Nov. 26th, 2014 12:10 pm
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
Homestuck is this... work of fiction, which is sort of like a webcomic, only it's also sort of like inventing an entirely new medium for telling stories. [ profile] rysmiel, who calls this new artform a hypercomic, persuaded me I should read it. I was dubious, partly because I am not a very visual person and I don't always get on well with comics.

And partly because it starts off kind of bad. more thoughts )

In other news, I have only a couple of slots left for Daily December posting. Anyone want to suggest anything to complete the month?
liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
Rebecca Rabinowitz is one of my favourite fat activist bloggers; she's good in various places, mostly talking critically about children's books from a fat positive and generally anti-oppressive perspective. Her home base is [ profile] diceytillerman, which she updates rarely but it's very much worth reading. She's not really a polemical writer; if you start from the belief that being fat is morally bad she's probably not going to convince you otherwise.

Anyway, I really like her latest piece about the relationship between fat activism and dieting. A lot of the time there's a perceived conflict between activists who want fat people to be treated better, and people who want to lose weight. I am never quite sure how to feel about that perception. So I found Rabinowitz's analysis really perceptive:
But know that when you talk about [weight loss dieting] you’re not talking only about yourself. You’re talking about the fat person near you and all the fat people who aren’t near you. You can’t help but. There is no neutral.

everything about fat and dieting is fraught )

I seem to be in a controversial mood today; I did something I very rarely do and posted an overtly political update to Facebook, namely a ranty post about the fact that it's never appropriate to post explicit photos of the bodies of murder victims to social media in order to make a political point. And that's a lot more like direct criticism of people in my FB circles than I would normally ever allow myself. We'll see how that plays out.


Nov. 18th, 2014 11:28 pm
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
Duolingo, who's playing? I've seen various mentions of the site and thought I might check it out, and then I discovered via FB that they now have a Swedish-for-English-speakers course in beta. So I signed up and poked at it a bit.

impressions )

Anyway, username ewerb; anyone who's using it want to be friends? I'm sure the social side of it will be a benefit if I do decide to go on with it.
liv: Stylised sheep with blue, purple, pink horizontal stripes, and teacup brand, dreams of Dreamwidth (sheeeep)
So the daily December thing is doing the rounds again, and it's a completely great idea. Having a good proportion of my friends committing to daily posting makes DW and LJ hugely more fun. December is difficult because the first half is busy teaching time and the second half is completely disrupted routine with lots of family commitments, but what the hell.

Please do comment with requests for posts. They can be prompts or questions, anything from a single word up to a detailed description of how you'd like me to address a topic. You are welcome to ask for a particular date if you like, or else I'll just fit you in to the next empty day. And don't feel shy to ask for posts if you don't know me that well or you usually lurk, I'll happily take requests / prompts from strangers (and indeed from close friends and anybody in between). I'm also pretty open so (as long as it doesn't impact on other people's privacy) I'm happy to answer just about anything. And happy for you to suggest something outside my normal blogging comfort zone; if you want my random opinions on something I know little about, go ahead and ask, I can nearly always find something to say.

I think this is going to be good for me, cos I'm at a stage in my relationship with DW when I want to post but I'm not sure what to talk about. I mean, I had a really great weekend with friends, but you probably don't want to hear the detail of that. Or else there are "big" posts I want to make but I hesitate because I want to make sure I back up my argument with citations and write something polished, but of course I don't round to that sort of thing nearly often enough. And the discipline of posting every day means I just write down my thoughts off-the-cuff without worrying about stuff like that, which I think in fact leads to better blogging. Like that parable (I'm never sure if this an actual experiment that somebody did, or just a teaching story) about two groups of pottery students, one group asked to make the single best pot they possibly could, and the second group to make as many pots as possible, and the as many as possible group did better work.

For reference, here's what I came up with last time I did daily posting. I don't know if I'll end up with a whole 31 entirely new prompts, but if I don't I'll try to slot in some of the stuff I've been meaning to talk about, because it's better to post something than wait for the non-existent moment when I'll have time to make a post I'd think of as good.

