The Summer Game: a love story

If you have spent any amount of time with me this summer, I’ve probably told you about how much I love the Ann Arbor District Library’s Summer Game.

If you haven’t seen me…well, fortunately the internet furnishes the means to tell you all about it from a distance!
AADL Summer Game

The Summer Game is the brainchild of some genius, and since 2011 has been giving library members a more novel way to spend the summer than solely reading novels.  Instead of the traditional dictate to read a certain 5 or 10 books in summertime, it makes the library and all its resources a treasure hunt.  As Minesweeper taught Windows users how to click and right-click, the Summer Game teaches users – children, teens, adults – to use both the online catalog, and the library in general, more effectively.

AADL Badges

Gamemakers have prepared a series of colorful badges, with questions and clues to find the pun-tastic codes needed to earn them.  You learn facts about fallen empires, fashion trends, bears, NASA missions, and comic book heroes, to name a few, as you follow the clues to find which items in the catalog have a game code attached.  You get points for entering codes, and more points when you’ve entered all the codes for a particular badge.  You get points when you check items out, log your enjoyment of them each day, rate, and review them.   

You get points for exploring the library branches.  I live closest to Malletts Creek, but the Summer Game gives me a reason to look at what Traverwood and Westgate have to offer (including reservable rooms and Sweetwaters coffee).  There are codes at various library spots (the director’s office, the Friends of the Library shop, the Goblin game-within-the-game) and events (the Board of Trustees meeting, the Summer Bag sale, the classes in the secret lab, concerts, lectures, the A2 Comic Arts Festival).  Going to the Board meeting is how I learned that across the 5 branches, AADL hosted over 2000 events last year (a number that climbs every year)!

IMG_4259

One of the Goblin Game code boxes

You get codes by exploring Ann Arbor.  Each year features different free spaces, including some of Ann Arbor’s 150+ parks and nature areas.  Specific bits of signage include the words chosen for game codes.

You get points for visiting businesses the library has partnered with: Zingerman’s, Literati, The Ride, The Lunch Room, Food Gatherers.  The code’s in the window, if you prefer not to go in (or visit after they’re closed), but Zingerman’s Deli also took the step of preparing Flavor Passports this year, where you get codes for sampling some of their wares.  Twist my rubber arm, y’all.

You get badges for milestones – a bonus if you read, watch, or download something for 50 days of the summer, a bonus if you rate a certain number of items and write a review.

And once you’ve accrued all your points, you can redeem them for prizes: a fine forgiveness card, coasters, umbrellas, chocolate.  There’s something new each summer, thanks to the Friends of the Library.

When you don’t have the traditional summer vacation, or children who do, the Summer Game is a reminder of earlier leisurely days, a callback to childlike wonder and curiosity.  It’s a reminder to play (very literally the reason I was putting Legos together last night, for the first time in a decade).  It’s a nudge to try new books or movies or tools (like a sewing machine, mini theremin, or guitar), a nudge to make things, to learn, to break out of the bubble and go somewhere new – even if somewhere new isn’t very far away.

If played to the fullest extent possible, the AADL Summer Game makes for eager readers, Ann Arbor experts, contributing users, curious explorers, local consumers, and engaged citizens.

Let’s play!

AADL pennant

My favorite team 😀

Advertisements

The Dragon-Cat’s Hoard

The guardians sleep at night.

They are fools to ignore the hour when the air is awake and the light is dim and the hunting is good.  It is very dull of them; still, their slumber lets me chase and climb, to scratch and claim, to do as I like with no interference!

When I take my own rest, I examine my hoard.  It is hidden from their eyes, but I will show it to you.  Here is the rod they use to make marks on their large white leaves.  Here are the mice, simulacra of prey but no less sweet-smelling for it.  Here are beautiful round coins, resplendent metal with fringed edges that roll and fly when I bat at them, or others that are softer and warmer and good to gnaw.  Here is the jangling ball, which is easier to put in my hoard than to remove.

Here is a forbidden thing, a stretching ring that I rightly covet.  They endeavor to hide it, but when their vigilance fails I seize it for my own, to chew as I like and swallow if I desire.

