victoria kirst

I Think I Am In Friend-Love With You by Yumi Sakugawa

April 10th, 2015 | No Comments »

I think I am in friend-love with you

This is a lovely little book, but, you guys. READ THE STORY. This is definitely a story of one-sided love, not "just" friendship. That said, it's terrific.

Warning: Do not gift this book! OMG. Based on title + cute artwork alone, I almost sent this to a platonic friend without reading it first. NOPE. This story is about a one-sided love. If you gave this to a friend, it would be equivalent to confessing your unvoiced romantic feelings for them. Like in a weird, shift-y, "no I just think you're an awesome person" but then YOU SECRETLY CRY WHEN YOU SEE HIM AND HIS JELLYFISH GIRLFRIEND TOGETHER. Trust: gifting this book would be weird. Do not do.

If you haven't seen I Think I Am In Friend-Love With You, I suggest you go to a book store and find it. Read it in its tangible form.

But if you're too lazy, ITIAMF-LWY was originally published as a comic for Sadie Magazine. Please, please read it in its entirety before letting me ruin it for you by chopping it up and examining the pieces. I'll wait.

Done? Yes?


Alright now look at what we just read:

I think I am in friend love with you ARM TOUCH BLUSH


"believe it or not" um

"Believe it or not, I wouldn't be sad if you are already in a romantic relationship."

The tell-tale "already". Love that part, smart writing.


And in case you didn't catch the subtlety with "already" above, the author draws her crying when she sees him and his jellyfish girlfriend exchange fave books.


Imagine giving this to one of your *truly platonic* friends.
Like actually choose one of your close friends, and read through the story again imagining that you're saying this to them.


Why I'm so adamant about this point is two-fold:

1. Everyone misinterprets this story. It's baffling.

NPR says:

The comic, which first hit the Internet in 2012, looks at a modern-day friendship — friend crushes — and expresses all the delightful, little things we hope our best (and even not-so-best) pals will do for us.


Rando from Amazon says:

Yumi Sakugawa perfectly captured how sometimes… you really, honestly, just want to be friends.

Ohhhhhh the irony.

2. It's a better story with the unreliable narrator.
Don't get me wrong — this is genius writing and genius storytelling. Yumi Sakugawa is perfectly describing a lie we all know so well.

To be clear, there is such a thing as friend-love, and I think the first half of the comic describes that well. "I just so desperately want for you to think / that I am this super-awesome person / because I think YOU are a super awesome person."

But when you finish the story, you see she's really getting at something deeper. There's this special youthful feeling, one that I associate with late high school or college. It's an intense desire for emotional intimacy when you're not yet comfortable with romantic intimacy. I can remember hearing from so many different girls at some point (myself included) at that late teenager/early college age saying something along the lines of "I don't even really like him or anything; I just think he's a cool person and we would be good friends." "I wouldn't even care if he has a girlfriend already." You always knew what that meant, though.

This is a book that captures that conversation, that feeling that's universally recognizable (at least among girls, I think) but is also something I've never seen talked about or recorded in any kind of media. That's an incredible thing to do, to find a universally recognizable feeling that no one's really talking about. Mix in a pitch-perfect portrayal of how today's technology fits into this, and you've got a beautiful little time capsule that snapshots a very particular feeling and era. I'm glad this book exists.


Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumaker

April 10th, 2015 | No Comments »


Dear Committee Members is an epistolary novel-satire that presents the slow and droll nervous breakdown of English professor, revealed through a series of eloquent letters of recommendations for a vast array of mediocrely undeserving students.

Professor Jason Fitger’s field has been deemed irrelevant and expendable by the college, and the world around him seems to cruelly agree with that assessment: Jay’s students are largely uninspiring, and his own creative output has been reduced to the monotonous act of recommending these students onward to entry-level food service positions, or for the promising ones, to med school (anything but English…).

In some ways, this book is brilliant. Julie Schumacher is impressively devoted to a true epistolary form: the letters sound like letters, with no dialogue, no reminders of who characters are, no gimmicks to artificially move along a plot. It’s a difficult feat and impressive accomplishment to create a coherent novel from letters that sound like actual letters.

