Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Audacity Is An Hold System Trying to Make Me Feel Guilty

How does one define audacity? Dictionary.com has this to say:


boldness or daring, esp. with confident or arrogant disregard for personal safety, conventional thought, or other restrictions.


effrontery or insolence; shameless boldness: His questioner's audacity shocked the lecturer.

Me, I prefer:

1. Telemarketers that call you up with an “all our representatives are currently busy, please stay on the line” message

2. Telemarketers that do it over and over again.

Now I know what you are thinking. Actually I have no clue, but I hope at least one of you is thinking the following “Wintersong, why the hell don’t you guys put your name on the Do Not Call List? Of course, I would hope that if you thought that, you would immediately say to yourself “this Wintersong fellow sounds like a sensible if perhaps overly eccentric sort, I imagine he has thought of this (apparently between thoughts you moved to England).”

Of course we thought of that. Our number is on the Do Not Call List. However, there is an exemption made for charitable organizations. Or more importantly, paid telemarketing companies working on the behalf of charitable organizations. We get a lot of these. We’ve been getting a lot of these for some time, but I will admit I may have exacerbated the situation.

You may or may not have deducted from previous posts on BarkingShaman that I struggle with depression. Or more accurately I live with depression since for some reason the term “I struggle with” always evokes images of high school wrestling in my mind. Which is weird since I’ve never wrestled, my high school did not have wrestling, I’ve never attended a high school (or any other kind) wrestling match. Despite the stereotypes, I never even masturbated to the idea of high school wrestling.

Strange brain associations aside, anyone who lives with depression, like many other neurological issues, will tell you that the medication that works great one week may not do crap the next. During one of these “medication not doing crap” periods, I answered a charity telemarketing call. We’d been getting a huge number of them at the time and saying “no” to disabled vets, retired police associations, active police associations, and such was not doing anything positive for my sense of self-worth. Hanging up on poor bastards that probably get called worst things in a day than some serial killers get called in a lifetime didn’t help either. Interestingly, I have since determined that most or all these calls may have been coming from the same call center.

When the fourteenth caller called (ok, couldn’t have been more than fifth but you get the point) I relented. Actually I tried to get him off the phone but he kept saying things like “Surely you can free up just fifteen dollars for our returning wounded heroes” although as depressed as I was, my brain chose to interpret it more like “If you just give us fifteen dollars I won’t have to kill this kitten I have here.” In the interest of saving kittens or war veterans or my own sanity I did so.

To say that the rate of calls has not slowed would be both obvious and completely predictable.

However, we have gotten quite good at dodging them. For financial reasons we do not have caller ID, but after a while we reacquired the pre-caller ID skill of recognizing the several seconds of empty line that often is what greets you when a telemarketing firm’s auto-dialer is moving more quickly than its agents. If you know this sound, or lack thereof, you can put down the receiver or hit the “off” button before a voice filled with the “I know I’m not fooling you, and you know that I know that I’m not fooling you, but my manager might be listening” kind of artificial cheer comes on in order to ask you for money. If you can get off the phone before this happens, you can do so with no guilt. The computer doesn’t give a fuck if you answer or not, it just auto-dials the next person having diner, a shower, or sex. Hanging up on the computer has a null effect on your daily “how big a shit have I been today?” meter.

In response to either a much higher rate of outgoing calls than staff, or to people getting better at the sound of silence trick, one of the companies that calls our house has now added the hold message I mentioned at the beginning of the post. As my problems with insomnia have yet to be resolved, and perhaps as a result (or perhaps for some other whacked out reason) my thought processes have mostly not been up to much deep thinking, I have spent a decent amount of time wondering what the reasoning behind this message is.

I simply cannot conceive of an remotely healthy individual who patiently waits on hold when a telemarketer calls. It is obvious that the call is from a charity telemarketer because it says so right in the message. “Company A is a paid solicitor calling on behalf of the Pay Us Not To Kill Kittens Foundation. All our agents are currently with other callers. Please stay on the line and a representative will be with you shortly.”

After much (way too much) thought on this question I’ve decided that there are very few groups of people who this particular method could work with: the very stoned, the very drunk, the very senile, and the very mentally challenged. All groups of people that have members who, when hearing that message might conceivably get confused into thinking that they were the ones who had made the call and wait for a representative to assist them. Even taken together these groups cannot account for much in the way of revenue.

Perhaps they are hopping that, baffled and weirdly compelled, people will stay on the line just to see how long it takes before they are transfered to an agent. In this case, it is a method that is likely to only work once.

Combined with the fact that there is a movie coming out about rouge man-eating killer sheep, this has to be a bigger sign of some sort of end of times than gays getting married or the availability of a vaccine to protect against cervical cancer. The right wing needs to reevaluate their priorities and get a handle on this automated telemarketing thing. It would be a shame for them to spend all this time looking for Satan in internet pornography only to find that he’d been in the telephone system all along.