I do not store all the things I have loved there; many things that are satisfying to chew may be left alone.  Here is their foot-coat and its ribbon; there the hide-containers for their own hoards; there the strange-smelling bricks, a delightful risk.  If they see you chew on it, they defend it with shouts of “Not the library books!” and also “No!!”

But what this last word means, I cannot tell.

O Dies Propitie!

A most felicitous 13th of June to you all!

Today happens to be the 37th birthday of Chris Evans, and my parents’ 37th wedding anniversary.

But more significantly, where this blog is concerned…

We have noted that this is the birthday of Dorothy Sayers: academic, playwright, essayist, novelist; thinker, wordsmith, professor of the Christian faith; and inspiration for this blog, such as it is in this 8th year.

Given that she was born in 1893, this is the 125th anniversary of her birth: her quasquicentennial!

That being the case, it is good, right, and salutary to share some of my favorite lines of hers – possibly for the second or third time, but no less delightful for it!

 

“I think my mother’s talents deserve a little acknowledgement. I said so to her, as a matter of fact, and she replied in these memorable words: “My dear child, you can give it a long name if you like, but I’m an old-fashioned woman and I call it mother-wit, and it’s so rare for a man to have it that if he does you write a book about him and call him Sherlock Holmes.”
Clouds of Witness

“Still, it doesn’t do to murder people, no matter how offensive they may be.”
Five Red Herrings

“Do you know how to pick a lock?”
“Not in the least, I’m afraid.”
“I often wonder what we go to school for,” said Wimsey.”
Strong Poison

“Well, we’ve only just got back from Ithaca. Bob is fearfully excited about a new set of burial-places, and has evolved an entirely original and revolutionary theory about funerary rites. He’s writing a paper that contradicts all old Lam-bard’s conclusions, and I’m helping by toning down his adjectives and putting in deprecatory footnotes. I mean, Lam-bard may be a perverse old idiot, but it’s more dignified not to say so in so many words. A bland and deadly courtesy is more devastating, don’t you think?”
“Infinitely.”
Here at any rate was somebody who had not altered by a hair’s-breadth, in spite of added years and marriage. Harriet was in a mood to be glad of that. After an exhaustive inquiry into the matter of funerary rites, she asked after the family.

“Do you find it easy to get drunk on words?”
“So easy that, to tell you the truth, I am seldom perfectly sober.”

“How fleeting are all human passions compared with the massive continuity of ducks!”

“The only ethical principle which has made science possible is that the truth shall be told all the time. If we do not penalize false statements made in error, we open up the way for false statements by intention. And a false statement of fact, made deliberately, is the most serious crime a scientist can commit.”

– all from Gaudy Night

Probably no man has ever troubled to imagine how strange his life would appear to himself if it were unrelentingly assessed in terms of his maleness; if everything he wore, said, or did had to be justified by reference to female approval; if he were compelled to regard himself, day in day out, not as a member of society, but merely (salva reverentia) as a virile member of society.
…He would be edified by solemn discussions about “Should Men Serve in Drapery Establishments?” and acrimonious ones about “Tea-Drinking Men”; by cross-shots of public affairs “from the masculine angle,” and by irritable correspondence about men who expose their anatomy on beaches (so masculine of them), conceal it in dressing-gowns (too feminine of them), think about nothing but women, pretend an unnatural indifference to women, exploit their sex to get jobs, lower the tone of the office by their sexless appearance, and generally fail to please a public opinion which demands the incompatible. And at dinner-parties he would hear the wheedling, unctuous, predatory female voice demand: “And why should you trouble your handsome little head about politics?”
If, after a few centuries of this kind of treatment, the male was a little self-conscious, a little on the defensive, and a little bewildered about what was required of him, I should not blame him. If he traded a little upon his sex, I could forgive him. If he presented the world with a major social problem, I would scarcely be surprised. It would be more surprising if he retained any rag of sanity and self-respect.
– “The Human-Not-Quite-Human,” Are Women Human?: witty and astute essays on the role of women in society

