585 stories
·
5 followers

She’s Not There

1 Share

Brandi Billotte is a graduate student at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania.  In the fall, she will begin to pursue her PhD in English Literature and Criticism.  She lives in DuBois with her two dogs, two cats, two children, and one husband.

While a great deal of scholarship is devoted to the problematic aspects of female representation in the stereotypically male-dominated sphere of video games, less interest lies in an alternative depiction of women that, while not predominant, exists in some video games: that of the ‘absent woman.’  There are games that feature female characters that, though heavily represented throughout the game in various forms, are not physically depicted in any thorough way. This representation might take the form of the unseen character providing narration, leaving traces of themselves in notes, leaving behind memories and/or intentions that live on inside of other characters, to name just a few examples.

Absent female characters defy tropes such as “‘damsels in distress,’ ‘sexy sidekicks,’ and ‘rewards’” (Shaw 1).  In addition to removing themselves physically, many absent characters add another element of intrigue as they attain agency by creating puzzles that simultaneously afford themselves increased agency while forcing the player (and perhaps other characters in the game) to participate in play. Through the use of puzzles built upon their absence, many absent female characters acquire the ability to police their own sexuality and feminine agency.  By not being presented physically, we are neither inclined nor able to focus our attention on traditional markers of hypersexualization such as impossibly large breasts or disproportionately long, unclothed legs.

This paper will explore examples of puzzling, sexually agentic unseen characters as they appear in Karla Zimonja, Johnnemann Nordhagen, Steve Gaynor, and Kate Craig’s Gone Home and Valve’s Portal and Portal 2.  Analysis of the exact nature of a character’s absence, the ways in which they are represented despite their lack of a physical body, and the implications and motivations surrounding their absence supports the assertion that the representation of physically absent female characters allows for said characters to exert a greater sense of agency than they may have had in physically depicted forms.

The Problem of Representation

As previously mentioned, scholars have noted that women in video games tend to be represented in a problematic, sexualized, and hyper-feminized manner.  Nicholas Johnson notes the “inherent misogyny and sexism in popular gaming culture” (1), including both the underrepresentation of women in video games as well as the “overtly sexualized and hyper-feminized portrayal that seems to be recurring in video game design” (4).  Jesse Fox and Wai Yen Tang echo Johnson’s sentiments, noting the tendency for female video game characters to be “depicted in stereotypical ways that appeal to men” (315). Adrienne Shaw, too, recognizes this attempt to create feminized caricatures that cater to male desire, addressing iconic video game heroine Lara Croft and noting her “ever-increasing and much-critiqued breast size” (58) and impractically skimpy outfits: “Croft bares many of the signifiers of female objectification, including breasts that are overly large for her physical size and revealing clothing that seems poorly suited to traipsing through danger-filled tombs” (60).  Indeed, a multitude of scholars have grappled with the issues of feminine underrepresentation and hypersexualization that have been traditionally characteristic of the video game industry. In Gaming at the Edge, Shaw addresses attempts to combat problematic representations of marginalized groups, explaining a sense that “we seem to be situated in a cultural moment in which how digital games are thought of and spoken about is constantly changing” (201).  Despite the promise of a changing cultural landscape that rebukes the promotion of sexualized, decorative female characters, Shaw acknowledges the vitriolic resistance that such progression is often met with. For instance, she describes a troubling moment “[during] the Penny Arcade Expo…[when] Irrational Games creative director Ken Levine told a female audience member [that] …instead of questioning the absence of the lead female character on the cover of the new game Bioshock: Infinite, she should just ‘play the fucking game’” (207-208).

Agency is neither exclusively nor inherently accessible to disembodied female video game characters; it is certainly possible for a female character to be physically depicted without being overtly sexualized or excessively feminized.  For example, though Portal’s Chell is presented physically, she maintains agency by serving as the protagonist who ultimately overcomes the deadly puzzles presented to her by GLaDOS.  That said, one might question why lack of representation warrants attention at all. Absent agency connects to the changing cultural moment that Shaw refers to in regard to video games as well as pertaining to issues that currently permeate society.  With the growing emphasis on the gravity of giving voice to previously silenced or underemphasized narratives, the exploration of who is represented and who is not, how they are represented, and what their representation (or lack thereof) means carries implications beyond the scope of video games.  Taking all of this into consideration, it behooves us to examine the dimensions of empowerment made possible by removing the physical female body entirely.

The Role of the Unseen Character in Literature

Robert Byrd–in his discussion of unseen characters in plays by Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, and Edward Albee–traces the role of the unseen character throughout history, describing the various functions of these notably absent characters: “…[U]nseen figures are…people whose offstage activities provide a convenient impetus to the plot (4; emphasis mine).”  Byrd emphasizes the importance of these unseen characters, citing them as “invisible forces…[that]…shape the action of the drama” (7).  Haiping Liu also notes the weight of invisible characters in her discussion of offstage characters featured in O’Neill’s various plays. Liu asserts:

…though making no stage appearances and being brought to life only through the utterances of the characters on stage, the offstage characters…[possess] certain physical, social, psychological, and moral traits bearing significantly upon the course of action in the plays in which they appear.  (149; emphasis mine)

While Byrd and Liu are concerned with absent characters as they exist in literature, these ideas also extend to absence as it occurs in video games.  Their ideas speak directly to the capacity of invisible/absent/offstage characters to contribute to the action of a narrative, often motivating plots in important ways.  As Byrd and Liu define what constitutes as absence for their own analytical purposes, let us clarify that the term “absent” as it appears here means that a character is, for significant portions of the game, simply gone.  For instance, Sam of Gone Home never makes a physical appearance in the game.  Unseen character Caroline of Portal is made to take the form of GLaDOS, who is represented as a wriggling computer mounted to the ceiling (and, in Portal 2, as a disgruntled potato).