I'm also finding it quite hard to think of prompts for everyone else; I will try to come to all your prompt posts before the start of December. And it's not that I don't find you interesting, it's that I am too interested and I can't just pick one thing to ask about!

Calendar )
liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
When I started to make the post about Ello I was going to talk about women and crowdfunding as well, and ran out of room / time. Now I'm reminded again, partly because of some current discussions in my circles, #GamerGate dragging on in all its horribleness, the Requires Hate story, and other things. And what floated this up to the top of my mind (I'm still not very organized about making lists and plans for what I'm going to post to DW) was that I was talking about playing Ingress and a comment discussion developed about whether the player community is toxic or not. And that made me step back and realize that the first thing I do when I consider playing an online game is make a threat assessment. And that's just for what is for me a potentially fun, time-wasting hobby, not my actual livelihood.

mentions gender violence )

At this point I'm starting to believe there is actually a conspiracy, and it's really scaring me. I mean, I realistically think it's not a literal conspiracy of angry misogynists who want to drive women off the internet, but there's a whole lot of people who find it rewarding to egg eachother on to more and more extreme reactions against women online, and that is pretty much functionally equivalent to a conspiracy. I do not at all have any good ideas about what can be done about this, mind you. Handing over control of online discourse to the police and the state is a solution that's worse than the problem, and the problem is pretty bad.


Nov. 11th, 2014 04:42 pm
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (mini-me)
I think it's Wittgenstein or some philosopher of that ilk who has a famous discussion of the fact that it's really hard to define what a game is; any definition you can come up with, it's easy to think of an exception which most people agree is a game. Recently I've been playing a couple of things which are kind of edge-casey, and I wanted to talk about some of them.

gaming )

Apart from trying out new quasi games, I've had a fairly quiet few days. Some good conversations with [personal profile] jack, some gardening (for we are boring middle-aged home owners now), and a really fun visit with [ profile] ghoti and [personal profile] cjwatson Saturday evening. The very good thing about being boring home-owners is that we have awesome neighbours.


Nov. 5th, 2014 11:22 am
liv: Table laid with teapot, scones and accoutrements (yum)
So, just coming out of my busiest season I managed to fall back into my old mistake of making quite excessive social plans for this weekend just past. There were a couple of events in London, and I thought I'd add on some others to take the opportunity to see friends "while I'm there", and I ended up just a tad over-scheduled.

social diary )

Also, talking of reasons why [personal profile] kaberett is wonderful, they made a new iteration of the love meme. As usual they've realized exactly what the DW community needs at just this moment, and they're moderating and curating the meme with amazing sensitivity. I'm sometimes weird about love memes, but this one is giving me a great deal of happiness. Partly because in my thread people are saying nice things about my brain and my writing and presence on DW and my ethical standards, which are all really nice things to be complimented on!
liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
So I posted a link to one of those silly internet quizzes, this one being run as a promotion by a fairly minor scientific journal. And wow, I had forgotten how good those daft "what colour is your aura" personality quizzes are for generating conversation! I posted the type of protein one mainly because I was amused by how ridiculously over-specialist it is, but in fact people with no interest at all in protein chemistry wanted to have a go and talk about what the results meant.

And since people are interested, I might have a go at explaining the background behind the quiz, and also why I think transcription factors are cool. Science! )

Clear? Confusing? Over-simplified? Anyway I hope this goes some way to help you interpret your silly quiz result, and also to tell you why transcription factors are cool!
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
I've had a generally wonderful weekend, a chance to relax at home properly for the first time in too long, and time with friends and some new potentials opening up. And I was just catching up with some social media during a quieter moment Sunday afternoon and learned that my teacher R' Sheila Shulman had died at the weekend. She'd been seriously ill, and she wasn't far off 80, and after I'd seen several posts I realized that when people were talking about "saying goodbye" to her, they meant literally, not just being sad at the news of her death, but actually present, she was surrounded by her students and friends and colleagues, a substantial fraction of the people whose lives she changed. So I can say, blessed is Judge of truth, and it tastes less bitter than some of the times I have to say it. But I can't wholeheartedly believe in a good death, because the person is gone no matter at what age and in what circumstances.