“Has it ever struck you as odd, or unfortunate, that today, when the proportion of literacy is higher than it has ever been, people should have become susceptible to the influence of advertisement and mass propaganda to an extent hitherto unheard of and unimagined?”
– “The Lost Tools of Learning”

“It is hopeless to offer Christianity as a vaguely idealistic aspiration of a simple and consoling kind; it is, on the contrary, a hard, tough, exacting, and complex doctrine, steeped in a drastic and uncompromising realism. And it is fatal to imagine that everybody knows quite well what Christianity is and needs only a little encouragement to practice it. The brutal fact is that in this Christian country not one person in a hundred has the faintest notion what the Church teaches about God or man or society or the person of Jesus Christ.”
– “Creed or Chaos?: Why Christians Must Choose Either Dogma or Disaster”

“In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair. It is the accomplice of the other sins and their worst punishment. It is the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.”
– “The Other Six Deadly Sins”

Last, but certainly not least:

“The Egotists’ Club is one of the most genial places in London. It is a place to which you may go when you want to tell that odd dream you had last night, or to announce what a good dentist you have discovered. You can write letters there if you like, and have the temperament of a Jane Austen, for there is no silence room, and it would be a breach of club manners to appear busy or absorbed when another member addresses you.”
– “The Abominable History of the Man with Copper Fingers”

Review: World Without Mind

I finished reading World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech last week.  Given the Zuckerberg hearings in the past fortnight…this book is certainly of-the-moment, which means that (among other things) it’s overdue at the library.

In some respects, Franklin Foer strikes me as Neil Postman’s heir.  As Technopoly warned, technology has changed and expanded (and continues to do so) so quickly that it is difficult for anyone to be certain exactly what ideas, mores, or other cultural artifacts might be jettisoned as a matter of course.  There is no time to appreciate, much less anticipate, all the changes technology can wreak.

Foer alternates his attention between the tech itself and those who wield it.   GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple), he says, have “imperiled the way we think” by leveraging their “intoxicating convenience” to “press [people] into conformity.”  He discusses the power of GAFA’s curation as manipulation of knowledge and an erasure of free will, but I’m convinced that Amazon making it easy to click on a book does not mean Amazon has forced me to buy it.  The gap between consideration and action is still, thankfully, large.

Among Foer’s other concerns is the fact that, increasingly, decision-making – and, perhaps, more creative work – is being given over to algorithms instead of humans.  Given his profession (staff writer/editor), one can understand why he’d feel threatened by the specter of automatically-composed reports.  He also seems somewhat concerned by Google’s pursuit of AI.  I don’t believe AI is actually possible, despite what Descartes thinks about humans as complex organic machines, so it seems to me that the bigger problem is Google’s tendency to ignore copyright law in its quest to digitize all published books as grist for the AI mill.

Foer is also Postman’s heir in that the solutions he proffers are weak in the face of the huge problems he diagnoses.  He describes how much these corporations lobby in Washington, details some of the strategies they’ve used to avoid paying hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes, notes how the overlap of data and personal transparency is three steps away from a certain sort of authoritarianism, and notes again the ascendancy of algorithms – then states a need for antitrust legislation to break up this new type of monopoly, and a Data Protection Agency to force GAFA to give consumers a way to purge their data.

I don’t know enough about the industry to know whether this is even possible, much less likely.  If these corporations are already guilty of tax evasion on a huge scale, how would you force them to play nice with data, and why would you expect them to obey new laws about it?  “Google’s leadership doesn’t care terribly much about precedent or law,” according to one of the company’s attorneys (regarding the book digitizing effort in particular, but surely it applies more broadly).  Wired’s writeup of the hearings seems to agree: “Because these businesses operate differently from those in more traditional industries, they must be regulated differently. Congress, and by extension regulators, don’t understand enough about these businesses to regulate them, and risk further entrenching their power by attempting.”

Silicon Valley apparently believes that regulations or anti-trust efforts can’t threaten Facebook’s dominance, that privacy controls won’t make Facebook more appealing to consumers, and that those currently at the helm have good intentions.