The Puzzle of Purposeful Absence

Gone Home presents us with a puzzlingly absent character that has left behind clues, purposefully compelling our participation in the game; that is, we collect various hints that ultimately enable us to solve the mystery of Sam’s absence.  Players experience the game from the perspective of Sam’s older sister, Katie, who returns from a trip abroad to discover that her family has vacated their home. Katie is greeted with a cryptic and foreboding note affixed to the locked door, which reads: “Please…don’t go digging around trying to find out where I am” (Gone Home).  To “win” the game of Gone Home is to uncover Sam’s clues by exploring each room of the ominously deserted house, sifting through drawers and examining crumpled bits of paper.  Once Katie solves the puzzle, it becomes clear that Sam’s absence was motivated by her desire to gain agency over her sexuality. Regardless of her reasoning behind pursuing absence, Sam’s puzzle enables her to create a new narrative for herself while compelling her sister (and the player) to embark upon a mysterious quest.

 

A screenshot from the game Gone Home showing a note from the player character's sister

A Note from Sam, the player character’s sister, explaining her absence

Portal games feature a similarly puzzling character in the form of GLaDOS, who (unlike Sam) did not make the choice to become absent.  According to Laura Lannes’s “She’s the Backbone of This Facility,” GLaDOS originated as Caroline, who served as the “great woman” behind Aperture Science Enrichment Center founder Cave Johnson.  When he became ill, Caroline served as caretaker and business manager to Johnson. Realizing Caroline’s capability, he demanded that she take his place upon his imminent demise:

If I die before you people can pour me into a computer, I want Caroline to run this place. Now she’ll argue. She’ll say she can’t. She’s modest like that. But you make her…[p]ut her in my computer. (118; emphasis mine)

GLaDOS forcing game play upon Chell functions as a prime example of a character creating puzzles through and/or despite their physical absence.  Armed with the ability to taunt, manipulate, and trap, GLaDOS acts as a capricious game designer, forcing Chell to respond to various instructions, threats, and misleading promises of cake.  Despite her lack of a physical, human form, GLaDOS is dangerous, clever, and, definitely powerful.

A screenshot of the game Portal, depicting a moment where the AI antagonist of that game taunts the player with pictures of cake.

GLaDOS, nefarious puppet master of the Aperture Science Research Facility, is finally revealed. She taunts the player with images of cake.

Absence and Subverting Patriarchal Control

In addition to sometimes providing intriguing puzzles that serve to compel a game’s narrative, absence can also function as a means to exert different forms of agency.  Specifically, Sam’s absence serves as a tool to gain agency over her sexuality. Sam’s disappearance is a major aspect of Gone Home.  Ultimately, it is revealed that Sam has chosen to leave home to pursue a relationship with her girlfriend, Lonnie.  By becoming absent, Sam gains the agency to police her sexual identity and participate in a relationship that appears to have been forbidden by her parents.

GLaDOS provides us with another example of absence leading to the acquisition of agency that had been lacking in her previous existence as Caroline, whose submissiveness is made evident in her limited selection of lines.  Explains Lannes, “in two of [her five in-game lines] she’s saying: ‘Yes sir, Mr. Johnson!’” (116). As previously noted, Caroline is forced into a computer to replace the man that she had worked closely under. In addition to being turned into an object, GLaDOS notes that “engineers tried everything to make [her]… behave” (Portal 2), noting the application of an “Intelligence Dampening Sphere” called Wheatley.  Lannes describes Wheatley as “the male character who…was literally created to keep GLaDOS dumb” (121).  Despite attempts to modify her “problematic” behavior and stifle her thinking, GLaDOS exhibits agency by providing direction and narration throughout the Portal games, often taunting, deceiving, and threatening others.  By recovering remnants of her humanity and joining forces with Chell in Portal 2, GLaDOS defeats Wheatley and regains dominion over Aperture, the research facility which functions as the game’s setting.  Though Chell contributes to the overpowering of Wheatley, it could be argued that it is GLaDOS who ultimately allows Chell to win and escape Aperture.  This teaming up of formerly adversarial female figures connects to the larger idea of unseen characters’ ability to attain or regain feminine agency.  Explains Lannes: “Portal was about two women processing the oppression of patriarchy in different ways, while being pitted against each other.  Portal 2 invokes relations of power within patriarchy” (122).  In addition to articulating that allowing Chell to win is simply the easiest option, it is GLaDOS who ultimately makes the choice to alter her own identity by deleting what remains of the non-agentic Caroline.

Conclusion

Each of the previously described characters utilizes absence differently, and (arguably) both examples require that the particular characters be absent in some form.  Gone Home, for example, would be experienced completely differently if Sam had not chosen to become absent, tricking loved ones into believing that a sinister explanation lurked behind her disappearance.  GLaDOS’s taunting, manipulative narration would not exist at all if Caroline had not been forced into absence by being put into the computer. Moreover, GLaDOS’s absence directly contributes to her agency; once she becomes physically accessible at the end of game, the player is able to defeat her and subsequently win.  Since the release of these two titles, feminine representation in video games has continued to improve. Games such as Child of Light (2014), The Last of Us (2013), and Life is Strange (2015) offer female protagonists who possess a great deal of agency and rebuke the problematic stereotypes that have historically plagued video games.  Though we can hope that this trend toward empowered female protagonists persists, it is lamentable that these particular females can only seem to achieve agency by not being there.