But ughhhhhh it was so boorinngggggg! Jay Fitger’s LORs are reminding him how monotonous and meaningless his life is. And so reading these letters… kind of monotonous. Took me many a subway ride to trudge through this quite slim novelette. And while I admire Schumacher’s diligence to form, a collection of letters is kind of a slog to read. The lack of dialogue slowwwwws everything down, and you have to keep track of the characters purely by name. This is not a great Kindle book, as you’ll need to go back and forth between the pages like “wait, is Tara Tappini a new character or was she mentioned before?” The volume of boring repetitive letters is the point, but at the same time, every similar wittily damning LOR after the first few is just filler to flesh out a novel. Well-written, intentional filler, but filler.

NPR hails Dear Committee Members “a hilarious academic novel that’ll send you laughing (albeit ruefully) back into the trenches of the classroom.” I could believe this book is hilarious to a certain academic audience, but I’m very much not that audience. Yes, English departments in no-name universities are treated like 5th class citizens to more “practical” majors. Unlike Schumacher, I don’t really find that to be a shame. It’s not that I don’t get the jokes; I just don’t find them very funny.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

April 10th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

stationelevenThe first couple chapters of Station Eleven end on a note of completely unsubtle foreshadowing. Chapter 2, for instance:

Of all of them there at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on the road out of the city.

Oh boy.

Next Jeevan receives an urgent phone call from his doctor friend about the Georgian Flu, an extremely deadly epidemic that's just beginning to spiral out of control. Jeevan's mind begins to race as he processes the news, and he can barely restrain his panic as he prepares for the worst at the grocery store.

At this point, I felt an anticipatory weariness as a reader. Now here comes the play-by-play apocalyptic nightmare, I thought. Denial then paranoia then "OMG do I have it?!", hysteria, "Oh God my daughter/husband/mother is sick", the overflowing hospitals, and the agony of watching all your loved ones dying suddenly and horrifically around you. I was preparing for a slog through hopelessness, formulaic hopelessness, and I wasn't looking forward to it.

Emily St. John Mandel instead took a very different turn. Hooray! Spoilers ahead.


At around page 30, it's part 2 and we're taken twenty years in the future. The Georgian Flu has come and gone. The world seems to be in rough shape, but here we see the Traveling Symphony, a mash-up collection actors and musicians who are stumbling over lines, grumbling about the weather, passionate about their art.

In other words, we're being told that hey, things post-apocalypse are going to be okay. At page 30! Not only are people still alive, but there's art, entertainment, and the hope to inspire.

It felt like an act of defiance, an opening like this. Mandel is declaring upfront that no, her apocalypse novel isn't going to be a "does he make it?!" thriller, it's not going to be torture porn, and no, it's not going to end in a climactic "but see, even in the worst of it all, humanity prevails!" Mandel gets all that over with in the first 30 pages of the book. She has another story to tell.

Station Eleven is composed of roughly two parallel arcs. The pre-apocalypse arc is written like standard modern literature, and it's a good old-fashioned character study. There's Arthur, the movie star, rich and famous with three divorces, trying to find happiness. There's Clark, his best friend, an occupational psychologist who pre-apocalypse had just come to the realization that he's going through life on auto-pilot. There's Miranda, the comic book artist and Arthur's first wife, a timid and passive woman who becomes a new woman after their divorce, with her literally internet-meme-sourced affirmation of "I regret nothing."

I love character-driven literature, and I love beautiful language, and that's exactly what Mandel's serving in the pre-apocalypse. There's a scene before Miranda's marriage to Arthur, where she is still with her first boyfriend, Pablo. They're not working out:

The problem is that she's colossally bored with the conversation, and also bored with Pablo, and with the kitchen on Jarvis Street where she knows he's standing, because he only makes angry phone calls from home — one of the things they have in common is a mutual distaste for sidewalk weepers and cell-phone screamers, for people who conduct their messier personal affairs in public — and the kitchen gets the best reception of anywhere in the apartment.

"Pablo, it's just a job. We need the money."

"It's always money with you, isn't it?"

"This is what's paying our rent. You know that, right?"

"Are you saying I'm not pulling my weigh, Miranda? Is that what you're saying?"