as much about me as about Sheila )

Because of Sheila I didn't have to leave Judaism when I came out, or even really come into conflict with it. Because of her, and the people she encouraged to be rabbis when they weren't the obvious type, I didn't give up on Judaism as being simplistically comforting superstition or a club for "people like us". Because of her and her influence, I'm able to be open to joy from an unexpected place, and to come to those potentials from a place of spiritual integrity. It's traditional to wish when reporting a death, may her soul be bound up in the bond of life It seems to me that R' Shulman's soul, the things she dedicated herself to so wholeheartedly against all opposition, really is bound up in the life of the community. My community, for all its flaws.
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
So [personal profile] azurelunatic posted adorable Pacific Rim fan jewellery to Tumblr. And I appear to have thinky thoughts about a work of fanart.

drift compatible )


Oct. 22nd, 2014 11:04 am
liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
Work is a bit politically frustrating at the moment, so have some silly links:

[ profile] joannas found the personality quiz I've been waiting for all my life: What kind of protein are you? I am a transcription factor, which considering how much of my work has in fact been on TFs, is a particularly pleasing result. It means that I implement decisions by switching genes on and off, thereby delegating other proteins to go off and do useful things. Which sounds about right for someone who spends her non-research time teaching baby doctors and switching them on to go and cure people.

ETA 1: If you're getting a result like "analyst" or "nurturer" you need to scroll up to the top of the picture to see what kind protein you actually are. Yes, it's very bad UI design, I hadn't realized that it was making the descriptions more prominent than the actual result. Sorry about that!

There was an XKCD with biochemistry; there's no point linking to XKCD really cos just about everybody follows XKCD. And that strip isn't closely related to my work, but it's the chemistry a couple of levels under what I do, so it made me feel loved.

All the academics on my Twitter feed are linking to this silly Guardian article about why academics have a bad dress-sense: because we're not alienated from our labour, apparently. It's a charming thought, and there is a serious point buried in the article, which is that many female academics work just as hard on coming across exactly the right degree of nonchalant about appearance as they would on being impeccably presented if they worked in a sector that expected that. Me, I dress badly because I can't be bothered to spend time or money on clothes, and because I'm fat enough that there's no low-effort way to look good. But it's nice to pretend that it has something to do with Marx or feminism or something.

ETA 2: [personal profile] redbird absolutely nails the analysis that's missing from the article: "Even without choosing to dress that way for Marxist or feminist reasons, you can make those choices without a lot of stress in part because of your specific work and class situation." Yes, that. That's the conclusion the article should've come to, thank you [personal profile] redbird for fixing it so succinctly.
liv: Bookshelf labelled: Caution. Hungry bookworm (bookies)
I know I had a big stash of topics I wanted to talk about once I got past the intense festival period, but I can't remember what they all were now. So have a meme about books, via [ profile] ghoti:

26 questions )

Anyone else want to have a go?

Holy Days

Oct. 18th, 2014 08:49 pm
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
So yesterday was Simchat Torah, which is the last of the big season of festivals. And lo, I have survived and all the many many events I needed to run in the past three weeks have worked successfully. There's an Israeli LOLcat / reaction gif doing the rounds of my FB feeds, with the cat looking shocked and horrified and the text saying "when you realize that 'after the festivals' means now". And yeah, there are a lot of things I need to sort out that I've been putting off until 'after the festivals', but many of them are fun social things, and my life really does look a lot more manageable from here on.

festival and Sweden trip reports )

I couldn't be more glad I went, I had a wonderful time even if it was nerve-wracking. And I'm so nostalgic for Stockholm and my little community there, wow. I've started thinking again that I might investigate applying to rabbinical school, because doing all this has just been so satisfying. I mean, I realize that if I were an actual rabbi everybody would criticize me for not doing things the way they want, instead of being so grateful to me for filling in a gap by volunteering, but even so.
liv: Bookshelf labelled: Caution. Hungry bookworm (bookies)
Author: Joan Slonczewski

Details: (c) Joan Slonczewski 1986; Pub The Women's Press 1987; ISBN 0-7043-4069-0

Verdict: A door into ocean has some excellent world-building but I found it a little depressing.