Works Cited

Bowler, Steve. “Still Alive? She’s Free.” Game-ism. December 1, 2017.

Byrd, Robert. Unseen Characters in Selected Plays of Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, and Edward Albee. 1998.

Dotnod Entertainment. Life is Strange. 2015. Video game.

Fox, Jesse and Wai Yen Tang.  “Sexism in online video games: The role of conformity to masculine norms and social dominance orientation.”  Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 33, 2014, pp. 314-320.

Johnson, Nicholas.  Misogyny in Virtual Space: Exploring Representations of Women in Popular Video Games.  Dissertation, Middle Tennessee State University, 2015.

Lannes, Laura. “She’s the Backbone of This Facility,” Chainmail Bikini: The Anthology of Women Gamers, edited by Hazel Newlevant, Alternative Comics, 2016, pp. 116-123.

Liu, Haiping. “The Invisible: A Study of Eugene O’Neill’s Offstage Characters.”  The Eugene O’Neill Review, vol. 18, no. ½, 1994, pp. 149-161.

Naughty Dog. The Last of Us. 2013. Video game.

Valve. Portal. 2010.  Video game.

Valve. Portal 2. 2011. Video game.

Shaw, Adrienne. Gaming at the Edge: Sexuality and Gender at the Margins of Gamer Culture. University of Minnesota Press, 2014.

Ubisoft. Child of Light. 2014. Video game.

Zimonja, Karla, Johnnemann Nordhagen, Steve Gaynor, and Kate Craig. Gone Home.  Fullbright, Majesco Entertainment, 2013.

Read the whole story
sillygwailo
14 days ago
reply
Toronto, ON
Share this story
Delete

Maps will detail impact of sea level rise on Valley coastline

1 Comment

Flooding of the Courtenay Flats during previous heavy rainfalls

Maps will detail impact of sea level rise on Valley coastline

By George Le Masurier

It could be argued that climate change hasn’t yet impacted the daily lives of people in the Comox Valley. Yes, it has been drier for longer periods and a year ago the smoke from forest fires dimmed our skies and filled our lungs. The Comox Glacier is disappearing before our eyes.

These are minor events, however, compared to the torrential rains, flooding, droughts and intense super-hurricanes inflicting damage to other parts of the world.

But the serious consequences of climate change will soon reach our idyllic part of the world in the form of sea level rise.

Sea levels have risen by almost eight inches since the 1890s, an annual rate of about 0.06 inches per year, an amount barely noticeable except to those paying close attention.

But the rate of sea level rise has accelerated to 0.14 inches per year since 2006, and scientists predict it will continue to speed up as global temperatures climb.

The latest dire warnings suggest sea level could rise by as much as 1.3 feet by 2050 and up to 8.2 feet (2.5 metres) by 2100, depending on the success of global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

 

FOCUS ON COMOX VALLEY IMPACTS

To determine how rising sea levels will affect the Comox Valley coastline, the Comox Valley Regional District is undertaking detailed mapping of the regions 200 kilometres of coastline, from the Oyster River to Fanny Bay, including Denman and Hornby islands.

With a $500,000 grant from the National Disaster Mitigation Program, the CVRD hired Kerr Wood Leidal consulting engineers to assess the coastline from a geological perspective. They will produce maps and supporting technical data for five scenarios of sea level rise in the years 2030, 2050, 2100, 2150 and 2200.

The report will be a helpful planning guide for emergency management as well as for new development. And, the information will inform the CVRD how to make corresponding policy and regulatory changes, such as floodplain construction levels and setbacks.

The data will also help the CVRD predict how much flooding will occur and how long each flooding event will last.

“Sea level rise is coming whether we think it is or not and governments are being asked to act,” Alana Mullaly, the CVRD’s senior manager of the Regional Growth Strategy and sustainability, told Decafnation. “This will create a lot of hard conversations.”

With rising sea levels pouring over portions of our coastline, how close to the foreshore should building be allowed? Where should local governments put new infrastructure? How should local government manage its assets, such as parkland and archaeological sites? Who will pay for the restoration or relocation of assets?

Sea levels most certainly will have an effect on future land use planning.

“The CVRD may get a request to put a park here or a development there, but that property may be underwater in 20 years,” Mullaly said. “I’m thinking about the weighing of values that we, as a community, will need to do in dealing with climate change.”

 

RICHER DATA FOR ENGINEERS

To do this coastal flood mapping, the consultants will use LIDAR (Light Detecting and Ranging) to survey land remotely and produce high resolution topographic contours. The province has already flown LIDAR equipment over our area to collect the raw survey data and the consultants will process the data for use in the development of hundreds of maps.

Right now, communities that do not have coastal flood mapping generally rely on the requirements set by the province, which are based on mapping from the 1970s and 1980s.

Those maps did not account for any sea level rise, and neither does the current CVRD floodplain bylaw.

But by professional code, once engineers know something they have to consider it, and they have been taking sea level rise into account based on limited information. This report will give engineers richer local data.

Coastal flood mapping will put the CVRD in compliance with the Coastal Food Hazard Guideline, which is the main resource for engineers designing construction projects.