I’m skeptical as to that last point.  As Lewis put it:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

So, what do we do about this, aside from government-based solutions that will probably fail in the face of an army of attorneys?  Foer has some recommendations for fighting at the grassroots level.  The popularity of organic, whole foods (and similar food-based trends) gives him hope that people who care about what they put in their mouths will also come to care about what they put in their brains, and where it came from.

He also proposes that “cultivated” people pay to keep journalism alive, that the pursuit of objectified cultural capital would draw sufficient funding to support journalism as a livelihood.  I rather think he conflates journalism with any and all writing or publishing, but either way the point stands.

(An aside: reading this book in between movements of Verdi’s Requiem was curiously appropriate and beneficial.  It gives one hope for the continuation of the arts; it reminds the soul of God, of religion, of miracles; and it also grants some perspective: no wonder how much control these companies have, they cannot destroy my inheritance.)

 

Some may find Foer too liberal for their taste; others might long for an orderly history of technological development that reads less like an old boys’ club.  Some, like me, might find Foer unable or unwilling to discuss humans as humans: interested in convenience until the tipping point where other considerations take precedence; stubborn; guided by the intangible and the numinous, not merely by what Big Tech serves up.  But overall, World Without Mind is a warning well worth reading, illuminating how privacy is all too often the price paid for convenient consumption.  Hopefully it is a timely admonition, rather than a moment too late.

2¢ on AI

Before I begin, let me put a disclaimer here: these are hastily assembled thoughts, engaging with the subject at hand before spending hours or days reading up on it, pondering it, and defining all my terms more effectively.  If you like, consider this whole post a placeholder for later thought.

Personality, the will, sentience is solely a product of the breath of life, given by God, rendering wholly artificial intelligence impossible to create.

If you took a human person, replaced his limbs with prosthetics, compensated for the destruction of his nerves with some manner of electronic signals, gave him other replacements for his original organs or viscera, rigged up an elaborate support system for his brain: all this still would not make the intelligence itself, the person, artificial.  It isn’t all mechanical.  I disbelieve in a mechanical mind (though certain aspects of a generic human brain, to a certain extent, give physical or mechanical evidence of the processes occurring therein).

If a neural network produces anything, it does so through training.  It doesn’t actually have its own intelligence to go on, just the promptings of an actual human (or, perhaps, a whole lot of data gleaned from a great many actual humans).

Can it, per se, ever recognize humor?  Consider the InspiroBot Inspirational Images Generator.  The generator generates; the human looks at the image and caption together, and that interaction is where the humor happens.  It is humorous because the human mind recognizes the absurdity.  It is humorous because of the human mind being struck by the unexpected.

I suppose you could argue that the generator creates the humor by presenting the unexpected.  But I would then argue that the generator generates as it is trained to generate, making this ultimately a human creation.

5000 Catholic Items Your Faith Life Definitely Needs

The other day, my law firm received a catalog of Catholic items addressed to a former employee.  My boss and I idly flipped through it, and were bemused by page 8’s Crown of Thorns – not so much because of the crown itself, but because of the breathless legend “Imported directly from Jerusalem” and the even bolder “Customer Favorite!”

I brought it home to share with my roommate.  The following is a partial transcription.

Cecilia:  I could get you ashes.  “Serves 500 people!”

Cecilia:  I could get you a coffee mug that says “Serve with a heart like Jesus.”
Joy:  Does the other side say “Wash my feet”?  …“100% Catholic” mug?  What does that even mean?
Cecilia:  I’m 50% Catholic and 50% Druid.

Cecilia:  I could get you a mug that says “To get through today, I’m gonna need a bit of coffee and a whole lot of Jesus!”
Joy:  That just makes it sound like I’m hogging all the Communion hosts.  Gobbling them like a hobbit.

Cecilia:  I could get you a cross pendant that my 12-year-old self thought was so cool.
Joy:  Honestly, that’s a better recommendation than most other things from this catalog are getting.