You can expect that plot to hit the theaters in a few years, once the killer-sheep people decide to do a new project.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Playing Pretend (yet having nothing to do with sex)

We all have secrets that we think are shameful, it’s part of being human. I’m going to share with you what I consider one of my darkest secrets, and amazingly it has nothing to do with sex:

Despite being in my mid to late twenties, I still like to play pretend games. As an adult I suppose that wouldn’t be a problem if I kept said games to the bedroom but that isn’t what I mean. For a long time I justified my mental games by the fact that I also like to write, but I would be doing exactly the same thing even if I wasn’t writing.

What sort of thing do I mean by “play pretend games?” Well, I mean pretty much the same thing I did when I was ten, only I like to think that the scenarios have become more sophisticated. For example, I have a sci-fi world in my head that is incredibly complex. In the context of this world, I can explain in great detail what kind of spaceship any automobile on the road would be. I do this while requiring that I simultaneously stay true to the design intend and function of said automobile’s unique design features and the requirements and restrictions of the imaginarily world. It’s both impressive and pathetic at the same time.

I have a “plot line” in this world that includes a character that I play in my head. I suppose it isn’t that different that role playing, except that I have never role played. As strange as it may seem, as a kid I was told by multiple friends who role played that I was not the “kind” of person they were looking to game with. Never quite been sure why that was, but as a consequence I haven’t actually gamed before. Fireheart has said on more than one occasion that she wants me to try to write this world up as a role playing game but I am not overburdened with time and I continue to insist that as a non-gamer I shouldn’t try writing a game. I certainly can’t be a game master for one, which is the next stage of what she would want me to do with it.

The reason all of this comes up now is that my company is failing horribly. We haven’t had any good paying work in a year. Moving to New Hampshire caused me to loose all the contacts I had cultivated in Vermont and with my worsened health; I haven’t been able to pursue new work actively enough. Also, we don’t have the money for me to have an out of home office. Without a public space it is much harder to go after clients or build relationships with the local chamber of commerce. Our office in Vermont only cost about two-fifty a month but I can’t afford that right now.

As a result, we have been looking into the possibility of getting me work doing CAD rather than design work to bring in some money. Temp agencies often have CAD work listings and are just as happy to contract a company as an individual. Without client work though, my SolidWorks (an industry standard CAD program that we pay a ridiculous amount of money to have and update) skills have become rusty. I needed an intricate project to work on that would push my abilities with the program farther than they had been pushed before. The project I came up with was designing in the computer, the small space ship that my Subaru Forester is in my mind.

I have now sunk just about 43 hours into the design and I can safely say I’ll need at least half again that, if not double, to finish and render the design. I have approached the project as if I was making a model. I have made the parts of the ship and then put them in a very complex assembly file. The rendering process is remarkably like painting a model.

It has been incredibly fulfilling to actually see the ship taking form in the computer in a form I can manipulate in three dimensions and has a lot of moving parts (I was thrilled to be learn limit-mates in order to make the wings open and close together). Of course, it is fulfilling to CAD-draft any design idea that one has only previously seen in one’s head, but it is somehow different when it is the spaceship. Part of that is the exciting challenge of designing around a set of rules defined by the technology of the world in my head rather than the real world. After all let’s be honest, I am never going to get to design a real space vessel, which was once a childhood dream, as well as the subject of more than one science fair project.

The process has gotten me asking an interesting (at least to me, but then it is my blog) question. When did I start to feel that this kind of imaginary game was not appropriate for someone my age? At what age did it stop being ok to play pretend? I can’t remember a specific moment or even year that I started feeling embarrassed by my mental games. I suppose I feel about my pretend games the way many people feel about masturbating. It’s one of those things that you feel you shouldn’t do, although you don’t quite know why and can’t seem to stop. Of course weirdly enough, I don’t feel that way about masturbating at all and totally fail to understand why some people do. Summerwind says he is equally puzzled by my embarrassment over my pretend world.

So what do I get out of this imaginary world? Being able to have many of the ordinary things I do in life have an element of excitement or fun makes the activities of daily life more interesting, which given the amount of effort these sorts of activities can take when my health is really troublesome, means it can make those activities possible. For instance having a complex story when I dislocated my shoulder several years ago made physical therapy more bearable. After all, I slipped in the kitchen and was trying to catch my fall is way less fun than a story about the optical-thermal ablative coating (long story, involves car washes and sparkly paint) of my spaceship failing and an energy bolt penetrating the cabin and my right shoulder, necessitating repair work and physical therapy to be re-certified as combat-ready (the TENS unit the therapist used was nerve stimulation to try to get the artificial replacement nerve fibers to synch with the remaining natural nerves).