 

WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE PUBLIC

After the report is delivered by March 31 next year, the CVRD will hold public engagement events to inform citizens of its findings, which will ultimately lead to
recommendations for bylaws and other relevant regulations and guidelines.

“Sometimes it has been difficult for citizens to pinpoint the source or motivation when government rules change,” Mullaly said. “This won’t be one of them. This is not an arbitrary change. Sea level rise is coming.”

 

HOW HIGH WILL SEAS RISE?

The provincial government’s official prediction for sea level rise is a half-metre by 2050, one metre (just over three feet) by 2100 and two metres (about 6.5 feet) by 2200.

But that’s too low by at least half, according to recent scientific studies and the consulting engineers who did a similar mapping project for the City of Campbell River.

Northwest Hydraulic Consultants told Campbell River that the province’s projection “might be conservative.” One of the firm’s engineers, Grant Lamont, said it depends on future greenhouse gas emissions and how quickly ocean warming expands.

The loss of polar ice will accelerate in the second half of the century, Lamont said, and force people to cope with larger changes in shorter periods of time.

He recommended planning for two metres of sea level rise by 2100, as the states of California and New York have done.

Campbell River’s report suggests flooding will threaten downtown streets and buildings, and that local governments purchase coastal properties and turn them into pre-flooded parkland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CLIMATE REFUGEES RETREAT FROM COASTLINES

There will be 13 million climate refugees in the United States by 2100. This report tells the story of a Lousiana town being relocated before sea level rise makes it uninhabitable. It portends to be the first of many retreats for existing coastlines.

The tiny village of Newtok near Alaska’s western coast has been sliding into the Ninglick River for years. As temperatures increase — faster there than in the rest of the U.S. — the frozen permafrost underneath Newtok is thawing. Now, in an unprecedented test case, Newtok wants the federal government to declare these mounting impacts of climate change an official disaster. Villagers say it’s their last shot at unlocking the tens of millions of dollars needed to relocate the entire community.

 

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER

Enter your email address to subscribe to the Decafnation newsletter.

More Environment | Top Feature

Ocean farming: more food, less land, reduced GHG emissions

The climate crisis will force us to produce more food on less land while cutting greenhouse gas emissions. For Bren Smith, director of the non-profit group Greenwave, this transition means expanding our definition of farming to include the ocean

Who’s monitoring water quality at Island beaches?

The Vancouver Island Health Authority announced last month that it planned to drop a public health responsibility and dump it onto BC municipalities, but it apparently forgot to inform municipal officials

The post Maps will detail impact of sea level rise on Valley coastline appeared first on Decafnation.

Read the whole story
sillygwailo
14 days ago
reply
This report was due in March, but delayed because of the pandemic. I hear it will he released in July/August.
Toronto, ON
Share this story
Delete

Not Mandarin

1 Share

An invitation to speak other Chineses – Will Sack

 

Imagine if all of Germany spoke Shanghainese. Or if a population bigger than Britain spoke Cantonese. Wouldn’t we treat them as more than just sideshows? With 80 and 70 million native speakers respectively, Shanghainese and Cantonese are massive in both use and importance. So why do we so seldom teach them or other non-Mandarin Chineses? Why aren’t we curious what one third of China – a politically and culturally marginalized, but not always economically marginalized, third – has to say and think on their own terms?

Korean is the fastest growing foreign language in US classrooms, but if we compared South Korea’s population with Shanghai’s, more people and more wealth coordinate to the latter. This is no saint’s crusade – much of the world’s wealth is increasingly centered on China’s south, where many of these non-Mandarin languages are spoken.

“Well, that’s all well and good,” you might be thinking, “but those are dialects, not real languages.”

There is no such thing as dialects. Or, perhaps there are only dialects, spread along a disjointed spectrum. Either way, the difference between national language and “dialect” grows out of the barrel of a gun. The subordination of languages is not a product of pronunciation or grammar, but rather of politics. Indeed, the very term “official language” delineates a phantom limb – those languages that have been pushed aside, if not actively strangled, to make way for a common speech. Towards this end, language classification, like racial classification, is a tool of those in power. The bounds of such divisions are viciously arbitrary, when in reality, we all tend to blur from one place to the next. Still, people favor the familiar, and are more willing to express themselves in what they consider their mother tongue. For idealistic and pragmatic reasons, then, we would all benefit from broader linguistic sympathies.

Some might see this as a bit much coming from a native speaker of English. Our widespread intolerance of “non-standard” English (e.g. Singaporean English) is appalling. If any language can be called invasive, it is English. So perhaps it is with English’s failings in mind that scholars like Jeffrey Weng aver that Mandarin should be called an egalitarian project. After all, the crafting of a common language is ideal in theory, and who are we to yell foul if it breaks some eggs in practice.

Despite its regal name in English, Mandarin or putonghua (meaning “the common tongue”) is not the common language of civil service members in past empires (guanhua). There is room to debate how far Taiwan and the mainland’s Mandarins have drifted, but for our purposes it’s important to note the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) deep imprint on the common speech. Standard putonghua uses northern pronunciations, especially those of Beijing. However, putonghua is also not Beijing’s language. (For Mandarin speakers, when’s the last time you heard the Beijinghua term cèi used to mean “break”?) Rather, CCP putonghua is a stand-in for generic northern Chinese, reflecting the gradual imposition of centralized culture and politics on Greater China.