Reasons for reading it: I've consistently heard this recommended, both as hard SF with plausible biology, and as feminist SF. I've been looking for a it for a while, and not finding it. I know these days you can pretty much get any book published in the 20th century for £3 from Amazon, but I am always reluctant to resort to giving money to the evil empire unless I get desperate.

How it came into my hands: Happily, [personal profile] forestofglory gave me a copy as a present, which was really exciting, it's so nice to get a book you've been meaning to read!

detailed review )
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (mini-me)
It seems a bit of a perennial thing with me that every so often I pontificate about the current state of social networking. This latest round was prompted partly by everybody suddenly getting excited about a new tech start-up, Ello. I'm pretty much convinced it's entirely pointless, and probably just vapourware. blather )

I was also going to talk about women using the internet professionally, and misogyny and crowdfunding, but I think that's probably a separate post in fact.


Oct. 7th, 2014 11:00 am
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
So my university had a big flagship event where they invited former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to give a talk and meet some university people. It was connected in some way I don't entirely understand to the BBC docudrama Marvellous; the subject, Neil Baldwin, knows the former Archbishop somehow. (I haven't dared watch the film, because I am scared it's going to be horrible cringey inspiration porn, but perhaps I'm too cynical, lots of people have said good things about it.) Anyway, the university decided to issue me a personal invitation to the talk and the dinner afterwards. I think the reason is because they seem to have got it into their heads that I'm the only Jewish faculty member in the whole university, which is patently untrue but anyway, they wanted to showcase their interfaith diversity, so they rolled me out.

The talk was stunning and I'm really glad I went. Although it was flattering to be seen as worthy to meet VIPs, I kind of regret bothering with dinner (bad food and octogenarian retired vicar companions who come from the era when it was considered good manners to make lots of sexist jokes if you found yourself sat next to a woman less than half your age), but anyway. Williams is not the first Archbishop I've shaken hands with; I met the antepenultimate Archbishop of Canterbury briefly at an interfaith event at Lambeth Palace when I was a teenager. I'm sure there are people who would be more excited to hobnob with Archbishops than me. But Williams as a speaker is really worth listening to; he gave a very thought-provoking talk, flat out one of the best lectures I've heard in several decades of hanging around universities.

fangirling the fluffy Archbishop )
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
I've never really quite had time to get into the Marvel franchise, but I really like a lot of the fandom response I see drifting past me on Tumblr and to some extent my DW network. And I was over at [personal profile] jack's for the weekend and he happened to have Captain America: the Winter Soldier in his rental queue. He reckoned it was probably accessible to someone who hadn't watched the whole rest of the series, so I decided to give it a go.

And we watched about the first hour and a half and then paused the DVD to get up and pee. And at that point I realized that there were any number of things I'd rather be doing than watching the rest of that film, so we gave up and did other things instead. ([personal profile] jack was ok with watching the ending after I'd headed back to Stoke).

Basically, I just couldn't bring myself to care about anything. The characters seemed to have no depth or complexity. I didn't care enough about S.H.I.E.L.D to be invested in the fact that the agency had been infiltrated, and I pretty much guessed the identity of the "mysterious" Winter Soldier even though I have no real background in the mythos. I wasn't moved or shocked by Nick Fury's assassination, I was only mildly disappointed that having that character played by Samuel L Jackson didn't prevent the cliché of the African-American mentor figure getting fridged to give the blond hero some motivation. There were lots of explosions and shoot-outs and the obligatory car chase, but I found them so dull I was mainly noticing flaws in the CGI (the whole thing looks like being inside a fairly generic FPS computer game) rather than getting emotionally involved.