Cecilia:  Do you want a St. Peregrin medal?
Joy:  Does he wander?  He’d better wander.

Joy:  Hey, Cecilia.  Do you want a Proverbs 31 tote bag?  And wallet?  And mug?  I’m sure you need them.
Cecilia:  Hey, Joy.  Do you want a “In Christ, all things are possible” tote bag?
Joy:  “So jot that down…”

Cecilia:  I could get you a modern chapel veil.
Joy:  What’s modern about it?
Cecilia:  Looks like it’s shorter.  Do you want a statue Therese of the Holy Face?
Joy:  Wait, is Therese of the Holy Face different from –
Cecilia:  That’s Therese of the Child Jesus.
Joy:  Oh, okay.  ….wait, is Therese of Lisieux –
Cecilia:  Therese of Jesus is Therese of Avila.  Therese of the Child Jesus is Therese of Lisieux.  Edith Stein is Theresa Benedicta of the Cross.
Joy:  That was nice of her, to mix it up a bit.

Cecilia:  I could get you a St. Benedict fancy pendant, zinc alloy.  I don’t have any other argument for it, but it’s fancy!
Joy:  That is an argument for ketchup.

Cecilia:  I can get you a sleeping St. Joseph statue.  I know that’s what you’ve always wanted.

Cecilia:  I could get you rosary pliers.
Joy:  What the actual.
Cecilia:  Would you like a St. Jude rosary?
Joy:  What are you trying to say.
Cecilia:  Would you like a tiger’s eye rosary?
Joy:  Honestly, I used to collect tiger’s eyes, so like.  If you *must.*
Cecilia:  A men’s hematite rosary.  But there’s no women’s hematite rosary….!!

Cecilia:  I could get you the Catholic Book of Facts.
Joy:  How many pages is it?  Wouldn’t that include, like, the entire Summa Theologica?
Cecilia:  …98 pages.

Cecilia:  “Dead Savior statue.”
Joy:  Umm.  Excuse me?!
Cecilia: “Risen and Crucified Christ”?  I’m sure that’s heretical.  Alright, this is the crucifix section.  This better not piss me off.  …a luminous wall crucifix?
Joy:  “Luminous”?
Cecilia:  I think that means it glows in the dark.  Ooh, I could get you the wall plaque that says “This is a Catholic home!”

Cecilia:  Why is St. Stephen wearing modern deacon’s garb?
Joy:  Probably so you know it’s St. Stephen.

Cecilia:  Would you like to spend the low, low price of $695 on a statue of St. Michael for me?
Joy:  …is that a thing you want?
Cecilia:  No, but maybe I could use a flower stand.  Oooh, candle stands!  They’re only $129.95.  Candle not included.  “Cemetery holy water pot travel kit.”  Pastoral call set… “Host sold separately.”  Mass kit replacement items…
Joy:  Does that include the host?
Cecilia:  No.  Where do I get the hosts from?  Ooh, let’s get a reliquary.  Joy, let’s get altar bells!  There’s a lot of variety.
Joy:  Those were surprisingly expensive!
Cecilia:  This one’s only $50.  We could get a censor!  And a censor stand.
Joy:  Wait, that’s different from a thurible, right?

Cecilia:  I can’t find hosts and I can’t find Paschal candles; what use is this to me?!  …… I FOUND THE HOSTS.  “Save 25% with these exclusive, top quality hosts.  …Sealed to ensure freshness, untouched by human hands.”  Who baked them?  Angels?  Cats?

Cecilia: “Self-fitting albs.”
Joy:  Are those from Madame Malkin?!  Or Gladrags?
Cecilia:  The model for the front-wrap alb is a little attractive.  Let’s turn the page.

Cecilia:  You could get a funeral pall!  Never know when you might need one!   Hmm.  These robes are for exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, but they mostly just look like Harry Potter capes.

Cecilia:  YES.  THE BEST PART.  “Children of the world” tapestry stoles.

Cecilia:  Who would put these banners up in church?  Are these for Catholics or non-denominational Protestants?