Sixty years after its creation, though, is the “common speech” really common? When the Communist government announced that the official language of the country was an ostensible “common speech” in 1956, less than half of the population could speak it, and only half could understand it. In 2014, Beijing announced they believe one third of the country still lacks proficiency in Mandarin. Even without counting non-PRC Chinese, who speak “dialects” in far higher numbers, there are more PRC citizens who are not proficient in Mandarin than the entire population of the US – and that isn’t even counting those who speak Mandarin but have a different mother tongue.

there are more PRC citizens who are not proficient in Mandarin than the entire population of the US

Mandarin’s immensity emerges from the mind boggling scale of China – roughly twice the population of Europe. Such size also births far more diversity than many, both within and outside China, are willing to admit. It gives in to a certain kind of Orientalist trap to assume that everyone in China is the same, or that they could be understood in one language, one broad sweep. It is also politically useful to imagine a unitary China, with a common tongue. Just as few people claim to understand all of Europe, regionalization is a kind of intellectual humility: we’d be better served with “Sichuan hands” and “Jiangnan hands,” rather than China hands.

In navigating Taiwan, conversance in Taiwanese Hokkien (also known as Southern Min) has been irreplaceable for me. Once you leave Taipei, you’ll be better served in almost any interaction if you speak Taiwanese. Even in the capital city, however, I swear I get bigger helpings of food if I can order in Taiwanese. There is no more fundamental way of saying “I care” than speaking someone’s language.

This holds true not just in Greater China, but on the mainland as well. When I catch a cab in northeast China, as soon as I say my destination, the conversation begins: How long have you been here? Who taught you that? Why don’t you use putonghua? And my answer is simple: “I wanted to know you all better, so I learned your language.” And that small gesture has been rewarded a thousand times over: in food, access, work, and most of all, straight talk.

Now, at this point you might be saying, “They’re a third … for now. These languages are dying ones.” Actually, only one in particular, Shanghainese, is predicted to decline steeply in the coming years. More to the point, restrictions on other Chineses is a big reason why we should seek out these languages and their speakers. The CCP holds that other Chineses suggest other Chinas. This hints at the diversity of opinions these language communities contain. Students of China need to be more creative, or at least more intentional, in the languages we study. Remaining satisfied with Mandarin is a self-imposed obstacle to hearing marginalized voices: the poor and the old, the rural and the dissident.

Have a little gumption! Such restrictions hardly mean learning is impossible. The method for learning smaller ones might be more quixotic (step 1: learn the local card game), but for several languages there are formal schools available, many of which offer distance learning. I do not want to make any endorsements, but suffice it to say Google can connect you with Cantonese and Hokkien lessons. Learning a non-Mandarin Chinese language is a manageable, meaningful thing one can accomplish in the face of larger political currents.

Less obvious than racial genocides, the cultural destruction underneath campaigns to promote Mandarin is nonetheless appalling. They lacerate communities on the mainland today, just as they did in Singapore and Taiwan before. Even now, the governments in all three share a belief that other Chineses are inherently backwards, obstacles for the nation to overcome. The most horrific examples of such thinking in practice are among the Inner Asian peoples at China’s edge, where Uyghur, Mongolian and Tibetan are targeted for destruction. However, I cannot forget what I’ve seen among the supposedly protected Han Chinese core: dongbeihua drawling grandmothers who never see their grandchild, lest the child imprint on their speech; parents who sleep only five hours a night to work that extra shift to pay for daycare in “the” Chinese language.

Even if Hong Kong loses its grip on Cantonese, people are embracing other Chineses across Greater China. Taiwan has at last elevated Taiwanese, the language spoken at home by 71-82% of the country, to an official language, giving it near-parity with Mandarin. And in Singapore, other Chineses, such as Hakka, are returning to TV and the classroom.

While non-Mandarin Chineses are experiencing a political spring in Greater China, they have also shown surprising resilience within the PRC. Their demise, then, but also their meaninglessness, has been greatly exaggerated. Other Chineses suggest hundreds of millions of people waiting for a more open China. These are not splittist or rebellious voices, but equal members asking for a seat at a table where all of China can feel at home and flourish. We should learn what dreams these speakers have for China – or at least speak their language. ∎

 

Header image: From “700 Handy Words in Taiwanese Hokkien” (臺灣閩南語推薦用字700字詞), New Taipei City Education Bureau

The post Not Mandarin appeared first on China Channel.

Read the whole story
sillygwailo
14 days ago
reply
Toronto, ON
Share this story
Delete

RSS: I Never Left

1 Share

Ton muses about an RSS Revival:

RSS is the most important piece of internet plumbing for following new content from a wide range of sources. It allows you to download new updates from your favourite sites automatically and read them at your leisure. Dave Winer, forever dedicated to the open web, created it.

I used to be a very heavy RSS user. I tracked hundreds of sources on a daily basis. Not as news but as a way to stay informed about the activities and thoughts of people I was interested in. At some point, that stopped working. Popular RSS readers were discontinued, most notably Google’s RSS reader, many people migrated to the Facebook timeline, platforms like Twitter stopped providing RSS feeds to make you visit their platform, and many people stopped blogging. But with FB in the spotlight, there is some interest in refocusing on the open web, and with it on RSS.

I’ve been an emitter and consumer of RSS feeds since the very beginning, and so, for me, there’s no need for a revival, as I never left. I currently have 86 RSS feeds in my RSS reader, ranging from Ton’s blog itself to security alerts to CBC news headlines to the blogs of several Prince Edward Island MLAs:

Screen shot of detail of the admin settings of Tiny Tiny RSS, my RSS reader

For the longest time, like many others, I consumed RSS feeds in Google Reader; when it was shut down by Google, I replaced this with a self-hosted instance of Tiny Tiny RSS, a serviceable replacement.