It isn't possible to continue to listen to this, so she sets the receiver gently on the cradle and finds herself wondering why she didn't notice earlier — say, eight years earlier, when they first started dating–that Pablo is mean.

She decides it isn't necessary to call Pablo, under the circumstances. There is a small task for Leon, who's about to board a plane in Lisbon; she finds a file he needs and emails it to him and then returns to Station Eleven. Panels set in the Undersea, people working quietly in cavernous rooms. They live out their lives under flickering lights, aware at all times of the fathoms of ocean above them, resentful of Dr. Eleven and his colleagues who keep Station Eleven moving forever through deep space. (Pablo texts her: ??did u get my email???) They are always waiting, the people of the Undersea. They spend all their lives waiting for their lives to begin.

I love the way the prose wanders as means of illustrating Miranda's mind wandering. Being bored with the kitchen, remembering maybe a better time finding agreement in sidewalk weepers, then back to boredom. Same with the bit on Station Eleven, we're just as interrupted by Pablo's text as Miranda is, and we dismiss it just as quickly as Miranda does.

The Arthur/Clark/Miranda story is something that could have been told in a totally apocalypse-free setting, and for the most part, it is. Arthur dies on stage before the Georgian Flu takes off, Miranda dies almost immediately after learning about the flu (in a stunningly rendered scene: slow, poetic, and dignified.), Clark lives through the flu but unexcitingly: he miraculously lands in a quarantined, flu-free airport when the flu hits its stride, and he remains in the airport for the rest of his life.

The other half of the book is in the post-apocalypse, and it's decidedly In The Post-Apocalypse. It's less literature, more action-adventure; less about characters, much more about plot. There's an evil prophet in town, two Symphony members have gone missing, and the Traveling Symphony is looking for them. Kirsten the knife-throwing actress is the star of this arc. Kirsten is on the search for three things: one, any more information about her beloved Station Eleven comic books (Miranda's work). Two, any gossip articles featuring Arthur, whom she worked with and adored as a little girl right before the apocalypse. Three, the return of electricity.

I liked the Arthur/Clark/Miranda arc more than the Traveling Symphony arc, but I'm surprised to say that it's almost a toss-up.

Yes, the Arthur/Clark/Miranda arc is the type of literary writing I know and love. The Post-Apocalypse stuff though… Gah, I'm still grappling with that. When I try to analyze these parts abstractly, it seems like there are fundamental problems. There's a crazy religious fanatic who calls himself the prophet, makes life sucky for a while, and then… he gets shot and dies. Miranda sees electricity in the end. Almost all the Symphony members who were lost were found, safe, and happy. The plot sounds arbitrarily decided, the moral seems overly optimistic.

But… I don't know, I change my mind when I actually pick up the book and read these sections again. There's a point in the novel where Kirsten's ex-boyfriend Sayid goes missing and she's devastated. August the secret poet leaves a poem in her pocket.

Late in the day, she found a folded piece of paper in her pocket. She recognized August's handwriting.

A fragment for my friend–
If your soul left this earth I would follow and find you
Silent, my starship suspended in night

That should be overly sentimental, right? Ugh, instead, it's one of my favorite moments in the novel, and one of my favorite moments of any novel I've read in recent memory. Station Eleven is truly a beautifully crafted novel, in a way that's hard to define.

With the many characters, the parallel storylines, and the shifting perspectives, does it all come together in the end? Kind of. I think so. Station Eleven the novel seems to be fundamentally an exploration of art and artistry. There's a celebration of all forms of art, from Shakespeare to graphic novels, to Star Trek, to internet memes, to tabloids, to iPhones and airplanes. There's a celebration of all paths of artistry: Arthur who flees the small town for big city movie stardom, Miranda who writes quietly and creates but 10 copies of her work. Both die happy, both have lasting impact after their death.

So is the point of Station Eleven, "Everything is great"? Kind of. Maybe. Not really. I'm not sure. What I do know is Station Eleven is daring and lovely, thrilling and haunting, a fast read that lingers well after you've put it down.

The GoPro, the Polaroid Cube, and why there aren't more women in engineering

October 5th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

This is a response to a video my friend posted on Facebook.