Maybe this all sounds awfully stupid to you. Maybe it doesn’t. I am certain I’ll spend the next few days worrying about what people think, but right now I have a CAD spaceship with a retractable rocket assembly that I have to go figure the geometry for.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Sorry again LJ folks if you got a whole bunch of the follow up to Neo-Nazi Skin Head. I've been having some technical difficulties with Blogger these last few days. Just bear with me and I'll work this shit out. -Wintersong

Follow up on "Apparently I'm a Neo-Nazi Racist Skin Head"

Those of you who have been reading BarkingShaman since its inception (or who have gone back through the archives) may remember the post "Apparently I'm a Neo-Nazi Racist Skin Head," which was prompted by a challenging conversation I had with a representative from the Southern Poverty Law Center. The reason for my phone call was that I had found a SPLCenter page which purported to show Neo-Nazi or white supremacist tattoos. Imagine my displeasure to find that the SPLCenter had runic tattoos listed as hate symbols. Not specific runes mind you, all it said was rune tattoos.

At the time I wrote "Apparently I'm a Neo-Nazi Racist Skin Head," the essay stirred up a lot of emotional responses both in the comments section and in conversations I had with people who read BS.

Today I received an email from the gentleman I had spoken with at SPLC. I am not entirely sure how he happened across the post (I assume SPLC does a google search for their name periodically) but he wanted to share his impressions. I am reposting both his email to me and my response for those of you who are interested.

-to winsongt@gmail.com-


I just happened to see your Oct. 19 posting about the conversation you and I had about neo-paganism and neo-Nazism. I appreciate the mostly evenhanded tone of the post. A couple of brief things: I didn't think it was fair to say we would assume you, or a group you mention, are neo-Nazi -- we very clearly understand that there are non-racial heathens as well as anti-racist ones. I think it's certainly false that we would "automatically declare" Asphodel to be a white supremacist organization. We never do that. We look carefully at the ideology of every individual organization that we list as a hate group. We have never listed Asphodel or, in fact, other such groups.

ON the question of what percentage of, say, Asatruers are racist, that's obviously very open to debate. I believe did mention to you Mattias Gardell's scholarly book on racism within the heathen scene, and he certainly estimates higher than 10%. In any event, that really is open to debate, although I suspect the percentage is substantially higher.

That's all. I just happened to see the post today, many months later.


Mark Potok
Director, Intelligence Project

-my response (and no, I am not going to post Mr. Potok's email address)-

Thank you for your email and I also want to thank you for the time you spent back then talking to me on the phone. When I called SPL I did not expect to get an actual person on the phone, and certainly did not expect you to take so much time for our conversation.

Having gotten your email, I have gone back and re-read the BarkingShaman post and I want you to know that I did not intend to imply that the SPLCenter had actually declared Asphodel to be a hate group, but rather note that it could happen if the organization was judged on such things as heathen tattoos (Raven Kaldera has a large runic tattoo on his forearm for example). However, on reflection, I can see how I could be misinterpreted, so I have edited the post to reflect that that was not my intent while maintaining the integrity of the essay:

[ It blows my mind to think that the SPL Center could look at a group like Asphodel for example, and declare it to be a white-supremacist organization. If they looked at the leaders in the community though, they would almost certainly identify at least Raven and myself as neo-Nazis if they were basing their judgments on our body modifications. ]

Unfortunately, there are a great many people who rely on the SPLCenter to guide their concepts of who is or is not hateful. As our world becomes more complex it becomes harder and harder for an individual to hold a coherent picture of the totality of a problem as complex as hate groups in their head. That means that people may not choose to investigate further a declaration from SPL regarding who is or is not part of a hate group.

For example, had my mother (who has donated to SPL for as long as I can remember and reads pretty much everything you put out) seen the picture on your website of the rune tattoo with the description that it was a white supremacist marking, my own body modifications would have immediately become very frightening to her. The same could be said for a pagan or heathen with these sorts of marks who was applying for a job in which a tattoo would otherwise be acceptable. When an organization like SPLCenter wields as the degree of influence that SPL does, great care must be taken whenever generalities become involved.

Thanks again for your time both in our conversation and sending me an email,

I figure I might as well ask you folks for some help with this. I have been experimenting with different layouts for BarkingShaman. My concern is that I have had some complaints from folks who don't like having to continuously scroll down when reading long posts. However, I lack the training to modify the Blogger html templates to make my columns wider by a small amount and the stretched templates don't seem to be easier to read because they are just too wide.

What do people think? Are the narrow columns a problem or should I leave the layout basically the way it has been? In the meantime I'll keep fooling with colors and fonts to try to make BS as easy to read as possible.