When I’m using my laptop, I read my RSS feeds in Tiny Tiny RSS’s web interface in a browser:

Screen shot of feedreading in Tiny Tiny RSS in a browser

When I’m on my Android phone, I use the Tiny Tiny RSS app, which syncs itself with the server so that what I’ve read and what I haven’t is always current:

Screen shot of the Tiny Tiny RSS app

I self-host Tiny Tiny RSS, rather than using a third-party service like Feedly, because, well, once-bitten-twice-shy: I don’t want my RSS consumption to be dependent on the corporate whims of an RSS reader company. Besides, what’s the point of taking a collection of independent, decentralized feeds and centralizing them?

That said, I recognize that running a personal Tiny Tiny RSS server is outside the realm of possibility for most people. I also recognize that a lot of RSS nomenclature, including the name RSS itself, stands as a barrier to a lot of people. So there’s work to be done here to catalyze the revival that Ton writes about, a revival that, despite my own perseverance, I fully support and see the benefits of.

Read the whole story
sillygwailo
14 days ago
reply
Toronto, ON
Share this story
Delete

Spotify is a Prison for Podcasts

1 Share

I have been a happy customer of Spotify for several years now, after flirting back and forth with Apple Music, Google Play Music and the late Rdio for several years before that. We have a family subscription, which we all three use extensively, no more so than Oliver who, for many months now has been making nightly playlists to go to sleep listening to.

Spotify has recently been promoting itself as much a podcast player as a streaming music service, and Oliver has followed the lead and has accumulated a subscription list of 1500+ podcasts in Spotify.

Last night, though, he was thinking about migrating to something else for his podcast listening: he didn’t like the fact that, although the Android Spotify app sports an “episodes” tab, the desktop player for the Mac does not, which makes tracking recently-released episodes on his Mac more challenging.

Having found a possible alternative, Oliver set out to move his list of podcasts from Spotify to a new app, and was immediately faced with a task that would have extended for several days: for each of the podcasts in Spotify he was taking the title, copying and pasting it into the new app, and subscribing there. Over and over and over. When this job threatened to take over his Friday, to the exclusion of other activities, I interceded and told him that we should simply export his list of podcasts from Spotify and import it into the new app.

How naive I was.

Spotify, it turns out, is a prison for podcasts.

Spotify takes podcasting, a system that is a marvel of decentralized openness, built on the strong and flexible (and open) foundation of RSS, and locks it inside a closed, proprietary system with no way of getting data in or out. You can’t import lists of podcasts. You can’t export lists of podcasts. You can’t add your own podcasts.

Surely, I thought, given the GDPR, there must be a way of getting Oliver’s personal information–including his podcasts–out of Spotify.

And there is, in theory: if you visit your Account page in Spotify, and then navigate to Privacy, and scroll down to the bottom, you will see a section called Download your data, full of promise.

Until you read the fine print and learn that “This can take up to 30 days to complete”:

Screen shot of the Download your data section of Spotify's Privacy page

How it’s possible to create a system that takes 30 days to assemble digital data boggles the mind, and while it may live up to the letter of the GDPR, it surely defies the spirit.

What about using the Spotify API?

Although it’s not documented, there is and endpoint that exposes the list of podcasts for a user.

Here’s how you can get at it (with the caveat, detailed below, that you are wasting your time).

Go to the Web API Console for the “Get User’s Profile” endpoint and click Get Token and then copy the cURL command on the right side (I’ve redacted Oliver’s token):

Screen shot of generating a Spotify token.

If you simply paste this cURL into the Mac command line, you’ll get back your basic account information:

{
  "birthdate" : "XXXX-XX-XX",
  "country" : "CA",
  "display_name" : "Oliver Rukavina",
  "email" : "o@ruk.ca",
  "explicit_content" : {
    "filter_enabled" : false,
    "filter_locked" : false
  },
  "external_urls" : {
    "spotify" : "https://open.spotify.com/user/12154891049"
  },
  "followers" : {
    "href" : null,
    "total" : 13
  },
  "href" : "https://api.spotify.com/v1/users/12154891049",
  "id" : "12154891049",
  "images" : [ {
    "height" : null,
    "url" : "https://profile-images.scdn.co/images/userprofile/default/6a5a73861526ed7cece0ea757ab1f043277d7ebb",
    "width" : null
  } ],
  "product" : "premium",
  "type" : "user",
  "uri" : "spotify:user:12154891049"
}

If you edit this command, however, and tack shows onto the end of the URL, replacing https://api.spotify.com/v1/me with https://api.spotify.com/v1/me/shows, you’ll get back a JSON representation of your first 20 podcast subscriptions, with each one represented by an object like this:

