City as Interface

I found it. Last year at this time I was looking for a term for a phenomenon I hadn’t seen described before, which I had given the cumbersome title of ‘urban community worldview‘. Well I found it, in Martijn de Waal’s book the City as Interface. His book looks at how technology is changing the urban landscape and he sets up 3 urban philosophies that underlie urban ideal types: libertarian, republican and communitarian.

    libertarian – the libertarian city is centered around economics, and focuses on individual privacy. Public spaces are primarily used for the market.
    republican – the republican city is based on the idea that each person is a citizen and has certain responsibilities. The name is a reference to the latin res publica or public interest.
    communitarian – the communitarian city is based on harmonious village and focuses on a collective rather than individual identity. Public space is primarily used for rituals.

The central proposition in this book is that many urban media mainly support the libertarian urban ideal. With their emphasis on efficiency and personalization, they approach city dwellers as individual consumers and increase their freedom to organize life according to their own insights; at the same time, these media also reduce city dwellers’ mutual involvement. This is not a foregone conclusion, however: other examples of urban media are based on the republican ideal. They succeed in combining the smart city ideals of personalization and efficiency with the social city ideals of citizenship and connection.

-Martijn de Waal, the City as Interface

My research definitely explores this idea of what people’s urban ideal types are and whether or not technology can help get them there. As such I had also been looking for an easy way to collect data without having to design and market an entire app just for my research. I thought I’d found it in Open Data Kit (ODK); this platform was designed with an android operating system in mind which is great because I wanted to include a free smartphone for those who want to participate in my study but can’t afford a smartphone (you can buy a cheap android phone for about $20 these days). Unfortunately with all that android compatibility, I found it almost impossible for my friends with Apple iOS to use; enter Kobotoolbox. I’ve now created a prototype to collect data with their setup. Coming soon to a smartphone near you…

Things that made me cry

This is a list of things that have made me cry in the last month or so:

I had originally thought to put the list in order of what should have made me cry but I don’t think such an order exists. I am trying to be kinder to myself about being a highly sensitive person. Recognizing that I am part of a larger group (20% of individuals) who share this genetic trait and that there isn’t anything wrong with it.

This feels related to this post from around this time last year.

Music Videos

I was feeling sick so I watched a bunch of music videos, thought you might enjoy them too:

Stuck in my head since I watched 7 Psychopaths the other night. Back then it was cool to smile when you sang.

Shingai and the Noisettes with a 60s inspired tune:

A seasonal favorite.

The original French:

This is a special treat to those I went to EB with;

Which seems to have the same chord progression as this Decemberists tune, (and maybe ever other folk song in existence);

Power Dynamics

This week I started taking some programming and math classes as pre-requisites for my Comp. Sci. Degree and, as I suspected, they’re really difficult. Why am I working so hard (and spending so much money) to get a degree in Computer Science anyway? Well there are a few reasons:

I need a marketable skill in order to compete in this job market. The job market for recent college grads in the US is DIRE. I was really lucky to find a job when I first graduated from college, finding another one has been truly challenging. I was unemployed then underemployed then unemployed again, accruing debt the whole time. With this degree at least I’ll be accruing debt with a purpose. Even if I can’t get a job that is different from one I’ve had before, I’ll probably be able to automate it somehow. Do it faster and more efficiently with the help of computers.

I think women and minorities are underrepresented in technology which affects the products we have the world we live in. Women and minorities have always been underrepresented in technology, what’s most worrisome to me now, is that our numbers are actually going down. There are half as many women in tech now than there were in the 80s. I don’t know how technology would be different if it were designed by women, but if I don’t participate in it, I never will.

I’m really uncomfortable with not knowing how computers work. More and more, we spend most our time on computers and dealing with technology. If knowledge is power, I am not comfortable giving that power and control to someone (or something) else. It’s MY computer, it should do what I tell it to. It’s not a person, it doesn’t have free will, if it isn’t doing what I tell it to it’s because I’m not saying it correctly. Computers have astounding potential, but if I’m not using it, what the point?

I need the knowledge to work on the (geography) problems I care about. In high school I fell in love with Calculus, in particular, I remember spending hours working on one problem, how best to display a sphere (3D) on a page (2D), a problem of map projection. I was (and am) convinced that there is a way to minimize distortion with the magic of calculus. Taking more math classes now I am getting excited about different problems that I can use computers to solve. Problems with access to information (geography/IT/translation), women’s issues, 1st world problems, 3rd world problems etc. Computers can help.