Part 1: The GoPro

A coworker of mine once got a citizenship award at work, and along with the award came a prize: a GoPro Hero 3.

Honestly, I was kind of confused by the choice in prize. Granted, we are part of the Chrome Media team, but my understanding of the GoPro was that it's this ugly thing you strap to your head to record your EXTREME SPORTING ACTIVITIES:

Alright then.

Alright then.

"What a weird, ultra-niche camera to select for a general purpose award," I thought.

Turned out, though, I was in the minority – Dale and the other recipients were super excited to receive the GoPro, and my other prize-less teammates thought it was a cool, thoughtful idea from our management.

It did make sense, actually: Most people in Seattle love hiking and climbing and kayaking and skiing and all that stuff, and the GoPro fits in line with that. It's me who's the weird one, I who characterizes my outdoor interests as the extreme opposite of extreme. I like picnics, for example, or taking walks iff equipped with the right shoes.

So anyway, whatever, I concluded. I don't really take many videos, and I definitely have no interest in recording, or even watching, GoPro footage of mountain biking on extreme sidewalks.

So whatever, I concluded. This camera isn't for me. I'm just not into this stuff.

Part 2: The Polaroid Cube

The other day, I got a REALLY WELL-TARGETED AD from Facebook about the Polaroid Cube.

Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 11.45.06 AM


I clicked the ad (if you've ever wondered, "Who actually clicks on ads?", it's all me, apparently) and AHHHH!! It's an adorable little real-life camera! It's a video camera thing that you can use to take casual videos with your friends!

What would I record? Oh, Photojojo has suggestions:

Capture the moment in wide-angle as you cover your morning pancakes with whipped cream and sprinkles or bring it to the park to make super-actiony videos of puppies, frisbee enthusiasts and those who are both.

But I didn't need the suggestions. I could put this thing in my purse and take videos with my friends at, like, our favorite tea place! I could keep a video diary on vacations! I could record Day in a Life videos and send them to my mom!

I ordered a Polaroid Cube that morning.

Later that day, I was taking a walk down the beautiful streets of Stockholm (I had the right shoes) and continued imagining.

"If had my Cube, I could record what I'm seeing here on this walk. Though, it'd be nice if I could mount it somewhere so I wouldn't have to hold it up the whole time. If only there was a good place to mount it while on a walk…

"Oh oh, I know!! The bottom of the cube is a really strong magnet. I could get a wide metal headband and attach it to my head. Maybe decorate it so that it looks like a giant bow."

Yes, I bought light-weight, durable action camera… that I plan to attach to my head.

Maybe I am into this kind of stuff.

Part 3: Women in Engineering

Why do I prefer the Polaroid Cube over the GoPro?

No, "prefer" is too weak of a word. To me, the Polaroid Cube elicits sheer joy. "OMG CUTE. OMG THINK OF THE POSSIBILITIES!" For the GoPro, nothing. Flatline. Total void of feeling, absolute 0 interest.

Why the stark difference? That's a complicated question.

Luckily, it's not the interesting point of this story.

I want to emphasize a very important difference:

I myself did not know these two things were true until seeing the Polaroid Cube.
I myself did not realize these two things were different until seeing the Polaroid Cube.

I conflated product, the GoPro, with concept, Action Camera on Head.

I see people making this same mistake all the time with girls and engineering.

We spend way too much time trying to fix the princess "problem." We're selling princesses to girls, spaceships/LEGOs/trains/race cars to boys, and we think "Gosh, of course boys like engineering. We're teaching boys to like spaceships. Let's teach girls to like spaceships to get more women in engineering!"

I want to to emphasize a very important difference:

Let's stop trying to force girls to put down their princesses. Let's instead teach girls that engineering is more than cars, space ships and video games.

Let's stop trying to force women to like GoPros, and let's make more Polaroid Cubes.

Part 4: Why Marketing Matters

You have to understand, I never liked physics. I got okay-ish grades in my courses but it was all dull, rote memorization to me.

Physics is important for space ships and cars and figuring out the trajectory of baseballs. Okay.

But on my walk, I started thinking, "Huh, that's a pretty small microphone. In a restaurant with a lot of people, I probably couldn't hear my friend very well on the other side of the table. I wonder how I could solve that."