{
    "added_at" : "2019-03-27T02:16:27Z",
    "show" : {
      "available_markets" : [ "AD", "AE", "AR", "AT", "AU", "BE", "BG", "BH", "BO", "BR", "CA", "CH", "CL", "CO", "CR", "CY", "CZ", "DE", "DK", "DO", "DZ", "EC", "EE", "ES", "FI", "FR", "GB", "GR", "GT", "HK", "HN", "HU", "ID", "IE", "IL", "IN", "IS", "IT", "JO", "JP", "KW", "LB", "LI", "LT", "LU", "LV", "MA", "MC", "MT", "MX", "MY", "NI", "NL", "NO", "NZ", "OM", "PA", "PE", "PH", "PL", "PS", "PT", "PY", "QA", "RO", "SE", "SG", "SK", "SV", "TH", "TN", "TR", "TW", "US", "UY", "VN", "ZA" ],
      "copyrights" : [ ],
      "description" : "It's the Peter and Oliver podcast all grown up. ",
      "explicit" : false,
      "external_urls" : {
        "spotify" : "https://open.spotify.com/show/6bDdMX7OmjDG1u5ebEhNRX"
      },
      "href" : "https://api.spotify.com/v1/shows/6bDdMX7OmjDG1u5ebEhNRX",
      "id" : "6bDdMX7OmjDG1u5ebEhNRX",
      "images" : [ {
        "height" : 640,
        "url" : "https://i.scdn.co/image/8beec05386bfef3e095bcdf46aafaee112d55fdb",
        "width" : 640
      }, {
        "height" : 300,
        "url" : "https://i.scdn.co/image/4f70272b77c24c619a79486d6c88445b976151f7",
        "width" : 300
      }, {
        "height" : 64,
        "url" : "https://i.scdn.co/image/807d9151f7fa4a0ccd96c80d0c9bc265152b6012",
        "width" : 64
      } ],
      "languages" : [ "en-US" ],
      "media_type" : "audio",
      "name" : "Oliver And Peter Podcast",
      "publisher" : "Oliver Rukavina",
      "type" : "show",
      "uri" : "spotify:show:6bDdMX7OmjDG1u5ebEhNRX"
    }
}

You may be thinking “wow, this is amazing!” until you notice that nowhere in that JSON is any information that falls outside the Spotify universe: none of the standard trappings of open podcast data–the feed URL, the website, the non-Spotify-hosted artwork–are there.

And these details also aren’t there if you follow the URL in the “href” to get all the show details:

{
  "available_markets" : [ "AD", "AE", "AR", "AT", "AU", "BE", "BG", "BH", "BO", "BR", "CA", "CH", "CL", "CO", "CR", "CY", "CZ", "DE", "DK", "DO", "DZ", "EC", "EE", "ES", "FI", "FR", "GB", "GR", "GT", "HK", "HN", "HU", "ID", "IE", "IL", "IN", "IS", "IT", "JO", "JP", "KW", "LB", "LI", "LT", "LU", "LV", "MA", "MC", "MT", "MX", "MY", "NI", "NL", "NO", "NZ", "OM", "PA", "PE", "PH", "PL", "PS", "PT", "PY", "QA", "RO", "SE", "SG", "SK", "SV", "TH", "TN", "TR", "TW", "US", "UY", "VN", "ZA" ],
  "copyrights" : [ ],
  "description" : "It's the Peter and Oliver podcast all grown up. ",
  "episodes" : {
    "href" : "https://api.spotify.com/v1/shows/6bDdMX7OmjDG1u5ebEhNRX/episodes?offset=0&limit=50",
    "items" : [ {
      "audio_preview_url" : "https://p.scdn.co/mp3-preview/1c405e3e511e5e7199a45b1de32f83e5f88c7e24",
      "description" : "This first episode is about Vancouver BC Canada ",
      "duration_ms" : 92624,
      "explicit" : false,
      "external_urls" : {
        "spotify" : "https://open.spotify.com/episode/79W2zHGuUttBOInh642kNR"
      },
      "href" : "https://api.spotify.com/v1/episodes/79W2zHGuUttBOInh642kNR",
      "id" : "79W2zHGuUttBOInh642kNR",
      "images" : [ {
        "height" : 640,
        "url" : "https://i.scdn.co/image/53b71df32a85645777ba73afa2e9e738bd788534",
        "width" : 640
      }, {
        "height" : 300,
        "url" : "https://i.scdn.co/image/2cc3d2acae39674b3c3bfdc53ae2286a692b1376",
        "width" : 300
      }, {
        "height" : 64,
        "url" : "https://i.scdn.co/image/2f6bd66373d51f8f6f62b55997539e1554a3df4a",
        "width" : 64
      } ],
      "is_externally_hosted" : false,
      "is_playable" : true,
      "language" : "en-US",
      "name" : "Oliver and Peter Podcast episode 1",
      "release_date" : "2019-03-20",
      "release_date_precision" : "day",
      "type" : "episode",
      "uri" : "spotify:episode:79W2zHGuUttBOInh642kNR"
    }, {
      "audio_preview_url" : "https://p.scdn.co/mp3-preview/1b3548d7561908fd8b4c6625e5e4d1fdbc8198bd",
      "description" : "Episode 1 is about Vancouver BC Canada  ",
      "duration_ms" : 26958,
      "explicit" : false,
      "external_urls" : {
        "spotify" : "https://open.spotify.com/episode/5bH6wVgbHQ5aCJdthQLZrk"
      },
      "href" : "https://api.spotify.com/v1/episodes/5bH6wVgbHQ5aCJdthQLZrk",
      "id" : "5bH6wVgbHQ5aCJdthQLZrk",
      "images" : [ {
        "height" : 640,
        "url" : "https://i.scdn.co/image/53b71df32a85645777ba73afa2e9e738bd788534",
        "width" : 640
      }, {
        "height" : 300,
        "url" : "https://i.scdn.co/image/2cc3d2acae39674b3c3bfdc53ae2286a692b1376",
        "width" : 300
      }, {
        "height" : 64,
        "url" : "https://i.scdn.co/image/2f6bd66373d51f8f6f62b55997539e1554a3df4a",
        "width" : 64
      } ],
      "is_externally_hosted" : false,
      "is_playable" : true,
      "language" : "en-US",
      "name" : "Oliver and Peter Podcast episode 1",
      "release_date" : "2019-03-20",
      "release_date_precision" : "day",
      "type" : "episode",
      "uri" : "spotify:episode:5bH6wVgbHQ5aCJdthQLZrk"
    } ],
    "limit" : 50,
    "next" : null,
    "offset" : 0,
    "previous" : null,
    "total" : 2
  },
  "explicit" : false,
  "external_urls" : {
    "spotify" : "https://open.spotify.com/show/6bDdMX7OmjDG1u5ebEhNRX"
  },
  "href" : "https://api.spotify.com/v1/shows/6bDdMX7OmjDG1u5ebEhNRX",
  "id" : "6bDdMX7OmjDG1u5ebEhNRX",
  "images" : [ {
    "height" : 640,
    "url" : "https://i.scdn.co/image/8beec05386bfef3e095bcdf46aafaee112d55fdb",
    "width" : 640
  }, {
    "height" : 300,
    "url" : "https://i.scdn.co/image/4f70272b77c24c619a79486d6c88445b976151f7",
    "width" : 300
  }, {
    "height" : 64,
    "url" : "https://i.scdn.co/image/807d9151f7fa4a0ccd96c80d0c9bc265152b6012",
    "width" : 64
  } ],
  "is_externally_hosted" : false,
  "languages" : [ "en-US" ],
  "media_type" : "audio",
  "name" : "Oliver And Peter Podcast",
  "publisher" : "Oliver Rukavina",
  "type" : "show",
  "uri" : "spotify:show:6bDdMX7OmjDG1u5ebEhNRX"
}