These (compelling) reasons aside, I’m not a computer scientist and I’m not really interested in becoming a programmer (unless I can make a lot of money doing it, which is possible). Partly I’m using computer science to help me figure out what I really want to do with my life. It’s hard going through all these math and programming classes, and to be honest, I might not last. But I think every minute is worth it, each class is one more computer skill that most people don’t have, a leg up on the competition. Plus, the harder it is to accomplish something, the more pride I feel when it’s done. With math and computer science it’s more than pride, there’s a power in mastery, when you can take a tool that almost everyone uses in a general way to do something specific and helpful to you, you make it your own.

“Between the ages of 20 and 40 we are engaged in the process of discovering who we are, which involves learning the difference between accidental limitations which it is our duty to outgrow and the necessary limitations of our nature beyond which we cannot trespass with impunity.”

-W.  H. Auden via Gretchen Rubin

Unusual Things I’m Afraid of

Here is a list of some slightly unusual things that I avoid and some of the reasons why:

Most people think I don’t have a cell phone because I’m stubborn. I am extremely stubborn, so of course that has a lot to do with it (and everything else I do), but I am not a luddite (I’m writing this on an iPad), and in fact the reason I don’t have a cell phone is psychological. I have a fear of phones (phonofobia) because of a traumatic experience I had when I was young.

It seems stupid when I talk about it now, but I think it’ll help to write about it anyway. I think I was maybe 8 years old, I had gone to a summer arts camp called Kids in Clay where I learned to use the potter’s wheel. At the end of the camp they did one last kiln firing (this was my best work, the culmination of 2 weeks or training or whatever) and told us to pick up our pieces within a couple weeks or they would be destroyed and used for mosaics or something. My mom agreed to drive me to pick them up but I had to call them first to make sure they would be open and also that they hadn’t already destroyed my things since I had waited a while. As I remember it, one night, my mom was out and I decided to call the clay studio (I really wanted to pick up this nice vase I had made for her). I must have misdialed because I didn’t get the clay studio I got a very angry man. I called and asked if it was Kids in Clay, and the man screamed obscenities at me, saying I needed to stop calling. It didn’t occur to me to hang up on this person, I was an extremely polite child and I didn’t understand the power of hanging up (I did, later, go through a phase in middle school where I just hung up on everyone… I didn’t have a lot of friends in middle school). He asked who I was and I told him I was Ofurhe Igbinedion, to which he laughed, not believing that such a name could exist. This is probably when I started crying, I could feel his vitriol through the phone. I told him I was only 8 years old, and he didn’t believe me about that either, I’m sure I sounded like a 25 year old, because that’s the body I had, but nonetheless I was telling the truth. He continued to scream at me that I had no business calling him and how did I even get this number. I said I was trying to get my pottery back from Kids in Clay, which he also didn’t believe. Apparently he had recently left his job and had been getting harassing calls from former coworkers, he was convinced I was one of them. I was not. At this point my brother says that he took the phone and told the man to leave me alone and hung up. All I remember is crying, I think I cried the rest of the night, and I don’t think I ever got my pottery back.

This story seems really stupid, but it was really traumatic for me, I actually have tears in my eyes just writing about it. I was a really sensitive kid on an innocent errand and I was subjected to this unhinged man. I have had anxiety around phones ever since. With technology the way that it is, ‘Just email me’ has become my mantra. I have built a life around this, I use my friends phones when necessary, but mostly I don’t get in situations where a phone is the only way out (I’m actually not sure such a situation exists).

I’m 24 years old and I don’t know how to drive. I say it’s because I went to boarding school (where I didn’t have a car), then lived in Chicago and New York where the public transportation is more than adequate. People often think I’m taking an environmental stand, which is part of it, but in truth, this is psychological too. Statistically car accidents are one of the leading causes of severe injury and death around the world and I’ve known this for a long time. Both my father and my uncle were nearly killed in car crashes.

Update 5-30-12 according to my mother, my memory of the following is not really accurate, whatevs

My father emmigrated from Nigeria in the 70s and has only gone back a few times since. The last time he went I was around 1 year old, he got in a nearly fatal car crash, came back home, and never went back to Nigeria.

When I was 8 or 10 my father and my uncle got a 280 ZX. I remember the first time they pulled up to the driveway and my brother and I got to ride in it. We all thought it was pretty awesome. My uncle, especially, spent a lot of time working on it. One night when we were little he and my father apparently got into a fight and my uncle drove off in a fit of anger. He almost died that evening, and since the fight was a big one, he didn’t talk to my father for a long time after. I actually haven’t seen him since. I remember my father talking to me about how driving angry is as dangerous as driving drunk.