Enter signal processing. Enter microphone design. Enter all this physics stuff that I swear I thought I had no interest in learning, and suddenly I wish I had paid more attention in class.

It's more than just the realization that I like cameras after all. The Polaroid Cube gives me a vocabulary and context for the physics problems I gave no craps about years ago. Without this context, I don't care at all about how a microphone works. With this context, I'm suddenly very interested. It gives me motivation to learn about this field that I honestly thought just wasn't for me.

Part 5: The Moral of the Story

Science is everywhere. Engineering is everywhere. It is not limited to gadgets and cars and space ships.

We don't have to get boys to play with Barbies or girls to play with train sets to get gender equality in technology.

If you try to tell me there's something in our DNA that makes boys predisposed to trains and girls to dolls, I could buy that. But if you try to tell me there's something in our DNA to make men and not women predisposed to a field as diverse and varied and omnipresent as engineering, I will not have it. Girls LOVE making stuff. This is pure marketing, plain and simple.

Let's give our little girls a vocabulary and context for engineering, since it's everywhere. Hair instead of LEGOs. Making dolls and dollhouses instead of trains and space ships.

When we make awesome technology for a diverse population, when we recognize and foster engineering skills in ways that appeal to a diverse population, diversity in the technology field will follow.


What Didn't Work

The GoPro website does feature pictures of women using the GoPro:

I do not believe this affects my feelings on the product.

Also, notice the Polaroid Cube is not just a pink GoPro:

Not gonna lie, this does appeal to me more than the grey. But still not enough to significantly sway my feelings on it.

The #1 Source of Untapped Engineers:

Tell me these are not feats of engineering:

Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 2.04.35 PM

How is this different from LEGOs? You take a basic building block — strands of hair — group them and arrange them in creative ways, keeping in mind structural integrity, to create your vision. Then you take it all apart the next day and start over again.

Btw, as a woman who cannot do hair at all, these women are magicians. WELL DONE, LADIES!!

Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger

April 29th, 2014 | No Comments »

So, confession: I’m one of those people who for years claimed that Salinger was one of my favorite authors, even though I had only read Catcher in the Rye. Yeah, I know. But seriously, Catcher in the Rye was great! I figured at some point, I would validate my favoritism by reading the rest of his work, and with last year’s release of the Salinger documentary, I felt it was time.

There’s obvious risk in backfilling the justification for a supposed favorite thing of yours, years after your initial claim. What if it sucks? What if it turns out that I hate it? Then I’d have to admit to everyone that I’ve been living a lie!

With that shame cloud looming over me, I embarked on the rest of Salinger, hopeful and a bit nervous.

I started with Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction. Raise High was … it was good, pretty, sweet. Seymour was okay, nothing mind-blowing.

Next I read Franny and Zooey, and… it was good, but I was starting to get a bit worried. I mean these books were all good, quite good, and all were sometimes very pretty, but I wasn’t excited about them in the way that I was expecting-slash-hoping to be.

Then I read Nine Stories, and I let out a sigh of relief. So let’s get started!

A Perfect Day for Bananafish
Yes, this story! This is the story that reminded me why I hailed Salinger a genius and a legend after reading only a fraction of his works.

(As always, only spoilers lie ahead. Actually, the internet says that this story is pretty readily available online. It’s short, so why not read?)
Read more »

git svn checksum mismatch

December 17th, 2010 | 6 Comments »

When I update suuuuuper old Chromium repositories, I occasionally get that stupid Checksum mismatch from svn. It happens often enough that it's a thing, but uncommonly enough that I forget how to fix it each time. So, FOR PROSPERITY:

Checksum mismatch: trunk/src/chrome/test/functional/ 5d1082dfc3e6363ece792d7cd49fde0a7ce9c6df
expected: e88e3ea6349cb44955d58e6a3964824f
got: af58cced63097504e4bfb6574c252f4a

Then proooobably what happens was downloaded wonky or something such that the hash no longer came to be the correct thing. So solution:

See what was the revision number of the last change on the file:

git svn log chrome/test/functional/

Reset svn to be closest parent before that revision:

git svn reset -r62248 -p

Do a git svn fetch!

git svn fetch

Dance at your success.