Like I said: a prison.

And there’s another problem: this is both an undocumented API call and a broken one.

In theory you should be able to specify a “limit” and an “offset” parameter to page through podcasts and retrieve them all, like:

curl -X "GET" "https://api.spotify.com/v1/me/shows?offset=0&limit=20"
curl -X "GET" "https://api.spotify.com/v1/me/shows?offset=20&limit=20"
curl -X "GET" "https://api.spotify.com/v1/me/shows?offset=40&limit=20"
curl -X "GET" "https://api.spotify.com/v1/me/shows?offset=60&limit=20"

and so on.

But that doesn’t work.

I’m able to retrieve at most 50 podcasts (out of Oliver’s 1,986 total subscriptions). And using the Spotify web player confirms this breakage, showing a scrolling list of 50 podcasts that repeats and repeats and repeats.

Because this is an undocumented, and thus unsupported API call, it’s not like I can dial 1-800-SPOTIFY to ask for help.

But I’m not willing to give up the fight, so I forge on with this crazy, destructive nuclear option, which involves working around this bug in the undocumented API by pulling the podcasts 50 at a time, saving their name and ID, and then deleting them using another undocumented API call, so that I can then get the next 50 podcasts. And so on. Until I have them all.

(Warning: if you use this code you will be unsubscribing from all your podcasts, one by one by one).

items as $oneshow) {
    $id = $oneshow->show->id;
    $name = $oneshow->show->name;

    // Write the name and ID of the podcast into the text file opened earlier
    fwrite($fpout, $name . "\t" . $id . "\n");

    // Unsubscribe from the podcast via the Spotify API
    $url = 'curl -s -X "DELETE" "https://api.spotify.com/v1/me/shows?ids=' . $id .
           '" -H "Accept: application/json" -H "Content-Type: application/json" -H "Authorization: Bearer ' .
           $bearer .
           '"';

    exec($url);
  }
}
fclose($fpout);

And even this code won’t work completely, or at least it wouldn’t work in Oliver’s case: with 905 podcasts still to extract, it simply stopped returning anything from the API call to get shows, and the web player, at this point, showed Oliver with no subscriptions at all. So perhaps the API only works for the first 1,081 podcasts?

In any case, Oliver now has a text file with 1,081 podcasts in it. Or, more accurately, the names of 1,081 podcasts in it.  But how to get the feed URLs? There’s no obvious way to do this right now, although the Listen Notes API might work. Barring that, Oliver has a lot of copying and pasting ahead of him.

In summary, let this be a warning to you: if you use Spotify as your podcast app, you are a prisoner to Spotify, and if you decide to switch to another podcast app there isn’t any way to get your data out of Spotify.

Read the whole story
sillygwailo
14 days ago
reply
Toronto, ON
Share this story
Delete

Every Last Puffin

1 Share
.

Hi,

I know it’s been a while. So sorry. He never calls, he never writes, etc.

Just a short note to let you know that my new book project – Every Last Puffin – is now live on Kickstarter.

More than simply a book about puffins, these are tales of finding the last remaining strongholds of the most enigmatic birds in the United Kingdom before its too late. Everyone loves a Puffin, right?

I also couldn’t resist a couple more trips to Iceland, including Heimaey where I rescue disoriented Pufflings with local kids out on their nightly puffin patrols.

There are plenty of rewards on offer, from a copy of the book before anyone else through to a chance to come and find puffins with me. Anything you can do to help would be much appreciated; just a simple share makes all the difference.

More details here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1978797490/every-last-puffin

Thanks again. Ed.



Read the whole story
sillygwailo
23 days ago
reply
Toronto, ON
Share this story
Delete
Next Page of Stories