Tuesday, December 16, 2008

One metal emoticon

Today I ran across something that caught my attention and rearranged a small corner of the mind. It might not seem like much, but in this article about World of Warcraft on the topic of Arthas and his cameos (An article hilarious in its own right) I tripped over something the blogger just dropped in the middle of a sentence.

"I don’t complain too hard, ’cause, be honest, he’s fricking \m/, but the man does appear to have an awful lot of time on his hands."

The little \m/ in the sentence stands for the word 'metal' (which is how my brain interpreted it) or 'hardcore' or 'awesome' or some mixture of all three. Using the symbol, which represents throwing the horns, suddenly imbues the word with sub-meanings that incorporate bad-assery, death and destruction, coffee, and just general all-around coolness to the nth degree. It's just like saying, "That's so metal!" Only somehow more because it adds a layer of meaning by using an emoticon that invokes not only the word but all the imagery associated with it and the emoticon behind it.

Also, this is just my interpretation of the slangy pictogram. It might have completely different connotations to someone else while still getting the basic meaning of, "Hell yes!" tucked into the descriptor.

It's fascinating to see the weird spiraling evolutions that the internet comes up with. It's amazing just how large of a cross-section it would take to be able to understand even half of the references tucked into casual internet prose like references to Greek mythology that were all the rage a hundred or more years ago. I suppose it's much the same, though. If Jupiter and Juno were the shared experience in the education of a generation, then references for the elite would pepper anything written for that demographic. My shared education, to use the same terminology, ends with me smiling over quotes from Princess Bride, Hitchhiker's Guide, and Tolkien.

So, I suggest that with everyday people writing for everyday people, the language of the in-crowd incorporates the audience in a way that writing didn't necessarily used to. Theoretically, anyone can have a blog that can be read by anyone. Since everyone is encouraged to write by the presence of the internet as forum for mass expression the in-crowd is no longer just the elite taught to read and given a shared vocabulary through classical literature. I know share experiences with everyone else who knows anything about Chuck Norris, +9 ogre-slaying knives, and walruses who miss their buckets. I 'get' the references to philosophers and algorithms, but my odds of coming across them in the casual essays (What are bloggers but self-published essayists?) in my feed is slim to none. The way people write is changing and not just in a shift from formal-to-informal. It's a more subtle shift into a very personal way of narrating thoughts and ideas with a mass audience in mind.

When I write, it's my opinion in my blog with references to my experiences to explain my position. My voice is clear, my frame of reference is easily studied for bias. I throw out my view of the world and expect to find people who both agree and disagree. Eventually. The Internet can see this and pass judgement and give me instant (or not so instant) feedback. So when I exercise my shared experience within my writing, it necessarily forms a tenuous connection. I'm understood on a level above the words I choose.

I'm sure there's been eras in the past where opinions expressed where done so as personal essays with strong voice that were subsequently thrown upon the mercy of peers. However, I don't think anything in the past can rival the scope of today's written communication. The symbol \m/ is just a single example in a huge sample that someone I've never heard of and will never meet has an experience that parallels mine enough that I can understand a normally meaningless symbol and be amused. I don't think that would be possible without the shift in writing style and tone that blogging encourages or without the platform of the internet to provide the shared experience of its very own culture.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Why grad school was not for me

I like to stay in touch with the extremely limited population of women in Computer Science at my alma mater, being a woman who graduated CS. Every once and a while, we do stuff together. This time, it was tea. During tea we were chattering away about academic life, since most of the people who went were students and HAVE no other life, I was struck by the different experiences that everyone else was having and the ones I was having as a member of industry. This has made me reflect on my decision to not go to grad school and instead dig for employment.

It took me 9 months to find a job. There's a story behind that, but bottom line is that I finally found one and for the last 10 months I've been happily sitting at a computer and programming.

The grad students I was talking with? They were impassioned, all fired up for their chosen disciplines and extremely intelligent. They had brains full of thoughts that will eventually translate lead to concrete advances in their fields.


Maybe it's just me, but I drove myself nuts in college. At the end I was jaded enough to decide that a third of my professors didn't know the first thing about teaching and another third didn't care enough about their subjects to impart anything of value. My favorite teachers were the in-the-thick-of-it teachers who had opportunities for learning coming out their ears instead of the ones with dusty theories lurking in our 'required' reading. By the time I got out of college - five years and two degrees later - I was fired up to go out and DO something with what I'd learned.

It just struck me how sheltered these thirty-something, extremely talented students were when it came to the outside world. It was like they lived in a bubble of academia and anything that didn't enter and rub up against their shins like a purring cat didn't get any notice at all. What was most terrifying was one of their comments, "Most people don't know what they want to focus on when they go to grad school." So... passion but no focus and no idea what you want to do with it? It sounds to me like they were allowing academia to babysit them until they were ready to come out of their cocoons.

Of course, I'm flaunting my immaturity here. I wouldn't have been able to hack grad school. My senior thesis was a sad display of constructive criticism laced with bitterness at the pitfalls of my own education. I went out and got a job because I wasn't impassioned enough about anything I was doing when I graduated to ever want to touch it academically ever again. I wanted a job that wasn't popping popcorn, an income that could handle car insurance and an apartment with a washing machine. Now, though, I'm seeing why I was so adverse to academia.

All the opportunities I thought I had when I graduated followed paths that my interests had diverged from long ago.

Now that I'm set loose upon the world I've found that I'm a programmer, but... that's not my life. I dream in code when there's a sticky problem that I'm obsessing over, but I just as often write short stories, design graphics for websites, and go hiking. By the time I finished schooling, I just didn't care about the direction that my education had been taking me. I had started school optimistic, but the more I'd learned the more rigid the curriculum had gotten until I wasn't even vaguely pointed in the right direction. At the time, trying again from a different angle wasn't an option. My backlash against my own education was to abandon it for the realities of business and industry.

I've moved on. I've gradually discovered over the course of the past year that while I may have a job in my field, it's not who I am. It's something I do, it's something I enjoy doing, and it's something I've decided is interesting and dynamic enough to keep my attention. But it's not my box.

I could never have gone to grad school in CS because it is an interest and not a passion. I might have been able to go for Theatre, but even with the love I have for the discipline it would have been even worse because it was a degree I took to cling to something familiar. Forcing myself to continue in either field would have placed me in a definition that I would have apathetically accepted and quietly resented without consciously acknowledging it.

Now, however, I'm seeing more realities. There's no syllabus now, nothing holding me anywhere beyond a love of where I am and who I'm with.

College was nice. Safe. It was comforting struggling towards something you knew everyone else was struggling for. There was a network of authority figures to tell you 'hey, good job' even when your good job was just waking up in the morning. That's no longer the reality I live. There's now a heady sense of independence that I would have been unable to find if I'd continued schooling immediately after graduation from CS. It's not the right choice for everyone, but it was for me.

That and it's delightful to say, "I've reached my goal, time for a new goal."

Friday, November 7, 2008

Yet Another Blog

I've several of these blogs floating around, but since I'm posting more and more on Blogger, I figure I should at least have a presence here.

So. Here's my token blog. Yay. *waves tiny flag*