret's grandfather was Charles Doyle, of Bramblestown, but what I cannot yet discover is which of Charles Doyle's six sons was her father. That requires a lot more research too.

Looking for information on Charles led me to the knowledge that many of the registers of St George's, Hanover Square, are now available as digitised books on the Internet Archive. I love the internet archive. But I must tear myself away now.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Never mind the quality...

According to the New Scientist, scientific research shows that it is quantity and frequency that make one a good blogger, not quality or controversy. Whether you are postive or negative, hardly matters. If you want to be successful, it's quantity that builds readership.

That explains a lot. I have tended to spread myself rather thin over the blogs I write, and consequently, my contributions when I have had busy periods have been few and far between.

Not that I have been short of things to blog about, but it is one of the ironies of life that the time when one has most to say is likely to be the time when one can least afford the time to indulge oneself by sitting and blogging it. Perhaps I should learn how to blog from my phone or put more effort into spending a little time every day to do it, the way I used to keep my diaries.

Maybe I will see if I can keep to one blog a day, the way that I used to.

At the moment I am working, trying not to get too behind on my tasks, longing to spend time on my genealogy, outlining a novel and writing music. It looks as though the next couple of weeks will be mostly work, and not much of the fun stuff, but that's ok.

This means my avatar in Second Life has had a considerably more lively social life than I have, recently. I have been struggling to cope with the transition to the new Viewer (and failing, every time I have to build). Things have been dodgy in world this week, as a power outage and server upgrades seem to have conspired to add wonkiness to everything.

I've made contact with a cousin of my husband's through Ancestry.Co.UK, which is why I have been itching to do more to the family history. I was feeling very angry with Geni, the family history site, which has announced they plan to share all our research, outside the immediate family, and so I have been dismantling my stuff in Geni, and transferring whatever I didn't have to Ancestry. It isn't even that I object to sharing my information, I have always done my best to help others with their family history, as I have been helped in my turn. It's the lack of respect it shows for the rights of their members which really gets to me. I'm not even sure that deleting my data is going to take my things out of their system, despite their reassurances that it will.

The surveillance society has been in the news recently due to a forthcoming film, Erasing David. Both the Times and the New Scientist (and many others, I am sure) have interesting articles about it. I realise that I have voluntarily allowed a lot of information about me to escape into the wild, although neither Sainsbury's not Tesco can have much data about me. I have lost my cards without registering, or registered and then lost, nearly all the loyalty cards I ever had. Thus I can probably dredge up a ten-year-old W.H. Smiths card I used once, or nothing. Hah! Make what you can out of them data apples!

I think most systems in the country assume most people won't pretend to be someone else, and that's either touchingly naive or normal, depending upon your point of view. Sometimes I think that people don't think clearly about what they are saying really - although I haven't seen the film, only read the articles. OK on one level it is worrying that someone can pretend to be you and garner details of your antenatal appointments... on the other hand, does one want to live in a world where people are so distrustful of each other that your doctor's surgery/hospital won't believe you're you without asking lots of security questions? I dunno.