I was starting to learn how to drive last year, but then I got in a car accident with my roommate. While we weren’t seriously injured, it brought up a lot of anxiety for me and I haven’t been behind a wheel since. Cars are dangerous, and they are a responsibility I don’t feel quite ready for.

When I was in New York I think I only took cabs twice, not just because they’re expensive, but because it always feels like you’re getting into a car with a total stranger, which I find truly disconcerting.

I like riding bikes in open spaces, but I’ve never thought it was fun to do in the city, it always struck me as dangerous. When I was in college, a good friend of mine clipped two bikers on her commute, after which her boyfriend took away her keys. A few years later a friend of mine, Sylvia, died when she was hit by a truck while commuting to work on her bicycle. I know she would want me to keep biking, but it reinforced my idea that biking in a city is inherently too dangerous. One of these days I’ll learn more about bike safety, put on a helmet, bike to work, and think of her. Not today.

Groups of Young Men:
This I mostly have gone over in the Street Harassment Post. I think women of the world could be divided into those that are excited by groups of strange young men and those who fear them. I fall squarely in the latter camp.

I am a lot better about my photophobia lately, but I dare you to find a picture of me from high school. I would do pretty much anything to avoid being in a photo. It wasn’t because I had low self esteem, I was in good shape and actually pretty hot in high school (and aware of it myself). I was mostly afraid that I was being misrepresented. In high school and college it was really important to me to cultivate my mind (otherwise, why move away from California?). I felt that when people looked at a photo of me they saw a black girl, they didn’t see my mind, which I had spent so much time, money and energy to cultivate. Not to mention, if it was a weird picture there is a risk that they would remember me like that forever. A risk I was unwilling to take. A picture only portrays a certain aspect of a single moment, what about all the other aspects of that moment? what about all the other moments?

updated 5-29-12 – When I was born my parents were involved in a spiritual community, they were devotees of a guru named Adi Da. Growing up in the community the children read books that the guru had written, one of the most important ones was called ‘What to Remember to be Happy.’ We had several paper copies of this book as well as the book on tape, it was a mantra and I could recite it by heart right now. The book starts with an image of an apple and says ‘Have you heard this is an apple?’ and continues with a tree and an image of a boy and a girl. It says if you ask people what these things are and where they came from they may say ‘God Made it’ or ‘I don’t know,’ and that in fact, no one knows what these things are and how they came to be (not even our parents, not even the president). The moral of the book is that we are more than what we look like, and no one can take that away from you.

While I know that everyone with any spirituality or religion knows that they are more than what they look like, it was a hugely important tenant of my upbringing. I think that to me I find photography a celebration of what you look like, and it misses the more important thing, the soul, the part that no one can take away from you.

Loud Noises:
This is more general, and there is no real trauma associated with this. I just have very sensitive hearing, and I sleep a lot, so this is a major problem for me. Loud noises make me want to curl up in a ball and die.

I’ll probably keep adding to this as I think of more.

5-27-12 – I guess having sex should go on here, but I don’t really feel this is the appropriate format to discuss this. Suffice it to say, I have no wish to end up pregnant or diseased.

10 (more) posts

“We fill pre-existing forms and when we fill them we changed them and are changed.”
-Frank Bidart in The Pale King

Cheers to me for 3 more months of blogging! I’ve been caught up in an intimidating mess of bureaucratic red tape lately and so I think it’s important to look at the bigger picture to see what I’ve accomplished, feel grateful for what I have and also to write down facts for the record, so in the past couple months (in chronological order):

-I went to Afghanistan
-I got into Mills for Computer Science
-My house was burgled again
-I saw a psychic astrologer
-I finished my online Java course
-I cooked my first roast chicken
-I began a new treatment for a chronic illness
-celebrated one full year in our wonderful house
-I changed and was changed

In the next 3 months I hope to take some more pre-requisites, do some more cooking, catch up with some old friends, and once again successfully plunge myself into the future.
Here’s to 3 more months.