Cecilia:  This guy just reminds me of Buddy Jesus.

 

ALL THAT BEING SAID.  If you’ve ever wanted, say, a St. Dymphna statue, a rosary auto decal, or a stretchy candy cross bracelet, and had no idea where to purchase them?  These folks have you covered.

Rabbit Holes: Historicism

It’s Lent.  I meant to talk about the simultaneity of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day, but this column is a better treatment of the topic than I could give.

So.  It’s Lent, time of penitence and discipline and observances.  One of my disciplines for this Lent is the study of Isaiah.  I hope to find and commit to a particular theologian’s commentary on it (please leave any suggestions or recommendations in the comments), but in the meantime, there’s the simple act of reading it, of pondering the text itself.

Isaiah’s prophecy and visions regarding the nation of Israel being taken into captivity concern a specific event (or events, as sections of the prophecy point directly to Christ’s birth and his death).  I haven’t actually studied theology in great enough depth to tell you much more than that.

In my reading about God’s judgment of Judah, I came on this verse:

Isaiah 5:7:
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
and he looked for justice,
but behold, bloodshed;
for righteousness,
but behold, an outcry!

When you read this in the wake of children being shot at a school in Florida, the bloodshed and outcry of the present day seem inextricable from what war and wickedness went on in Judah.

I got a bit concerned about myself, and whether I was being heretical by applying this scripture to the present concerns – concerned enough to try categorizing it, which meant my brother got a charming e-mail with the subject line “Heresy question.”

He categorized it as personal judgment, and potentially premillennialism.  Reading up on premillennialism suggested that the doctrine to avoid was historicism, which made me wonder if my favorite Lutheran blog had written anything on the subject.

Searching for the term brought this post to my attention.  It’s not actually focused on historicism, mentioning it once and moving on, but examines several other matters worth rumination.

Trent’s discussion of students properly being eager and earnest, of the proper wonder for the world as God’s creation, and of a joy that is serious, have all highlighted to me how I have lost my own zeal, my own earnestness, and thus my own joy:

Joy is not the opposite of seriousness. Joy is rather its concomitant, arising only from that which seriousness alone affords, for joy is the saved soul’s perception of God in His works, which are the good, the true, and the beautiful. The eye of faith takes joy in the good creation of God which it espies beneath the marring of sin, the good world which the fire of heaven will, at the last trumpet, purge and make new. Joy is the highest transfiguration of wonder. It is a deeply serious affair.

I feel convicted, that in the stead of true joy or delight, I might have instead been merely flippant.  But it is my hope that the study and discipline of Lent will pave the way for a wholly joyful Easter.

 

Rock the Guac!

As a person who has made guacamole for a number of years, to general delight if not outright acclamation, I was surprised to discover something new about preparing it.

I’ve spent years dicing red onion, tomatoes, jalapeno, and cilantro, peeling my garlic, and juicing my limes before finally opening, scooping, and smashing up my avocados (to minimize oxidation time).  I’ve experimented with adding anything from kosher salt to additional dried onion and garlic to cumin to parsley to cayenne.  I knew I didn’t want it to be brown, bland, or overly creamy: it’s best with a few chunks of avocado still recognizable.

Recently, the pantry held a number of properly ripe avocados, perhaps 4, and one rather under-ripe specimen.  I was in a hurry and wanted to use them all, so each half of the under-ripe one was scored horizontally and vertically, then scooped into the bowl with the rest.guacamole ingredients

What follows is alchemy.

Long have I held that the lime juice constitutes a bit of alchemy: it transforms mere mashed avocado into guacamole, transmutes this green lipid into delight.

Cubes of less-ripe, sturdier avocado do something of the same thing, but require less caution to avoid over-mixing.  They prevent utter homogeneity, so that every bite is different in structure and flavor: this one saltier, this one limier, this one hotter, that one with more bite of onion and tang of tomato.  The flavorful spaces contrast with the unflavored avocado itself.  Those chunks are rests, the silences between the power chords of all the other ingredients.

To those of you about to rock some guac, we salute you!guacamole