I don't think the problem was unfamiliarity with the franchise. All the characters kept explaining direct to camera what was going on and how they were feeling. If anything the film was almost too accessible; even as someone who isn't in superhero fandom at all, I felt talked down to. I tried to relax and enjoy it as just a big dumb action movie, but I was bored or irritated a lot more than I was excited or moved. So even the combination of sunk cost fallacy and narrative drive which usually means I always read or watch all the way to the end wasn't enough to keep me from wandering off half way through.

Basically, I like the version I'd glimpsed through fandom a lot better. The apparently entirely imaginary film that really explores what it would be like for a superhero veteran from WW2 to suddenly wake up in 2014. And where the Black Widow has a really interesting past as a former Russian spy and is genuinely morally ambivalent, rather than just looking sexy and pouty in very tight clothing. Where the friendship / bromance between Captain America and the extremely cute Anthony Mackie's Falcon takes centre stage rather than Mackie just being a minor comic relief character.

In general, feh.
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
Oh. My. Life! It's the middle of the High Holy Days, right, I'm up to my eyes preparing half a dozen major events in 3 weeks. And term started yesterday and I have a new PhD student, so work is fairly overwhelming too. So the day before the New Year, I get an urgent message from an old friend in Sweden asking me to come and run the Progressive Jewish community's big annual showcase event, because the person who was supposed to be doing it has pulled out for overriding personal reasons. And obviously every Jewish professional is massively busy at this season, and apparently they remember me fondly from 5 years back...

I mean, I can do a full weekend of activities with a mix of social, liturgy and Jewish study. I can even do it at short notice, if I have to. I can liaise with a bunch of people in a different country who have strong views about how they want to run things and haven't necessarily come to a consensus before consulting me. But to do this when the two weeks between hearing about it and it actually happening contain Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur and the start of term, that's a big ask. To cap it off, I am walking into two politically fraught situations, both at the national politics level (Sweden has just had national elections with a massive swing to the far-right party), and at the community politics level (the broader community just sacked their rabbi because he was too successful at his brief of attracting young people to synagogue and making things more dynamic, and it turns out the old stalwarts don't like change.) And again, I can handle politically fraught, but only if I have really plenty of time to prepare, not just intellectually but talking to people and sounding out what the issues are and where I need to tread carefully.

Also, would you believe that the theme for the weekend is "how to deal with legitimate criticism of Israel in a climate of anti-semitism". Um. That is waaaaaay the hell outside my comfort zone, very hard to teach in a text-based way, and likely to provoke some really passionate and potentially conflicting responses.

anxieties )

Oh, and in other news the university has invited me as a special guest to attend a lecture by former Archbishop The Rt Rev & Rt Hon Lord Rowan Williams. I assume because they wanted to showcase interfaith diversity, but it's weird that I've ended up as someone the university trots out to meet VIPs. The lecture is public, but I get to attend a formal dinner as well. I'm kind of excited about this, but also I could do without it being 24 hours before the start of Yom Kippur.
liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
A while back, I made a post about why epigenetics is important. And one of the reasons is because understanding epigenetics means that we can reprogram mature cells into stem cells. I ran out of time and space to write about this breakthrough and its implications in my last post, so I'm going to have a go at following up now.

so what does this mean? )

I was really charmed by the enthusiastic response to my previous post in this quasi-series. So please do ask more of those excellent questions that you were asking before. I can provide more broken-down explanations or links to peer-reviewed sources, depending what level you're at.


Sep. 23rd, 2014 08:56 pm
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
Way back in January I promised [personal profile] lethargic_man that I'd talk about which bits of the High Holy Day liturgy make me cry, and I didn't get round to it at all. And now the festival season has come round again and my head is in the machzor, the special prayer book for this time of year. So I might as well finally answer that question from months back!

detailed liturgy discussion )

Also this year I'm going to preach on the Haftarah, the reading from the Prophets, Isaiah 57–58. Partly inspired by this really excellent sermon by a Christian friend of mine, in fact.

And now I should really go and finish learning the liturgy, instead of sitting here crying over the poetic bits.


Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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