Some new terms I learned this week and where I came across them:

ambiguous independence – this term is used to refer to modern single mothers; while they may not be stuck in the abusive marriages they would have suffered through in the past, they often struggle financially without another breadwinner ; Double X Gabfest, according to Hanna Rosin used by Harvard Sociologist Kathryn Edin.

conspicuous conservation – when people buy things in order to convince their neighbors that they are ‘green’ ; freakonomics podcast

fascinator– an ornamental hat ; the Hairpin

Jute– A member of a Germanic people who invaded England in the 5th Century ; Rudyard Kipling: How the first letter was written

phpht – an interjection to show disagreement or annoyance, also one of very few English words without vowels ; Lifehacker: A Better Strategy for Hangman

piede greco (Greek foot) – when the second toe is longer than the first ; Golden Smith via I’m Revolting, also on 25 Everyday Things You Never Knew Had Names

precocious puberty – when puberty appears earlier than normal;

sibling strife – an extreme form of sibling rivalry, where siblings can’t enjoy each others’ company ; Sibling Rivalry Grows Up via Double X Gabfest

I recently heard of a term for a specific type of agoraphobia that affects African Americans when in predominantly white neighborhoods, any help identifying the word would be greatly appreciated.

Updated 6-4-12: 25 Words that don’t exist in English

Updated 6-7-12: apophenia – seeing meaningless patterns in meaningless data

10 posts

Congratulations to me! I’ve lasted for 10 posts! I once read an article about all the blog posts that begin with ‘sorry it’s been so long since my last post.’ I’m going to take a second to pat myself on the back for 10 weeks of consistent blogging. In the past 10 weeks (in chronological order):
-I was burgled
-I lost touch with a friend (z) and found an old one (a)
-I celebrated 3 winter holidays with my family in unconventional ways
-I came close to solving a lifelong ailment
-I was generally preoccupied with the failings of others (punctuality, decency, and reciprocation)
-I started an online Java course (learned about bits and bytes)
-I was laid off
-I participated in an anti-SOPA protest (using this very site)
-I endured

In the next 10 weeks I will finish my application, watch my brother graduate, visit Afghanistan (after 8 years of thwarted efforts), apply for work and unemployment, and I will finish my course and start another. I may have a new roommate, I may finish my book, I hope to fix some bugs on the blog and successfully plunge myself into the future.
Here’s to 10 more weeks.


I’ve been reading a book about provincial life set in the mid 19th century and became curious about the descriptions of peoples’ faces. To me, Byronic locks and a noble chin don’t give me a good picture of someone at all. Maybe that’s because I grew up in a world with pictures and movies and internet and I’m not used to using my imagination. Maybe words are just not the best medium to describe the human face. Maybe it’s because there is more variation in face shape in 21st century California; in 19th century England, most people looked fairly similar, so a description could easily conjure up the type of face that this person might have. But lately I’ve been toying with the idea that description says more about the describer than the described.

To a disturbing extent we see what we want to see. In college I took a class in which we talked about the Portuguese discovery of Africa and America. The most advanced maps that the Portuguese had were based on world travelers, who were fairly accurate about the places they were familiar with, and less accurate about the communities on the periphery. The borders of these maps were full of fanciful monsters (one of whom used his extra large foot as a parasol to shade himself from the African sun). The explorers were so willing to believe that Africans and Native Americans were not human because they were expecting monsters that when they found people who didn’t look like them, they assumed that they must have found these monsters.

On this week’s Culture Gabfest, Stephen Metcalf recommends a genre of poems where the narrator is a person who sees someone else and fills in what they don’t know about them with their own imagination.

What is the best way to describe someone’s face? How do we use other peoples’ faces to project our own beliefs?

“Language gives a fuller image, which is all the better for beings vague. After all, the true seeing is within; and painting stares at you with an insistent imperfection. I feel that especially about representations of women. As if a woman were a mere colored superficies! You must wait for movement and tone. There is a difference in their very breathing: they change from moment to moment.—This woman whom you have just seen, for example: how would you paint her voice, pray? But her voice is much diviner than anything you have seen of her.”
Middlemarch, George Eliot

“You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions.”-The Breakfast Club, John Hughes

Update 1/28: a great description of a face

“To superficial observers his chin had too vanishing an aspect, looking as if it were being gradually reabsorbed. And it did indeed cause him some difficulty about the fit of his satin stocks, for which chins were at that time useful.”
Middlemarch, George Eliot

Update 2/4

more monsters


A friend of a friend refers to her ‘islands of knowledge’ in the ‘sea of my ignorance.’ Unlike our physical oceans, my sea is actually infinite. Here is a short list of things I don’t understand, to help define the borders of my islands. Perhaps I will make a sidebar and add to it as time goes on.

    global warming denial
    drinking alcohol to excess
    children’s menus
    why women tend to prefer fiction and men prefer non
    why people have sex/babies
    loud people
    work-appropriate clothes for women

Maybe you can help me understand some of these things?

12/19 My brother has added:

1) men prefer nonfiction because it is better.
2) people drink boozahol to excess b/c it is super funzos.